Journey into a Libertarian Future: Response to Reader Comments

By Andrew Dittmer, who recently finished his PhD in mathematics at Harvard and is currently continuing work on his thesis topic. He also taught mathematics at a local elementary school. Andrew enjoys explaining the recent history of the financial sector to a popular audience.

Many readers wrote in warm and thoughtful comments on the series I wrote interviewing Code Name Cain. I was unfortunately away when the series first posted, and so was not able to respond immediately. Here are some reflections.

The word libertarian originally meant anarchist, or libertarian socialist, in the sense of someone who is wary of authority in general, whether coming from the state or from property rights arrangements. However, libertarian as used today more typically refers to right-libertarians like Robert Nozick, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Murray Rothbard. For a more complete discussion of the different uses of the word libertarian, Karl Widerquist has written a nice essay on the subject.

Widerquist points out that it “is perhaps poetically appropriate that property rights advocates have appropriated a term that was already being used by people who subscribe to the idea that property is theft, and that these property rights [advocates] now accuse anarchists of trying to steal [the term] from them.”

Fairly or not, most people today think of right-libertarians when they hear the word libertarian, and so I will from now on use libertarian to mean right-libertarian. I have personally known many libertarians, and one is a good friend of mine. I became particularly interested in libertarianism when I started to realize how powerful such ideas have become in America today. One major political party is strongly influenced by think tanks like AEI and the Cato Institute, in which libertarian ideas are extremely prominent. Although members of the Tea Party do not fit a single stereotype, they do have a strong penchant for libertarian rhetoric.

Barack Obama frequently expresses his support for the “free market” and talks about the “burden” of taxes; Republican candidates feel no corresponding obligation to express verbally their support for “democracy,” or for the existence of some taxation. If candidates of both parties now talk in ways that are conditioned by libertarian preferences, it is clear that libertarianism has made great strides.

During the series, one reader made a comment about the outlandishness of libertarian thought, to which reader Foppe appropriately replied, “That doesn’t matter – the question is whether they influence policy.”

What is Libertarianism?

The critics of libertarianism often describe it as a theory that privileges liberty, or freedom, over other values like equality, or social justice, or tradition. They often respond by agreeing that liberty is important, but that it is important to balance liberty with other essential commitments.

However, after reading a number of libertarian authors, such as Hayek, Friedman, and Nozick, it started to seem to me that libertarianism is not a theory of freedom at all. Reader Marat cited an example by libertarian Walter Block, in which a person is hanging for dear life to a flagpole protruding from the 15th floor of a high-rise. Block says that if the apartment owner demands that the person let go, and the flagpole hanger attempts instead to climb down into the balcony, then if “the occupant shoots him for trespassing… the answer is clear. The owner… is in the right, and the trespasser is in the wrong.”

In my experience, libertarians often enjoy citing examples like this, in which the freedom of the flagpole hanger to survive is trumped by the right of the owner to maintain sovereignty over her apartment. Is is possible that libertarianism is a theory of sovereignty, and not a theory of freedom?

Libertarian Sovereignty

If libertarianism is a theory of sovereignty, it is natural to wonder whether libertarian sovereignty can be just as tyrannical as the kind of governments that libertarians dislike. If libertarianism defends the rights of corporations to govern themselves as they see fit, will some people end up signing contracts that effectively make them quasi-slaves? Many libertarians specify that no one will be allowed to sign a contract to make themselves a slave. However, what if people sign contracts that effectively make them into slaves without doing so explicitly? Then they could be slaves in a rights-respecting manner – would that be okay? If not, what is the alternative? Should the government be allowed to police every possible contractual arrangement and annul the ones that it thinks could lead to effective slavery?

John Holbo of the blog Crooked Timber made an argument along these lines, arguing that a certain form of libertarianism can become something close to feudalism.

On the other hand, Widerquist has written an interesting article (A Dilemma for Libertarianism) taking this observation in a slightly different direction. He points out that the same arguments that libertarians use to defend the sanctity of property rights can be used just as easily to defend the rights of governments to tax individuals and to regulate businesses – or the rights of a hereditary, unconstitutional monarch.

At this point it becomes to seem like libertarian ideas of sovereignty can justify many different possible societies. Some of these societies would not be considered very free by normal definitions of the word.

Reader Susan the other initially wondered if the series would help us understand how to balance freedom and equality. She later decided that in Code Name Cain’s ideal world

There is no freedom and there is no equality? Hoppe-Libertarianism is so over the top it wipes dilemma off the plate. No worries at all about how to balance everyone’s freedom with everyone’s equality because emotional democracy is out of the question. CNC takes the instinct for freedom and crushes it forthwith. I was expected him to crush equality first.

Frustrating Contradictions

Most libertarians are not in favor of restoring the property rights of native peoples who were dispossessed. But if we get rid of the claims of American Indians by arguing that their lands were taken away so long ago that we can’t possibly fix it, then (as Widerquist points out) it becomes hard to argue that governments (many of whom got their powers long before the discovery of America) should not also get to keep their rights to tax and regulate. Since pretty much no libertarian would say that governments have the right to tax and regulate as they see fit, there is a problem: it is very difficult to make the legitimacy of property rights argument work so that the correct rights are legitimate, and the incorrect rights are illegitimate. Code Name Cain wrestles with this tortuous problem in parts IV and V of the series.

The libertarian Lamont Rodgers produced a rejoinder to Widerquist’s Dilemma. While his counterarguments did not seem very convincing to me, his commenters were very excited. One said:

I was pondering this “problem” earlier with regards to the notion that aboriginal property rights inevitably force libertarians to violate their own principles. But gladly someone has already done the hard thinking for me!

Argumentative Strategies

Although certain libertarians are forced to deal with frustrating contradictions when trying to defend their views, they have a wide array of strategies at their disposal in order to make up for this seeming disadvantage. One is simply to ignore all signs of discomfort in the listener and proudly continue. The estimable John Médaille, who read the series before it was posted, confided that “what scares me is that libertarians will read it and take it seriously; they might find the questions perplexing, but they will find the answers brilliant.” This prediction was duly confirmed by one reader, who found that the interviewer’s “questions and replies to CNC are often childish and emotional. CNC seems like a very smart fellow, though he does have several mistakes in his axioms and conclusions.”

Another approach is to attack other people for using specific terms in “incorrect” ways, so that the discussion gets mired in questions of proper linguistic usage. Code Name Cain provided some examples of this strategy – he became angry when I said that his future society would make people slaves, or involve coercion. Fortunately, I was able to satisfy him by referring instead to people being made effective slaves in a rights-respecting manner, and to noncoercive coercion. A few readers also provided examples of this approach, insisting vehemently that it is wrong to call Rothbard, Hoppe, and CNC libertarians when they are really anarchists, or anarcho-capitalists, or neoliberals. Other readers rebutted that only libertarians who insisted on complete elimination of the state could truly call themselves libertarians. Hans-Hermann Hoppe might agree with this last view.

A somewhat similar technique is to take advantage of the fact that no two libertarians ever think exactly alike. The key is to listen to what is being said, and then announce that it doesn’t apply to real libertarians (i.e. libertarians like you) at all. Then you condemn the author for shoddy and possibly dishonest writing. If you use the phrase “straw man” a few times, there will be no need to ask questions about whether any of the author’s arguments apply to your type of libertarianism.

Code Name Cain naturally thinks of his own libertarianism as the correct variety. However, the interview series went to some lengths in order to make clear that many other (right)-libertarians have different views. See the beginning of part II and the criticism of “left-libertarians” in part III. Curiously, some readers decided that the interview series was presenting CNC as the most typical libertarian imaginable. They then complained about “straw men.”

The main point of the Rodgers response to Widerquist seems to be that (authentic?) libertarians don’t really believe that libertarian-style natural rights require a minimal (or nonexistent) government ¬– they just believe that natural rights permit such a government. Even if that were true, it doesn’t seem like much of a rebuttal of Widerquist’s main point. However, by claiming that Widerquist had misunderstood the libertarian position, Rodgers made it possible for his commenters to happily dismiss Widerquist as “a fairly unintelligent individual.”

As we have just seen, another important argumentative strategy is to slip in casual insults at someone who does not agree. CNC likes to say things like “maybe you haven’t realized it yet” and “if logic is difficult for you.” Some readers followed his example.

Libertarians are not the only people who sometimes try to make up for the lack of a substantive responses by courageously offering anonymous abuse. Some of the most entertaining insults came from the readers who thought that I was the same person as CNC, or that I shared his views. One such reader said “what a bunch of crap. So some kid fresh out of his PhD has a wet dream about a society where “brilliant” people get their fair share and bad evil government are kept in check. […] Stop imagining the world from your math dept.” Another reader reminded others that “these are the “thoughts” of an overeducated elementary school math teacher,” describing me as “an apologist for the manifestly failed libertarian economic model.”

There seems to be a lot of anitpathy towards mathematicians and elementary school math teachers out there. I knew that seventh graders frequently make fun of kids who like math, but I was a little surprised to read these kind of comments on Yves’ blog.

A Parody?

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is quite real. While one reader identified Code Name Cain as John Denson (adjunct scholar at the Mises Institute), it is my opinion that he is the fruit of my imagination. However, CNC was not intended to be satire in the normal sense of the word. Reader Chad, who has some familiarity with Hoppe’s work, declared that even ‘if this is an apocryphal interview, it’s not satirical hyperbole.’ StPaulite added, “the direct quotes in red are without fail more batshit than the rest of the text.”

In fact, I found Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s ideas fascinating, but it would have been quite difficult to construct a dialogue entirely from snippets of his book. Even if I had done that, there would still have been a risk of misrepresenting his thought. Code Name Cain was created so that I could try to fill in missing or uncertain details of a Hoppe-like philosophy in the most logical manner I could think of, without attributing these additions to Hoppe himself. Some fine points that a couple readers thought I personally invented were actually adapted (rather faithfully) from Hoppe’s book: in particular, the graphs in part VI showing time-preference curves for different types of individuals (compare p. 8 of Hoppe’s book).

In defense of readers that thought CNC was simply a satire, reader RanDomino cites Poe’s law: “[…] it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism.”

Do Many Libertarians Agree with Hans-Hermann Hoppe?

Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, and Hoppe prefer to abolish the state, while libertarians like Nozick, Rand, and others would opt for an extremely small government that protects contracts and property rights. This is the famous dispute between libertarian “anarchists” and “minarchists.”

While the distinction is certainly important, the different kinds of (right)-libertarians often manage to coexist surprisingly well. Part II of the series quotes two non-anarchist libertarians on this subject – Bryan Caplan explains how anarchist libertarians play a symbiotic role in the libertarian world, helping other libertarians to seem more moderate, while Tibor Machan urges libertarians not to let their differences on this issue “distrac[t] from the far more significant task of making the case for libertarianism in the face of innumerable bona fide statist challenges.”

In general, however, it is surprisingly difficult to tell how “extreme” or “absurd” a given libertarian actually is. In Rothbard’s confidential 1961 memo,
he advocated “infiltrating” key intellectual strata, keeping in mind that “one scholar is worth a thousand housewives, in the matter of influence, import, etc.” Rothbard emphasized that libertarians should make a point of

never acting in a manner, or speaking in a manner, inconsistent with the full libertarian position. To be inconsistent, in the name of “practicality” is to betray the libertarian position itself, and is worthy of the utmost condemnation….

Thus, suppose that one is writing about taxation. It is not incumbent on the libertarian to always proclaim his full “anarchist” position in whatever he writes; but it is incumbent upon him in no way to praise taxation or condone it; he should simply leave this perhaps glaring vacuum, and wait for the eager reader to begin to question and perhaps come to you for further enlightenment. But if the libertarian says, “Of course, some taxes must be levied,” or something of the sort, he has betrayed the cause.

If libertarians are often careful to leave the more surprising parts of their vision of the future unsaid, then it becomes hard to tell what a given libertarian actually believes. Looking at public figures under Rothbard’s litmus test, there might be quite a few politicians who have never given a hint that they think “some taxes must be levied” – such politicians could have sympathy to Hoppe-like views, but of course we don’t necessarily know. This might explain why reader wunsacon says “my closest, devout, highly educated “libertarian” friend sounds like he has much in common with “CNC” interviewed here. And you wouldn’t know how “radical” his views are until you talk with him at length and then some weird comments slip out.”

Is Discussing Hans-Hermann Hoppe Evil? Is It a Novel Form of Red-Baiting?

The preceding discussion may bring to mind the Cold War, with libertarians in the unexpected role of communists, and critics of libertarians in the unexpected role of anti-communist inquisitors. This similarity is not accidental – in fact, Rothbard says in his memo that “we can learn a great deal from Lenin and the Leninists” in planning for a libertarian “revolution.”

However, if Rothbard was happy to learn from Lenin, not all modern critics of libertarianism are eager to take on the role of Joseph McCarthy. Some readers picked up on this parallel. Thus reader RugbyD worried that “Holding up an anarcho-capitalist as the torch-bearer for libertarians… [is] like equating all people with socialist tendencies with Stalin.”

On one interpretation, this argument seems to imply that anarcho-capitalists like Rothbard and Lew Rockwell are as dangerous as Stalin. If so, Ron Paul, who has strong links with both of them, should be treated as a frightening menace. But I think this is not quite what these readers had in mind.

Instead, these readers are perhaps proposing a new era of respectful civic discourse. For decades, anyone in America who proposed a new kind of economic system was immediately brought face to face with the threat of being labeled as a communist or a Stalinist. Speeches would immediately be made about how the noble intention to create a better society often leads down the “road to serfdom.” Even today, there are many circles in which bringing up something like a national health care system is taken as the first step to totalitarianism.

These readers might be offering us all an effective truce. In the future, minimal-state libertarians will be free to discuss their ideal society without anyone confusing them with anarcho-capitalists like Rothbard. In exchange, other people that propose other ideal societies, whether anarchist or gift-exchange or socialist or whatever, will also be able to discuss them freely without anyone confusing them with Soviet planners. New ideas will flourish. Everyone will win out.

Is Hans-Hermann Hoppe Too Absurd To Be Worth Discussing?

CNC is quick to identify certain populations of humans as being so defective that they are perhaps better considered subhuman. Ayn Rand is of course famous for denouncing people who are “scum” and “lice” and “looters and moochers,” while Walter Block has worried about immigration leading to “forced integration with […] the dregs of the world.”

Some readers suggested ignoring “extreme” or “absurd” libertarians like Hoppe (and Rothbard? and Lew Rockwell?). It is a little hard to know what constitutes “extreme” sometimes. The last conversation I had with a Ron Paul supporter involved complaints about how it was unfair that taxpayers are “coerced” into paying for the food and shelter of prison inmates. “Would you prefer that they do forced labor?” I asked. “Taxpayers should not have to pay again for the maintenance of people who have already sapped the resources of society,” he said. So yes, inmates were going to do forced labor. Later in the conversation, my acquaintance explained that this would make prison less pleasant, therefore creating an incentive for less crime. I pointed out that some people would already consider prisons to be unpleasant places. “Obviously they’re wrong,” he replied. “If prisons were really that unpleasant, incentives would operate and crime would decrease.”

