Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.
Last updated 09/04/11.
Quotations are not a substitute for rational argument. That said, there can be a place for quotations in discussion, as a summation for a rational argument, for example as a preface which indicates what will be explored, or perhaps as a signature quote.
What I think ought to be avoided is use of quotations AS the argument. That sort of bumper-sticker argument deserves a big raspberry, if not a scathing retort. It is a substitute for thinking, and worse is usually made as an argument from authority.
Here's a list of quotations I've found handy as signature quotes (an internet fashion) in my discussions with libertarians. Interestingly, some of them ARE quotations from libertarians.
Newest quotes are at the end.
If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to
change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of
the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is
left free to combat it.
Thomas Jefferson, 1st Inaugural, 4-Mar-1801
... legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing
property... Another means of silently lessening the inequality of
property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to
tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they
rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and
unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far
extended as to violate natural right.
Thomas Jefferson (in a letter to James Madison), 1785
While it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of
property is derived from Nature at all ... it is considered by
those who have seriously considered the subject, that no one has,
of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land ...
Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in
the progress of society.
Every society has a right to fix the fundamental principles of its
association, and to say to all individuals, that if they contemplate
pursuits beyond the limits of these principles and involving dangers
which the society chooses to avoid, they must go somewhere else for
their exercise; that we want no citizens, and still less ephemeral
and pseudo-citizens, on such terms. We may exclude them from our
territory, as we do persons infected with disease.
Thomas Jefferson to William H. Crawford, 1816
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem
them like the ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They
ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and
suppose what they did to be beyond amendment... laws and institutions
must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind... as that
becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made,
institutions must advance also, to keep pace with the times.... We
might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him
when a boy as civilized society to remain forever under the regimen
of their barbarous ancestors.
Thomas Jefferson (on reform of the Virginia Constitution)
Private property ... is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the
Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even
to its last Farthing, its contributors therefore to the public
Exigencies are not to be considered a Benefit on the Public, entitling
the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honor and Power, but as the
Return of an Obligation previously received, or as payment for a just
All property, indeed, except the savage's temporary cabin, his bow,
his matchcoat and other little Acquisitions absolutely necessary for
his Subsistence, seems to me to be the creature of public Convention.
Hence, the public has the rights of regulating Descents, and all other
Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the quantity and uses of
it. All the property that is necessary to a man is his natural Right,
which none may justly deprive him of, but all Property superfluous to
such Purposes is the property of the Public who, by their Laws have
created it and who may, by other Laws dispose of it.
Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of
government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however
it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural
rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.
John Jay, FEDERALIST No. 2
It cannot have escaped those who have attended with candor to the
arguments employed against the extensive powers of the government,
that the authors of them have very little considered how far these
powers were necessary means of attaining a necessary end. They have
chosen rather to dwell on the inconveniences which must be unavoidably
blended with all political advantages; and on the possible abuses
which must be incident to every power or trust, of which a beneficial
use can be made. This method of handling the subject cannot impose on
the good sense of the people of America. It may display the subtlety
of the writer; it may open a boundless field for rhetoric and
declamation; it may inflame the passions of the unthinking, and may
confirm the prejudices of the misthinking: but cool and candid people
will at once reflect, that the purest of human blessings must have a
portion of alloy in them; that the choice must always be made, if not
of the lesser evil, at least of the greater, not the perfect, good;
and that in every political institution, a power to advance the public
happiness involves a discretion which may be misapplied and abused.
They will see, therefore, that in all cases where power is to be
conferred, the point first to be decided is, whether such a power be
necessary to the public good; as the next will be, in case of an
affirmative decision, to guard as effectually as possible against a
perversion of the power to the public detriment.
James Madison, FEDERALIST No. 41
If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
Hillel, Pirke Avot
Well, if flip answers could win victory for libertarianism, we would
have been in power long ago.
I don't know why people think you need government intervention to bring
about discrimination; they have no faith in free enterprise.
There has been little or no mention of the vast body of law which
contradicts your position. I think you owe it to the people whom you
address to explain its existence.
Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa (replying to county-rights advocates), 1993
Please get your political terms straight! 'Communism' means 'Everyone
wearing glasses gets their heads staved in with rifle butts,' while
'Socialism' means 'Drinks and smokes on the middle class!'
Which is better: to achieve Nirvana, or become a Boddhissatva?
You will never escape the will of the mob, about the best anyone has
ever figured out to do is herd them into voting booths.
23- And God saw everything he had made, and he saw that it was very
good; and God said, It just goes to show Me what the private sector can
accomplish. With a lot of fool regulations this could have taken
billions of years.
All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the
world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.
Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
The most important factor in the training of good mental habits consists
in acquiring the attitude of suspended conclusion, and in mastering the
various methods of searching for new materials to corroborate or to
refute the first suggestions that occur.
... As long as you continue to tar social democracy with all the crimes
of communism, I feel equally entitled to tar the free market with the
crimes of slavery, segregation, colonialism and genocide; piss me off
and I'll add fascism and the Nazis.
Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always
so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
How noble libertarianism, in its majestic equality, that both rich
and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the privately owned
streets (without paying), sleeping under the privately owned
bridges (without paying), and coercing bread from its rightful owners!
Mike Huben, paraphrasing Anatole France
Wasn't Ayn Rand a pseudonym of L. Ron Hubbard?
'Libertarian UberMensch smites devolved, parasitic, running-dog, statist
lackies that want our women!' Atlas Shrugged in a nutshell.
... I'm skeptical of claims based solely on logical deduction,
especially in the social sciences. This is especially true in
economics where many have pointed out the incredible premises that are
required to show that laissez-faire achieves even a minimal sort of
Utopias now appear much more realizable than one used to think.
We are now faced with a different new worry: How to prevent their
... there is an irrational, cultish tendency in many intellectual
movements, and Objectivism, alas, is no exception. Ayn Rand's personal
obsession with loyalty did little to discourage this trend.... Rand had
often protested, 'Protect me from my followers!'
Nathanial Branden, in a review of "Therapist" by Ellen Plasil.
Probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the
wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rough rules of thumb,
above all the principle of laissez-faire.
Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom" p.18 U of Chicago Press 1972
Far from advocating a "minimal state", we find it unquestionable that
in an advanced society government ought to use its power of raising
funds by taxation to provide a number of services which for various
reasons cannot be provided or cannot be provided adequately by the
Hayek, "Law, Legislation, and Liberty" 1982
I am the last person to deny that increased wealth and the increased
density of population have enlarged the number of collective needs
which government can and should statisfy.
Hayek, New Studies
Now, the Libertarian Party, is a *capitalist* party. It's in favor
of what *I* would regard a *particular form* of authoritarian control.
Namely, the kind that comes through private ownership and control,
which is an *extremely* rigid system of domination -- people have to...
people can survive, by renting themselves to it, and basically in no
other way... I do disagree with them *very* sharply, and I think that
they are not..understanding the *fundamental* doctrine, that you should
be free from domination and control, including the control of the
manager and the owner.
There isn't much point arguing about the word "libertarian." It
would make about as much sense to argue with an unreconstructed
Stalinist about the word "democracy" -- recall that they called
what they'd constructed "peoples' democracies." The weird
offshoot of ultra-right individualist anarchism that is called
"libertarian" here happens to amount to advocacy of perhaps the
worst kind of imaginable tyranny, namely unaccountable private
tyranny. If they want to call that "libertarian," fine; after
all, Stalin called his system "democratic." But why bother
arguing about it?
Anarcho-capitalists are against the State simply because they are
capitalists first and foremost. Their critique of the State ultimately
rests on a liberal interpretation of liberty as the inviolable rights to
and of private property. They are not concerned with the social
consequences of capitalism for the weak, powerless and ignorant. Their
claim that all would benefit from a free exchange in the market is by no
means certain; any unfettered market system would most likely sponsor a
reversion to an unequal society with defense associations perpetuating
exploitation and privilege. If anything, anarcho-capitalism is merely a
free-for-all in which only the rich and cunning would benefit. It is
tailor-made for 'rugged individualists' who do not care about the damage
to others or to the environment which they leave in their wake. The
forces of the market cannot provide genuine conditions for freedom any
more than the powers of the State. The victims of both are equally
enslaved, alienated and oppressed.
Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism
If a Martian were asked to pick the most efficient and humane economic
systems on earth, it would certainly not choose the countries which rely
most on markets. The United States is a stagnant economy in which real
wages have been constant for more than a decade and the real income of
the bottom 40 percent of the population declined. It is an inhumane
society in which 11.5 percent of the population, some 32 million people,
including 20 percent of all children, live in absolute poverty. It is
the oldest democracy on earth but also one with the lowest voting rates
among democracies and the highest per capita prison population in the
world. The fastest developing countries in the world today are among
those where the state pursues active industrial and trade policies; the
few countries in the world in which almost no one is poor today are
those in which the state has been engaged in massive social welfare and
labor market policies.
I think it must be conceded that it is possible to create a society in
which the response to market failure is not a swing to socialism, but
an exacerbation of individual efforts to stay ahead by making and
spending yet more money. Does the public health service have long
waiting lists and inadequate facilities? Buy private insurance. Has
public transport broken down? Buy a car for each member of the family
above driving age. Has the countryside been built over or the footpaths
eradicated? Buy some elaborate exercise machinery and work out at home.
Is air pollution intolerable? Buy an air-filtering unit and stay
indoors. Is what comes out of the tap foul to the taste and chock-full
of carcinogens? Buy bottled water. And so on. We know it can all
happen because it has: I have been doing little more than describing
Now it is worth noticing two things about the private substitutes that I have described. The first is that in the aggregate they are probably much more expensive than would be the implementation of the appropriate public policy. The second is that they are extremely poor replacements for the missing outcomes of good public policy. Nevertheless, it is plain that the members of a society can become so alienated from one another, so mistrustful of any form of collective action, that they prefer to go it alone.
Brian Barry, The Continuing Relevance of Socialism
LAND, n. A part of the earth's surface, considered as property. The
theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control
is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the
superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some
have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own
implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass
are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that
if the whole area of _terra firma_ is owned by A, B and C, there will
be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to
A life on the ocean wave, A home on the rolling deep, For the spark the nature gave I have there the right to keep.
They give me the cat-o'-nine Whenever I go ashore. Then ho! for the flashing brine -- I'm a natural commodore!
[Libertarians] don't denounce what the state does, they
just object to who's doing it. This is why the people most
victimized by the state display the least interest in
libertarianism. Those on the receiving end of coercion don't
quibble over their coercers' credentials. If you can't pay
or don't want to, you don't much care if your deprivation is
called larceny or taxation or restitution or rent. If you
like to control your own time, you distinguish employment
from enslavement only in degree and duration.
Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984
... the place where [adults] pass the most time
and submit to the closest control is at work. Thus, without
even entering into the question of the world economy's
ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody's
productive activity, it's apparent that the source of the
greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is
_not_ the state but rather the business that employs him.
Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in
a week than the police do in a decade.
Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984
Unlike side issues like unemployment, unions, and
minimum-wage laws, the subject of work itself is almost
entirely absent from libertarian literature. Most of what
little there is consists of Randite rantings against
parasites, barely distinguishable from the invective
inflicted on dissidents by the Soviet press....
Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984
Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is
the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly
observes, "one can at least change jobs," but you can't
avoid having a job -- just as under statism one can at least
change nationalities but you can't avoid subjection to one
nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the
right to change masters.
Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984
To demonize state authoritarianism while
ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient
arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control
the world economy is fetishism at its worst.
Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984
An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be
stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and
hostile to the principles of liberty... a dangerous ambition more often
lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than
under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency
of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a
much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter,
and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics,
the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious
court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.
Alexander Hamilton, FEDERALIST. No. 1
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the
great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to
control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.
James Madison, FEDERALIST. No. 51
In Madison's famous formulation in the Federalist, constitutional
restrictions on government assume that we "first enable the government
to control the governed." If the public authorities can be outgunned
or bribed, the vibrancy of the private sector can be pathological.
Stephen Holmes, "What Russia Teaches Us Now"
Science, incidentally, not only ignores the question of indwelling
'essences' by looking instead at measurable relationships, but science
also does not agree that knowledge is obtained through Rothbard's
Medieval 'investigation by a reason,' i.e., by inventing definitions and
then deducing what your definitions implicitly assumed.
Robert Anton Wilson, Natural Law
... I have developed, over the years, some sense of the difference
between real horseshit that you can step in and Ideal Platonic Horseshit
that exists, evidently, only in the contemplation of those who worship
such abstractions; and I continue to notice that Natural Law bears an
uncanny resemblance to ideal Platonic Horseshit.
Robert Anton Wilson, "Natural Law"
Injustice was as common as streetcars. When men walked into their jobs,
they left their dignity, their citizenship and their humanity outside.
They were required to report for duty whether there was work or not.
While they waited on the convenience of supervisors and foremen they
were unpaid. They could be fired without a pretext. The were subjected
to arbitrary, senseless rules... Men were tortured by regulations that
made difficult even going to the toilet. Despite grandiloquent
statements from the presidents of huge corporations that their door was
open to any worker with a complaint, there was no one and no agency to
which a worker could appeal if he were wronged. The very idea that a
worker could be wronged seemed absurd to the employer.
Walter Reuther (on working life in America before the Wagner act)
1935: Social security will break small business, become a huge tax
burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!
1944: The G.I. Bill will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!
1965: Medicare will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!
1994: Health care will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!
Conrad (editorial cartoon), July 1994
Obviously, a man's judgement cannot be better than the information on
which he has based it. Give him the truth and he may still go wrong
when he has the chance to be right, but give him no news or present him
only with distorted and incomplete data, with ignorant, sloppy or biased
reporting, with propaganda and deliberate falsehoods, and you destroy
his whole reasoning processes, and make him something less than a man.
Arthur Hays Sulzberger
Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some
useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.
attributed to Alfonso the Wise, 13th century
Damn the Solar System. Bad light; planets too distant; pestered with
comets; feeble contrivance; could make a better myself.
