A Libertarian Tricked

Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.
http://world.std.com/~mhuben/libindex.html

Last updated 10/25/07.

A few years ago, aware of knee-jerk libertarian responses to Marx, Calvin Bruce Ostrum set a clever and funny trap for libertarians. **** (name omitted), then one of the noisiest posters, took the bait.


Newsgroups: talk.politics.theory,sci.econ
From: cbo@cs.toronto.edu (Calvin Bruce Ostrum)
Subject: Smith, Marx, and Maslow (was Re: Chomsky (LOOT-2/94))
Date: 26 Apr 94 05:17:47 GMT

In article <9404250318351319@acginc.com>
   brad.brown@acginc.com (BRAD BROWN) writes:

| P>Since the free market is not even capable of maintaining the world at the
| P>lowest rung on Maslow's pyramid--survival-- it seems unworthy of the high
| P>praise and terms you use to describe it.  In my opinion, anyway.
| P>I do acknowledge that free market mechanisms generally work better when
| P>players who are competent and empowered.
| 
| Adam Smith's classic Wealth of Nations gives a very good description of
| how price controls on corn sellers leads to wide spread famine. I
| believe that I have read other messages regarding Somalia, Ethiopia,
| etc. that seem to indicate that the non-free market conditions described
| by Adam Smith are precisely the things that resulted in famines in those

Everyone can cite a "classic" to support his views.  I like the allusion
above to Maslow's hierarchy, so let's move up the hierarchy a level or two, 
and consider this piece of text, which I find in Karl Marx's classic 
"Capital":

| The understandings of the greater part of men ... are necessarily formed
| by their ordinary employments.  The man whose whole life is spent in
| performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his
| understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is
| possible for a human creature to become [...]  The uniformity of his 
| stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind ... It
| corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of
| exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other 
| employments than that to which he has been bred.  His dexterity at
| his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the
| expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues.  [...] this
| is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body
| of the people, must necessarily fall.

Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but nevertheless not a very pleasant
picture of some of the effects of Smith's glorious Invisible Hand.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Calvin Ostrum                                            cbo@cs.toronto.edu
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
  to put out on the troubled seas of thought.  -- John Kenneth Galbraith
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: "*****" <p00422@psilink.com>
Newsgroups: talk.politics.theory,sci.econ
Subject: Re: Smith, Marx, and Maslow (was Re: Chomsky (LOOT-2/94))
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 94 19:01:27 -0800

Calvin Bruce Ostrum <cbo@cs.toronto.edu> wrote:
>
>In article <9404250318351319@acginc.com>
>| 
>| Adam Smith's classic Wealth of Nations gives a very good description of
>| how price controls on corn sellers leads to wide spread famine. I
>| believe that I have read other messages regarding Somalia, Ethiopia,
>| etc. that seem to indicate that the non-free market conditions described
>| by Adam Smith are precisely the things that resulted in famines in those
>
>Everyone can cite a "classic" to support his views.  I like the allusion
>above to Maslow's hierarchy, so let's move up the hierarchy a level or two, 
>and consider this piece of text, which I find in Karl Marx's classic 
>"Capital":
>
>| The understandings of the greater part of men ... are necessarily formed
>| by their ordinary employments.  The man whose whole life is spent in
>| performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his
>| understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is
>| possible for a human creature to become [...]  The uniformity of his 
>| stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind ... It
>| corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of
>| exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other 
>| employments than that to which he has been bred.  His dexterity at
>| his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the
>| expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues.  [...] this
>| is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body
>| of the people, must necessarily fall.
>
>Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but nevertheless not a very pleasant
>picture of some of the effects of Smith's glorious Invisible Hand.

The *difference* is that Adam Smith can, as the previous poster said, be 
validated with real world examples in 1994.  When the state controls 
the economy, as Adam Smith predicted, the economy goes down the tubes, 
as we've seen time after time.  Point for A. Smith!  Whereas Marx's 
predicitions in the passage that you selected *won't* be validated in 
the capitalist societies (or near enough capitalist as may be) that he 
and presumably you would condemn.  

I mean, come on.  Where do you find  *employed people* who are
"incapable of exerting . . . strength with  vigour and perseverance in
any other employments," or whose skill appears to you to have been
"acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial
virtues."  Give me a break, o.k.?  It's not just an exaggeration,
it's downright contrary to the evidence of our experience.  So,
even if it's "not a very pleasant picture," it's also not a *real*
picture.

While it may be easy to cite classics, you have to be a little more 
selective about citing ones that stand the test of time.  Even the 
Communists got tired of Marx after a while. (Except, of course, within 
English Departments.)   ;)

>  It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
>  to put out on the troubled seas of thought.  -- John Kenneth Galbraith

You and JKG might believe that, but I sure as heck don't.

*****

From: "*****" <p00422@psilink.com>
Newsgroups: talk.politics.theory,sci.econ
Subject: Re: Smith, Marx, and Maslow (was Re: Chomsky (LOOT-2/94))
Date: Thu, 28 Apr 94 07:43:24 -0800

Robert Vienneau <Robert.Vienneau@launchpad.unc.edu> wrote:
>Is this a joke or a test? I cannot say if Marx quoted the above, but
>if so, he was quoting Adam Smith. See pp. 734-735 of the Cannan edition
>of the Wealth of Nations. (Book V, Chapter I, Part III, Article II)
>
>                                  Robert Vienneau

In view of the above, please disregard my earlier comments in this 
thread.  (Relying on Ostrum's mistaken citation, I contrasted the 
above passage with a previous poster's reference to A. Smith, _Wealth 
of Nations_).  I was responding to what I saw on the screen, including 
Ostrum's argument that Marx is every bit as good an authority as Smith. 
If it was a joke or a test, as Robert Vienneau wonders, then I was 
suckered right into it.  Kudos to Vienneau for spotting the 
miscitation, and shame on Ostrum for posting false data.