Take the example in part V where Code Name Cain dispossesses an African tribe in order to produce large gains for his hedge fund. Before writing that part of the series, I ran this example by one of my libertarian friends. He agreed with CNC that CNC had not violated natural rights, and that instead the natives had violated CNC’s natural rights by refusing to be evicted.

In any event, readers who thought that some libertarians were too “extreme” to be worth discussing came to this conclusion through different routes. Some readers (including at least one libertarian) seemed to feel the same scorn for Hoppe that CNC feels for other “subhumans.” Others seemed to think that even presenting Hoppe’s views clearly was equivalent to keeping “us distracted with contrived enemies,” or presenting an “obscene and grotesque image of the infamous ‘libertarian’ .” Apparently these readers seemed very offended by Hoppe’s view of the world and did not think anyone could take it seriously – but I still wondered why they found it difficult to say:

I denounce Hoppe and believe his ideas would create a terrible society. There are other kinds of libertarians, like X, who are totally different because they believe in x, y, z, which Hoppe does not. I support them, or at least think they are people I can talk with.

No, I Don’t Think So

However, I disagree with readers who think Hoppe’s views are unworthy of comment. I often disagree with Hoppe, but I still found studying his book to be helpful in understanding certain ideas. As reader Alex points out,

Hoppe […] probably just thought it all through to the logical ends and made no effort to be politically correct or tactical in his arguments;” and this lack of reticence makes Hoppe extremely interesting

How do we treat with respect perspectives with which we really disagree? Is it best to pretend as if we agree, or as if we are above all of this? I would say that these responses can be rather patronizing. Isn’t it more respectful to argue with the other perspective directly, and to try to find the root of the conflict?

There are a couple areas where I actually agree with Code Name Cain. First, in part V, CNC makes an argument that the preferred society of minimal-government libertarians is very unlikely to be stable. As some readers pointed out, minimal-government libertarians typically oppose an incestuous relation between corporations and government regulation, and worry that regulations will be designed to benefit the stronger corporations. If a minimal government does not involve a vastly different campaign finance system than what we presently have, I do not understand how it will not involve a regulatory system full of corporate welfare and special advantages for well-connected corporations.

Second, in part VI, CNC and Hoppe argue that we cannot actually decide which economic theory is true by just examining the historical record. I don’t think this is actually true – at least, I think examining the historical record can help a lot. However, what does seem true to me is that the overwhelming majority of people choose which economic theory they support without making a detailed examination of all of the relevant historical data. Take also global warming – how many of the readers of NC have actually immersed themselves in the relevant climate science? Clearly, these allegiances are often decided for other reasons.

Now I happen to think that CNC/Hoppe/Mises’ “praxeological” approach is not a good response to this uncertainty. But at least these figures are doing us a valuable service by pointing out that we decide which theories to believe in through a procedure that is often much less like the strict scientific method than we might prefer to imagine.

Criticisms of the Arguments in the Interview

In some places my responses to CNC form a coherent argument about particular aspects of libertarian ideas; in other places CNC himself furnishes an argument against the beliefs of certain other libertarians. In the hundreds of comments on this series, surely some libertarians pointed out flaws in these arguments, or showed how CNC could have replaced his arguments with stronger ones?

No. In a couple cases, people brought up arguments that were later addressed. Aside from these, there was only one attempt at a counterargument. This was from reader indio007, who suggested that

The wrongdoing [in an anarcho-capitalist society] could never match the breadth and scale of wrong doing done by organized governments. Even if we had a lawless society of dog eat dog there would be less injustice than those cause by organized war.

Given that the security GLOs will have their own private armies and private intelligence services, I’m personally not convinced they won’t fight horrible wars – but at least indio007 and I are actually having an argument. No other critic of the series made an attempt.

Is It Already Happening?

Other readers were able to profit from a critical reading of Code Name Cain’s views. Reader Jill decided that “At some points Cain gives an accurate description of what is occurring. His remedies never seem to line up with reality.”

While working on this series, I also ended up reassessing the relevance of CNC’s views. In part II, Cain explains how the key step in creating his form of ideal libertarian society is by “delegitimizing” democracy – by constantly endeavoring to show that problems in politics are not about personalities, but about democracy as a system. While writing part II, it occurred to me that this part of CNC’s “strategy” is well under way in the real world, with public choice theorists playing a key role.

Reader propertius pointed out that the idea of having insurance companies carry out surveillance of consumers is already starting to be implemented: “Progressive, of course, is already doing this – offering lower rates in exchange for “bugging” your car so they can keep track of your driving habits.” Reader Walter Wit Man noted an ongoing transition of security functions to private entities with “less oversight and democratic control,” citing “e.g., Blackwater type military contractors has exploded the last 10 years.”

Other readers started to consider the possible upsides of living in CNC’s future world. Reader TGS liked the cool lasers, comparing “Dr. Evil’s mutated sea bass with frickin’ lasers strapped to their back.” Reader craazyman announced that “I am coming under Mr. Cain’s spell, reluctantly, like being struck suddenly by an arrow from Cupid […] I want my own GLO and my own oasis and harem and the right to engage in drunken mayhem. I have to be honest about that. But I want it to be all voluntary, with no church ladies telling me I’m sinning.” These readers naturally assumed (in the words of reader Blissex) “that they will be part of the superior/creative few not the inferior/looter many.”

Readers Try to Sum Up

Many readers tried to sum up what they saw as the fundamental inconsistencies in Code Name Cain’s approach. Reader drugstoreblonde asked, “So everything in the current system is invalid except the wealth hoarded under it?” Reader Sauron made an analogy: “A kid tags another then calls out “no tag backs” or “home free.” In short, I’m winning, so I invoke a ‘rule’ that says I stay ahead.” Reader Kukulkan commented succinctly “the violence [that libertarians consider legitimate] is always someone else’s fault.”

Readers also focused on the distinctions between governments, corporations, and individuals. Reader Sauron concluded, “Libertarians seem to rely on one or both of two premises: all government is repressive and/or all repression is governmental in origin.” In reader YankeeFrank’s opinion, “A libertarian is someone who prefers to be dominated by a faceless corporation rather than an at least somewhat accountable government.” Reader TK421 summed up a CNC-like position as “Which corporations have broken the law and should be disbanded? We can never know. It’s just too hard, so no point in trying. Which people have broken the law and should be exiled to Siberia? That one’s easy.”

For other readers, the true problem with Code Name Cain’s views lies in his understanding of human nature. Some, like rotter, saw a pitiless social Darwinian ethic: “the freemarketers imagine themselves as sleek black panthers,solitary killing machines staking the economic “jungle”.” Reader Jill wondered, “What does it mean to say a child “gets what they deserve?”… There is no room in Libertarianism for the recognition that every human life begins in vulnerability.”

But for other readers, CNC’s survival-of-the-fittest attitude was actually full of naïvété. Reader craazyman worried about the moment when “our Mr. Cain gets gunned down in a financial dispute with his heavily armed security team.” According to ScottS, “[l]ibertarians seem to constantly forget that their own selfish impulses apply evenly to everyone,” citing the fact that Alan Greenspan “never imagined that a trader for an investment bank would do anything to benefit himself at the expense of his company.”

Thought-Provoking Comments from Readers

There were so many interesting and enjoyable comments besides the
ones quoted above, and readers did a wonderful job clearing up the misunderstandings of other readers. Here is a small selection of additional comments that I thought were interesting.

Jack E. Lope: This bogus talking point [that worries about taxes and regulations cause uncertainty] is at odds with the description of the workings of a Propertopia: no regulations, but every dispute can go to court. It is a poster child for business uncertainty.

walter_map: On the whole, a Huxleyan dystopia might be preferable to an Orwellian one, although it’s a foregone conclusion you’re not actually going to get a choice.

Bill White: [There was] a ceremony which the Romans performed whenever their armies crossed a border to invade a country. They complained in a symbolic way about the bad behavior of people they were about to invade […] They also invited the invaded ones to negotiate a settlement. Often, noone was actually on the other side, but that did not matter. The lack of negatiations was a sufficient reason to continue with the invasion.

F. Beard: Gee wiz Cain, it would be better to not worship God at all than to insult Him with burning dung and thorns.
[…] Well, it’s pretty clear that one CANNOT be a believing Jew or Christian and be a libertarian of CNC’s ilk.
propertius: Oh, no Mr.Beard […] God gave man “dominion” (that is to say, “sovereign legal authority”) in a voluntary transaction, right there in Genesis 1:28-29.
In so doing, God surrendered any claims to the property – it’s the original quitclaim deed.
F. Beard: Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is My footstool. […]” It appears the Lord still thinks the Earth belongs to Him.
propertius: Nonsense – this is a clear case of “seller’s remorse,” having happened millennia after the deal was consummated.

Susan the other: Am I right in being amused by your giving a vacuous twist to Isaiah Berlin’s Negative Liberty.
Andrew: Yes.

rotter: … I felt 12 [installments of the series] would be better, or 6 for Von Mises, 6 more for Ayn Rand, etc.,.
Andrew: That’s an interesting idea, and thanks for your supportive remark. I’ll think about it…

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  1. The Secret Agent

    Ayn Rand hated libertarians. How could you argue that she was a libertarian? She was a proto-neocon on foreign policy and certainly didn’t care much for the non-agression principle.

    “Most libertarians are not in favor of restoring the property rights of native peoples who were dispossessed.”

    Care to back up that statement? How would you explain a native American activist finishing a strong second with a third of the vote at the Libertarian National Convention in 1988. It seems to contradict your statement.

    1. John M

      A single convention, a third of the vote, for a single native-American activist over 20 years ago, as your sole counterexample. Perfectly consistent with the notion, pretty much inescapable with “Libertarian” property rights, that most right-Libertarians don’t care to think about the native-Americans having been dispossessed.

    2. Tao Jonesing

      Rand hated libertarians because she felt they ripped off her ideas and philosophy without giving her credit, not because she disagreed with them. The woman was a horrid egomaniac.

    3. rotter

      Ayn Rand called libertarianism “objectivism”, and then treated libertarians as if they were infringing upon her trademark. The whole dispute is(itself) an hilarious bit of slavering, right-libertarian property hysterics.

      1. rotter

        based on her followers behavior she called it “objectivism”
        because any opinion held by rand is by definition “objective”.. much like Gods opinions.

  2. RanDomino

    I wasn’t trying to say CNC was “simply” satire. I was pointing out that this wasn’t an interview between two different flesh-and-blood human beings. If anything I meant that the fact that it’s impossible to tell sincere extremism from exaggerated parody should be incredibly disturbing; that no matter how insane you make the example, there are people who actually believe something even more outrageous.

    1. Andrew

      I think I did originally take your comment as you intended it. Some other readers were a little more prone to take the whole series as Swiftian satire, and your comment was helpful in explaining why that might have happened.

    2. scraping_by

      True enough. In Hofstrader’s _Godel, Escher, and Bach_ we’re not supposed to assume that a Bronze Age Greek warrior and a small, hard shelled reptile really did have a 500 page conversation.

      Socratic dialogue, y’all.

  3. Maju

    “Fairly or not, most people today think of right-libertarians when they hear the word libertarian”…

    I feel that this claim only applies to the USA and by extension in some wider English-language spaces. In Spanish (and most other European languages) it translates as “liberal” or “ultra-liberal” (same spelling as in English, just slight differences in pronunciation) because in Europe “liberal” means a center-right ideology obsessed with small state and capitalist economy (albeit also with human rights, at least formally).

    The issue is that in the USA, because of the taboo inspired by the term “socialism” or even “social-democrat”, “liberal” has evolved into meaning “social-democrat”, what is in most aspects opposed to classical liberalism (strong state vs. small state, social welfare vs. individualism, state intervention to moderate or reform capitalism vs. wild capitalism). For that reason in the USA, liberals of all kinds have needed to find alternative terms such as progressive (?), conservative and even libertarian.

    But the confusion cannot be generalized except for the fact that US influence is very strong: in European languages other than English there is no such confusion: a ‘liberal’ is rather to the right because he/she loves wild capitalism and hates the state, a ‘conservative’ is a liberal that also caresses antiquated prejudices like homophobia or giving too much importance to religion and such, also they do not mind so much if the state intervenes but always in favor of the business. ‘Progressive’ generally means left-leaning, as does ‘socialist’/’social-democrat’ – and these two terms are essentially the same.

    On the other hand there are not really ultra-liberals (what you call “libertarians”) in Europe. You don’t hear such fallacious discourses in favor of the destruction of the state from the right. The right here knows that no state means no property rights, that the working class would take over as soon as the state is removed and that no property privilege would withstand that.

    1. banger

      Not quite right about the Europeans. It’s not that the working-class would take over but that private armies would create a form of neo-feudalism. In fact, this is the right-libertarian agenda to create mini-states where strong families or corporations can fund private armies. Eventually one or another of these petty states would emerge as strongest and take over the others and impose imperial rule.

      1. Maju

        “Libertarians” do tend towards “neo-feudalism” as their utopia (dystopia for the 99%) but it’s such an unreal proposal that most people here acknowledge it as impossible, unthinkable: corporations will never take the place of the state, although they do actually control the states today, at least to an incredibly large extent.

        So the “libertarian” discourse just does not exist at all here, only a less extremist “small-state” one but no one dares to imagine capitalism without state. With good reason: all the guaranteeing of markets, property rights and such emanate from the state, which is the manifestation of social legitimacy (illegitimate states are weak: the economy is bad, unrest perpetual and therefore no guarantees of any sort exist at all, not even for the plundering opportunist “investors”, who are continuously transferring the benefits to safer havens).

    2. Christophe

      Maju, you make a very good point that American definitions of political labels are often different from, if not diametrically opposed to, their European meanings. Your theorizing on the reason for this divergence is, however, biased toward your preferred set of cultural definitions. Americans do not say “liberal” where they ought to say “social-democrat” any more than Europeans say “social-democrat” where they ought to say “liberal.”

      The baggage that American English has accreted around the label Socialism is indeed weighty. It has become a third rail in American politics as witnessed by its being flung about liberally during the recent bank nationalization debate. Yet its strength as a taboo to distort rational thought is relatively new, growing out of America’s fear of instabilities inherent in its new role as Superpower in the post-war period. That taboo succeeds the defining of “liberal” in American English, so it cannot explain away the different usages on either side of the Atlantic.

      A more likely cause for the disagreement would be different peoples focusing on different aspects of the original theory. Indeed, while lamenting its degredation, American liberals often single out John Locke’s insistence on the “liberal” application of the law by the state as the true basis for their beliefs. This one aspect of Locke’s theories unifies a great many of the disparate agendas on the liberal platform. An unbiased and uninfluenced state should treat all men as though they were created equal. Yes, that argument does sound awfully familiar, and Locke’s theories had a profound impact on many of America’s founding fathers.