Francis [Lord] Jeffery
Historians will have to face the fact that natural selection determined
the evolution of cultures in the same manner as it did that of species.
Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, 1966.
It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by
eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate
the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the
case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important
operations which we can perform without thinking about them.
Alfred North Whitehead
[After a sneaky snowball and an extended exchange of insults....]
Calvin: "Leave it to Mom to interrupt our repartee."
Hobbes: "Just when I had you wriggling in the crushing grip of reason too..."
Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes, 1/18/87
The field of pseudo-science hasn't progressed much in ten
years, except to gain access to the net.
Author unknown, from ca.earthquakes
It can be shown that for any nutty theory, beyond-the-fringe political
view or strange religion there exists a proponent on the Net. The proof
is left as an exercise for your kill-file.
Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this
as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem
which it was intended to solve.
You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not
knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to
have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and
possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different
things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many
things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to
ask why we're here... I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel
frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe
without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can
tell. It doesn't frighten me.
Richard P. Feynman
If the myth of the Western were true, the South Bronx would be producing
Those who rely too heavily on dictionary definitions are doomed.
Words are alive, and often connote far more than they are defined
to mean. That's why we have so many different words, to eek out
each connotation, and to differentiate. Calling military service
slavery (unless done in a metaphorical tone) just gets people thinking
you're odd. It's like vegetarians saying "meat is murder." May
wake people up, but turns them off just as fast.
...Then anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise
anyone who receives it, in the belief that such writing will be clear
and certain, must be exceedingly simple-minded...
An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than
a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
H. L. Mencken
We have now reached the point where every goon with a grievance, every
bitter bigot, merely has to place the prefix, 'I know this is not
politically correct, but...' in front of the usual string of insults in
order to be not just safe from criticism, but actually a card, a lad,
even a hero. Conversely, to talk about poverty and inequality, to draw
attention to the reality that discrimination and injustice are still
facts of life, is to commit the sin of political correctness. Anti-PC
has become the latest cover for creeps. It is a godsend for every
curmudgeon and crank, from fascists to the merely smug.
Finian O'Toole, The Irish Times, 5 May 1994
No ideal could be more destructive of human life than the
ideal of non-coerciveness. A new-born human is so helpless,
much more helpless even than the half-inch blob which is a
new-born kangaroo, that it would never survive for one day if
hands which are _both coercive and loving_ did not guide it
to the nipple which it would never find on its own. This was
an observation of T.H.Huxley, in response to Rousseauite
vapour about people being "born free". Such biological
common sense, and in particular some acquaintance with the
work of Konrad Lorenz, might have suggested to Nozick that
he, and post-Vietnam America, had got things _exactly_ the
wrong way around: that in _Homo sapiens_, as in any species,
close bonds between individuals are never formed _except_
when the possibility of coercion is a known and standing
element of the situation.
David Stove, The Plato Cult
But the stupidity which is common to all such "explanations" is,
of course, simply that of proceeding as though the merits of a
theory -- such things as truth, or probability, or explanatory power
-- could not possibly be among the reasons for its currency.
David Stove, Against the Idols of the Age
The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying,
'This is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him was the
real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many
miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one
who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to
his fellow men: 'Beware of listening to this imposter; you are lost if
you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth
belongs to no one.
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1755
Once we begin distinguishing the many forms capitalism can take,
analytic utility is lost by retaining talismanic terms like "free
market." There is no national economy in the world today that is not a
mixed economy, which also means that there is no market that is free, or
even "mostly" free. Rather, markets are structures that are culturally
bounded, always regulated, and genetically dependent on government
intervention for their reproduction. Never are they simply "permitted."
What I do think is that our lives and ethics and society should shed the
myths from the past and try to create a better world for our time. Most
of us humanists have done that relative to religion. I think that
economic and political myths deserve the same scrutiny and subsequent
bashing as does the Bible. I think that free market economic theory
falls into this category of myth. Much as faith healing, the
resurrection, or the second coming does. Many of the theorems and
ultimatums from the theory just do not stand up in the light of
historical or contemporary analysis.
The Libertarians, of whom I'm rather fond, are running Harry Browne.
Libertarians are, just as they claim, principled and consistent- they
believe in individual liberty. Commendable as they are, and despite
their reliability as allies in civil liberties struggles, you may notice
that Libertarians sometimes prove that a foolish consistency is the
hobgoblin of little minds, and that there is a difference between logic
Medicare was supposed to go broke in 1972. It didn't. It was supposed
to go broke in 1976. It didn't. It was supposed to go broke in 1987.
It didn't. In fact, every Medicare Trustee report in the program's
history has warned that Medicare would go broke by some date in the
future. And every time Congress, under the stewardship of Democrats,
has always made the adjustments needed to keep this important program
for the elderly solvent.
Economist Frederick Thayer has studied the history of our
balanced-budget crusades and has come up with some depressing
statistics. We have had six major depressions in our history (1819,
1837, 1857, 1873, 1893 and 1929); all six of them followed sustained
periods of reducing the national debt. We have had almost chronic
deficits since the 1930s, and there has been no depression since
then -- the longest crash-free period in our history.
In a society of an hundred thousand families, there will perhaps be
one hundred who don't labour at all, and who yet, either by violence,
or by the more orderly oppression of law, employ a greater part of the
labour of society than any other ten thousand in it. The division of
what remains, too, after this enormous defalcation, is by no means
made in proportion to the labour of each individual. On the contrary
those who labour most get least. The opulent merchant, who spends
a great part of his time in luxury and entertainments, enjoys a much
greater proportion of the profits of his traffic, than all the Clerks
and Accountants who do the business. These last, again, enjoying a
great deal of leisure, and suffering scarce any other hardship
besides the confinement of attendance, enjoy a much greater share
of the produce, than three times an equal number of artisans, who,
under their direction, labour much more severely and assiduously.
The artisan again, tho' he works generally under cover, protected
from the injuries of the weather, at his ease and assisted by the
convenience of innumerable machines, enjoys a much greater share
than the poor labourer who has the soil and the seasons to struggle
with, and, who while he affords the materials for supplying the
luxury of all the other members of the common wealth, and bears, as
it were, upon his shoulders the whole fabric of human society, seems
himself to be buried out of sight in the lowest foundations of the
Adam Smith, first draft of Wealth Of Nations
All freedoms are subject to constraints, and reality (constraints) keeps
changing. The circumstances must be taken into account. Smith said,
"In the race for wealth, for honors, for preferments, [every man] may
run as hard as he can, and strain every nerve and muscle, in order to
outstrip all competitors. But if he should jostle, or throw down any of
them, the indulgence of the spectators is entirely at an end." In other
words, according to Smith's laissez-faire, it would be unthinkable for
a factory owner to dump toxic wastes into the water because he must pay
society for the privilege of doing so, no matter how long the feedback
loop until the negative results -- the cost of production -- are felt.
The manufacturer, not society, must pay for the costs of production of
what he sells. "Greed" would be the invisible hand acting for the good
of all. There was nothing in Smith's philosophy that allowed one person
to brutalize another by force, fumes, or other interference with
personal liberties in the name of freedom. To the contrary, there is
nothing in the spirit of competition that would allow the government to
give away a tract of wilderness in Alaska that belongs to you and me,
unless the public should agree upon the price. Fifty years ago, the
wilderness had no "value." Like the air, it was free for all to take.
Now the laws of supply and demand have dictated a price. Most
important, the wilderness is also the property of people yet unborn.
How can one establish its price?
Bernd Heinrich, In a Patch of Fireweed
Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never
without belief in a devil.
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
Oh, for an honest Libertarian who would say "Yes, in Libertopia we'd
have rampant quackery, organ-seizure, baby-selling, slavery in all
but name - BUT THAT'S FREEDOM!"
Warning: Some ideologies on the Net are smaller than they appear.
Because economics touches so much of life, everyone wants to
have an opinion. Yet the kind of economics covered in the textbooks is a
technical subject that many people find hard to follow. How reassuring,
then, to be told that it is all irrelevant--that all you really need to
know are a few simple ideas! Quite a few supply-siders have created for
themselves a wonderful alternative intellectual history in which John
Maynard Keynes was a fraud, Paul Samuelson and even Milton Friedman are
fools, and the true line of deep economic thought runs from Adam Smith
through obscure turn-of-the-century Austrians straight to them.
I don't accept that much of use can be learned about policy in this
way [well-structured deduction from metaphysical first principles.]
When the world deviates from the principles, as it usually does,
the simple lessons go astray. This is not a complaint against math.
It is a complaint against indiscriminate application of the deductive
method, sometimes called the Ricardian vice, to problems of human
action. Mine is an old gripe against much of what professional
economists do; not against science but against scientism, against
the pretense of science. To combat it, I spend my research time
wrestling with real-world data, and I spend much of my writing time
warring against the policy ideas of aggressive, ahistorical
James K. Galbraith, letter in Slate, Nov. 5, 1996
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my
opinion, the real source of [society's] evil... The owner of the means
of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the
worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods
which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about
this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what
he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor
contract is "free," what the worker receives is determined not by the
real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the
capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of
workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in
theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his
Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only,
and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor
owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.
Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of
property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against
the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have
none at all.
In practice, without appropriate government intervention, Smith's
"invisible hand" dons brass knuckles and conducts gang
warfare, creating fierce battles between competitors
who would be more than happy to define and enforce their
own private property interests according to their own subjective rules.
One of the most important lessons I learned in college was that
there was no reason to argue on ignorant personal authority when it is
so easy to look up an answer. Once you develop the humility to admit
you don't know something (even if only to yourself) and then go find the
answer to make your argument with, rather than make up claims, you'll
find that you're REALLY learning a lot. You'll also find it very hard
for other people to rely on your ignorance and pride to convince you of
something they want you to believe.
The term 'free market' is really a euphemism. What the far right
actually means by this term is 'lawless market.' In a lawless market,
entrepreneurs can get away with privatizing the benefits of the market
(profits), while socializing its costs (like pollution). Uncomfortable
with the concept of a lawless market? The far right will try to reassure
you with claims that the market can produce its own laws, either as a
commodity bought and sold on the market, or through natural market
mechanisms like the "invisible hand" or the Coase theorem. But it is
interesting to note that even if the entrepreneurs don't take the more
likely shortcut of creating their own state, this type of law removes
the creation of law from democratic legislatures and gives it to
authoritarian business owners and landlords. And since you get what you
pay for, "purchased law" will primarily benefit its purchasers. Society
might as well return to aristocracy directly.
Jefferson was a man of many dimensions, and any explanation of his
behavior must contain a myriad of seeming contradictions. He was a
sincere and dedicated foe of the slave trade who bought and sold men
whenever he found it personally necessary. He believed that all men
were entitled to life and liberty regardless of their abilities, yet he
tracked down those slaves who had the courage to take their rights by
running away. He believed that slavery was morally and politically
wrong, but still he wrote a slave code for his state and opposed a
national attempt in 1819 to limit the further expansion of the
institution. He believed that one hour of slavery was worse than ages
of British oppression, yet he was able to discuss the matter of slave
breeding in much the same terms that one would use when speaking of
the propagation of dogs and horses.
William Cohen, Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Slavery
Most libertarians deny the fact that all rights (including property
rights) are created, maintained, and constrained by force or the
credible threat of forceful retaliation. The few that admit this
propose to use the market to distribute rights; but most people
wouldn't like to see rights distributed as unevenly as incomes.
The argument for laissez-faire capitalism is built on a
contradictory view of liberty. Right-wing libertarians
understand that state control of all economic activity is
tyrannical: that the power to determine if and how people
make a living is the power to enforce conformity. But they
don't see that the huge transnational corporations that own
and control most of the world's wealth exercise a parallel
tyranny: not only do these behemoths unilaterally determine
qualifications, wages, hours, and working conditions for
millions of workers, who (if they're lucky) may "choose" from
a highly restricted menu of jobs or "choose" to stop eating;
they make production, investment and lending decisions that
profoundly affect the economic, social, and political landscape
of communities and indeed entire countries -- decisions in
which the great majority of people affected have little or no
voice. Murray defines economic freedom as "the right to engage in
voluntary and informed exchanges of goods and services
without restriction." Fine -- but if an economic transaction is
to be truly voluntary and informed, all parties must have
equal power to accept, reject, or influence its terms, as well
as equal access to information. Can anyone claim that
corporate employers and employees have equal power to
negotiate their exchange? Or that consumers have full
access to information about the products they buy? And if
we're really interested in freedom, the right to voluntary and
informed engagement in economic transactions has to be
extended beyond their principals to others affected --
whether by plants that reduce air quality or rent increases
that chase out shoe repair shops in favor of coffee bars. The
inconsistency of the belief that economic domination by the
state destroys freedom, while economic domination by
capital somehow enhances it, is often rationalized by
attributing the self-interested decisions of the corporate elite
to objective, immutable principles like "the invisible hand" or
"supply and demand" -- just as state tyranny has claimed
to embody the laws of God or History. But the real animating
principle of a free society is democracy -- which should
include a democratic economy based on enterprises owned
and controlled by their workers.
The laissez-faire argument relies on the same tacit appeal to
perfection as does communism.
The libertarian fantasy is very simple... As a matter of political
theory, it says we reverse the process John Locke described in
The Second Treatise on Government: we dissolve Civil Society and
return to the State of Nature which the libertarians imagine will
be a benign wonderfully free place without any obligation to and
coercion by sovereign political community.
G. Eyclesheimer Ernst, Firearms Policy Journal, Volume 2, No. 1
... in the U.S., the cultural assumption that society revolves around
the individual and individual rights is so deeply embedded that when
teamwork is advocated we pay lipservice but basically do not change our
individualistic assumption. How then does change in this area come
about? First, we would need to re-define teamwork as the coordination of
individual activities for pragmatic ends, not the subordination of the
individual to the group. If we define teamwork as individual
subordination, as treating the group to be more important than the
individual, we arouse all the defenses that lead to quips like camels
being horses constructed by a committee, negative images of "group
think," lynch mobs, etc. Second, the redefinition of teamwork also
allows one to redefine individualism in a way that preserves its
primacy, not to "substitute" groupism for individualism. This process
of redefinition in effect enlarges the concept of individualism to
include the ability and obligation to work with others when the task
demands it. In other words, helping a team to win is not inconsistent
with individualism. And, third, one can change the standards by which
individual performance is rewarded. Instead of rewarding "rugged
individualism" or the competitive winning out over others (which makes
collaborative behavior look "weak"), individuals can be increasingly
rewarded for their ability to create, lead, and participate in teams
(which makes collaborative behavior look "strong"). The best
individual, then, is the one who can be an effective team player.