As for me, I guess I'll have to have a more current recollection of 
_Wealth of Nations_, _Das Kapital_ and any other "classics" before 
posting pithy comments about them. . . .

*****

From: "*****" <p00422@psilink.com>
Newsgroups: talk.politics.theory,sci.econ
Subject: Re: Smith, Marx, and Maslow (was Re: Chomsky (LOOT-2/94))
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 94 07:42:30 -0800

Calvin Bruce Ostrum <cbo@cs.toronto.edu> wrote:
>Indeed, Marx was quoting Smith.  As I said, this piece of text is found
>in Capital (Volume 1, Chapter 14, Section 5).  As I also said, anyone
>can cite a "classic" to support his views.  In this case, we have Marx
>citing the "classic" Wealth of Nations to support his views, just as
>the original poster quoted Wealth of Nations to support his.
>
>My posting may very well have served as a test if the well-read Robert
            ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>Vienneau had not so quickly pointed out the *origin* of the piece of text
>in question.  Now, of course, it will not.   

Look, Calvin.  I'm the guy who was embarassed because I believed your 
false, or *deliberately misleading*, attribution of the quote.  If I 
wanted to take a fucking test, I would go back to school.  My 
assumption, borne out in 100% of cases until now, is that the people 
who post here -- regardless of their views -- do so honestly, with a 
due regard for accuracy to the best of their abilities, knowledge and 
beliefs.  I can appreciate that you find yourself to be oh so well read 
and learned, don't y'know, that you want everybody to stand in awe at 
your erudition.  So fine, show off your superior intellect (assuming, 
arguendo, that that's what it is).  But don't *lie*.

I can't begin to tell you what an asshole you are.

*****

Newsgroups: talk.politics.theory,sci.econ
From: cbo@cs.toronto.edu (Calvin Bruce Ostrum)
Subject: Re: Smith, Marx, and Maslow (was Re: Chomsky (LOOT-2/94))
Date: 30 Apr 94 20:28:17 GMT

In article <2976704909.0.p00422@psilink.com>
   "*****" <p00422@psilink.com> writes:

| Look, Calvin.  I'm the guy who was embarassed because I believed your 
| false, or *deliberately misleading*, attribution of the quote.  If I 
| wanted to take a fucking test, I would go back to school.  My 
| assumption, borne out in 100% of cases until now, is that the people 
| who post here -- regardless of their views -- do so honestly, with a 
| due regard for accuracy to the best of their abilities, knowledge and 
| beliefs.  I can appreciate that you find yourself to be oh so well read 
| and learned, don't y'know, that you want everybody to stand in awe at 
| your erudition.  So fine, show off your superior intellect (assuming, 
| arguendo, that that's what it is).  But don't *lie*.

I did not lie.  I did not post anything false.  It is either mistaken or 
dishonest to say such things.  Understandly, Mr ***** is upset about
being mislead into posting an attack on what he thought was some
silly raving by that evil and demented imbecile Karl Marx, when in fact
the passage in question was penned by the apostle of free-market 
capitalism Adam Smith.  (Consider the description of Marx offered above
to be in a referentially transparent position if necessary to avoid 
complaints that "I never said Marx was evil, demented, or an imbecile").
Perhaps next time before jumping into the attack, he will be less confident
that he has all the answers about everything.  But I doubt it.
(I know, "I never said I had all the answers about everything".  Fair
enough, but that is the impression I get).


| I can't begin to tell you what an asshole you are.

Seems like he already has.   Maybe he should kill-file me too, for good
measure.

Elsewhere, he writes:
| In view of the above, please disregard my earlier comments in this 
| thread.  (Relying on Ostrum's mistaken citation, I contrasted the 
| above passage with a previous poster's reference to A. Smith, _Wealth 
| of Nations_).  I was responding to what I saw on the screen, including 
| Ostrum's argument that Marx is every bit as good an authority as Smith. 

My citation was not mistaken, and I made no explicit argument of any kind.
As for Mr *****'s substantive comments about the quotation, it's a
mystery to me why he wants them disregarded now that he understands the
quotation to be written by Adam Smith rather than Karl Marx.  I will simply
assume that he considers Smith to be as egregiously mistaken as he thought
Marx was, so that an attempt to cite Smith on this issue in the future 
will lead to the same kind of "Give me a break, ok?" type lines that,
after all, should apply no matter who wrote the piece in question.

| As for me, I guess I'll have to have a more current recollection of 
| _Wealth of Nations_, _Das Kapital_ and any other "classics" before 
| posting pithy comments about them. . . .

Well, Mr ***** is the learned one, not me!  I've never read all of
Wealth of Nations or Capital, or even large parts of either, but apparently
he has read them all (and perhaps even in their original languages!). 
Clearly he has forgotten ("a more current recollection") more than I
will ever know!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Calvin Ostrum                                            cbo@cs.toronto.edu
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
  to put out on the troubled seas of thought.  -- John Kenneth Galbraith
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( mhuben@world.std.com ).
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