      Whatever aspect of Locke’s liberal theory we choose to build our definition of liberalism around, we will have to give other labels to the parts of the theory we reject. The American labels progressive, conservative, and libertarian each contain aspects of Locke’s beliefs, but that does not mean that Americans have mis-defined liberalism. The European labels socialist, social-democrat, and popular each contain aspects of Locke’s beliefs, but that does not mean that Europeans have mis-defined liberalism.

      And some food for thought – the labels indignados and occupy both contain aspects of Locke’s beliefs, but neither identifies with the liberal label as defined on either side of the Atlantic. Are these movements simply going to carve out and claim their favorite parts of the liberal theory that has guided world history for 300 years? Or will they eventually create a new guiding theory outside the confines of the old model? Has the liberal theory run its course? Or will it be the answer to our problems? Which one does the rise of libertarianism forecast?

      1. Maju

        Liberalism is pro-free market and the central ideology of Capitalism. In fact all institutional(-ist) parties and politicians are liberals to some extent – the system does not allow much deviation around that, specially not around the matter of private property (see for example what happened to Allende).

        What I criticized is not this wider idea of Liberalism but the use of the label “liberal” in the USA to describe those people who promote a social-democratic or even sometimes more radically socialist agenda. In the USA you support public health-care (a socialist idea), then you are “liberal”, while in Europe “liberal” is a tag infinitely much more likely to be claimed by a right-winger who rejects free public health-care and in general wants a small-state (except in police and army).

        Anyhow, “Popular” is not a common political tag anymore than “Republican” or “Democrat” are in the USA. “Popular” is just the fancy propaganda name that the Right has chosen in many states of Europe and Union-wide, federating under the name of European People’s Party. But we all think “conservative” (often with fascist tendencies) when we hear “the populars”, even if they often claim to be “liberal” and “center” and what not. We can all differentiate between trademarks and common adjectives, don’t we? Otherwise we’d be all the time arguing about how “popular” are the “Populars” and how “socialist” are the “Socialists”… what is pointless (the latter maybe less but “popular” is not and will never be an ideology: it’s the negation of all declared ideology – and you may end as in Spain winning elections, more or less, without even an electoral program at all).

  4. Middle Seaman

    If the discussion of libertarianism is to be meaning politically, rather than theoretically, it must exist or be useful politically.

    People we call libertarians are typically fascists using libertarianism as a cover and title. (Ron Paul and 5 other people are meaningless exceptions.)

    In the complex world of the 21st century libertarianism is as realistic, meaningful, applicable and sustainable as a return to the Greek democracy of thousands years ago.

    1. reason

      they aren’t fascists (fascists worship the power of the state, because they worship power). They are feudalists (where property has all the power). Please get your “f” words right.

      1. Lidia

        Ron Paul wants the government to be replaced by religious tribunals.

        “We have deferred to.. to the federal government. …
        I don’t want to go that way, I want to go back down… all the way to the family and the Church… we can take our message and learn something from the Old Testament, how there was such a strong emphasis on the Patriarchal society and the disputes settled by judges rather than looking for Big Government.”

        1. F. Beard

          RP wants what cannot be till Christ returns:

          “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

          Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
          Now after Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the LORD’S hearing. The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint them a king.” So Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his cit
          1 Samuel 8:18-22 New American Standard Bible (NASB) [bold added]

        2. banger

          Maybe he does or maybe he just wants to provide for a thousand flowers to bloom. The impetus of the RP movement is not that RP represents a coherent philosophy but that since we lack a coherent philosophy anyway why don’t we break down most of the current structures and see what emerges. The current system in moribund and something will replace it. Paring down, for example, the state security and military apparatus will give other forces in society a chance to breathe–this situation is double edged of course and it could turn into an old fashioned tyranny or something very new.

          1. F. Beard

            Sounds good but RP wishes to force us to play under “He who has the gold makes the rules” – literally.

            Ya see, liberty requires a government enforced gold standard for some odd reason.

      2. RanDomino

        Fascists don’t worship the State in particular; they worship power, and State power is just one kind. The internal governance structure of practically every corporation is basically fascist: rigid hierarchy, absolute obedience, scheduling, performance metrics, whatever else you can think of as fitting the exact opposite of democracy.

  5. Skippy

    “Man is born an asocial and antisocial being. The newborn child is a savage. Egoism is his nature. Only the experience of life and the teachings of his parents, his brothers, sisters, playmates, and later of other people FORCE HIM to acknowledge the advantages of social cooperation and accordingly to change his behavior.” ~Ludwig Von Mises, Omnipotent Government, p. 241

    Skippy…hate clubs have a hard time without archenemy’s (commies). One left to go… working classes.

    1. Lidia

      Skippy, thanks for that quote. When I talk to libertarians or read their writings, what comes across to me is a very bad sort of autism (and I say this as someone who has a family member with autism).

      I think they really don’t know how other people feel, they don’t know how to be tolerant or to share, and they can’t imagine living any other way.

      They project their own ABNORMAL asocial and antisocial tendencies onto everyone else. This Mises quote reminds me so very much of Calvin’s regarding a newborn baby as a “seething sack of sin”. When you base a worldview on that, it’s bound to deliver precisely the distortions you’ve programmed into it.

      1. F. Beard

        This Mises quote reminds me so very much of Calvin’s regarding a newborn baby as a “seething sack of sin”. Lidia

        The same Calvin who justified usury?

        Speak for yourself, Calvin!

    2. psychohistorian

      Thanks skippy.

      The quote reminds me of my position, stated here multiple times, that folks should not be allowed to get beyond grade school without becoming one with the concept of societal sharing.

  6. Skippy

    Austrian theory includes the concept of time preference, or the degree to which a person prefers current consumption over future consumption. During a lecture in his Money & Banking course, Hoppe hypothesized that, because they tend not to have offspring, thus heirs, children, old people and homosexuals tend to focus less on saving for the future. One of Hoppe’s students characterized this statement as derogatory and a matter of opinion rather than fact. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

    In his lectures, Mr. Hoppe said that certain groups of people — including small children, very old people, and homosexuals — tend to prefer present-day consumption to long-term investment. Because homosexuals generally do not have children, Mr. Hoppe said, they feel less need to look toward the future. (In a recent talk at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which Mr. Hoppe says was similar to his classroom lecture, he declared, “Homosexuals have higher time preferences, because life ends with them.”) [The student], Mr. Knight found that argument unwarranted and obnoxious, and he promptly filed a complaint with the university. In a telephone interview on Saturday, Mr. Knight said: “I was just shocked and appalled. I said to myself, Where the hell is he getting this information from? I was completely surprised, and that’s why I went to the university about this.”[3]

    Skippy…Just the Wiki page gives me the creeps.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      And once again I say: a lot of this Austrian stuff is about good old fashioned psychological intellectualisation.

      “Oh no, I’m don’t have a fundamental, burning, irrational, emotionally driven hatred toward blacks/gay/the poor/women — I’m just saying that they are generally less productive/less conducive to saving/more inclined to take on debt than white mal… I mean… everyone else.”

      Most of this libertarian stuff is so transparent its not even funny. Hoppe is just an extreme manifestation because he’s probably completely around the bend. But you can see it shine through in most libertarian discourse.

      1. mansoor h. khan

        Philip said:

        “Most of this libertarian stuff is so transparent its not even funny. ”

        Many, many people believe along these lines that the financial crises was caused by sub-prime lending (Communities Reinvestment Act and similar legislation).

        They will say something like:

        “The bankers had to choose between not obeying the law (i.e., not lend to sub-prime borrowers) and go to jail or lend sub-prime borrowers.

        Mansoor H. Khan

        1. Philip Pilkington

          Ugh… when they start going on about economics its the worst. It’s all just value judgements wrapped up in early marginalist economic models with a crude conception of how credit markets work tacked on the end.

          And then the likes of Peter Schiff get taken seriously when he ‘called’ the housing bubble. Peter Schiff ‘calls’ about twenty different catastrophes every other day — even a broken clock is right from time to time (albeit Schiff is more of a broken record). But then people put him up there with Schiller and Baker who did actual research before they started bouncing up and down like Energiser bunnies.

          (Various rants collected here with hilarious commentary that I’ve subjected myself to over the past two weeks:

          I swear, after looking into Austrian economics again in the last two weeks to write my last two articles (next one up this week on Rothbard and his flim-flamery) I have concluded that I actually like them LESS than neoclassicals. At least neoclassicals TRY to be dispassionate. The Austrians know they’re a cult and they carry on anyway.

          1. Ransome

            The wealthy want gold so they can hoard it. It’s called liquidity preference and it results in a condition like the Long Depression or India as studied by Keynes.

          2. Glenn Condell

            Here is a discussion between Schiff and Steve Keen on Australian TV in 2008:


            Both had zeroed in early on debt as the problem, but from different angles. The moderator opens by asking if capitalism was in crisis, and Schiff says no it’s actually socialism, immediately laying blame on the Fed and the govt (via Fannie/Freddie) with the implicit govt guarantees. It was all greedy overleveraged home buyers and an enabling government with it’s low interest rates and guarantees – the role of the banking intermediaries (whether by fraud or incompetence) is not even mentioned.

            While Schiff is often accurate in particular, his big picture is a worry. He is in the Shedlock ‘beggar the workers, un-tax the bosses’ camp’, ie austerity for the masses and a low tax regime for business so that resources are freed up for them to hire, as if supply stimulated demand rather than vice versa. The MMT approach would be anathema to him, and I would like to see his reaction to Keen’s universal bailout idea – apoplexy I’d reckon.

            Sharp guy, but limited by his unexamined assumptions.

        2. Tao Jonesing

          Many, many people believe along these lines that the financial crises was caused by sub-prime lending (Communities Reinvestment Act and similar legislation).

          So? Many, many people believe whatever they want to believe without regard to reality.

          If your point is that the legs of CRA lie is an example of “libertarian” rhetoric not being so transparent, I disagree. The power of the CRA lie is the underlying racism, not propertarian rhetoric.

          1. Philip Pilkington

            Funny that, Ireland had a massive housing bubble and we don’t have a large blac… I mean, Community Reinvestment Act. Then again, I do remember reading some old 19th century eugenics arguments that the Irish were like the blac…

            Oh dear! Silly me. Now where was I? You guys love, like, liberty and stuff, right?

          2. mansoor h. khan

            Tao Jonesing said:

            “The power of the CRA lie is the underlying racism, not propertarian rhetoric.”

            What I mean is that people who want to show that “government is the problem” without even trying to understand how the financial system works.

            mansoor h. khan

      2. Skippy

        Greabers Book does much to dispel the arm chair magic, although more is needed. But in the end its a belief from antiquity.

        Skippy…shelf life’s of 2,0000 years are not unheard of… sigh.

        1. F. Beard

          Skippy…shelf life’s of 2,0000 years are not unheard of… sigh. Skippy

          It’s approximately 3500 years and counting not just 2000.

          Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Matthew 24:35

          1. Skippy

            Approximation of all belief systems, reading comprehension without self projection into it please.

            Skippy…Egyptian about the same, of which, yours barrows from.

        2. psychohistorian

          Skippy, you are my respond to guy today.

          I have been talking with another Occupy type who is female, about my age and she is adamant that the patriarchy that is an unquestioned part of our world is the REAL key to evolving our species…no good arguments against that here.

          That which must not be spoken like inheritance and cumulative accumulation of property/wealth under the “might makes right” narrative.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Don’t get me started on that type of feminist…they are like cultists who insist the world can be seen only through one reference frame. And given how emotionally vicious and vindictive women can be (adolescent girls are the prototype, but you see older women who engage in the same behavior), I’m very skeptical re the implicit claim of female superiority.

          2. psychohistorian


            Thanks for the response. Our conversation did go down that road as well but I didn’t share that here. She is not rabid but just clear about some of the blinders that we have grown into societal norms. She is more of the Yin/Yang persuasion that believes that you really need both interrelated but neither to the degree we have now.

      3. Glenn Condell

        ‘Most of this libertarian stuff is so transparent its not even funny.’

        It is a religion created to publicly deify (and thereby silently excuse) the deeply held prejudices and desperately held property of it’s adherents. It is a carefully calibrated ex post facto defence of past pillage and racial prejudice and present possession of gains made in this way. It is an attempt to institutionalise greed (and the wealth and power that result from it’s untrammelled adoption), to set into our cultural template the means whereby those with means retain them, using populist criticism of ‘the government’by the orchestrated Tea Party as a Trojan horse while they busily continue to shape government thru the 1% think tanks and right wing media for their own purposes.

        Ironically, the continuing strength of such movements, and the note of panic you often detect in them, is a strong indicator of how deeply embedded the instinct to share and care is in the rest of us, and probably, deep down, in most of them. Skippy’s Mises quote is ultimately sad, that an intelligent person could actually believe that about babies, but worse, go on to form an impoverished worldview from the impulse that drove that observation. His comment really tells us more about his nature, and those of like mind, than human nature.

    2. F. Beard

      Austrian theory includes the concept of time preference, or the degree to which a person prefers current consumption over future consumption. Skippy

      Actually, what the Austrians are describing is a “money preference” and by “money” I mean some sort of government enforced monopoly on the medium of exchange.

      A world where the money supply is not tightly controlled is abhorrent to the Austrians because it is a world that can bypass them. Austrians are thus insecure; they don’t really trust liberty; they trust in a rigid game that everyone must play.

        1. F. Beard

          Thanks for the link. But please note that Hayek is not a typical Austrian.

          I love the idea of freely competing private currencies so long as it is recognized that there can be no such thing UNLESS only the government’s fiat is accepted for government debts (taxes, fees, etc). Otherwise, the private monies or private money forms accepted for taxes will have an enormous advantage over those not accepted.

          1. Skippy

            “But please note that Hayek is not a typical Austrian” – Beard

            Skippy…will the REAL Austrians… stand up PLEASE. Beard you point them out, god said it was your choice.

          2. F. Beard

            “no true Scotsman”? Lidia

            Indeed! Except Hayek is no true Austrian otherwise he would hate fiat rather than promote it.

            The other Austrians are primitive clod hoppers by comparison in their hatred of fiat.

            I knew Hayek was for private currencies but until today I had no idea my ideas were so close to his. Still, I think common stock is superior to private fiat in several ways.

      1. Skippy

        “Actually, what the Austrians are describing” – Beard

        Your interpretation Beard or does your thoughts supersede all others.

        Skippy….beliefs are like that. BTW nice job of skipping over the rest of the creepiness stored with in.

        1. F. Beard

          I am a post-Austrian and have debated them exhaustively. Their “time preference theory” is just code for a money monopoly of some sort that requires usury.


          I am apparently under some kind of comment quota, so please understand if/when I do not respond to your endless objections.

          1. Skippy

            “understand if/when I do not respond to your endless objections..” – Beard

            Skippy…maybe it has to do with not sticking to points of order or with your inability to answer direct questions save retreating into a fog.