Edgar H. Schein. Kurt Lewin's Change Theory in the Field and in the Classroom
All the morality and all the rights in the world plus a dollar will get
you a cup of coffee. If you have some means of enforcing the morality
or rights, then you might get the coffee without the dollar.
In a world torn by every kind of fundamentalism -- religious, ethnic,
nationalist and tribal -- we must grant first place to economic
fundamentalism, with its religious conviction that the market, left to
its own devices, is capable of resolving all our problems. This faith
has its own ayatollahs. Its church is neo-liberalism; its creed is
profit; its prayers are for monopolies.
Carlos Fuentes, World Press Review (Nov. '95) p. 47
I always thought a "right" was a made-up social convention,
and a "natural right" was a made-up social convention that
we deny we ever made-up.
James R. Dew
As it happens there is light to be shed on the libertarian position
on breathing. Ayn Rand is always inspirational and often oracular for
libertarians. A strident atheist and vehement rationalist -- she felt
in fact that she and three or four of her disciples were the only
really rational people there were -- Rand remarked that she worshipped
smokestacks. For her, as for Lyndon LaRouche, they not only stood for,
they were the epitome of human accomplishment. She must have meant it
since she was something of a human smokestack herself; she was a chain
smoker, as were the other rationals in her entourage. In the end she
abolished her own breathing: she died of lung cancer.
Bob Black, "Smokestack Lightning"
Imagine wasting all that perfectly good anger on paranoid fantasies.
Not since Emily Litella got upset about "Soviet jewelry" has there
been such a waste of anger. You will notice a certain theme to these
Emily Litella Moments. Behind them all is a touching faith that someone,
somewhere is actually in charge of what's happening -- a proposition I
beg leave to doubt.
... often analysis seems to be based on the assumption that future
economic output is almost entirely determined by inexorable economic
forces independently of government policy so that devoting more
resources to one use inevitably detracts from availability for another.
William Vickrey, "Fifteen Fatal Fallacies of Financial Fundamentalism"
Fallacy 14: Government debt is thought of as a burden handed on from one
generation to its children and grandchildren. Reality: Quite the
contrary, in generational terms, (as distinct from time slices) the debt
is the means whereby the present working cohorts are enabled to earn
more by fuller employment and invest in the increased supply of assets,
of which the debt is a part, so as to provide for their own old age.
In this way the children and grandchildren are relieved of the burden
of providing for the retirement of the preceding generations, whether
on a personal basis or through government programs. This fallacy is
another example of zero-sum thinking that ignores the possibility of
increased employment and expanded output.
William Vickrey, "Fifteen Fatal Fallacies of Financial Fundamentalism"
"Acquiring yet unacquired... stuff": there is the key to coercion.
Some mystic process which magically grants rights to coercively deny
others use. State the right philosophical incantation, and this part
is now removed from the commons. There is actually a very simple
measure of the coercion: price. Price is the bribe that would have
to be paid to deter coercion from the owner. Price also happens to
be the measure of the violation of the Lockean Proviso, "where there
is enough, and as good, left in common for others."
The protean nature of libertarianism causes problems for critics in
open debate. There is no single basis which can be argued: you need
to rebut a half dozen or more sets of assumptions, which
pseudo-intellectual libertarians mix and match with a delightfully
inconsistent abandonment of rationality.
Power over a man's subsistence is power over his will.
Public goods, quasipublic goods, and externalities are fairly common
in the real world. They are common enough that it is necessary to
take proposals for government intervention in the economy on a
case-by-case basis. Government action can never be ruled in or ruled
out on principle. Only with attention to detail and prudent judgment
based on the facts of the case can we hope to approach an optimal
allocation of resources. That means the government will always have
a full agenda for reform -- and in some cases, as in deregulation,
that will mean undoing the actions of government in an earlier
generation. This is not evidence of failure but of an alert, active
government aware of changing circumstances.
Paul Krugman, The American Prospect, November-December 1996
Market failure does not mean that we don't expect the market to provide
any examples, but rather that we expect it to provide less than the
economically efficient amount. For example, there are well known market
failures for roads, yet privately created roads do exist. The issue is
that privatizing roads will result in too little. The record of history
bears this out.
... contrary to their chosen nom de guerre, libertarians aren't
interested in liberty that much. Their primary concern is to defend
private property, and the result is that liberty only enters the
argument at points where it can be conveniently re-defined in terms of
Alan Haworth, "Anti-Libertarianism"
Information technology alone cannot provide us an absolute shield
against its evil twin disinformation technology. Our only protection
is law, and that protection is available to us only if legitimate
governments have the power to govern.
Paul Starr, "Cyberpower And Freedom"
The rapid improvement in price-performance ratios of computers,
software, and other technology today seems to validate the faith in
free markets. But to say that the information revolution proves the
inevitable superiority of markets requires a monumental failure of
short-term historical memory. After all, not just the Internet, but
the computer sciences and computer industry represent a spectacular
success of public investment. As late as the 1970s and early 1980s,
according to Kenneth Flamm's 1987 study Targeting the Computer, the
federal government was paying for 40 percent of all computer-related
research and probably 60 to 75 percent of basic research. The
motivation was national security, but the result has been the creation
of comparative advantage in information technology for the United
States that private firms have happily exploited and extended. When
the returns were uncertain and difficult to capture, private firms
were unwilling to invest, and government played the decisive role.
But when the market expanded and the returns were more definite, the
government receded, which is exactly the path it should have followed.
Paul Starr, "Cyberpower And Freedom"
Classical liberal theory deemed political authority necessary because
individuals are partial to themselves and, left to their own devices,
the strong and the deceitful have an irresistible proclivity to exempt
themselves from generally valid laws. That old insight is amply
confirmed in Russia today. When the state that once owned everything
is now so easy to despoil, why play by rules that apply equally to all?
Libertarians sometimes argue that the coercive authority of the state
extends only to the prevention of harm and the protection of property
rights. In the Russian context, the word "only" here strikes a very
false note. Limited government, capable of repressing force and fraud,
turns out to be mind-bogglingly difficult to erect in a chaotic setting.
Stephen Holmes, "What Russia Teaches Us Now"
Liberalism demands that people without guns be able to tell people
with guns what to do.
Stephen Holmes, "What Russia Teaches Us Now"
There is at the core of the celebration of markets relentless tautology.
If we begin by assuming that nearly everything can be understood as a
market and that markets optimize outcomes, then everything leads back to
the same marketize! If, in the event, a particular market doesn't
optimize, there is only one possible conclusion; it must be
insufficiently market-like. This is a no-fail system for guaranteeing
that theory trumps evidence. Should some human activity not, in fact,
behave like an efficient market, it must logically be the result of some
interference that should be removed. It does not occur that the theory
mis-specifies human behavior.
Robert Kuttner, "The Limits Of Markets"
The evolution of government from its medieval, Mafia-like character
to that embodying modern legal institutions and instruments is a major
part of the history of freedom. It is a part that tends to be obscured
or ignored because of the myopic vision of many economists, who
persist in modeling government as nothing more than a gigantic form
of theft and income redistribution.
How did Europe and those who escaped its clutches succeed in developing?
Part of the answer seems exceptionless: By radically violating approved
free market doctrine. That conclusion holds from England to the East
Asian growth area today, surely including the United States, "the mother
country and bastion of modern protectionism," economic historian Paul
Bairoch observes in his recent study of myths concerning economic
development. The most extraordinary of these, he concludes, is the belief
that protectionism impedes growth: "It is difficult to find another case
where the facts so contradict a dominant theory," a conclusion supported
by many other studies...
Putting the details aside, it seems fairly clear that one reason for the
sharp divide between today's First and Third World is that much of the
latter was subjected to "experiments" that rammed free market doctrine
down their throats, while today's developed countries were able to resist
Noam Chomsky, "Old wine in new bottles: A bitter taste"
In Britain again, as elsewhere, industrial promotion also took the
form of defense against outside competition. The later record of
British commitment to free trade (more or less nid-nineteenth century
to 1930) has tended to obscure the earlier and much longer practice of
economic nationalism, whether by tariff protection or discriminatory
shipping rules (navigation acts). Economic theorists have argued
forcibly, even passionately, that such interferences with the market
hurt everyone. The fact remains that history's strongest advocates
of free trade -- Victorian Britain, post-World War II United States --
were strongly protectionist during their own growing stage. Don't do
as I did; do as I can afford to do now. The advice does not always
David S. Landes, "The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations" pg. 265
The record of early industrialization is invariably one of hard work
for low pay, to say nothing of exploitation. I use this last word, not
in the Marxian sense of paying labor less than its product (how else
would capital receive its reward?), but in the meaningful sense of
compelling labor from people who cannot say no; so, from women and
children, slaves and quasi-slaves (involuntary indentured labor.)
... The high social costs of British industrialization reflect the
shock of unpreparedness and the strange notion that wages and
conditions of labor came from a voluntary agreement between free
agents. Not until the British got over these illusions, in regard
first to children, then to women, did they intervene in the workplace
and introduce protective labor legislation.
David S. Landes, "The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations" pg. 381
Liberalism is not socialism, and never will be... Liberalism
has its own history and its own tradition. Socialism has
its own formulas and aims. Socialism seeks to pull down
wealth; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the
only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved,
namely, by reconciling them with public right. Socialism
would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise
from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism
assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism
seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a
minimum standard for the mass. Socialism exalts the rule;
Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital;
Liberalism attacks monopoly.
Winston Churchill, 1908
There may be two libertarians somewhere who agree with one another,
but I am not one of them.
You know, getting on the Net has done more to turn me off Libertarianism
than -- well, than anything....
The key to understanding this, and to understanding Libertarianism
itself, is to realize that their concept of individual freedom is the
"whopper" of "right to have the State back up business". That's a wild
definition of freedom.
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises
in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral
justification for selfishness.
John Kenneth Galbraith
Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be
defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually
applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that
universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by,
the special privileges which they hold.
Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society
... the modern state masks itself in moral ideologies which obscure
its actual conduct. One of the most compelling and insidious of these
ideologies is the doctrine of natural rights. It was to secure these
rights that the modern state was invented in the first place, and it
is impossible, especially for Americans, not to be seduced by the
doctrine. But it is nonetheless a philosophical superstition.
Donald W. Livingston, in "Secession And The Modern State"
Together, the property rights and public choice schools show only that,
if you start by assuming a purely individualistic model of human
behavior and treat politics as if it were a pale imitation of
the market, democracy will, indeed, make no sense.
Paul Starr, "The Meaning Of Privatization"
... I guess it is no secret that even John Kenneth Galbraith, still the
public's idea of a great economist, looks to most serious economists
like an intellectual dilettante who lacks the patience for hard
thinking. Well, the same is true in evolution. I am not sure how well
this is known. I have tried, in preparation for this talk, to read
some evolutionary economics, and was particularly curious about what
biologists people reference. What I encountered were quite a few
references to Stephen Jay Gould, hardly any to other evolutionary
theorists. Now it is not very hard to find out, if you spend a little
while reading in evolution, that Gould is the John Kenneth Galbraith
of his subject. That is, he is a wonderful writer who is beloved by
literary intellectuals and lionized by the media because he does not
use algebra or difficult jargon. Unfortunately, it appears that he
avoids these sins not because he has transcended his colleagues but
because he does does not seem to understand what they have to say;
and his own descriptions of what the field is about - not just the
answers, but even the questions - are consistently misleading. His
impressive literary and historical erudition makes his work seem
profound to most readers, but informed readers eventually conclude
that there's no there there. (And yes, there is some resentment of his
fame: in the field the unjustly famous theory of "punctuated
equilibrium", in which Gould and Niles Eldredge asserted that evolution
proceeds not steadily but in short bursts of rapid change, is known as
"evolution by jerks").
Paul Krugman, "What Economists Can Learn From Evolutionary Theorists"
... for 55 out of the last 57 centuries Malthus was right. What I mean
is that for almost all of the history of civilization improvements in
technology did not lead to sustained increases in living standards;
instead, the gains were dissipated by rising population, with pressure
on resources eventually driving the condition of the masses back to
roughly its previous level. The subjects of Louis XIV were not
noticeably better nourished than those of ancient Sumerian city-states;
that is, while they had enough to survive and raise children in good
times, they lived sufficiently close to the edge that the Four Horsemen
could carry them off now and then, keeping the population more or less
stable. It was Malthus's great misfortune that the power of his theory
to explain what happened in most of human history has been obscured by
the fact that the only two centuries of that history for which it does
not work happen to be the two centuries that followed its publication.
But this was, of course, not an accident. Malthus was a man of his
time, and his musings were only one symptom of the rise of a
rationalist, scientific outlook; another symptom of that rise was the
Paul Krugman, "Seeking The Rule Of The Waves"
That's libertarians for you - anarchists who want police protection from
Kim Stanley Robinson, "Green Mars" p318
It is a lot easier to look as though you have a thorough and correct
understanding of a subject if you can limit your discussions either to
discussions with people who agree with you or to encounters with people
who disagree with you, don't understand your ideas, and are not involved
in the encounter for long enough to learn to understand your ideas. It
is a lot easier to maintain that situation if you are not on Usenet.
David Friedman (on why "serious objectivists" aren't on the net.)
... an essential feature of a decent society, and an almost defining
feature of a democratic society, is relative equality of outcome -- not
opportunity, but outcome. Without that you can't seriously talk about a
democratic state... These concepts of the common good have a long life.