            PS. …endless objections. The libertarian force is strong with you Anakin Fogwalker…

          2. mansoor h. khan

            F. Beard,

            You can only deliver the message (and you need to with words and actions).

            But only HE can guide and no one else can guide.

            And once the message is thoroughly delivered and understood at that point I think you should ignore skippy.

            Mansoor H. Khan

          3. skippy


            Go look up the definition of belief, what the heck here.

            Mainstream psychology and related disciplines have traditionally treated belief as if it were the simplest form of mental representation and therefore one of the building blocks of conscious thought. Philosophers have tended to be more abstract in their analysis and much of the work examining the viability of the belief concept stems from philosophical analysis.

            The concept of belief presumes a subject (the believer) and an object of belief (the proposition). So, like other propositional attitudes, belief implies the existence of mental states and intentionality, both of which are hotly debated topics in the philosophy of mind whose foundations and relation to brain states are still controversial.

            Beliefs are sometimes divided into core beliefs (that are actively thought about) and dispositional beliefs (that may be ascribed to someone who has not thought about the issue). For example, if asked “do you believe tigers wear pink pajamas?” a person might answer that they do not, despite the fact they may never have thought about this situation before.[4]

            That a belief is a mental state has been seen, by some, as contentious. While some philosophers have argued that beliefs are represented in the mind as sentence-like constructs others have gone as far as arguing that there is no consistent or coherent mental representation that underlies our common use of the belief concept and that it is therefore obsolete and should be rejected.


            Skippy….tag team beard and moonsur. You need to expand you knowage base. Seems you only have two or three core references and they are set in stone. Corrupt data sets with out outside referencing – refreshing are glitchy as heck and ultimately crash. Beard you should know that, follower mass is a poor means of empirical proof, flat earth stuff.

          4. F. Beard

            Beard you should know that, follower mass is a poor means of empirical proof, flat earth stuff. skippy

            Actually, the Bible indicates the Earth is at least round, possibly spherical (Isaiah 40:22) and is hung on nothing (Job 26:7) as opposed to a flat Earth balanced on “turtles all the way down”, a competing world view.

            But since the Bible does not specify that the Earth is an oblate spheroid, I suppose you will object.

          5. psychohistorian

            Thanks skippy, my turn

            Beard, how quickly you seem to forget, don’t know or want to hide the repression and killing that religious folks did to all who questioned faith..back in the time and even now. There was this period called the Enlightenment that we can’t seem to get beyond where it was proven that the sun does not rotate around the earth among other faith based beliefs that folks were killed for.

            To me religions should all be relegated to the myth status they deserve. They have much of value to offer society but none of it should be in the way of societal organization.

            If you study American history a bit, say of the 1950’s you might see the sick compact that the global inherited rich made with those of faith to convince the US to change the motto of the founding fathers from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust. This faith based compact was extended to create a facade of faith based economy with fiat money, animal spirits and things like manifest destiny that fits real well with religions wanting everyone else to believe like they do and provides great cover for imperialism under the auspices of saving these lesser creatures.

          6. mansoor h. khan


            “Go look up the definition of belief, what the heck here.”

            I can always tell when confusion is present. When the author uses too many words.

            Mansoor H. Khan

          7. F. Beard

            There was this period called the Enlightenment that we can’t seem to get beyond where it was proven that the sun does not rotate around the earth among other faith based beliefs that folks were killed for. psychohistorian

            Actually, the Sun does rotate around the Earth if your frame of reference is Earth centered. I proved it to myself with a Solar System Simulator I wrote in C++. With the Earth as the frame of reference, the Sun did orbit the Earth and the outer planets did that epicycle thingy. Ah, the thrill of discovery …

          8. skippy

            A glib brush off is not a retort, it is entering the fog. The definition is as stated. You inability to cope with it, is yours and not the greater community’s. To many words, try your book out for that action.

            Skippy…neither one of you can answer a direct question.

          9. mansoor h. khan

            Skippy said:

            “A glib brush off is not a retort, it is entering the fog”.

            Please try to use your right brain more to understand the universe. Try to see the unity of things. Try art, music, movies, sports, poetry as a start and closely observe nature and beauty the beauty of it all and unity of it all.

            It is all from one source. It is all related, complements each other, interdependent and complete and always has a purpose.

            And by the way, I strongly disagree. A newborn baby is not a “savage”. Have kids? Now, if there is a symbol of unity and a miracle a newborn baby is definitely one.

            Mansoor H. Khan

          10. skippy


            No thanks, I’ll stick to the facts and leave the fog to those that fear the facts.

            Skippy…like beards constant miss or deliberate usage of stretch the sky stuff. This is absolutely settled (see below), yet he uses his right side to make it so.

          11. skippy

            @beard and mansoor,

            I’ve pointed this_fact_out before and yet you persist in misrepresenting the facts.

            You have your own interpretation. Stop passing it off as peer reviewed. SEE:

            The heavens and earth are said to be stretched out at creation. The Hebrew word hfn is used for the heavens while the Hebrew word uqr is used for the earth.

            The Hebrew word hfn occurs ten times in the OT in the context of God stretching out the heavens. It is used five times in the book of Isaiah (40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 51:13). It also occurs in Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Zechariah 12:1 and in Jeremiah 10:12 and 51:15. In Jeremiah hfn is used as a Qal perfect, which means the “stretching” is past completed action. In all other references it is a Qal participle. The participle indicates continuous action; however, the context of these verses show that they are also past completed action at the time of creation.


            Skippy…you are misrepresenting fact or lying with intent. Beard go read about counterfeiting and Newtons Tree, hell Finnish Greabers book or find some more bias conformation material…shez. But stop making facts up out of hole cloth, above ^^^^ see, its not hard to understand. Nothing worse than discourse or debate with people that make stuff up to fit_their_narrative.

          12. mansoor h. khan

            Skippy said,

            “the context of these verses show that they are also past completed action at the time of creation.”

            It is simpler than that:

            Quran says that Allah knows not only past, present and future but also knows the fourth (things which can happen but he did not will them so they won’t happen).

            In this sense for Allah: The future has already happened. The future is already past tense for him.

            Once he decided to create the universe with all its laws as he wanted them to be. He said BE! And the universe instantiated.

            The expansion of the universe is just one of his laws in operation since he spoke BE!

            Mansoor H. Khan

          13. skippy

            Gibberish, beard used present and future tense. The facts are clear and peer reviewed.

            Skippy…foot chewing is poor form.

          14. F. Beard


            I am not here to convert anyone. Believe as you see fit. My parents suffered through the Great Depression and were blighted by it. I aim to prevent that stupidity again. I point out the hypocrisy of the Religious Right to advance that goal and you attack me.

            My conclusion? You would rather have Great Depression II and possibly WW III (as GD I was a major cause of WW II) because you hate the Bible more than you love your fellow man.

            Btw, your objection to “fog” reminds of the objection to Impressionistic Painting: “It just a bunch of colored dots!”

            “Glib” you say? So what? It’s not my responsibility to lead you by the hand and answer your every objection. My own faith (such as it is) was painfully acquired. Do your own homework.

          15. Skippy


            Your attempts to paint me with *wishing anything* is gibberish too. You are incorrect in “spreading sky’s” proclamation in toto, the language is irrefutable. You fail to address this massive fraudulently peddled factoid, yet try to diminish me, for pointing it out to you and the readers.

            Private monies (common stock) is a libertarian wet dream. The potential for fraud, criminal enterprise and misuse is a matter of historical record. I’ve pointed you in the direction of it, your failure to seek it is yours alone.

            Skippy…Post Austrian Libertarian[?]… try Charlatan. Still in the face of countervailing evidence, you can not retract your statement as false. This is your underlining ethos, your way is the right way, regardless of the facts? This point of order and others I have pointed out as false misrepresentations does not support your other expressions. Readers have been warned.

          16. F. Beard

            Private monies (common stock) is a libertarian wet dream. The potential for fraud, criminal enterprise and misuse is a matter of historical record. skippy

            On the contrary, it is government enforced money monopolies for private debts that do the real damage. The Fed, for example, caused the Great Depression and thus was a major cause of WW II and 50-86 million killed.

            I’ve pointed you in the direction of it, your failure to seek it is yours alone. skippy

            Fiat would still be available to use for all debts, if people so choose, not just government ones so what is you problem? Are you for the “stealth inflation tax”?

            You are an obstructionist but obstruct away. I guess it is indication of progress: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” Ghandi

          17. Skippy

            Still no retraction of false information (spreading sky’s), now willful. The only thing I obstruct is lies.

            I have given you direction to refute your common stock assertions, historically. You only pontificate by your own insistence that it is all good, zero references.

            “On the contrary, it is government enforced money monopolies for private debts that do the real damage.” – beard

            What part of the government is_run_by private business don’t you see or understand, you conflate the issue at every utterance. BIG revolving door between the two et al.

            Skippy…HRC? and you know your religions? Beard you can’t just pick and choose the bits you like and claim the rest does not matter. Still waiting for retraction of false statement.

          18. F. Beard

            Still waiting for retraction of false statement. skippy

            Oh, you mean about “stretching the heavens”? Well, just to make sure I searched the King James version. It too indicates as does the NASB that the process of stretching is continuing. And as far as I know, there was no evidence in the 16th century of the expansion of the universe.

            Can’t answer a simple question? I ask again: What is HRC?

          19. Skippy

            IN the original language, it is, clearly spoken. What ever translation you point out to… is a second opinion.

            Just like your try to fill peoples heads with this rubbish, its the same with the rest.

            Skippy….the language does not lie, you have no rigor. See ya creepy.

    3. Lidia

      I don’t have kids and I’m planning to establish a land trust to put real estate back into the “commons”.

    4. TK421

      Yet another example of how so much right-libertarianism has a “My First Logic Book” feel to it–they’re worse even than intelligent design proponents. As if the only way a person can care about the future is by having biological children.

  7. digi_owl

    1. a lovely summary of what i think is wrong with (right-)libertarianism, but failed to properly put into words.

    2. the term wage-slave comes to mind. Basically a state where, yes, the person is payed a wage. But the moment that wage is removed he is effectivly bankrupt, and a illness or injury away from death for lack of a medical safety net.

    3. jails do not work as crime disincentives, as most criminals are either psychotic or desperate. In either case they are not bothering to think ahead to what the outcome of actions will be, beyond the near term relief of a need or drive.

    1. James

      “jails do not work as crime disincentives, as most criminals are either psychotic or desperate. ”

      Beg to differ. Most criminals may be desperate, but most of the lower class variety to whom I assume you are referring are merely socialized to a life of violence, for which prison poses no particularly serious threat. The logical conclusion being that as life on the streets becomes more and more violent, prisons will act less and less as a deterrent. Funny how white collar prisons are noted for their distinct lack “street cred.” Perhaps there’s an area for improvement?

        1. James

          As they say in The Wire, “it’s all in the game.” Besides, surely you’re not suggesting they’re dumb enough to actually want to be locked up. I’m just saying that prison becomes less and less of a deterrent, especially when you’re finally socialized to that life to the point that you have as many friends on the inside as you do out.

          On the other hand, end white collar “country club prisons” (hypothetically of course, we all know that will never happen) and put the Wall Streeters in gen pop, and then maybe we’ll see some “change we can believe in.” Either that or more ruthless Wall Streeters – it’s hard to say which.

      1. TK421

        If horrible prisons are a disincentive to crime, then the worse a country’s prisons are the lower it’s crime rate must be. But in reality the opposite is true.

  8. craazyman

    How does Mr. Cain feel about the interview series? Does he feel he was portrayed fairly or taken out of context in some way?

    It’s easy to make someone look foolish by selective edits, although I realize, Andrew, you were scrupulously fair so whatever distortion, if any, was unintentional.

    Beard since you’re a Christian and so am I (in theory anyway), maybe we could take up a collection for Mr. Cain’s security invoice as a Christmas project and a humanist example.

    I still have a bad feeling there, and even though he somehow made it through all 6 interviews the sh–t could still hit the fan any moment, especially with folks really tense around the holidays and with the steriods those guys are on to bulk up. It makes for a bad mix.

    1. Piano Racer

      craazyman’s confusion point out exactly why this “interview series” is so deceptive and misleading. Intentional or no, people are being deceived. I can’t help but think that was the original author’s, and this site’s progenitor, intended purpose all along. Straw men are so fun to knock down, are they not?

      For shame…

    2. Code Name Cain

      So you and Beard are worried about my survival? Thanks, but I can take care of myself.

      The best thing I can say about Andrew is that despite his mental limitations, he was genuinely interested in my views. It’s true that he asked a lot of loaded questions that were intended to set traps for me – but those kind of games only threaten people who lack a consistent core logical philosophy.

      1. F. Beard

        So you and Beard are worried about my survival? CNC

        Well, the Creator is concerned with His property, to put it in terms you might understand. I suppose it is my duty to be concerned too.

        Thanks, but I can take care of myself. CNC

        Like Ayn Rand did?

        The best thing I can say about Andrew is that despite his mental limitations, he was genuinely interested in my views. CNC

        I was once fascinated myself till I discovered the philosophical inconsistency and hypocrisy.

        It’s true that he asked a lot of loaded questions that were intended to set traps for me – but those kind of games only threaten people who lack a consistent core logical philosophy. CNC

        I was a libertarian for most of my life and spent enormous amounts of time trying to reach a consistent philosophical position. I could not, nor have I encountered anyone else who did. Rothbard was close but even he believed in a government enforced gold standard. Michael S Rozeff has an interesting approach called “panarchism” that might hold promise but I have my doubts about it too.

        But the real problem is utopiainism. This life is only temporary and is a test too. Heaven forbid that it be a permanent reality if only for the sake of the wild animals who are killing and eating each other!

          1. jake chase

            If you are entirely serious about getting to the bottom of this I recommend reading David Hume. Most of the comments (and most of main posts) on what is characterized as “libertarianism” are childish and pathological. We do need government to protect legitimate property rights. What we have is businessman’s government dedicated to subverting legitimate property and erecting fabulous insider accumulations founded on monopoly, deceit, theft, wage slavery and usury. The fact that a relative handful of shrewd, disciplined, lucky individuals manage to achieve financial security (and in a few cases even wealth), without insider connections of any kind is an unintended consequence glammorized by propagandists as “the American Dream”.

      2. TK421

        Dear Mr. Cain,

        While you were at work today I burned down your house and began building a factory on the vacated land. You weren’t using that property to its fullest productive potential, and thus have no claim to it. I’m sure you understand.

        Warmest regards, etc.

      3. Susan the other

        Mr. Cain: Thank you for coming on and giving us an opportunity to respond to you. I agree with you that Mr. Dittmer was very open minded in his interview with you. It was the most engaging thing I have ever participated in. But I was just wondering, did you happen to see the article in Bloomberg today about Mandelbrot’s equations describing economics better than the economists’ equations? And economics and ideology being so all-entangled… I’m wondering what you might think about an indepth, scientific definition of economic forces.