They lie right at the core of classical liberalism, of Enlightenment
thinking... Like Aristotle, [Adam] Smith understood that the common
good will require substantial intervention to assure lasting
prosperity of the poor by distribution of public revenues.
Noam Chomsky on The Common Good
Talk of democracy has little content when big business rules the life
of the country through its control of the means of production, exchange,
the press and other means of publicity, propaganda and communication.
As labor markets have become increasingly laissez-faire markets,
inequality has widened apace. The benign view of this phenomenon
holds that skills, at last, are being rewarded appropriately. A more
skeptical view holds that income extremes are now far beyond any degree
necessary to reward diligence or innovation; that the negative social
consequences on inequality far outweigh the gains to allocative
efficiency; and that the extreme income inequality associated with
pure markets, far from being a source of efficiency, is one more
serious blemish of laissez-faire society and one more social calamity
wrought by pure markets.
Robert Kuttner, "The Limits Of Markets"
Anarcho-capitalism, in my opinion, is a doctrinal system which, if ever
implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few
counterparts in human history. There isn't the slightest possibility
that its (in my view, horrendous) ideas would be implemented, because
they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error.
The idea of "free contract" between the potentate and his starving
subject is a sick joke, perhaps worth some moments in an academic
seminar exploring the consequences of (in my view, absurd) ideas,
but nowhere else.
I should add, however, that I find myself in substantial agreement with
people who consider themselves anarcho-capitalists on a whole range of
issues; and for some years, was able to write only in their journals.
And I also admire their commitment to rationality -- which is rare --
though I do not think they see the consequences of the doctrines they
espouse, or their profound moral failings.
But once we concede that people do care about status, it necessarily
follows that the status competition that makes people buy expensive
consumer goods in order to impress other people constitutes a failure
of the market economy - a failure as real as traffic congestion, or
pollution, or any other activity in which the individual pursuit of
self-interest leads to a collectively bad outcome. Suppose that we
could somehow agree to stop competing over who has the fanciest car;
everyone could then work a bit less, spend more time with their
families, and raise the sum total of human happiness. Or to put it a
bit differently, Americans (or at least the top few percent of the
income distribution) have gotten into a sort of arms race of conspicuous
consumption that, like most arms races, consumes huge quantities of
resources yet in the end changes little.
Paul Krugman, "The Mercedes Menace"
For every complex problem there is a solution which is straightforward,
simple, and wrong.
H. L. Mencken
...simple statements of libertarian principle taken literally can
be used to prove conclusions that nobody, libertarian or otherwise,
is willing to accept. If the principle is softened enough to avoid
such conclusions, its implications become far less clear. It is
only by being careful to restrict the application of our principles
to easy cases that we can make them seem at the same time simple
David Friedman, "The Machinery Of Freedom", Chapter 41.
Our popular economics writers, however, are not in the business of
giving their readers a ringside seat on the research action; with
no exception I can think of, they use their books to do an end run
around the normal structure of scholarship, to preach ideas that few
serious economists share. Often, these ideas are not just at odds
with the professional consensus; they are demonstrably wrong, and
sometimes terminally silly. But they sound good to the unwary reader.
Paul Krugman, "The Accidental Theorist", introduction.
Ah, the Horatio Alger fallacy. The notion that everybody can be the
exception. It works as well in capitalism as it does in lotteries.
A favorite Wired icon for the information feedback loop, a dragon
curling in a circle to swallow its own tail, could become more apt
as a symbol of the timeless libertarian paradox: Monopoly verging
on feudalism emerges from unregulated competition to bite
libertarianism in the posterior.
Jedediah S. Purdy, The American Prospect no. 37
For at least the past 65 years, liberalism has been nothing if not
an attempt to strike a balance between the needs of the community
and the needs of individuals, between the need for freedom and the
need for order.
Alan Brinkley, "Liberalism And Its Discontents"
The notion that a society could be regulated entirely by market forces
is a utopian fantasy: an impossible dream generated by imagining what
the world would be like if everyone's behavior was utterly consistent
with some abstract moral ideal--in this case, economic theories that
assume all human action is based on calculating, systematic, (but
scrupulously law-abiding), greed.
David Rolfe Graeber, unpublished writing
The myth of the inevitability of economic globalization is based largely
on the work of Milton Friedman, and easily the most underreported story
of our time is that the current economy proves Friedman flatly wrong.
In that speech, Neil outlined his strategy of making the enforcement
of the Bill of Rights the mission of the LP, starting with
uncompromising defense of the second amendment - never calling it
"gun control", always calling it "victim disarmament" instead...
Tim Starr, on libertarian propaganda strategies.
... on Usenet, when your opponents
don't reply to you on any given point, that means you've won.
Tim Starr, on libertarian propaganda strategies.
Sir Fred Hoyle compared abiogenesis to a hurricane blowing though
a junkyard assembling a Boeing 747. He's got it backwards: that's
the creationist model, with God as the hurricane and man as the 747.
Actual scientific models more resemble our knowledge of the history of
the development of airplanes, with many predecessors to 747's and the
development of crucial technologies long before the Wright brother's
Religions do make claims about the universe--the same kinds of claims
that scientists make, except they're usually false.
To advance much further, however, they [economists] and other social
scientists will have to cross the boundary between the social and
natural sciences and trade with the biologists and psychologists
they find on the other side. Just as, in his Nobel Lecture, Becker
stated that his contribution was "to pry economists away from
narrow assumptions about self-interest," the next step is for
economists to free themselves completely, at long last, from the
Standard Social Science Model of behavior and take seriously the
biological and psychological foundations of human behavior.
Amazingly, despite overwhelming evidence against it, the great majority
still cling to the view that aside from meeting basic biological needs,
people in modern societies make choices, in Becker's words, that
"depend on childhood, social interactions, and cultural influences."
Not, apparently, the hereditary epigenetic rules of human nature.
The impoverishing consequence of this view has been the acceptance of
folk psychology in even the most ingenious models.
E. O. Wilson, "Consilience"
Further research may reveal that the brain sometimes operates as a
computerlike optimizer and sometimes as a quick decision-maker
ruled by powerful and inborn heuristics. Whatever the mix, rational
choice theory, though still the light and way to many social theorists,
is a subject of controversy within psychology. It is too dependent,
critics say, on analogies with computer algorithms and abstract
optimality solutions. It pays too little attention to the properties
of the real brain, which is a stone-age organ evolved over hundreds
of millennia and only recently thrust into the alien environment of
industrialized society. It is thus inconsistent with the evidence of
how people in preliterate cultures reason and have likely reasoned
throughout evolutionary time... It will be at once apparent, and
should be a working premise of economists and social scientists, that
the same preliterate traits are commonplace in the citizens of modern
industrial societies... They are, like it or not, part of modern
E. O. Wilson, "Consilience"
There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in
The poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being
governed at all.
G. K. Chesterton
All of us inevitably spend our lives evolving from an initial to a
final stage of dependence. If we are fortunate enough to achieve
power and relative independence along the way, it is a transient and
...there are two Hayeks. One, the modest and imaginative social
theorist... The other Hayek is Hayek the libertarian; Hayek the
paranoid and splenetic reactionary; the Hayek who fulminates against
his pet hates -- 'the counter culture', 'permissive education',
'dropouts', 'parasites' and so on -- like any dyspeptic ten-a-penny
rednecked blimp. This Hayek is unconnected with the former, and
should be ignored.
Alan Haworth, in "Anti-Libertarianism: Markets, Philosophy and Myth".
And Hayek had no fondness for laissez-faire. Quite the contrary.
He abhorred the term and the principle, insisting instead that markets
do not come from nature or fall from the sky. "In no system that
could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing.
An effective competitive system needs an intelligently designed
and continuously adjusted legal framework as much as any other."
On this view, markets are constituted by government and law.
They depend for their very existence on legal rules allocating basic
rights and saying who can do what to whom. And in some places Hayek
suggested that the appropriate legal framework would contain and
specify a great deal. In 1945, he wrote that he has always been
"in favor of a minimum income for every person in the country,"
largely but not only in the form of social insurance. At various
times he suggested that he would accept maximum-hour laws, laws
banning dangerous products, and laws protecting against unsafe
workplace conditions and environmental deterioration.
Cass Sunstein, reviewing Hayek's "The Road To Serfdom"
In national balance sheets, economists seldom use full-cost accounting,
which includes the loss of natural resources. A country can cut down
all its trees, mine out its most profitable minerals, exhaust its
fisheries, erode most of its soil, draw down its underground water and
count all the proceeds as income and none of the depletion as cost.
It can pollute the environment and promote policies that crowd its
populace into urban slums, without charging the result to overhead...
Competitive indexes and gross domestic products (GDPs) remain seductive,
not to be messed up in conventional economic theory by adding the tricky
complexities of environment and social cost. The time has come for
economists and business leaders, who so haughtily pride themselves as
masters of the real world, to acknowledge the existence of the real real
world. New indicators of progress are needed to monitor the economy,
wherein the natural world and human well-being, not just economic
production, are awarded full measure.
E. O. Wilson, "Consilience"
The basic recipe in most religions and philosophies is "we want peace
and justice except when we want to aggressively conquer, rob, and
enslave our neighbors." There are blatant examples in the OT, Islam
and probably most other religions and their writings. Such opportunism
is as normal and adaptive as picking up money off the ground. If a
religion or philosophy does not mention this aggressive aspect, then
either they are concealing it or are sheltered within a society that
performs this function for them.
The modern corporation is frequently thought of as the epitome of
private property. While buying and selling shares of corporate stock is
a clear example of the rights of alienation at work, relationships
within a firm are far from being "individual" ownership rights. Since
the income that will be shared among stockholders, management, and
employees is itself a common pool to be shared, all of the incentives
leading to free riding (shirking) and overuse (padding the budget) are
found within the structure of a modern corporation. Thus, where many
individuals will work, live, and play in the next century will be
governed and managed by mixed systems of communal and individual
Elinor Ostrom, "Encyclopedia Of Law And Economics"
It belongs to the genius of a great political leader to make even
adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to single
category, because in weak and uncertain characters the knowledge
of having different enemies can only too readily lead to the beginning
of doubt in their own right. Once the wavering mass sees itself in a
struggle against too many enemies, objectivity will put in an
appearance, throwing open the question whether all others are really
wrong and only their own movement are in the right. And this brings
about the first paralysis of their own power. Hence a multiplicity
of different adversaries must always be combined so that in the eyes
of one's own supporters the struggle is directed against only one enemy.
Adolf Hitler, "Mein Kampf"
Ideology means taking some idea -- often legitimate in its own sphere --
to the extreme... Ideology offers certainty -- clear cut
choices between good and evil, truth and falsehood. It pretends to have
scientific answers to complex problems and holds out one easy standard
to judge all cases. It thus relieves thinkers of the tedium involved in
making difficult distinctions. In Procrustean fashion, ideologues cut
facts to fit their ideas, rather than ideas to fit the facts. More
often than not, their claims to science turn out to be little more than
Walter Adams and James Brock, "The Bigness Complex"
Contrary to the preachments of modern apologists, the competitive market
is not a product of nature, nor is it automatically self-perpetuating.
It is a delicate artifact that can be subverted from within by private
interests who refuse to submit to the market's control or who arrogate
to themselves its planning function... A free-enterprise society,
therefore, must take positive and deliberate action to protect the
competitive market from subversion and erosion. This is the primary
task of the antitrust laws.
Walter Adams and James Brock, "The Bigness Complex"
Some "libertarians" suggest that the market system, acting in
conjunction with the legal system [torts], will create sufficient
incentives to deter antisocial behavior on the part of producers...
Sadly, reality refutes this argument. As Mark Green and Beverly Moore
have pointed out, the "victim's ability to collect is persistently
undermined by the difficulty of calculating damages, imperfect
substantive liability rules, restrictions on class actions, dilatory
practices of defendant corporations, 'ethical' prohibitions against
lawyers informing consumers of their right to sue, similar rules against
lawyers financing and purchasing consumer causes of action, and the
general high cost of legal representation"... Alas, the blind cry for
deregulation is singularly unhelpful in resolving these problems,
which are endemic in modern industrial society and which are not likely
to disappear under the onslaught of ideological sloganeering.
Walter Adams and James Brock, "The Bigness Complex"
In markets where freedom of choice is hampered by inadequate
information, or where rational choice requires extraordinary
expertise, there is no acceptable alternative to government regulation.
Contrary to libertarian preachments, it would be imprudent to expect an
air traveler to do research required to avoid unsafe airlines, or for
the automobile buyer to find out which cars are affected with rear-wheel
lockup, or for the pregnant woman to conduct chemical tests to avoid
drugs which may kill or deform her unborn child. Here social regulation
is imperative, either by providing indispensable information to
consumers or by prohibiting hazardous products outright. Here the
privilege of free choice in a free market is the freedom to play Russian
roulette with health and safety, and to impose the cost of death or
injury on families or society.
Walter Adams and James Brock, "The Bigness Complex"
I hear Republicans and Libertarians and so forth talking about
property rights, but they stop talking about property rights as
soon as the subject of American Indians comes up, because they
know fully well, perhaps not in a fully articulated, conscious
form, but they know fully well that the basis for the very system
of endeavor and enterprise and profitability to which they are
committed and devoted accrues on the basis of theft of the resources
of someone else. They are in possession of stolen property. They
know it. They all know it. It's a dishonest endeavor from day one.
Ward Churchill, interview on ZNet
My contacts with Libertarians always leave me with a certain amount
of contempt for their philosophies, which all seem to rely on the
assumption that, if you can string together enough vague and
high-sounding rhetoric, you can ignore both (1) all of human history
and (2) what everyone else on earth now wants.
How much freedom I have depends on the number and nature of my
options. And that, in turn, depends both on the rules of the game
and on the assetts of the players: it is a very important and widely
neglected truth that it does not depend on the rules of the game
G.A. Cohen, "Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality" pg. 54
The organizer of industry who thinks he has 'made' himself and his
business has found a whole social system ready to his hand in skilled
workers, machinery, a market, peace and order -- a vast apparatus and
a pervasive atmosphere, the joint creation of millions of men and
scores of generations. Take away the whole social factor, and we have
not Robinson Crusoe with his salvage from the wreck and his acquired
knowledge, but the native savage living on roots, berries and vermin.