        1. Piano Racer

          My favorite Mandelbrot-related song, by a pretty wide margin:

          His disdain for pure mathematics and his unique geometrical insights
          Left him well equipped to face those demons down
          He saw that infinite complexity could be described by simple rules
          Used his giant brain and he turned the game around
          And he looked below the storm
          Saw a vision in his head
          A bulbous pointy form
          Picked his pencil up and he wrote his secret down

          1. F. Beard

            He saw that infinite complexity could be described by simple rules Piano Racer

            Water is a deceptively simple compound that continues to amaze. I find it interesting that it is a “Trinity” (H2O) and is essential for life.

          2. F. Beard

            FB, what are your religious thoughts about carbon? Lidia

            According to Fred Hoyle, it’s a miracle that carbon even exists to any great extent. Something about nuclear resonances.

            I’m not a chemist though. Sometimes, I wish were though. But it’s dangerous knowledge.

          3. psychohistorian

            F. Beard,

            What are your thought about the science that says that our cosmos is made up of only 4% matter that you speak of and the other 96% is referred to as dark energy and dark matter of which we know little or nothing?

            Do you have a new theology to incorporate that science? Is it talked about in your great book?

          4. skippy


            You have your own interpretation. Stop passing it off as peer reviewed. SEE:

            The heavens and earth are said to be stretched out at creation. The Hebrew word hfn is used for the heavens while the Hebrew word uqr is used for the earth.

            The Hebrew word hfn occurs ten times in the OT in the context of God stretching out the heavens. It is used five times in the book of Isaiah (40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 51:13). It also occurs in Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Zechariah 12:1 and in Jeremiah 10:12 and 51:15. In Jeremiah hfn is used as a Qal perfect, which means the “stretching” is past completed action. In all other references it is a Qal participle. The participle indicates continuous action; however, the context of these verses show that they are also past completed action at the time of creation.


            Skippy…also your HRC inference is wrong too, shezz you have it bad. So much mangling of every thing. BTW respond to the Mises quote, if you would.

          5. F. Beard

            “Man is born an asocial and antisocial being. The newborn child is a savage. Egoism is his nature. Only the experience of life and the teachings of his parents, his brothers, sisters, playmates, and later of other people FORCE HIM to acknowledge the advantages of social cooperation and accordingly to change his behavior.” ~Ludwig Von Mises via skippy

            Speak for yourself Ludvig:

            He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding keeps silent. Proverbs 11:12

            What Skippy, you thought I was a fan of LVM? I am a POST-Austrian. LVM was a gold-bug who justified usury and who taught that deflation and Depressions were good (or at least necessary) to “purge the malinvestments”.

      4. craazyman

        OK Mr. Cain,

        let’s just be honest here. Andrew is a highly intelligent and well-intentioned humanist, but, frankly, he may be too youthful, idealistic and naive to fully grasp your cynicism.

        Nobody can be a stupid as you the persona you portray — unless they have ambitions of domination and hope to enchant the sheep with dreamy deulsions for the sole purpose of a self-referential power-hungry scheme.

        So are you a prophet, politician, messiah, narcissist or all of the above. What’s your end game here? Do you want to be a Dictator or a TV talk show celebrity, on “Dancing with the Stars”, in the Movies playing yourself, or what? Do you want to be a judge on American Idol? Or what?

        maybe we can help if you don’t want a Christmas Card with a couple crisp hundreds in the money sleeve. Maybe we can find a way to do some business with you?

  9. Pete

    I think a libertarian, in current America, is simply someone who believes in less government — *much* less government. Their justification for this is that our highest value is “liberty”, which is interpreted as property rights. They’re well meaning people, but as the series of articles showed, far too thoroughly and tediously, the position of advocating a government which does little or nothing other than protect property is inconsistent with maintaining the rights of others, not to mention the public good. Furthermore, those who spout “minimal government” the loudest are often dishonest by their own standards and basically end up using deregulation as an excuse to steal from the government, their business partners, their customers, and their investors.

    In practice, your obligation to debate any kind of libertarian theory is about the same as a police officer’s obligation to debate the first amendment with an OWS protester.

    Everyone who sticks their head into the sewage pond of economic and political thought ought to learn a simple (3 sentences or less) sound-byte way to firmly refute the ultra-minimal-government fallacy, and move on. Same applies for any opposing point of view. Talking, thinking, and writing beyond that is a waste of time. Better spent living your life, doing something positive for yourself and your family, and maybe the rest of the world.

    1. Moneta

      It’s all fine and good and an amazing concept but how do you slit property?

      Its solution is to weed out the unworthy. It’s a very selfish solution that would unilkely benefit the masses.

      Either we think there is enough to go around or we don’t.

      We can probably split most people on the right in 2 groups:

      1. Those who think there is enough for everyone but still want to be part of the elite and will be in favor of policies that will keep the masses down.

      2. Those who think there is not enough to go around so they will be in favor of policies that favor the elite and keep the masses down.

      And they all hope they fall into the elite group… since we humans are constantly in denial, it’s not hard to do.

      Then you have the liberals who always think there is more than enough for everyone:

      1. Those who think our resources will never be limited and ingenuity will always save the day.

      2. Those who think resources are limited but if we focus a little more on services and grow the non-material GDP, we’ll be just fine.

      In the group of liberals you have those who are selfless and want everyone to thrive and the greedy ones who want perma-growth so they can keep on increasing their well-being.

      Then you probably have a group of people, leaves in the wind, who probably never even thought about any of this.

      So what’s the solution? Is there more than enough to go around? And if so, do enough people believe it?
      1. You have those

      1. Moneta

        Those who never thought about whether there was enough to go around or not…

        3. The haves who don’t want to share.

        3. The have nots who want what they don’t have.

      2. reason

        Then there are those who think there will only be enough to go around if we stop increasing our numbers exponentially.

        And we know a set of policies that stop the exponential growth in population.

        1. Educate and empower women;
        1a. (Educate everybody – partiy included 1 above)
        2. Provide public pensions (so people don’t rely on children for their old age);
        3. Provide basic health and sanitation so that the vast majority of children survive into adulthood (so you don’t need extra children as insurance in case they die).
        3a. (Also part of 3) Provide the knowledge and means to allow women to control their fertility.

        This works every time even in poor societies (e.g. Kebala). The right meme that this transition happens automatically is incorrect (e.g. Saudi Arabia).

      3. Piano Racer

        3. Those who think there is not enough to go around for those who produce nothing so they will be in favor of policies that allow those who produce to keep what they produce and direct their excess capital as they see fit, possibly/hopefully at least partially to help those who are unable to produce for themselves.

        1. Lidia

          People lived for hundreds of thousands of years with far more “partaking” than “producing”. The modern frenzy to do with “producing” is fear that the industrial model won’t continue to shunt resources to the top 1%. “Producing” in modern economic language means going to a job, paying taxes and otherwise supporting parasitic structures to a far greater degree than one manages to support oneself.

          As conventionally-measured productivity keeps increasing, actual job holders take home a smaller and smaller real wage. They are starting to figure out this “productivity” hoax.

          1. F. Beard

            I have no problem with productivity. The problem is that the benefits of productivity are not fairly “shared” <- common stock reference, the ideal private money form.

            Really, all this emphasis on jobs dismays me. What people need are "tickets to consume", not jobs per se.

            I don't know about you but with enough money I'll find my own productive things to do.

          2. Lidia

            “with enough money I’ll find my own productive things to do.”

            That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!

          3. F. Beard

            That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! Lidia

            Sure it does. With my own machine shop, I might prototype a high-compression rotary diesel engine I dreamed up once. But alas, I can’t afford my own machine shop.

        2. reason

          If that is so then why does so much end up in the hands of those who own or control capital rather than those who actually produce? (And if this really is your concern, shouldn’t you be pushing for high inheritance taxes?)

          1. F. Beard

            If that is so then why does so much end up in the hands of those who own or control capital rather than those who actually produce? reason

            Exactly. But the means of that control, under our present system, is “money”. And that “money” is under the tight control of the government backed/enforced usury and counterfeiting cartel, our banking system.

            Remove the government backing/enforcement for the cartel and it must fall.

            Josiah Charles Stamp, the 1st Baron Stamp was born on June 21, 1880 and died during the Blitz of London in World war two. He was a director of the Bank of England and the second richest man in the country when in a talk at the University of Texas in the 1920′s he said the following:

            “Banking was conceived in iniquity and was born in sin. The bankers own the earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money, and with the flick of the pen they will create enough deposits to buy it back again. However, take it away from them, and all the great fortunes like mine will disappear and they ought to disappear, for this would be a happier and better world to live in. But, if you wish to remain the slaves of bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, let them continue to create money .” from

          2. mansoor h. khan

            F. Beard,

            You are being fair to “reason” in your reply.

            Fixing the money system is a big step forward.

            But what about the control of global resources (like or gas) by monopolies (concentrated in very small number of hands) aided and abetted by strong militaries.

            mansoor h. khan

  10. Moneta

    Either you think there is more than enough to go around, either you think the pie is limited.

    In a society fixated on materialism, chances are that more people fall into the 2nd camp thant the 1st. Let’s face it, there is more demand for oceanfont properties than what is available.

    The 40+ came into this world when the population was 3B. At 7B, imagine how many middle people will be vying for these oceanfront properties in a few decades. Those in the top 15% see this all too clearly and they don’t want to share. They don’t care too much about liberalism because arts and other intangible goods don’t mean mcuh to them.

    They will use any kind of philosophy to get what the want. And call it whatever they want. Right now they call it libertanism because they can use nice sounding words from the constitution. Exactly what many Americans want to hear.

  11. mutt50

    Dead on. Correct. People are not motivated by ideology, we use it to justify ourselves. The outstanding trait of the lib’s I’ve met and spoken with is a hatred for the “unworthy”, who are people not like them. The evil gov’t gives the breaks to the unworthy, etc..
    It’s just another cover for ego and fear, and tribalism. The CRA lies pretty much prove it.


  12. Dan Duncan

    This Dittmer follow up to his SIX PART SERIES on Libertarians brings to mind the K’s Choice classic:

    Somthing’s Wrong.

    In fact, Andrew, I think you’ve given K’s Choice some new material.

    Right after the Lead Singer, Sarah Betten sings

    When your pubic hair’s on fire, something’s wrong
    When you think you’re the Messiah, something’s wrong
    When you mistake a plane for Venus, something’s wrong
    When your girlfriend’s got a penis

    Something’s wrong…
    Something’s wrong…
    Something’s wrong…
    Something’s wrong…

    They can now add:

    When your previous 12000 words in SIX INSTALLMENTS does not stand on it’s own, so that you feel the need to pontificate EVEN MORE,

    Something’s wrong…
    Something’s wrong…

    [For your listening and viewing pleasure. K’s Choice and Something’s Wrong.

      1. Piano Racer

        Sometimes you just have to let little Johnny stick his finger in the electrical outlet for him to really get the message.

        In fact, that’s a rather succinct analogy for the libertarian argument!

        Homer: That baby-proofing crook wanted to sell us safety covers for the electrical outlets. But I’ll just draw bunny faces on them to scare Maggie away.
        Marge: She’s not afraid of bunnies!
        Homer: She will be!

  13. Joshua Cullick

    This is a really good article and series, and it’s generated discussion much of which I’ve found valuable. Thanks especially for the qualifier section on the term usage at the beginning of this piece, as I’m one of those who thinks of myself as left-libertarian.

    1. Goin' South

      I’ll second that, and only note that it would have been nice to see the more accurate term, “Propertarian,” mentioned. Let’s force these folks to conform to some truth in advertising. They’re about property rights, not liberty.

      1. Piano Racer

        The truth is, any “ism” is an ideology and when we stoop to discussing “isms” rather than the underlying ideas, all you get is this ideological mumbo-jumbo. Any ideology, when driven to its logical extremes in straw-man fashion, would lead to some dark dystopia or another.

        It’s an exercise in mental masturbation; I prefer to study and debate ideas rather than ideologies. In my experience, the predisposition towards ideological thinking and philosophizing is directly tied to religiosity (as well as being generational).

          1. Piano Racer

            I agree RanDomino, and I don’t have a problem with the labels as such. In fact, when people start going on about the merits of thisism and self identifying as a thatian, I find that’s a good cue that they’re debating an intricate set of interlocking, inconsistent, and unworkable-in-the-real-world overly-complicated ideology rather than granular ideas, and nothing much useful will be produced.

            This six- (oh wait, seven now)-part series drives that point home rather well for me.

  14. Lidia

    I’m taken aback by the highlighted comments between Mr. Dittmer and indio007 where we’re asked to consider a false dichotomy between wars that “governments” wage and those that might be waged by corporations in a putative future without such governments.

    Far from being a serious critical exchange, it completely ignores the long-standing practice of governments’ waging wars on behalf of private interests. In American history, this began almost immediately with the Barbary Pirate problems. The question to be asked is not what government does to thwart corporations and private interests, but what has it done to vastly empower them?

    Pretending that governments are not generally expressions of corporations or, before them, other unnatural concentrations of private wealth, does fly in the face of “the historical record” being appealed to above. There’s a scrap of unintended honesty, though, in the statement that “Clearly, these allegiances are often decided for other reasons.”

    1. Andrew

      It’s true governments often wage war in support of private or corporate interests. The commenter seemed to be asserting that in a world in which the only “states” were insurance companies with military arms, the incidence of war would decrease dramatically. I wasn’t so sure.

      Do you and I actually disagree on anything here?

      1. Lidia

        Do you and I disagree? I don’t think so. I’m saying exactly that: states are already “insurance companies with military arms”. Italy and Greece are both being run, currently, by unelected bankers and Goldman Sachs alumni who effectively deposed a right-wing and a left-wing government, respectively. The transition from the Bush to the Obama administration, having to follow a more formalized ceremonial installation than that of their European counterparts, was marked by noted continuity in bankster control.

        @reason, it’s too late to “weed out” corruption. The system itself IS corruption and was designed to perform exactly as it is doing. Which is why it’s useful to some to keep the argument framed along the lines of whether it “tastes great” or is “less filling”.

        1. reason

          Disagree – reform is possible, it just needs a clear headed population to do it. I’m hopeful about the pirate party here in Germany. In the US it is made much difficult by the dreadful electoral system you have.

      2. Lidia

        Oh, about the decrease in war… I think that has been borne out somewhat, as global economic and monetary systems can extract resources from faraway populations in more subtle and bloodless ways than in earlier points in time.

        We see that people can even be brought to rationalize their own depredation as it is happening to them, and become complicit in it… which is harder to pull off in the case of Hun-like invading hordes.

      3. TK421

        I believe a world ruled by corporations would see MORE war than one ruled by governments. It’s been often said that two democracies have never gone to war against each other. Corporations, on the other hand, war against each other constantly. If it’s a cold war rather than a hot one, it’s usually only because of government restraint. If BP and Exxon-Mobil were free to build armies and shoot at each other, they would.