L. T. Hobhouse, 1974
There is a sentiment prevalent in this nation that takes for granted all
the benefits we enjoy from our mutual association, that may recognize
our heritage of freedom and may enjoy the progress and mode of existence
that America represents, but that says "It is here only for my taking
-- I owe it nothing, except to get for myself whatever I need or want."
Eyler Coates, Sr.
Laissez-faire economics is really just another government program.
Whether you regulate, or you don't regulate, either way is a choice,
and either choice is a deliberate government action or program. In
other words, ANYTHING a free society does is a government action or
program. You can't escape.
Eyler Coates, Sr.
Brian (not wanting to be a messiah): "You are all individuals..."
Crowd (in unison): "We are all individuals..."
Monty Python's "Life Of Brian"
nozick, n. (from nostrum + physick) Political snake oil, a patent
medicine, esp. a cathartic or purgative. "Waste not logick, not yet
strong physick, on the Leviathan; serve it nozick, and stand back."
Daniel Dennett, The Philosophical Lexicon
"Fierce individualism," a brief description of Rand philosophy, is pure
authoritarianism, as pure individualism always must be. If any one
individual can make a decision that affects others, and do so without
consultation, then those affected must obey. The combination of
"freedom" and "individualism" masks this truism.
Frederick Thayer, Professor, Public Policy, Southern University
With different rules as to assignment of property rights, particularly
by way of inheritance or government grant, we could have just as strict
a protection of each person's property rights, and just as little
governmental interference with freedom of contract, but a very different
pattern of economic relationships. Moreover, by judicious legal
limitation on the bargaining power of the economically and legally
stronger, it is conceivable that the economically weak would acquire
greater freedom of contract than they now have--freedom to resist more
effectively the bargaining power of the strong, and to obtain better
Robert Hale, Bargaining, Duress, and Economic Liberty, 1943
We shall have governmental intervention anyway, even if unplanned, in
the form of the enforcement of property rights assigned to different
individuals according to legal rules laid down by the government. It
is this unplanned governmental intervention which restricts economic
liberty so drastically and so unequally at present.
Robert Hale, Bargaining, Duress, and Economic Liberty, 1943
[I]t is naive to suppose that the [Supreme] Court's present difficulties
could be cured by appointing Justices determined to give the
Constitution its true meaning," to work at "finding the law" instead of
reforming society. The possibility implied by these comforting phrases
does not exist.... History can be of considerable help, but it tells us
much too little about the specific intentions of the men who framed,
adopted and ratified the great clauses. The record is incomplete, the
men involved often had vague or even conflicting intentions, and no one
foresaw, or could have foreseen, the disputes that changing social
conditions and outlooks would bring before the Court.
Robert Bork, Fortune, December 1968 p.140-1.
Odes of praise to the common law, and mistrust of legislative
modifications of it, allow libertarians to say that the true benchmark
of rights is provided by the older rules, not the newer ones. Judged
against this standard, of course, the rules that benefit employers,
landlords and manufacturers simply define liberty and property rights
whereas the rules that benefit workers, tenants and consumers are
interferences with liberty. The rules one likes are the foundations of
sacred property rights, those one does not like are meddlesome
regulation. This is a nice trick...
James Boyle, Libertarianism, Property & Harm
We cannot simply say "Well, individuals have a right to do anything
that does not harm another" because that answer simply dissolves int
another value-laden debate about what counts as "a harm" in the first place.
James Boyle, Libertarianism, Property & Harm
... in almost every argument that conservatives bring, the main
critique is not on the merits of the progressive idea, but on the
hypothetical consequences. Rather than showing, for example, that
current standardized tests really are objective, they merely
harangue liberals for doubting their objectivity. Instead of
defending the current criteria for "merit," they point out the
terrible consequences for society if the meritocracy did not
James Boyle, The PC Harangue
In the United States, around the turn of the century, through radical
judicial activism, the courts changed crucially the concept of the
corporation. They simply redefined them so as to grant not only
privileges to property owners, but also to what legal historians call
"collectivist legal entities." Corporations, in other words, were
granted early in this century the rights of persons, in fact, immortal
persons, and persons of immense power. And they were freed from the need
to restrict themselves to the grants of state charters.
That's a very big change. It's essentially establishing major private
tyrannies, which are furthermore unaccountable, because they're
protected by First Amendment rights, freedom from search and
seizure and so on, so you can't figure out what they're doing.
Noam Chomsky, in "A Corporate Watch Interview With Noam Chomsky"
But, that's the whole point of corporatization -- to try to remove the
public from making decisions over their own fate, to limit the public
arena, to control opinion, to make sure that the fundamental decisions
that determine how the world is going to be run -- which includes
production, commerce, distribution, thought, social policy, foreign
policy, everything -- are not in the hands of the public, but rather in
the hands of highly concentrated private power. In effect, tyranny
unaccountable to the public.
Noam Chomsky, in "A Corporate Watch Interview With Noam Chomsky"
To say that governments are evil is on a par with saying that humans
are evil. To claim that it is a necessary evil is on a par with saying
that cars are a necessary evil. What we are really talking about are
subjective preferences which may or may not be satisfied, not some
theological notion of right and wrong. The inescapable evils of
coercive behavior are not unique to government. Our government is
where we choose to channel and regulate them, because the alternative
(private, unregulated coercion) gives much worse results, as the history
of privately owned states (monarchies, dictatorships, despotisms) and
private "law" such as slavery, mafias, warlords, etc. show rather
clearly. We have constructed a government that is jointly owned by all,
because private ownership gives too much incentive for profit through
coercion of others.
... liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as
well as by the abuses of power...
James Madison, The Federalist, no. 63.
Marriage vows in an objectivist church would probably run along the
lines of "Do you promise to attempt to dominate and subdue this woman
until such time as you grow bored?" "Maybe." "Close enough. And do
you promise to applaud this man`s production until such time as you
find someone with a bigger ... corporation?" "Whatever." "By the
power vested in me by having scammed you guys out of a marriage
license fee, I now pronounce you man and appendage. May you be
unencumbered by small persons."
Rob Slade, reviewing "Atlas Shrugged"
In claiming that prohibition, not the drugs themselves, is the
problem, Nadelmann and many others -- even policemen -- have
said that "the war on drugs is lost." But to demand a yes or no
answer to the question "Is the war against drugs being won?" is
like demanding a yes or no answer to the question "Have you
stopped beating your wife yet?" Never can an unimaginative and
fundamentally stupid metaphor have exerted a more baleful effect
upon proper thought.
Theodore Dalrymple, in City Journal
We've got the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble when it comes to crime
in this country. The FBI says burglary and robbery cost U.S. taxpayers
$3.8 billion annually. Securities fraud alone costs four times that.
And securities fraud is nothing to the cost of oil spills,
price-fixing, and dangerous or defective products. Fraud by health-care
corporations alone costs us between $100 billion and $400 billion a
year. No three-strikes-and-you're-out for these guys. Remember the
S&L scandal? $500 billion.
Molly Ivans 3/8/2000
Development cannot really be so centered only on those in power.
Amartya Sen, Development As Freedom
The general uncertainty about the prospects of medical
treatment is socially handled by rigid entry requirements.
These are designed to reduce the uncertainty in the mind of
the consumer as to the quality insofar as this is possible. I
think this explanation, which is perhaps the naive one, is much
more tenable than any idea of a monopoly seeking to increase
Kenneth Arrow, "Uncertainty and the Economics of Medical Care" 1963
Behind every model of government failure is an assumption that voters are poorly
informed, serious competition is lacking, and/or transaction costs are excessively
high. Economists are very suspicious of similar assumptions regarding economic
markets. This skepticism should be carried over to models of political-market
Donald Wittman, "The Myth Of Democratic Failure" 1995, pg. 192
To say that democratic political markets tend toward efficiency does not imply
that political markets are superior to economic markets; rather it implies that
democratic governments will allocate to economic markets those tasks in which the
economic market is most efficient... Nor does it imply that mistakes are never
made, just as efficient economic markets do not imply that consumers and business
executives never err.
Donald Wittman, "The Myth Of Democratic Failure" 1995, pg. 193
No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority are so by
force of property; they are still chained to a place, to an occupation, and to
conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred by the accident of birth to
both the enjoyments, and from the mental and moral advantages, which others
inherit without exertion and independently of desert. That this is an evil equal
to almost any of those against which mankind have hitherto struggles, the poor
are not wrong in believing.
John Stuart Mill, "Chapters on Socialism", Collected Works, pg. 710
In the particular circumstances of a given age or nation,
there is scarcely anything really important to the general
interest, which it may not be desirable, or even necessary, that
the government should take upon itself, not because private
individuals cannot effectually perform it, but because they will
not. At some times and places, there will be no roads, docks,
harbours, canals, works of irrigation, hospitals, schools,
colleges, printing-presses, unless the government establishes
them; the public being either too poor to command the necessary
resources, or too little advanced in intelligence to appreciate
the ends, or not sufficiently practised in joint action to be
capable of the means.
John Stuart Mill, "The Principles Of Poitical Economy", Book 5, Chapter 11.
Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to
believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
H. L. Mencken
Even those who identify themselves as libertarians follow an overtly
anti-rationalist philosophy, as even a brief acquaintance with the
work of Friedrich Hayek should make clear.
The argument against reason in this literature is straightforward: it
is impossible for any individual to acquire enough reliable
information to make a rational decision, any actions founded on
rational thought will therefore be delusional, any attempts at reason
should therefore regarded as dangerous, and all action should
instead be guided by tradition.
Phil Agre, "The Crisis of Public Reason"
Conservatism is constitutionally opposed to public reason, and this
explains the abandon with which so many conservative pundits embrace
flagrant simulations of reason, constructed through the methods of
public relations, and exhibit so little regard for the real thing.
Phil Agre, "The Crisis of Public Reason"
Deductive logic is airtight in a precise sense: given the premises,
the conclusions follow. Proponents of technical rationalization often
feel very strongly, and it is easy to see where they get their fervor.
The matters that they model are often controversial, and answers that
can be publicly defended through airtight deductive logic are greatly to
be preferred to the hidden agendas of politicians and entrepreneurs...
The serious problem with rationalization concerns the premises and
presuppositions of the model: "given the premises, the conclusions
follow", but the premises are rarely as "given" as all that, and the
conclusions only follow if the world corresponds to the assumptions that
have been built into the model. Most of these models depend on
quantitative "inputs" that are subject to measurement error, assuming
that they can even be measured. Sensitivity analysis (computing the
partial derivative of the output with respect to a particular input)
often reveals that the answers that formal models provide depend so
radically on unmeasurable inputs that they are worthless.
Phil Agre, "The Crisis of Public Reason"
Libertarians and their "I've got mine, Jack" philosphy are people who
were born on third base and think they've hit life's triple. In
America's egalitarian society it should surprise no one this cramped,
neo-Victorian philosophy has not caught on.
Russell Sadler, commentator, Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
A capitalist democracy necessarily performs a complex straddle when it
comes to the role of business. On the one hand, we want business to
succeed - to innovate, to create jobs, and to provide a wide choice of
consumer products. One the other hand, the whole history of capitalism
tells us that business, left to its own devices, commits assaults that
are not necessary for commerce to thrive but are merely opportunistic.
Corporations poison the air and water, treat workers like throwaway
parts, deceive investors, and lobby against the mildest social
reforms... The only counterweight is an aroused citizenry and an
effective, accountable government. If this be class warfare, so be it.
Robert Kuttner, 9/3/2000
Americans feel themselves overburdened by a welfare system that is in
fact, by the standards of other rich countries, both lean and mean.
The relative generosity of the European welfare regimes may cost them
some excess unemployment, but that does not explain why the rich
European economies did not match the American boom of the 1990s. More
important reasons are excessively tight monetary policy, failures of
industrial competition, and restrictive controls on the labor market.
The welfare state seems to encroach on the economy only when it grows
to Swedish proportions. What really distinguishes the US is the
equanimity with which the majority contemplates the poverty of a
Robert M. Solow, "Welfare: The Cheapest Country"
Institutions and infrastructures shape our lives while remaining
largely out of sight. We inductively learn that the world works in a
certain way, but we don't understand how much complicated effort goes
into producing and reproducing the institutions and infrastructures
that *enable* the world to work that way. The result might be called
first-world myopia. People in the first world live in a dream. We
think that we determine our own fates, that we are free and autonomous
individuals, when in fact we live in bubbles whose preconditions would
scare us if we knew just how numerous they are. If there's a rock in
the road, we just assume that it's someone's job to pick it up. The
supermarket will have food in it. Airplanes fly. You can get parts
for your car... First-world myopia means that you can forget, or never
even know, about the elaborate institutional systems that make it
possible to live in a bubble... First-world myopia, by contrast, can
be downright dangerous. Think of all those "experts" who flew to
Russia in 1989 to advise the Russians about how to create a market
democracy. Those people were dangerous fools. They had no idea what
life was like in a society without functioning institutions. They
really believed all this drivel about the free market meaning an
absence of government.
Phil Agre, Red Rock Eater News Service 12/22/00
Environmental laws give power to the people. Republicans can huff, puff
and scream about what they consider strict regulations, but when they
cry out for reform, for a quicker process, they're really calling for
a restriction of the rights of people to be involved in the planning
Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC-Berkeley
For she [Rand] further holds that objective reality is readily
accessible by solitary individuals using words and logic alone.
This proposition -- rejected by nearly all modern scientists -- is
essentially a restatement of the Platonic worldview, a fundamental
axiom of which is that the universe is made up of ideal essences or
'values' (the term Rand preferred) that can be discovered,
dispassionately examined, and _objectively_ analyzed by those few bold
minds who are able to finally free themselves from hoary assumptions
of the past. Once freed, any truly rational individual must, by simply
applying verbal reasoning, independently reach the same set of
fundamental conclusions about life, justice and the universe.
(Naturally, any mind that fails to do so must, by definition, not yet
David Brin, September 2000 issue of Liberty magazine
It is a true slight that a man who occupies himself dissecting
ten thousand mites gets the same pleasure of libertarians.
William J. Westmiller
I'll tell you what I'd do if it were up to me: I would establish a
strictly controlled distribution network through which I would
make most drugs, excluding the most dangerous ones like crack,
legally available. Initially I would keep the prices low enough to
destroy the drug trade. Once that objective was attained I would
keep raising the prices, very much like the excise duty on
cigarettes, but I would make an exception for registered addicts
in order to discourage crime. I would use a portion of the income
for prevention and treatment. And I would foster social opprobrium
of drug use.
'Tis true that governments cannot be supported without great charge,
and it is fit everyone who enjoys a share of protection should pay out
of his estate his proportion of the maintenance of it.
The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of
the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their
respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they
respectively enjoy under the protection of the state ....[As Henry Home
(Lord Kames) has written, a goal of taxation should be to] 'remedy
inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and
burdening the rich.'
[What Hayek] does not see, or will not admit, [is] that a return to
"free" competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably
worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble
with competitions is that somebody wins them. Professor Hayek denies
that free capitalism necessarily leads to monopoly, but in practice that
is where it has led, and since the vast majority of people would far
rather have State regimentation than slumps and unemployment, the drift
towards collectivism is bound to continue if popular opinion has any say
in the matter.
George Orwell, in a 1944 review of "The Road to Serfdom" by F.A. Hayek and "The Mirror of the Past" by K. Zilliacus
These days, however, the main problem comes from the right -- from
conservatives who, unlike most economists, really do think that the
free market is always right--to such an extent that they refuse to
believe even the most overwhelming scientific evidence if it seems to
suggest a justification for government action.
Paul Krugman, "Earth In The Balance"
Such regulations [banking regulations] may, no doubt, be considered as
in some respect a violation of natural liberty. But those exertions of
the natural liberty of a few individuals, which might endanger the
security of the whole society, are, and ought to be, restrained by the
laws of all governments; of the most free, as well as of the most
despotical. The obligation of building party walls, in order to prevent
the communcation of fire, is a violation of natural liberty, exactly of
the same kind with the regulations of the banking trade which are here
Adam Smith, "The Wealth Of Nations", pg. 263
Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between
masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When
the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always
just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the
Adam Smith, "The Wealth Of Nations", pg. 151
The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the
present and the preceding century, been more fatal to the repose of
Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers.
The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil,
for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of
a remedy. But the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants
and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of
mankind, though it cannot perhaps be corrected, may very easily be
prevented from disturbing the tranquillity of any body but themselves.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth Of Nations", pg. 382
Our merchants and master manufacturers complain much of the bad effects
of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of
their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad
effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious
effcts of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth Of Nations", pg. 104
Unfortunately for ethical egoism, the claim that we will all be better
off if every one of us does what is in his or her own interest is
incorrect. This is shown by what are known as "prisoner's dilemma"
situations, which are playing an increasingly important role in
discussions of ethical theory... At least on the collective level,
therefore, egoism is self-defeating -- a conclusion well brought out
by Parfit in his aforementioned Reasons and Persons.
Peter Singer, Encyclopedia Britannica article on ethics.
Having created the conditions that make markets possible, democracy
must do all the things that markets undo or cannot do.
Benjamin Barber, "Jihad vs. McWorld"
Markets are interested in profits and profits only; service, quality,
and general affluence are different functions altogether. The
universal, democratic prosperity that Americans now look back to with
such nostalgia was achieved only by a colossal reigning in of markets,
by the gargantuan effort of mass, popular organizations like labor
unions and of the people themselves, working through a series of
democratically elected governments not daunted by the myths of the
Thomas Frank, "One Market Under God", pg. 87
Personal property is the effect of Society; and it is as impossible for
an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society,
as it is for him to make land originally. Separate an individual from
society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he
cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably
are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the
former do not exist, the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation
therefore of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce,
is derived to him by living in society; and he owes, on every principle
of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that
accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came. This is
putting the matter on a general principle, and perhaps it is best to
do so; for if we examine the case minutely, it will be found, that the
accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of
paying too little for the labour that produced it; the consequence of
which is, that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer
abounds in affluence. It is perhaps impossible to proportion exactly
the price of labour to the profits it produces; and it will also be
said, as an apology for injustice, that were a workman to receive an
increase of wages daily, he would not save it against old age nor be
much the better for it in the interim. Make then Society the treasurer
to guard it for him in a common fund, for it is no reason that because
he might not make a good use of it for himself that another shall take
Thomas Paine, "Agrarian Justice" 1797
On the conservative side, today's libertarianism is far more dogmatic
and devoid of qualification than the liberalism of Adam Smith or J.S.
Mill. Like Marxism, libertarianism is a utopian worldview based on an
economic-determinist vision of history. Unlike Marxism, libertarianism
is highly specific in its predictions about the transition to the
utopian world order, rendering it vulnerable to fact.
Michael Lind, The American Prospect, Dec. 1, 1994
The exact words keep shuffling and recombining, but the formula never
varies: attack them by declaring that they are attacking us, encourage
hatred against them by suggesting that they hate us, undermine respect
for their right to speak by asserting that they are trying to silence
us, legitimize the most elaborate campaigns against them by revealing
their conspiracies against us, justify our incivility toward them by
pouncing on the least sign of disrespect in their treatment of us, and
respond to charges like these by adducing a few examples to the effect
of "they're really the ones who are doing that to us". Regardless of
the psychology that might inwardly motivate them, the outward effect of
these rhetorical devices is to project the rhetor's own aggression onto
the object of that aggression, refusing personal responsibility by
portraying all of one's actions as responses necessitated by the
aggressive other. This denial of responsibility is routinely found in
domestic violence cases, for example. Its most important product is
confusion: simply being exposed to it makes clear thinking difficult,
and its absolute genius is that any attempt to identify it (like my
own here) is readily portrayed as precisely an example of it.
Phil Agre, RRE April 22nd 1995
For over a century, popular struggles in the democracies have used the
nation-state to temper raw capitalism. The power of voters has offset
the power of capital. But as national barriers have come down in the
name of freer commerce, so has the capacity of governments to manage
capitalism in a broad public interest. So the real issue is not "trade"
but democratic governance.
... "extreme capitalism": the obsessive, uncritical penetration of the
concept of the market into every aspect of American life, and the
attempt to drive out every other institution, including law, art,
culture, public education, Social Security, unions, community, you name
it. It is the conflation of markets with populism, with democracy, with
diversity, with liberty, and with choice---and so the denial of any
form of choice that imposes limits on the market. More than that, it
is the elimination of these separate concepts from our political
discourse, so that we find ourselves looking to the stock market to
fund retirement, college education, health care, and having forgotten
that in other wealthy and developed societies these are rights, not
the contingent outcomes of speculative games.
James K. Galbraith
Libertarian policy prescriptions are based on just a few principles,
outwardly appealing in their seeming simplicity ...'simple rules for a
complex world.' The first ... is that social problems can be resolved
by creating a market. Are schools failing? Create a free market in
education. Is there pollution or waste of resources? Create a market
in the resource or the right to pollute; ... Is there a shortage of
human organs for transplants? Let people sell their body parts. Not
enough babies for adoption? Allow people to sell their babies ...
These principles of 'economic correctness' are increasingly mouthed in
the universities and especially in conservative think tanks, but their
obvious long-term implications may strike ordinary Americans as horribly
cruel. They need to hear this economic gibberish first-hand...
Free-market rhetoric is powerfully persuasive only to a certain kind
of elite audience; uncoupled from nationalist appeals...it begins to
lose its power to motivate general audiences in a positive way.
James Arnt Aune, "Selling the Free Market"
Aune goes on to focus closely on the rhetorical practices of several
major libertarians: the legal scholar Richard Posner, the novelist and
Greenspan mentor Ayn Rand, the philosopher Robert Nozick, and the
polemicist Charles Murray. He shows how the "realist style" of economic
argument works, combining the definition of any "object, person or
relationship as a commodity"; reliance on quasi-logical argument;
appeals to irony (via reference to the "inevitable perversity of
well-intentioned social programs"); failure to respond to opposing
arguments (because "in real science, when fundamental questions are
settled, only cranks dispute them"); and perhaps above all, the
avoidance of empirical investigation. Once one decodes these devices,
cracking the arguments becomes a parlor game, not more difficult than
crossword puzzles nor less routine.
James K. Galbraith, in a review of "Selling the Free Market"
[The US] budget is dominated by the retirement programs, Social Security
and Medicare -- loosely speaking, the post-cold-war federal government
is a big pension fund that also happens to have an army.
Paul Krugman, NY Times 7/11/01
Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and
demand. It is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of
justice and mercy.
"'Rugged individualism'... is only a masked attempt to repress and
defeat the individual and his individuality.... [It] has inevitably
resulted in the crassest class distinctions... [and] has meant all the
'individualism' for the masters, while the people are regimented
into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking 'supermen.'"
Red Emma Speaks, p. 89
"NAMBLA" logic - an extreme absolutist position which demands that for
logical consistencies sake that certain gross crimes be allowed, in
order that no one might feel restrained.
Stirling S. Newberry
... every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is
entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to
representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees
protections to property, and we must make that promise good. But it
does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend
of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property
shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who
insists that the creature of man's making shall be the servant and not
the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States
must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have
themselves called into being.
Teddy Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism" 1910
Modern political argument is much like a magic show. Even though you know
that it's all tricks performed by misdirection and props, if you don't
know exactly how it is done, you may have to look very hard to figure it
out. One big difference is that modern magician's associations have a
rule that the magician must NOT present his performance as real or due to
supernatural powers, but as illusion. In politics, they are not that
Seven habits that help produce the anything-but-efficient markets
that rule the world.
1. Think short term.
2. Be greedy.
3. Believe in the greater fool
4. Run with the herd.
6. Be trendy
7. Play with other people's money
Paul Krugman in Fortune Magazine.
The principle of laissez-faire may be safely trusted to in some things
but in many more it is wholly inapplicable; and to appeal to it on all
occasions savors more of the policy of a parrot than of a statesman or
J. R. McCulloch, 1848
Of course, anarchists
will not understand this at all, and I can only ask them what replaces
their hated state: some sort of Big Rock Candy Mountain in which we
all get what we need including a lake of stew and whiskey too, or the
physical domination of most of us by savage boys, large armed men and
corporations. My street smarts tell me it is the latter.
Edward G. Nilges, 2001-09-16
One of the most extraordinary examples in recent decades [of unitary
visions of constitutional enterprise] is found in a book called
"Takings"... Epstein makes an extremely clever but stunningly
reductionist argument that the whole Constitution is really designed to
protect private property... Can a constitution reflecting as diverse
an array of visions and aspirations as ours really be reducible to
such as sadly single-minded vision as that?
Lawrence Tribe and Michael Dorf, "On Reading The Constitution", pg. 28
The price of liberty is, in addition to eternal vigilance, eternal
patience with the vacuous blather occasionally expressed from behind
the shield of free speech.
Michael Shermer, in Scientific American, June 2001 pg.37
... In a free society, skeptics are the watchdogs against irrationalism
-- the consumer advocates of ideas. Debunking is not simply the
divestment of bunk; its utility is in offering a better alternative,
along with a lesson on how thinking goes wrong.
Michael Shermer, in Scientific American, June 2001 pg.37
... you Libertarians are amazing. You've managed to
construct an entire political ideology based on the phrase 'FUCK OFF.'
Richard James Winters III
But what's even worse, you've been robbed of the most important thing
of all, the ability to think rationally; to weigh and measure and
compare concepts... How? The US Libertarian Party has redefined your
vocabulary. The most basic concepts. For examples: individual,
society, freedom, government regulation and taxation, theft, Nazi,
socialist, the standard R-L continuum, and more. In short, they have
created a separate political reality for you, rich in feelsgoodism.
In short, if anyone outside of the Libbie Reality attempts to
communicate with you, each side will hear only gibberish. In propaganda
terms, this means the propagandist need not adjust your values, because
standardized values and logic operating with these new definitions will
result in the desired conclusions. And of course, this also renders
the victim immune from outside rebuttal. Even common historical facts,
such as encyclopedia quotations will, and must, seem like gibberish.
So this is a very safe and comfy world, nobody can challenge you.
Companies like Enron have learned that small investments in endowing
chairs, sponsoring research programs or hiring moonlighting professors
can return big payoffs in generating books, reports, articles, testimony
and other materials to push for and rationalize public policy positions
that damage the public interest but benefit corporate bottomlines.
Ralph Nader, January 31, 2002
A properly functioning free market system does not spring spontaneously
from society's soil as crabgrass springs from suburban lawns. Rather,
it is a complex creation of laws and mores... Capitalism is a
George Will, This Week with Sam Donaldson, Jan. 13, 2002
The ideology of radical libertarianism is both mistaken and harmful --
not least, to legitimate free expression in the service of truth. The
error lies in exalting freedom "to such an extent that it becomes an
absolute, which would then be the source of values.... In this way the
inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a
criterion of sincerity, authenticity and 'being at peace with oneself'"
There is no room for authentic community, the common good, and
solidarity in this way of thinking.
Pontifical Council For Social Communications, Ethics In Internet
Though editorialists at The New York Times and The Washington Post
still don't get it, most Democrats in Congress finally do: Today's
trade disputes are no longer mostly about tariffs, quotas, or free
entry of goods. They are about the ground rules for capitalism. Are
there to be only property rights? What about the other rights that
liberal democracies have fought for since the 1880s?
Robert Kuttner, "Good News," The American Prospect vol. 13 no. 11, June 17, 2002.
Populism is the simple premise that markets need to be restrained by
society and by a democratic political system. We are not socialists or
communists, we are proponents of regulated capitalism and, I might add,
people who have read American history.
Molly Ivins, May 30, 2002
If Austrians have gained credibility, it's because they've rejected
their more, well, austrian theorizations.