        1. Lidia

          I think they do engage in a type of warfare, but again they use government to do it for them (not that I know much about the field, but I have a sense that most of IP/copyright filings are less about innovation than the mere bludgeoning of the competition using the cudgel of government).

          Lobbyists and lawyers, while expensive, are still cheaper than tanks and such and corporations currently have more to gain overall as members of cartels than in going head-to-head. That way they can preserve the fig-leaf of “competition” and “free markets”. This may not last as resources tighten, it’s true, and corporations aren’t exactly strangers to armed action, just that it has usually employed against indigenous populations (Shell, Freeport McMoRan) rather than against competitors.

        2. digi_owl

          I think it would be a kind of “bushfire” war, where various groups would make guerrilla attacks against competing installations and such. The kind seen in parts of Africa where oil fields and mines have PMCs guards, while the rest is left to descend into chaos.

          What i find puzzling tho is how this will all work out in the long run, because industry and such only really work because money flow from sales>production>wages>sales. But if the wages to missing because the workforce is left in a state of chaos, there is no sales and so nothing fueling production.

          Wage slavery perhaps? Where the corporations provide some minimum of living for as long as your able to work, but with no retirement option or job safety?

          I think such a system has been operated in South America and Africa at times, with the supervisor showing up with a buss each morning and picking out who gets to work that day. If you show up repeatedly and do good work, you get ahead of the line. But pass on a day or more for illness or other reasons and your at the back of the queue again.

    2. digi_owl

      The oldest example of this may well be the British East Indies Company, that interestingly had its height when Adam Smith wrote his famous work.

  15. Blunt

    Property rights have a long history of being equated with “liberty.” I suspect that George Mason had what Mr. Dittmer defines as a “right libertarian” pov when he wrote:

    “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

    Mason was not, most assuredly, an indentured servant, let alone a slave or the paid worker in an early American textile factory when he penned these words. Thus, I suspect that the one thing to remain aware of in libertarianism is the matter of protecting the right of people to pursue the accumulation of property to their heart’s content.

    The other matter that seems central to Mason’s words is that when he wrote in 1776 for all practical purposes the continent and the lands north and south of it were limitless in terms of the corralled population of the British Atlantic coast colonies. Property probably seemed unlimited.

    In that way the matters that were inalienable to posterity were those that matter most to Mr. Mason: liberty (to do as one wished and to form a government that would look after his interests rather than those of the British crown and those who supported it. Property, the measure of wealth in the colonies not yet hemmed in by other colonies (every one except NJ, DE and all of NE. Happiness, the right to dispense justice to one’s renters and to live in enjoyments of the fruits of other men’s labor. Finally, life and safety to maintain that life. Sort of the adjunct to Hoppe’s notion that whatever “state” there is is there to safeguard the prerogatives of the ownership-class.

  16. Instead of Politics

    Pure libertarianism accepts property as a natural right – not a legislated or an ideological one. Even the plants and animals are territorial. Those who are stuck in the “left” have not learned the lesson of the USSR – which sought to prohibit property, and inevitably created a totalitarian megastate to enforce its misguided idealism. For leftist utopianists, the ends justify the means.

    Pure libertarians have come to the realization that the state is an artificial form of government which can only create monopolies and black markets. The natural marketplace (along with all other laws of nature) is the only true government.

    1. reason

      Not this idiotic “natural” argument again. I’ll repeat myself:
      1. “Natural” law is natural in the same sense that “Natural” shampoo is natural. It isn’t it is just advertising. In nature holding wealth (territory) has a large and increasing (with the area) cost. Your natural law envisages this wealth being protected free of cost by society.
      2. Markets aren’t natural – they are a clever and valuable human invention.
      3. Something being “natural” is anyway not a guarantee that it is good (there are plenty of natural poisons). This is called the “naturalistic” fallacy, confusing is with ought.

    2. reason

      And there is a bit of irony fail here – you correctly berate left utopians but fail to see that you are a right utopian. All Utopias are bad. Didn’t you read the series Andrew just wrote?

    3. RanDomino

      The Marxists were “communists” in name only. They were first and foremost authoritarians. The only people who actually believe in Marxism anymore are members of weird cults (“parties”). The ideological foundation, acknowledged or not, of the largest and most influential anti-capitalist movements in the West today is Anarchism.

      1. Ransome

        Actually commune-ists predated Marx. I am just reading a book written by Charles Nordoff (Mutiny on the Bounty) that explores various commune-ist Utopian experiments.

        Where do communists come from? Capitalists are the alpha males that employ workers (the derogatory slang term is employees) and accumulate property as their reward. The beta males are entrepreneurs, where individuals reap the fruit of their own enterprise and labor. America with free land was the finest place for an entrepreneur. The lowest form were laborers that lacked certain character traits that required them to be reliant on the capitalist or the State or the Union. The Union organized and repressed workers while stealing property from the capitalist. Worker repression came from the guild system where an apprentice had no forward or lateral movement, regardless of skill or ambition. (No cross training in a seniority ruled society)

        The ultimate capitalistic State had no Unions and no organized workers. The workers had the freedom to become alphas or betas. (It reminds one of the sweat shops promoted by Milton Friedman or the tenement tailors of the East Side.)

        The alternate economic system removed the capitalist and the Union, and became a commune-ist Utopia, a worker’s paradise (remember, these workers have character defects, later to become linked as genetic flaws, otherwise they would be alphas or betas). Nordoff then explores the different communist Utopian experiments of the early 1800’s. I have yet to read those chapters. We know they failed. I have a theory why but will wait for Nordoff’s summary.

        Twenty five years hence, non-English speaking immigrants were given IQ tests in pantomime, with an 80% failure rate, proving their undesirability for immigration.

    4. Lidia

      It was not an abolition of the concept of property; on the contrary, it was the total arrogation of property to “the state”.

      Today, Wal*Mart = “the state”. My right-wing sister sees nothing wrong with the 6 Wal*Mart heirs making a claim on future goods and resources equal to that of 100 million Americans.

      They’re both totalitarian projects.

      1. digi_owl

        Something that Marx did not have in mind. What he envisioned was the workers having democratic control over the factory or farm they worked at. What he failed to contemplate was how this was to be interlinked. But that could be because things could be left alone, so that a national assembly or similar put forth requisitions and the worker run factories tried to supply that.

        Btw, Marx had the already industrialized Germany and England in mind when he set up this vision. Not Russia and such that was still mostly farmers and aristocrats. I think he even warned that it would fail because of that, and given the nationalization of production one could very well say it did.

  17. Foppe


    In my experience, libertarians often enjoy citing examples like this, in which the freedom of the flagpole hanger to survive is trumped by the right of the owner to maintain sovereignty over her apartment. Is is possible that libertarianism is a theory of sovereignty, and not a theory of freedom?

    I’m not sure if you’ve read Debt, but in his discussion of the Roman legal system, Graeber notes the following, which seems to be at the bottom of this whole focus on negative liberty/sovereignty, and why you might want to enshrine it as the fundamental political-legal (but for the libertarians “moral”) concept:

    The most notorious of these is the unique way it defines property. In Roman law, property, or dominium, is a relation between a person and a thing, characterized by absolute power of that person over that thing. This definition has caused endless conceptual problems. First of all, it’s not clear what it would mean for a human to have a ” relation” with an inanimate object. Human beings can have relations with one another. But what would it mean to have a “relation” with a thing? And if one did, what would it mean to give that relation legal standing?

    How did this come about? And why? The most convincing explanation I’ve seen is Orlando Patterson’s: the notion of absolute private property is really derived from slavery. One can imagine property not as a relation between people, but as a relation between a person and a thing, if one’s starting point is a relation between two people, one of whom is also a thing. (This is how slaves were defined in Roman law: they were people who were also a res, a thing.) The emphasis on absolute power begins to make sense as well.

    What made Roman slavery so unusual, in historical terms, was a conjuncture of two factors. One was its very arbitrariness. In dramatic contrast with, say plantation slavery in the Americas, there was no sense that certain people were naturally inferior and therefore destined to be slaves. Instead, slavery was seen as a misfortune that could happen to anyone. As a result, there was no reason that a slave might not be in every way superior to his or her master: smarter, with a finer sense of morality, better taste, and a greater understanding of philosophy. The master might even be willing to acknowledge this. There was no reason not to, since it had no effect on the nature of the relationship, which was simply one of power.

    The relation of dominus and slave thus brought a relation of conquest, of absolute political power into the household (in fact, made it the essence of the household). It’s important to emphasize that this was not a moral relation on either side. A well-known legal formula, attributed to a Republican lawyer named Quintus Haterius, brings this home with particular clarity. With the Romans as with the Athenians, for a male to be the object of sexual penetration was considered unbefitting to a citizen. In defending a freedman accused of continuing to provide sexual favors to his former master, Haterius coined an aphorism that was later to become something of a popular dirty joke: impudicitia in ingenuo crimen est, in servo necessitas, in Liberto officium ( “to be the object of anal penetration is a crime in the freeborn, a necessity for a slave, a duty for a freedman” ). What is significant here is that sexual subservience is considered the “duty” only of the freedman. It is not considered the “duty” of a slave. This is because, again, slavery was not a moral relation. The master could do what he liked, and there was nothing the slave could do about it.

    The most insidious effect of Roman slavery, however, is that through Roman law, it has come to play havoc with our idea of human freedom. The meaning of the Roman word libertas itself changed dramatically over time. As everywhere in the ancient world, to be “free” meant, first and foremost, not to be a slave. Since slavery means above all the annihilation of social ties and the ability to form them, freedom meant the capacity to make and maintain moral commitments to others. The English word “free,” for instance, is derived from a German root meaning “friend,” since to be free meant to be able to make friends, to keep promises, to live within a community of equals. This is why freed slaves in Rome became citizens: to be free, by definition, meant to be anchored in a civic community, with all the rights and responsibilities that this entailed. (Debt, 198-203.)

    1. Andrew

      Thanks, Foppe. I have read Debt and I liked that passage. I can’t remember whether it was in Graeber or another book, but I remember reading an interesting discussion about how the Romans could actually find themselves in considerable difficulties when trying to define freedom, since they defined it (paraphrase) as “having the ability to do anything that a person had a right to do.” The problem with this definition is that slaves were then technically free, since they could do anything that they had a right to do.

      1. Foppe

        Graeber again, I’m guessing —

        Freedom is the natural faculty to do whatever one wishes that is not prevented by force or law. Slavery is an institution according to the law of nations whereby one person becomes private property (dominium) of another, contrary to nature.

        Medieval commentators immediately noticed the problem here.
        But wouldn’t this mean that everyone is free? After all, even slaves are free to do absolutely anything they’re actually permitted to do. To say a slave is free (except insofar as he isn’t) is a bit like saying the earth is square (except insofar as it is round), or that the sun is blue (except insofar as it is yellow), or, again, that we have an absolute right to do anything we wish with our chainsaw (except those things that we can’t.)

          1. Foppe

            It was a nice passage. (I recommended the book to a law student friend of mine on the basis of this chapter.)

  18. Jean

    To those who discount the ever creeping predominance of (right) libertarian thought into actual practice, an exchange I had in the fall of 2010 with the office of my insurance agent is telling.

    I received a homeowner’s policy annual renewal, including a rate increase of nearly 40%. When calling to inquire of the reason for this, the clerk answering the phone told me that my “insurance score” had been recalculated, a practice done every few years, and I was now rated lower than I had been previously. With no claims for 20 years at the same location, no local storm events, I found this rather incredible. She proceeded to tell me that the government required this action. When I challenged her, she had me talk to the agent. He proceeded along the same lines, that it was because of the government that my rates had jumped so dramatically. In addition, the insurance score is proprietary, and no one can know the details of the method. So, I asked, the government doesn’t know the details of your proprietary method, and yet requires the method be applied (to me) and that my rates increase? “Yes”, that’s true.

    I concluded that the company had instructed personnel to respond to unhappy customers with a convoluted explanation, placing blame squarely on “the government”.

    My brother had a similar experience just last week when calling Lowe’s about a leaking 5 year old hot water heater. The problem, he was told, is that there is a “federal mandate”. Really, he asked, the feds require that my hot water heater leak?

    The “government” is to blame for every ill thought process gains traction with such a large number of our citizens that companies are strategically using that thought, and to challenge those who don’t buy into it.

    1. walter_map

      Naturally, democratic government is the enemy of the corporatist libertarian because that government is an impediment to their plunder. Moreover, corporatists typically seek to corrupt democratic government, and then blame it for its corruption, yet another example of the blaming the victim game played by the radical conservative. Totalitarianism needs scapegoats, and ‘the government’ is always available.

      You will never see a corporatist complain sincerely about the corruption of government by corporatists, but you will see them complaining insincerely.

      Note that in many contexts, corporatist=libertarian, particularly insofar as the contemporary ‘libertarian’ movement is for the most part the PR face of corporatism.

      1. Andrew

        What is unquestionably true is: if you are a corporate lobbyist, libertarian ideas provide a fertile source of inspiration for new arguments.

  19. Tom B

    Both authors bash the extremists libertarians, rightfully so IMO, but they never state what their own “ideal society” should be, and I suppose that like all people they surely must have an idea of what that would look like. I would truly like to know.

    In regard to property rights, why aren’t property rights important? Should we agree with the Supreme Court decision that governments have the right to take a person’s property, even with fair compensation (whatever that might be), even though the supposed benefit to the whole might be open to argument and be a minimal benefit at best, and at worst nothing more than a land grab to enrich their friends, which ultimately the case brought before the Court was really all about.

    Maybe I’m not really a libertarian in the strictest sense as described, but I do believe in liberty and person freedom to do what I choose, so long as I don’t hurt someone, either physically or monetarily, or take away another person’s liberty and right to choose what they want to do with their lives.

    I also believe that government must play a role in regulating the predators in life, maintain law and order and provide essential services. However, that role needs to be minimized, because the ever increasing power that they are given has shown that it can easily lead to less liberty and person freedom, more control over our lives and not protecting us from abuses. What we are seeing, unfortunately, is that the current group of scoundrels running our government do no such thing, even the current president who ran on the platform of reining in such abuses, and in fact are allowing, perhaps even complicit in, the quashing of liberty via such instruments as the Patriot Act, and are allowing the predators to rape and pillage the resources of the people. As Frank Herbert noted, absolute power doesn’t corrupt, absolute power attracts the corruptible. My point is that some balance must be made between the good of the individual and the good of the whole. In addition, the basic tenants of the Constitution needs to be maintained. What’s wrong with that?

    As an aside, this country was formed under the structure of a Republic, not a Democracy. Maybe a democracy is now possible since the speed of communication is now far superior than when the country was founded and allows for almost instantaneous recording of the constituents. The downside of a democracy though is that a simple majority of the people deciding what is good for the smaller group has it’s own inherent problems. It makes me think of the bumper stick I saw that said “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner”.