How Osteopathetic of them, huh?
George Haley, 2002-08-13
One of the substantive positions that I seek to avoid is one for which
I have a great deal of affection: it's the stripped-down version of the
libertarian theory of the minimum state, in which the essential role of
government is to use its monopoly of force is to prevent harms to
ordinary individuals, where the relevant harms to others are described
in the narrow language of force and fraud. There is no doubt that
government must occupy this critical role. It is far less clear that
it should be limited to it in light of the many common activities that
sensible government routinely undertake. We must therefore take steps
to bolster the constrained vision. Most obviously, it is generally
accepted that we have some system of taxation. It is also clear that
the government has some role in respect in supplying social
infrastructure. Neither of those two functions fit very easily within
the narrow libertarian framework.
Richard A. Epstein, speech about "Skepticism and Freedom"
When you are young in this world, you believe that the class of
deductive truths about social matters is larger than it turns out to be.
The great attraction of libertarian thought lay in its deductive power.
The hope was that you could axiomatize the system and sort of render
social problems amenable to a set of principles that yielded necessary
or deductive truths. That vision certainly fired my early academic
life... Essentially, as I have gotten older and maybe a little bit
wiser -- which why that 30 years really start to matter -- I have
discovered, to my infinite regret, that most of the serious debates
over the basic principles of any political order have an irreducible
Richard A. Epstein, "Skepticism and Freedom"
One of the great weaknesses of standard libertarian theory is that it
tends to push too hard by elevating presumptions into absolutes.
Richard A. Epstein, "Skepticism and Freedom"
To my knowledge, all libertarian philosophers (except Conway), from
Hayek to Nozick to James Buchanon to lesser-known writers such as
Anthony Flew and Tibor Machan, reject the positive-libertarian
alternative, preferring to rely on the claim that only negative liberty
is "real" liberty... [however] there is no difference in the amount
of negative liberty afforded people by libertarianism and by competing
systems of property law.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism"
In editing a journal that has received manuscripts from virtually every
libertarian scholar, famous and unknown alike, I have long been struck
by the consistent juxtiposition of... libertarian philosophical
sentiments with weak empirical research, leaps of logic, contempt for
non-libertarian points of view (of which the authors usually appear
ignorant). The polemical tone and deficient evidence, however, and the
tarnishing of often-good ideas by doctrinaire rhetoric and low scholarly
standards, are only the least of it. The worst thing is not the waste
of effort that goes into producing propaganda barely veiled by the robes
of scholarship. The greater tragedy is what libertarians could produce,
but do not.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism"
... there is nothing in Rand's philosophy with which to restrain lust,
avarice, careerism or other rude passions. Her thinking does not deal
well with the irrational side of man. This failure can be seen in her
own behavior, in the affair she had with Nathaniel Branden. Resting on
the weak reed of human rationality, wickedness crept up from behind and
blindsided her. Rand's philosophy was no protection against the
miserable course of her personal life, and offers no better for the
life of our country.
[Custom and tradition] are due neither to what is sometimes called the
unconscious, nor to intuition, nor to rational understanding. Though
in a sense based on human experience... they were shaped in the course
of cultural evolution, they were not formed by drawing reasoned
conclusions from certain particular facts or from an awareness that
things behaved in a particular way. Though governed in our conduct by
what we have learned, we often do not know why we do what we do. Learnt
moral rules, customs, progressively displaced innate responses, [are
followed] not because men recognized by reason that they were better but
because they made possible the growth of an extended order exceeding
anyone's vision, in which more effective collaboration enabled its
members, however blindly, to maintain more people and to displace other
Friedrich Hayek on "the fatal conceit".
One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir
the masses. Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a
child's understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic
actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born
in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily
reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later.
Sebastian Haffner, "Defying Hitler" pg. 17
Ideology is the curse of public affairs because it converts politics
into a branch of theology and sacrifices human beings on the thoughts
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
The key reason executives are paid so much now is that they appoint the
members of the corporate board that determines their compensation and
control many of the perks that board members count on. So it's not the
invisible hand of the market that leads to those monumental executive
incomes; it's the invisible handshake in the boardroom.
Paul Krugman, "For Richer" in New York Times Magazine 10/20/02
After all, there's a lot of experience with privatization by governments
at all levels -- state, federal, and local; that record doesn't support
extravagant claims about improved efficiency. Sometimes there are
significant cost reductions, but all too often the promised savings
turn out to be a mirage. In particular, it's common for private
contractors to bid low to get the business, then push their prices up
once the government work force has been disbanded. Projections of a 20
or 30 percent cost saving across the board are silly -- and one suspects
that the officials making those projections know that.
Paul Krugman, The New York Times, 11.19.02
I finally understood. The scientific evidence that I use must be junk
science, because I am a "personal injury lawyer" and therefore I must
be out to "shake down deep pocket businesses" on behalf of my venal
clients, who are dying from leukemia, liver disease, kidney failure
and fatal lung diseases. I found it interesting that according to
Mr. Malloy [sic; Steven Milloy], junk science is only used by personal
injury lawyers, not defense attorneys. I also found it interesting
that according to Mr. Malloy, junk science isn't used by chemical
companies to defeat meritorious toxic injury claims, but only to
Raphael Metzger, Esq., in The Furor Over Junk Science: The Perspective Of A Plaintiff's Attorney
The most ardent antigovernment libertarian tacitly accepts his own
dependency on govenment, even while rhetorically denouncing signs of
dependency in others. This double-think is the core of the American
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", p 63.
Philosophers also distinguish between liberty and the value of liberty.
Liberty has little value if those who ostensibly posess it lack the
resources to make their rights effective. Freedom to hire a lawyer
means little if all lawyers charge fees, if the state will not help,
and if you have no money. The right to private property, and important
part of liberty, means little if you lack the resources to protect what
you own and the police are unavailable. Only liberties that are
valuable in practice lend legitimacy to a liberal political order.
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", p 20.
Many conservatives cling instinctively to a cost-blind approach to the
protection of the so-called negative rights of property and contract,
because staring hard at the costs would shatter the libertarian fiction
that individuals who exercise their rights in the classic or
eighteenth-century-sense, are just going about their own business,
immaculately independent of the government and the taxpaying community.
The public costs of non-welfare rights show, among other things, that
"private wealth," as we know it, exists only because of governmental
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", p 29.
David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, liked to point out that private
property is a monopoly granted and maintained by public authority at the
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", p 61.
That the rich -- owing their wealth, in part, to cooperatively
maintained law and government -- should pay for the voluntary
self-restraint and cooperation of the impoverished, rather than trying
to cow them into a facsimile of self-restraint, is forcefully asserted
by even the most impeccably liberal theorists. For instance, John
Stuart Mill wrote that "since the state must necessarily provide
subsistance for the criminal poor while undergoing punishment, not to
do the same for the poor who have not offended is to give a premium on
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", pp 193-4.
Individual freedom, however defined, cannot mean freedom from all forms
of dependency. No human being can single-handedly create all the
preconditions for his own action. A free citizen is especially
dependent. He may feel "independent" when he goes into
a do-it-yourself store and buys a do-it-yourself kit. But his autonomy
is an illusion. Liberal theory should therefore distinguish freedom,
which is desirable, from nondependence, which is impossible. Liberty,
rightly conceived, does not require a lack of dependence on government;
on the contrary, affirmative government provides the preconditions for
liberty. The Bill of Rights is a do-it-yourself kit that citizens can
obtain only at taxpayer-funded outlets.
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", p 205.
At the risk of oversimplification, the public protection of the private
rights of property owners can be understood as the following sort of
bargain: the government first lays down, interprets, and enforces the
rules that assign property to particular individuals, and then it
provides security of possession to owners in exchange for political
support and a steady flow of revenue. The delivery of welfare rights
(understood capaciously to include more than cash transfers) is part of
an ancillary exchange by which the government and the taxpaying citizens
recompense the poor, or at least give them symbolic recognition, for
their cooperative behavior during war and peace. Most importantly,
welfare rights compensate the indigent for receiving less value than the
rich from the rights ostensibly guaranteeed equally to all Americans.
Entitlement programs cost the American taxpayer $700 billion in 1996.
This astronomical expenditure, which accounted for 30% of the budget,
was not simply an expression of fellow feeling or a logical corollary
of principles of justice. Rather, entitlements can be shaved back but
not eliminated entirely because they lend legitimacy both to the
property rights of the wealthy and the state apparatus that enforces
them. In this sense, they are a bargain among social groups in which
the government of the day acts as a go-between.
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", pp 208-9.
At common law, only the sovereign is said to have an absolute interest
in land: ordinary landowners 'hold of the sovereign.
Holmes and Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights", p 63.
The question whether the state should or should not "act" or "interfere"
poses an altogether false alternative, and the term "laissez faire" is
a highly ambiguous and misleading description of the principles on
which a liberal policy is based. Of course, every state must act and
every action of the state interferes with something or other. [...]
The state controlling weights and measures (or preventing fraud and
deception in any other way) is certainly acting, while the state
permitting the use of violence, for example by strike pickets, is
inactive. Yet it is in the first case that the state observes liberal
principles and in the second that it does not.
Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom" pp 80-81 U of Chicago Press 1972
People seem to be faintly drawn to the idea that there might be more
political dimensions than just "left" and "right". Bullshit. Being in
favour of allowing other people to take drugs, shag each other or read
what they want isn't a political position; it's what we call "manners",
"civilisation" or "humanity", depending on the calibre of yokel you're
trying to educate. The political question of interest splits fair and
square down a Left/Right axis: either you think that it is more
important to provide a decent life for everyone in the world, or you
think it is more important to preserve the rights of people who own
property. You can hum and haw as much as you like about whether the two
are necessarily incompatible, or whether the one is instrumental to the
other, or what constitutes a "decent life" anyway, but when you've
finished humming and hawing, I'm still gonna be asking you the question,
and your answer to it will determine whether or not we're gonna have an
Daniel Davies, d-squareddigest, December 31, 2002
But at base, the test of someone's politics is simple; if their
political aim is to advance all of humanity, they're on our side, while
if they have an overriding constraint that the current owners of
property must always be satisfied first, they're playing for the
Daniel Davies, D-Squared Digest, May 21, 2003
"[T]he single most sensible thing said in political philosophy in the
twentieth century was JK Galbraith's aphorism that the quest of
conservative thought throughout the ages has been "the search for a
higher moral justification for selfishness". Some rightwingers are not
hypocrites because they admit that their basic moral principle is
"what I have, I keep". Some rightwingers are hypocrites because they
pretend that "what I have, I keep" is always and everywhere the best
way to express a general unparticularised love for all sentient things.
Then there are the tricky cases where the rightwingers happen to be on
the right side because we haven't yet discovered a better form of social
organisation than private property for solving several important
classes of optimisation problems..."
Daniel Davies, D-Squared Digest, May 21, 2003
It's odd that libertarians are in favour of all sorts of liberties
which don't involve property, but turn into absolute authoritarians on
the concept of property. I'm massively in favour of liberty, but I
don't think that the construction of 35 million tiny dictatorships is
the way to go about it.
Daniel Davies, d-squareddigest, January 2, 2003
How is property given? By restraining liberty; that is, by taking it
away so far as necessary for the purpose. How is your house made
yours? By debarring every one else from the liberty of entering it
without your leave.
Jeremy Bentham, "Anarchical Fallacies"
The function of State coercion is to override individual coercion,
and, of course, coercion exercised by any association of individuals
within the State. It is by this means that it maintains liberty of
expression, security of person and property, genuine freedom of
contract, the rights of public meeting and association, and finally
its own power to carry out common objects undefeated by the
recalcitrance of individual members.
L. T. Hobhouse, "Liberalism", Chapter 7
I have written elsewhere that the word God is often used as a semantic
stopsign, meaning simultaneously "Stop asking questions" and "I have
won this argument." The word "right" is used similarly. People
frequently use it in a context where it has no other possible meaning,
like a child at the dinner table proclaiming angrily "I have a right
Jonathan Wallace, "Natural Rights Don't Exist"
A point, strangely, which nobody makes is that riproaring capitalism
can be as unpredictable as arbitrary rule, and thus equally makes
nonsense of people's attempts to provide for the future.
R. A. D. Grant, discussing Critical Review's Hayek issue.
No one doubts that pure libertarianism is simple, but that's just why
it remains on the ideological fringe -- because it boils down the most
difficult questions in human affairs to a simple equation, a What Would
the Market Do bumper sticker.
Ross Douthat, The American Scene :: 2/12/2003
I believe in the Free Market Fairy And the Tort Sprite too. They'll
keep our power cheap and our air and water clean. All you have to do
is close your eyes and tap your money clip three times.
Gen. JC Christian, Patriot
"Individual liberty" is the biggest hook that the libertarians have,
but it is a terribly one-dimensional measure for civil society. Even
worse is the monotonicity of such measurements: the drive to absolutism.
No political philosophy is worth considering unless it is BALANCING
competing values both of individuals and between individiuals.
The strange thing about Ayn Rand is that, in a world run on the
principles she purports, her own literary career would not have existed.
In a society where the most skilled rise to power and others fade, she
would never have been published. Despite the enticing allure of some of
her ideas, it is hard to dispute the view that Rand is a singularly
dreadful writer, with her "good guys" boasting heroic names and her
"bad guys" given names that would make Mortimer Snerd chuckle, and
romance dialogue that wouldn't make it past Harlequin's first cut.
Anyone who has ever taken even an introductory class in literature would
Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are
in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in
salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent
salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing
that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of
The problem with conservative think-tank hacks, you see, is that their
ideas crumble upon contact with things like statistics and arithmetic.
Tapped (edited by Richard Just) 9/22/03
One of the failings of ideologues is their inability to see that
everyone else isn't necessarily an ideologue like them.
Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo 10/3/2003
The original Greek word "idiotes" referred to people who might have
had a high IQ, but were so self-involved that they focused exclusively
on their own life and were both ignorant of and uncaring about public
concerns and the common good.