    It’s interesting to me that the OWS movement seems to have rediscovered the concept of a Republic all over again with it’s structure of have a “consensus” of smaller groups being passed on up the line to representatives that bring that consensus up the line to smaller groups to vote again and create a consensus amongst them. That’s how our Republic is supposed to work. It’s simply broken and needs to be restored.

    1. reason

      ” It makes me think of the bumper stick I saw that said “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner”.

      Except that is not what has happened ANYWHERE, despite warnings. In fact problems more often arise where voting ratios are low and a motivated and extreme minority take over.

      1. reason

        Apathy, disillusion and disfunction are a greater danger than the tyrany of the majority. Every member of the majority is in a minority in one issue or another.

        1. digi_owl

          bread and circus, still valid 2000 years later. Only difference is the kind of bread and the kind of circus.

      2. Lidia

        Instead it’s two sheep and a wolf deciding: the wolf will win, if not at dinner then at breakfast. And the sheep that got away will think to herself “hey! Democracy worked for me… I voted to screw that other sheep”

    2. RanDomino

      The choices are not between merely “private control” and “government control”. There are also possible degrees of community control. In the three-way power struggle, the former teamed up and took down the latter.

      Also, your description of OWS’s organizational structure is accurate, but for a different system. OWS’s system is closest to Athenian democracy- a direct vote by the mob. The system you describe is actually how Consensus worked in the alter/anti-globalization movement- a “spokescouncil” model, in which each member organization of a federation/coalition sends delegates to a meeting to report their decision/vote; but the Spokescouncil must operate on Consensus.

      A Republic, on the other hand, is basically an oligarchy of a mostly-unaccountable decision-making body. In a Spokescouncil, the decisions are made by all the members (using Consensus) through a ‘process’ (rather than all at once as in OWS). In a Republic, the decision-making body is free to ignore the will of the general populace, including each representative’s own constituents. The Senate of Rome didn’t even pretend to be anything but an oligarchy, only including members of the ‘best’ families. But on the other hand, even in Athens voting was only allowed for landowning male citizens, a fraction of the general population, so even that was technically an oligarchy even if that oligarchy’s decision-making system was direct democracy (within itself).

    3. psychohistorian

      Lets take this a bit further.

      We started out with a SECULAR Republic with the Latin motto of E PLURIBUS UNUM (Out Of Many, One). In the 1950’s that motto was changed to IN GOD WE TRUST about the same time corporations were give the rights of “We the people…”.

      It has been a very slippery slope from there.

  20. Paul Sherrard

    Great stuff, Andrew.

    I would love to see a piece or a series from you on Distributism (or, as I call it, Socialism—see below). GKC’s ideas are timeless, sensible, and humane, and they seek to fulfill the aims of the 18th Century egalitarian revolutions in ways we’ve lost sight of today. Many of our most bitter conflicts could be resolved with his insights, e.g.: The difference between a small proprietor and a landlord is a difference in kind, not in degree, and we can abolish the latter while promoting the former (in fact the latter is the enemy of the former)—an insight like that sweeps away a thousand sophistries conflating ruling-class exploitation with “property rights.”

    I feel that GKC defined Socialism rigidly as a top-down, centralized state project, and ignored the possibility of grassroots Socialism, in order to appropriate grassroots Socialism under the banner of Distributism. He was still advocating the rule of the proletariat (peasantry) as well as the accrual of profit to Labor rather than capital. But whatever; call it Distributism: it’s better PR anyway.

    1. Andrew

      Thanks, Paul. I really enjoy reading Chesterton, and for a variety of reasons. I’ve read a little about distributism, but let me simultaneously respond to another commenter (who asked “what kind of society would you favor?”) and say the following: What I’m most concerned right now is the way certain particular economic ideas tie people up in knots so they can’t really brainstorm about new and innovative economic systems. On some level, I would care about whether people prefer distributism to the kind of grass-roots socialism you mention or vice versa – but on another level, I’d just like more people to feel less embarrassed and intimidated about having those discussions in the first place.

      1. reason

        Well I’m with David Brin – I’m all for small careful step by step improvement. Lets just start with a small cash subsidy and small tax increase (I prefer VAT) for all citizen’s to replace the trickle down idea with a trickle up process. Then we can scale that up to a basic income (I like to call it a citizen’s dividend), and do away with some social security bureaucracy and the minimum wage. Then we need some deep thought about how we keep the cost of land down AND the quality of infrastructure in towns cities up at the same time.

          1. reason

            You still get to vote. David Brin suggests taking over the primaries (of whichever is the locally dominant party) to elect reasonable candidates.

    2. RanDomino

      Strange how these obscure 19th century pseudo-socialist ideologies pop up now and again. I’ve tried to look into Distributism since this series debuted and I just can’t figure out the systemic mechanical principles on which it’s supposed to operate. It just seems to be a list of things that would be nice to have but no coherent system or ideas about implementation.

      For example if property ownership is supposed to be “as widespread as possible,” how would that come about? How would that be organized? How would the situation be prevented from reverting back to the previous flawed situation? Who would enforce property relations? What, in short, would interfere with capitalist tendencies toward ownership by fewer and fewer? Would a government or Party simply declare that a business is “too large”? What kind of objective measurement is that (or does Distributism not care about objective measurement?)? Doesn’t the idea of “Subsidiarity” conflict with the tendency of Economy of Scale? What would prevent one person from simply buying up a bunch of subsidiaries?

      It seems to me that Anarcho-Syndicalism accomplishes the goals of Distributism and is a coherent, rational system…

      1. Paul Sherrard

        RanDomino—Your impression is correct, as far as I know: there WAS no plan or program for implementing Distributism. It was an ideal system cooked up by 2 literary types. I think Chesterton had vague ideas about a revolution with swordfights. That’s one reason I think Distributism never was a genuine alternative to Socialism.

        Andrew, thanks much for your replies. I agree: people are way too intimidated to talk about different systems. There’s also a mistrust between the Right and Left that I think has, to some extent, been bred intentionally to keep us peons bickering among ourselves. Lefties are taught that EVERYONE who espouses right-wing doctrines is out for his own personal aggrandizement; righties are taught that every leftie is motivated by hatred of success, of hard work, and of America. It’s impossible to discuss anything under these conditions.

  21. TK421

    I just want to say I really enjoyed this series. I think it’s one of Naked Capitalism’s best features, and that’s saying something. Good work!

      1. psychohistorian


        My thanks as well.

        We need as a society to have more discussions about our social organization underpinnings that you have fostered with your series.

  22. banger

    Libertarian and other political philosophies are all deeply flawed by themselves. Politics is about the interaction of political philosophies and raw power. Each position cannot be taken in isolation. I see libertarians as providing a POV that wears away at statism. Too much statism and we get what we have now which is that every power group now is firmly in place and reform cannot happen. Libertarians want to change the balance and they can do that by limiting government involvement in our lives which, at this time, would be a good thing since government currently serves the oligarchs almost exclusively. The social-democrats in this country are dead in the water and really a very minor constituency without a coherent narrative or structure–it will come in time but now is not the time.

    At this time we need something to throw the system out of whack for new structures to emerge the libertarian movement is the only movement at this time that can provide that whack. Certainly the philosophy looked at in any depth is absurd and lacks either intellectual or scientific merit.

    Once the libertarian movement loosens thing up a bit then we can return to a social-democratic direction since and that in itself will lead to contradictions and create a statis that will have to be leveraged once again. Everything is cyclical–observe how nature works.

  23. JTFaraday

    “Another approach is to attack other people for using specific terms in “incorrect” ways, so that the discussion gets mired in questions of proper linguistic usage…

    Code Name Cain provided some examples of this strategy…

    A few readers also provided examples of this approach…”

    I don’t think that this is just a strategy deliberately aimed at rail roading the interlocutor. The term “libertarian” has been regularly applied to a core set of ideas common to everything on a spectrum from “classical liberalism” to Conservative Nut Case.

    At the same time, that doesn’t mean there aren’t (relevant) distinctions to be made between different typological groupings one might make along the broader historical and ideological spectra. So, I don’t find it odd that people would argue about terminology without being able to establish clear boundaries or a clear definition.

    What a few 20th century thinkers and a handful of critics who are fixated on those SAME thinkers call “libertarianism” is really of limited relevance for a term so widely adopted and applied amongst the broader population, both formally educated in political and economic thought and not so.

    It’s like trying to pin down the historical and contemporary content of the term “conservative.”

    And, in addition, because so many people self identify with the term (or self identify in opposition to it), everything is personal. I also think it’s *more* than likely that most people who self identify with the term have given it about as much thought as others do when they decide to call themselves “liberal” or “conservative.”

    Honestly, I only assume so much when I hear someone says they are a “libertarian.”

    The real problem with “libertarianism” is its full-spectrum dominance in the US outside, maybe, the policy heavy but philosophically thin New Deal liberalism that is dying the death of a thousand ideological cuts delivered in many cases, by nominal “liberals” in the D-Party.

    Most of the public wants to defend the policies (ie., defend their social security check) while holding quite “libertarian” beliefs about people expending personal effort and getting, in CNC’s words, “what they deserve” outside that received policy framework, a framework that is kept deliberately narrow to accommodate that widely held belief.

    So, it’s not hard for all but the most extreme “libertarians” to connect with that full spectrum ideological dominance and come across as American as apple pie and the Constitution–which it is!

    If the real argument is that what that means is that Conservative Nut Case extremists can get a good foothold in the US, I don’t disagree with that, (although I do disagree that most self-denominated “libertarians” are Conservative Nut Cases).

    1. Andrew

      I agree that it is useful to think about how different people use different words – the effective use of “conservative” is probably quite a bit more complicated than even the use of “libertarian.” What is therefore noteworthy is the tendency to write a response that says something like “You said conservative meant X. Conservative means Y. Obviously you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

      By assuming that there is only one authentic use for a contested term like “conservative,” or “libertarian,” such responses end up creating protracted and heated arguments that are not terribly productive.

      1. JTFaraday

        The point is that you are doing this yourself in narrow casting “libertarianism” as something like “20th century Rothbardianism or the kookiest person we can find” rather than the full spectrum of political and economic (and philosophical) ideas rooted in and growing out of “classical liberalism” from which people calling themselves “libertarian” typically draw, knowingly or unknowingly.

        The illiberal liberal’s rhetorical trick here is to then project kooky “Conservative Nut Case” on anyone calling themselves “libertarian.”

        It works both ways, and no, I don’t consider myself a “libertarian.”

        Although, if you live in the Anglo-American ideosphere–if that’s a word– you breathe it in and out everyday, and many of its propagators consider themselves perfectly good liberals.

        So, that counts for something, like it or not.

        1. Andrew

          As mentioned in this review (see there for references), it was pretty important to me to put straightforward statements in the dialogue in order to make it clear that Hoppe/Rothbard is only one point within the (right)-libertarian geography.

          It’s true that some readers chose to engage with the question, “is Rothbardianism true libertarianism/the only true libertarianism?” In my opinion, there are other questions that are a little more interesting.

  24. Jackrabbit

    So how does one convince a Libertarian that society has any merit except as a foil for their own aggrandizement?

    In humanist terms, the philosophy is a dead end. But that that dead end (for most, um … others) seems to be entirely, and ruthlessly, the point (ergo, the rationalizations and obfuscations, and intimidating “casual insults” described by Andrew).

    Isn’t ‘Libertarianism’ really just a marketing term for Social Darwinism?

    1. JTFaraday

      Up by yer bootstraps, bunny.

      Alas, even in the Greek agora you’d have to out-argue Socrates which, alas for him, someone did.

      I guess “I should get free meals in the prytaneum” didn’t win the day.

  25. Eagle

    “If a minimal government does not involve a vastly different campaign finance system than what we presently have, I do not understand how it will not involve a regulatory system full of corporate welfare and special advantages for well-connected corporations.”

    If the people support minimal government, why would they not support politicians who oppose corporate welfare? The same way people today support politicians who are tough on the tobacco industry or outlaw guns and gambling.

    1. Andrew

      So far, a vote for “minimal government” has not generally led to a less substantial relationship of government with business. What it has (in practice) generally signified is a change in the government/business relationship, in ways that well-connected businesses prefer: diplomatic support (in negotiations with foreign countries) is fine, TBTF guarantees are fine, regulations not written by the relevant businesses are not fine, etc.

      It doesn’t seem unreasonable to connect this disparity between ideals and reality to the actual goals of the financial interests that sponsor “libertarian” think tanks – and to assume that this disparity will continue while access to politicians continues to be mediated through money.

      1. Eagle

        There just haven’t been voting constituencies for ending corporate welfare the way there is for e.g. ending smoking or outlawing gambling. Money in politics is clearly an incomplete answer as to why corporate welfare exists – at what point do you have to admit that most people just plain disagree with us about what the optimal gov’t support for industry is?

  26. Nate

    Today wars are still fought over ideology, East and West. North Korea and Iran still striving for their independence.
    Once these issues are peacefully resolved. Do we really need any strong states to protect its citizens?

    Olden days ruling clan owned everything in its domain and supported by noble members. Those days civilization is in fact built on absolute slavery. Libertarians are people who moved away from civilization seeking freedom and became semi-nomadic people. The nomads eventually became more powerful than the civilization and they became the rulers of many civilization. Anarchy is prerequisite to peace if slavery persists even if its financial kind.

    1. scraping_by

      Anarchy? No. There’s never been an anarchy that didn’t turn into a tyranny. You can’t trust the motives of people capable of violence, and by definition, anarchists can’t band together and keep them at bay. They’d be enlisting, very unanarchic.

      Francis Fukuyama’s _Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity_ did a long tap dance around the fact that social goods are more important, in the long run, that individual brilliance. The brilliance only matters if it’s thrown into the common pot and kept around for future use. A bunch of common slubs getting together and wanting to do the right thing makes a lot more difference than your average tortured genius.

      Fukuyama, like most libertarians, or at least anti-government yakkers, thinks that it could be somehow not government to act as a reserve of social virtues. While there are other social structures, history has shown they don’t do well over the long term and for the large majority. Conservation of these virtues seems for their own sake seems to be a child’s wish, sort of like an ex-nihil universe. Not practical.

      Our survival depends on various levels and forms of cooperation. The libertarians imagine great leaders arising from among other great leaders and the rest of us gladly following. The New Deal was the realization rugged individualists simply took all the credit for themselves.

    2. Lidia

      How much is ennobled “ideology”, and how much is the same bratty and destructive modern struggle over excess “stuff”?? The Iranian revolution, it’s clear, was just as much about regaining control of its own oil resources as it was a religious revolution. Similarly, to what extent is Chavez demonized by the US by the mere fact of nationalizing his country’s oil?

      Our case in point, libertarianism, seems particularly to be an intellectual fig leaf to justify taking/keeping other people’s stuff.

  27. bob goodwin

    It is easy to dismiss Libertarian for being self contradictory, which is also true of christianity and liberalism. It is also easy to dismiss Libertarianism of being inconsistent from person to person, which is also true of Christianity and liberalism. And it is easy to follow Libertarianism to unacceptable logical conclusions, as it is easy for Christianity and Liberalism. It is valid to say that Libertarianism has impact on society, which is also true of Christianity and Liberalism.

    1. scraping_by

      Right now we’re dismissing it as a smokescreen for corporate totalitarianism.

      There’s a view here that you will get corporate totalitarianism without a counterforce, usually government, rarely the philosophical attitude it’s usually hoped to be buffered by. That seems right to me. Much of the history of the Old West here in the US were small to huge commercial concerns acting as small feudal states. And there wasn’t a lot of freedom around, either.

      1. bob goodwin

        There is a strong anti-corporatist libertarian creed. Much of the most vehement anti-bailout people come from the right.

        All ideologies have their corporatist bloc, for indeed the left has been easy to paint (unfairly) as socialist.

        Naked capitalism has many fewer libertarian followers than it did a few years ago. It is discouraging to me that even smart and informed forums eventually become echo chambers.

        1. F. Beard

          Naked capitalism has many fewer libertarian followers than it did a few years ago. bob goodwin

          So what? No libertarian I have ever encountered has a solution to our problems other than a Depression. The solution is likely to come from a neo-Keynesian like Steve Keen.

          1. bob goodwin

            I am no less a fan of SK than you, FB. There were alternative to depression that did not require bailouts, Yves promoted the Swedish model as an alternative, for example. Whether any particular ideology has the correct answers is quite a different question than the one I proposed. I simply infered that ideology slamming in an echo chamber does not equal reasoned debate.

        2. scraping_by

          Becuase most of those who claim Libertarian are no more than anti-government. Specifically, anti-US government. And if they hang around here, they might learn the elite have turned them into useful idiots.

          In pure, academic, form, Libertarianism is as much against totalitarian commercial forms as totalitarian government forms. But the current, popular, form conflates any government action with tyranny while simply not seeing the oppression inherent in extractive economics. Part of the peanut gallery.

          I think they come here, get educated, and go away wiser about who’s on whose side.

  28. Schofield

    The rational ethics philosopher Alan Gewirth makes it very clear in his book “Reason and Morality” why Hoppe has not “thought it all through to the logical ends.” Hoppe plays on one string “negative rights” when he logically should also be playing on the string of “positive rights.”

  29. Schofield

    Many, many people believe along these lines that the financial crises was caused by sub-prime lending (Communities Reinvestment Act and similar legislation).

    They will say something like:

    “The bankers had to choose between not obeying the law (i.e., not lend to sub-prime borrowers) and go to jail or lend sub-prime borrowers.

    They will not explain, however, why the rating agencies felt obliged to re-label trash as Triple-A and so stop value being determined by normal market discovery processes.

    1. scraping_by

      They will say something like:

      “The bankers had to choose between not obeying the law (i.e., not lend to sub-prime borrowers) and go to jail or lend sub-prime borrowers.

      It’s called The Big Lie.

      Saying that may be a violation of Godwin’s Law, but dammit, it’s history. The Wehrmacht was defeated, the worldview lives on.

    1. F. Beard

      Sorry, still does not fly according to the Old Testament. In the case of a thief breaking in during the daylight, killing him was forbidden:

      “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. Exodus 22:2-3
      New American Standard Bible (NASB) [bold added]

      1. F. Beard

        In other words, if even the guilty could not be killed for trespassing in the daylight then certainly the innocent could not be endangered either to enforce property rights.

  30. Glenn Condell

    ‘The choices are not between merely “private control” and “government control”. There are also possible degrees of community control.’

    Yes, and this is the tack taken by the Resilient Community people such as John Robb. Authority relies ultimately on the provision of political goods – personal and resource security primarily, with toppings like education and culture. No goods, no authority. Governments in this globalised time are losing power hand over fist to private interests (mostly because they have been suborned and corrupted by private interests) but the greed of these interests and the penury they prescribe for everyone else rules out their power becoming true authority.

    As things fall apart and the centre fails to hold (credit dries up, depression, war, oil shocks, degraded environment, police state, etc) RCs (it is hoped) will fill the vacuum of authority with their own local, decentralised decision-making processes (a al OWS). Each community consists of people who produce some good or service (3D print Makers, energy generators/storers, food producers, water filterers, educators, security people etc) and they are completely wired up to each other and crucially to other RCs globally via the net. This enables innovations in any field of endeavour via ‘tinkering networks’ for techie issues, but also methods of community governance or security strategies. The idea is to create self-sufficient communities robust enough to keep functioning, indeed to function better, if/when the shite hits the fan.

    In this way, rather than all relying on vulnerable central nodes for political goods and all failing when they do, the decentralised RC nodes could fail individually without the country going down with them – a return to the idea of protective slack or redundancy in systems to act as a prophylactic against black swans. What you lose in ‘efficiency’ and ‘choice’ you gain in confidence in the future.

    I am much more inclined to go with this idea than another post-crunch scenario I’ve come across. James Howard Kunstler’s World Made By Hand, where society devolves down to ‘big men’ who act as magnets for the needy and dispossessed, who are happy to fall into a womb of security for the price of their freedom. Some of these people are relatively benign, some are religious groups and others of course are thieves and rapists.

    Unfortunately, though I prefer Robb over Kunstler, I feel the latter’s instincts are more realistic. For one thing, how resilient can these RCs be if they are so reliant on the net, which surely cannot be taken as read if things really do head south?

    Libertarians I think would find it hard to imagine themselves in the Robb scenario; too much goddam equality and not nearly enough hierarchy. They would it seems to me be far more comfortable with the Big Man solution, in the expectation I guess that they would be among these pre-eminences.

    But of course they wouldn’t, places are limited, and the best most could hope for is shelter under the wing of a benefactor. A return to the feudal condition that democracy lifted us out of, o happy halcyon days before gubmint arrived to spoil everything! Not much liberty tho’…

    At root, libertarians want to peel back history to a time before democracy meant enfranchisement of everyone, but they wear rose coloured specs and imagine themselves as the kings or at least as petty nobles, rather than the peons. It is part wish-list, part pseudo-philosophic defence of greed, with no salutary contributions from reality.

  31. Frank

    Just for a change of pace, let’s hear from a real libertarian in Wisconsin:

    We used to make things here in Wisconsin.

    We made machine tools in Milwaukee, cars in Kenosha and ships in Sheboygan. We mined iron in the north and lead in the south. We made cheese, we made brats, we made beer, and we even made napkins to clean up what we spilled. And we made money.

    The original war on poverty was a private, mercenary affair. Men like Harnishfeger, Allis, Chalmers, Kohler, Kearney, Trecker, Modine, Case, Mead, Falk, Allen, Bradley, Cutler, Hammer, Bucyrus, Harley, Davidson, Pabst, and Miller lifted millions up from subsistence living to middle class comfort. They did it – not “Fighting Bob” La Follette or any of the politicians who came along later to take the credit and rake a piece of the action through the steepest progressive scheme in the nation.

    Those old geezers with the beards cured poverty by putting people to work. Generations of Wisconsinites learned trades and mastered them in the factories, breweries, mills, foundries, and shipyards those capitalists built with their hands. Thousands of small businesses supplied these industrial giants, and tens of thousands of proprietors and professionals provided all of the services that all those other families needed to live well. The wealth got spread around plenty.

    The profits generated by our great industrialists funded charities, the arts, education, libraries, museums, parks, and community development associations. Taxes on their profits, property, and payrolls built our schools, roads, bridges, and the safety net that Wisconsin’s progressives are still taking credit for, as if the money came from their council meetings. The offering plates in churches of every denomination were filled with money left over from company paychecks that were made possible because a few bold young men risked it all and got rich. Don’t thank God for them; thank them that you learned about God.

    Their wealth pales in comparison to the wealth they created for millions and millions of other Wisconsin families. Those with an appreciation for the immeasurable contributions of Wisconsin’s industrial icons of 1910 will find the list of Wisconsin’s top ten employers of 2010 appalling:

    Walmart, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Milwaukee Public Schools, U.S. Postal Service, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Menards, Marshfield Clinic, Aurora Health Care, City of Milwaukee, and Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

    This is what a century of progressivism will get you. Wisconsin is the birthplace of the progressive movement, the home of the Socialist Party, the first state to allow public sector unions, the cradle of environmental activism, a liberal fortress walled off against common sense for decades. Their motto, Forward Wisconsin, should be changed to Downward Wisconsin if truth in advertising applies to slogans.

    There is no shortage of activists, advocates, and agitators in this State. If government were the answer to our problems, we would have no problems. The very same people – or people just like them – who picketed, struck, sued, taxed, and regulated our great companies out of this state are now complaining about the unemployment and poverty that they have brought upon themselves. They got rid of those old rich white guys and replaced them with…nothing.

    Wisconsin ranks 47th in the rate of new business formation. We are one of the worst states for native college graduate exodus; our brightest and most ambitions graduates leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Why shouldn’t they? Our tax rates are among the worst in the nation and our business climate, perpetually in the bottom of the rankings, has only recently moved up thanks to a Governor who now faces a recall for his trouble.

    In 1970, the new environmental movement joined unions and socialists in a coordinated effort to demonize industry. When I was in college, the ranting against “polluting profiteers” was like white noise – always there. They won, and here is the price of their victory: in 1970, manufacturers paid 18.2% of Wisconsin’s property taxes – the major source of school funding – and in 2010 those who remained paid 3.7%.

    So who is it that caused the funding crisis in our schools and the skyrocketing tax rates on our homes? It is the same ignoramuses who are sitting on bridges, pooping on things, and passing around recall petitions. The unemployed 26-year old in the hemp hat looking for sympathy might look instead for some inspiration from Jerome I. Case, who started his agricultural equipment business at the age of 21, miraculously without an iPhone 4s.

    Mr. Case got rich by asking people what they want and making it for them. He did not get rich by telling people what he wanted and waiting for them to do something about it. If you want to declare war on your own poverty, memorize that.

    In the last decade alone we have lost 150,000 manufacturing jobs in this state – over 25%. And it’s not just jobs that have been lost; the companies that provided them are gone. Those jobs are not coming back, no matter how long we extend unemployment benefits pretending they are. The 450,000 people who still work in manufacturing in Wisconsin are damn good it at, but we are now outnumbered by people who work for government. A significant number of the latter are tasked with taxing, regulating, and generally harassing the former. While it is true that many manufacturers chased low-wage opportunities on their own, many more were driven out of the state by the increasing cost of doing business here.

    It is a myth that unions improve wages. If you consider only the 1,000 jobs in a closed shop, you might think an average union wage is, say, $30/hr. But if you add in the zero wages of the 10,000 jobs lost in companies chased out by union harassment, the average of all 11,000 union workers is reduced to $2.72/hr. Do you know the average wage of union iron miners in this state? Zero. And the left is fighting hard to keep it that way in Northern Wisconsin – looking out for the working man, they call it.

    It is also a myth that free trade causes job losses. Over the past three years, U.S. manufacturers sold $70 billion more goods to our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners than we bought from them. Conversely, we suffered a $1.3 trillion trade deficit with countries where no FTA’s exist. I doubt that kids are going to learn that in our government-union monopoly schools – it doesn’t fit the narrative.

    No one wants to see another person suffer in poverty, and liberty is the best economic policy there is. The great industrialists of Wisconsin took less than a generation to lift millions up to a life of dignity, pride, prosperity and good will. When enterprise was free and government was limited, we all prospered.

    Those great men of industry were not anointed at birth to be rich; they rose from nothing to great wealth through their own hard work and the value they added to their employees and their customers through choice, competition, and voluntary exchange. That is the only sure path to real prosperity; the debt economy is a temporary illusion.

    Look again at the list of our famous industrialists and the list of our current employers. Who would you wish your child or grandchild to grow up to be? Who do you think will do more good on this earth – Jerome I Case and his tractors, or the Coordinator of Supplier Diversity at MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools).

    If you chose MPS, then apply now – that job is open, and it pays up to $72,000 plus benefits and early retirement. Go in peace and save the world. Me, I’m going with the tractor guy.

    Moment Of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D.

      1. reason

        P.S. Read some Dean Baker and you will know that a Free Trade Agreement (like “Natural” law) is nothing of the sort.

  32. Chaim Kaufmann

    The series was interesting, but I missed where it was labeled as a hoax. I figured it out, but if it was not labeled it should have been.

  33. Dunma Dar

    “If libertarianism is a theory of sovereignty, it is natural to wonder whether libertarian sovereignty can be just as tyrannical as the kind of governments that libertarians dislike.”

    The answer is yes, absolutely, and that is the problem of libertarianism in a nutshell. You hit a lot of the key points in this essay, especially in the part about libertarians not balancing quote-unquote “freedom” against any other interests, where these other interests are even recognized.

  34. ScottS


    According to ScottS, “[l]ibertarians seem to constantly forget that their own selfish impulses apply evenly to everyone,” citing the fact that Alan Greenspan “never imagined that a trader for an investment bank would do anything to benefit himself at the expense of his company.”

    I’m glad you found that a useful comment. To develop the thought further, I was imagining a CNC utopia with the GLOs/insurance companies. These companies have employees, one would think. These employees would have contracts, presumably. And when the employees didn’t live up to the terms of the contract, would the company itself deal with them? Or would the insurance company take out an insurance contract between itself and the employee with a second insurance company? And then, these two insurance companies must take out insurance contracts on each other with two more insurance companies? And…

    I don’t think libertarians think these things through. In their mind, they must imagine “private companies always do things better, there’s no way anything can go wrong.” But if, as the libertarians say, the world is full of selfish people, why should that be the case? Alan Greenspan was blind to the (corporately-destructive) selfish instincts of traders. Libertarians have a distinct inability to see the trees for the forest.

    Are we getting closer to the root of libertarian ideology? Self-centeredness and an inability to distinguish between individuals and groups. It comes off as a kind of prejudice. For a group so concerned about individuality, there are a lot of blithe generalizations about large, somewhat arbitrary groups. My intuition is that anytime a libertarian talks about “individuals” they really are referring to themselves.

    There is a connection, I feel, to comic book superheroes. I imagine libertarians all see themselves as righters of wrongs done by “scum” and “degenerates.” Superheroes always seem to be in big cities where poor, minorities, and people of alternate sexual orientations congregate. The hero applies black-and-white contrast to what are inherently shades-of-gray moral dilemmas. And superheroes aren’t bound by the normal rules of police work (search warrants? Miranda rights? pfffft!).

    And, of course, the “civilian” population secretly envies and publicly fears the hero. Every libertarian’s go-to rationalization for antisocial behavior — people are secretly jealous of my success!

    I made the connection while reading The Watchmen. The book (unlike the movie) takes a nuanced behind-the-mask look at the vigilante superhero and comes up with more questions than answers about who would be attracted to such a lifestyle. But, if I had to say, in a word, who — it would be libertarians. And to answer the implicit question in the title of the book — who watches the watchmen? — it would be us mundane sheeple with no Nietzsche-derived superpowers of reason.

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