Jim Hightower, "Thieves in High Places"
Libertarianism has also been defined with some plausibility as the
form taken by liberalism as common sense asymptotically approaches
... yet another irregular verb:
Markets operate by buying and selling, they treat things as commodities,
and unless prevented from doing so they turn people also into
commodities. Until control was imposed to prevent it the outcome of
market operations was either chattel slavery or some virtual equivalent,
peonage or serfdom or naked children towing trucks in the mines. It was
the "free" market that hunted the blacks through African forests and
brought them to the auction block in Charleston. Chattel slavery, and
exploitation of "free" workers that was hardly better, were ended only
when (and where) government imposed control upon the market to prevent
these things happening.
George Walford, "Friedman Or Free Men?"
Moralistic or rights-based libertarianism has little appeal to the
general public, as R. W. Bradford says, because it relies more on dogma
and declarations than on evidence, reasoning, and dialogue. It reaches
sweeping and detailed policy conclusions in a suspiciously easy way,
with scant attention to the real world. Some of them, like Murray
Rothbard's conclusions about contracts, bankruptcy, extortion,
blackmail, and crime as private transactions between perpetrators and
victims, as well as the supposed "heroism" of the scumbags defended in
Walter Block's notorious book (Defending The Undefendable, 1976), are
outlandish on their face.
Leland B. Yeager, In Defense of Utility
He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking
means "I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to
starve". It's easy to believe that no one should depend on society for
help when you yourself happen not to need such help.
Isaac Asimov, "I. Asimov" pg. 308.
[I]f one asks what substantive contributions [F. A. Hayek] made to our
understanding of how the world works, one is left at something of a
loss. Were it not for his politics, he would be virtually forgotten.
Paul Krugman, Slate 1998
In philosophical terms, the opposite of rationalism is not irrationalism
but empiricism, that is, a willingness to form beliefs on the basis of
experience rather than from a priori deduction. Empirical evidence never
yields the dogmatic certainty that accompanies logical deduction.
John Quiggin, 1999
What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that
they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what
they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.
Robert F. Kennedy
Libertarianism fails for me, not because I don't value freedom, but because it exalts ideology over practicality, just as its communist and anarchist cousins do.
Kevin Brennan, Tilting At Windmills, March 09, 2004
The point of taxation isn't that the government knows better than you
how to spend your money - it's that the government, by virtue of being
the government, can spend money in ways that no private citizen or group
no matter how powerful, can.
Jesse Taylor, at Pandagon.
Some libertarians succeed by re-inventing the wheel. Most libertarians
fail by re-inventing the flat tire.
Most libertarians fail by re-inventing the flat tire. Michael Cloud
profits by using Libertarian Persuasion to convince people that driving
on the rims is a good thing.
The absurdity of public-choice theory is captured by Nobel Prize-winning
economist Amartya Sen in the following little scenario: "Can you direct
me to the railway station?" asks the stranger. "Certainly," says the
local, pointing in the opposite direction, towards the post office,
"and would you post this letter for me on your way?" "Certainly," says
the stranger, resolving to open it to see if it contains anything worth
Linda McQuaig, All You Can Eat
It seems strange to make a priori arguments about the relative
performance of governments and the markets in health care when there
is so much empirical evidence.
My posting on the Copenhagen conference, and its downgrading of global
warming, provoked a neat hostile comment: you (Posner) criticize these
economists for opining outside their fields, but isn't that what you do
all the time? Well, yes, but here's my defense: you don't have to be an
expert in a field to criticize the experts, provided you know enough
about the field to understand what the experts are saying and writing,
to be able to spot internal contradictions and other logical lapses,
sources of bias, arguments obviously not based on knowledge,
carelessness in the use of evidence, lack of common sense, and mistaken
predictions. These are the analytical tools that judges, who in our
system are generalists rather than specialists, bring to the task of
adjudicating cases in specialized fields of law.
Judge Richard Posner
The first stage of the con is that those who say "there'll be nothing
left in the Social Security retirement fund" want you to think that
that means that no further Social Security checks can be written. But
what actually happens upon trust fund exhaustion is either (a) benefits
are cut across the board by about 1/4 so that Social Security payments
thereafter equal revenues, (b) Social Security taxes are raised to
avoid benefit cuts, (c) the Managing Trustee of the Social Security
System (i.e., the Treasury Secretary) borrows money from the
government's fiscal manager (i.e., the Treasury Secretary), or (d) some
combination of the above.
Brad DeLong, 9/17/04
Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep.
Throughout the history of the Internet, most of the innovation has come
as a by-product of efforts to facilitate communication within social
groups of various kinds (academics, bloggers, peer-to-peer file
sharing), rather than as the result of profit-oriented investment.
Rather than taking the lead, the business and government sectors have
adopted innovations developed in Internet communities, and realised
significant productivity gains as a result.
Aye, it hath every virtue and but one small defect, which is, that
the universe doth not operate in that wise.
Henry Burlingame III on a theory, in John Barth's "Sot Weed Factor".
In reality libertarianism as an impartial ideal of maximum freedom and
justice seems to be a kind of fantasy. We are all born into a world
in which property is neither evenly distributed nor freely available.
This situation came about through history, in which piracy, imperialism,
genocide, slavery, etc. have all had an important part. No individual
is free just to live their own life, since (for instance) there is no
free land to farm. We all depend on others (especially if we are poor
or handicapped by low social status, low intelligence, unpopular
ethnicity, or disability, etc.) A government that adopts a completely
laissez faire approach effectively sides with the pirates, slave-owners,
etc. and their descendants.
Liberty and equality, spontaneity and security, happiness and knowledge,
mercy and justice - all these are ultimate human values, sought for
themselves alone; yet when they are incompatible, they cannot all be
attained, choices must be made, sometimes tragic losses accepted in the
pursuit of some preferred ultimate end.
Isaiah Berlin, 'My Intellectual Path'
Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking
Friedrich Hayek, 1981 interview in El Mercurio
The broad liberal objective is a balanced and flexible "mixed economy,"
thus seeking to occupy that middle ground between capitalism and
socialism whose viability has so long been denied by both capitalists
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans, 1956
But because 95 percent of the libertarianism one encounters at cocktail
parties, on editorial pages, and on Capitol Hill is a kind of
commonplace "street" libertarianism, I decline to allow libertarians
the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for
what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when
challenged philosophically. We've seen Marxists pull that before.
Robert Locke, Marxism of the Right , The American Conservative, 2005
[L]et me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by
accident. It was created by what has been called the Great Compression
of incomes that took place during World War II, and sustained for a
generation by social norms that favored equality, strong labor unions
and progressive taxation. Since the 1970's, all of those sustaining
forces have lost their power.
Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently
favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the
current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and
relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform"
that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended
to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.
It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so
hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.
Paul Krugman, Losing Our Country
Smart people believe wierd things because they are skilled at defending
beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.
Michael Shermer, Scientific American: Smart People Believe Weird Things Sept. 2002
In contrast, markets - oft mythologized as "natural" are the most
unnatural things going. Libertarians will tell you "market laws are laws
of nature", what baloney. Markets -- and the other great modernist
cornucopian tools -- are magnificent wealth generating machines, built
ad-hoc, through trial and error, constantly fine-tuned and refined,
David Brin, Contrary Brin
... [L]ibertarianism is basically the Marxism of the Right. If Marxism
is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and
collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one
can run it purely on selfishness and individualism. Society in fact
requires both individualism and collectivism, both selfishness and
altruism, to function. Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the
fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the
political good without the effort of empirical investigation. Like
Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to
economics. And like Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius
for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules
of their society.
Robert Locke, Marxism of the Right
The term "rational" and its variants (rationality, rationalism) are used in a
lot of contexts in economic debate, both positively and negatively, but nearly
always sloppily or dishonestly. A specimen I've seen on more occasions than I
can count is the line (usually presented with a sense of witty originality)
"if you are opposed to economic rationalism, you must be in favor of economic
I've come to the conclusion that the word "rational" has no meaning that cannot
better be conveyed by some alternative term and that the best advice is probably
to avoid it altogether.
John Quiggan, Rationality Repost
At George Mason University I saw Hoppe present a lecture in which he
claimed that Ludwig von Mises had set the intellectual foundation for
not only economics, but for ethics, geometry, and optics, as well. This
bizarre claim turned a serious scholar and profound thinker into a
comical cult figure, a sort of Euro Kim Il Sung.
Tom G. Palmer, "For Mises' Sake"
The evidence strongly shows that Hong Kong and Singapore benefit from
being small island economies on major trade routes, established as
entrepots. They are not models for development of tropical agricultural
economies such as those in Africa. Switzerland shows that a landlocked
country can flourish if it is itself surrounded by rich nations, such as
those in Europe, and serves as a long-standing land bridge between them.
Jeffrey Sachs, Scientific American Jan. 2005 p.14
Libertarianism means so many things to so many people that whatever you
say about it, some libertarian somewhere will take offense. "You are
confusing libertarianism with libertinism." "You don't understand, it's
only a partial philosophy of life." "Libertarians aren't liberals!"
"You're not talking about my kind of libertarianism!"
My mailbox is full of subject headers with these declarations.
Jonah Goldberg, Libertarians In Theory
[Libertarians:] A group of supposedly free market government haters who
work in defense
companies and do a great deal of free work on a government created
network to convince people that the profit motive is all powerful.
I find it interesting that libertarians never picked up on the fact that
when the British ran Hong Kong, they decided not to live under that kind
of system in their own country. For some reason Western libertarians
want to admire these experiments in laissez faire, anarcho-Somalianism
and Hoppean monarchy at arm's length, while they enjoy the benefits of
living in the developed democratic countries where they nurture their
strange grievances against government.
In 1989, Nozick categorically repudiated this [his] concept of utopia, denied
the relevance of philosophy for matters of substantive policy, and opted
for the "zigzag of politics" rather than for the principled position of
his earlier political philosophy. This retreat from classical liberalism
was driven by a judgment that any focus on individual rights detracts
from communitarian impulses and fails to embrace humane considerations
and joint cooperative activities: "There are some things we choose to do
together through government in solemn marking of our human solidarity,
served by the fact that we do them together in this official fashion and
often also by the content of the action itself" (287).
Charles K. Rowley, "What Is Living and What Is Dead in Classical Liberalism?"
Libertarian capitalism... is a curious ideology in many ways... On the
one hand, the sanctity of private property and private contracts is
held to be a matter of inalienable natural right, guaranteed by the
fundamental facts of morality, if not a basic part of Objective Reality;
capitalism is the Right Thing to Do. On the other hand, much effort is
devoted to arguing that unfettered laissez-faire capitalism is also the
economic system which will produce the greatest benefit for the greatest
number, indeed for all, if only people would just see it. Natural right
therefore coincides exactly with personal interest. A clearer example of
wishful thinking could hardly be asked for.
Cosma Shalizi, Liberty! What Fallacies Are Committed in Thy Name!
Relieve stress due to uncertainty! Take Ideology, the mind-clearing
drug recommended by religious and political leaders for millennia!
Caution: may be habit forming. Side effects may include logorrhea,
newspeak, gullibility, hatred, death squads, and genocide.
... to defy the authority of empirical evidence is to disqualify oneself
as someone worthy of critical engagement in a dialogue.
The Dali Lama, "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality"
Rand tended to believe that questions of fact could be determined by the
manipulation of vague terms. This tendency is most clearly illustrated
in her so-called "metaphysical" theory of reality, in which she tries to
demonstrate the objectivity of reality and validate causality on the
basis of cognitively empty tautologies such as "existence exists" and
"A is A."
Greg Nyquist, Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature, page 346.
All modern markets are the creation of government institutions which
provide media of exchange, transparency guarantees, stable real estate
and intellectual property, corporate law, courts, etc. Markets are the
creatures of government: whining about "intervention" while overlooking
"creation" is not seeing the forest for the trees.
... I find slightly off-putting what I sensed to be a dogmatic streak in
Milton Friedman. I think his belief in the superior efficiency of free
markets to government as a means of resource allocation, though fruitful
and largely correct, was embraced by him as an article of faith and not
merely as a hypothesis. I think he considered it almost a personal
affront that the Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, could
achieve and maintain very high levels of economic output despite very
high rates of taxation, an enormous public sector, and extensive wealth
redistribution resulting in much greater economic equality than in the
United States. I don't think his analytic apparatus could explain such
Richard Posner, The Becker-Posner Blog, November 19, 2006
But Friedman seemed to share Friedrich Hayek's extreme and inaccurate
view that socialism of the sort that Britain embraced under the old
Labour Party was incompatible with democracy, and I don't think that
there is a good theoretical or empirical basis for that view. The Road
to Serfdom flunks the test of accuracy of prediction!
Richard Posner, The Becker-Posner Blog, November 19, 2006
... in any relatively close election you can generally credit almost any
subgroup as providing the marginal votes.
Duncan Black, Eschaton
Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?
No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of
fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can
contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 12, "Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy"
Ayn Rand was a cartoonist for the Economic Right. I love Daffy Duck.
At one time I loved The Fountainhead, I can't even tell you how many
times I read it. But I don't take my policy prescriptions from Loony
Toons, now matter how entertaining they might be.
In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the
far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great
body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple
operations, frequently to one or two. But 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, of which the effects are perhaps always the same,
or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or
to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing
difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the
habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant
as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his
mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part
in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble,
or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment
concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the
great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether
incapable of judging, and unless very particular pains have been taken
to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his
country in war. The uniformity of his stationary life naturally
corrupts the courage of his mind, and makes him regard with abhorrence
the irregular, uncertain, and adventurous life of a soldier. It
corrupts even the activity of his body, and renders him incapable of
exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other
employment 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. But in every
improved and civilised society this is the state into which the
labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must
necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
Moreover, Friedman's effectiveness as a popularizer and propagandist
rested in part on his well-deserved reputation as a profound economic
theorist. But there's an important difference between the rigor of his
work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable
logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual. While Friedman's
theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists,
there's much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and
especially his popularizing. And it must be said that there were some
serious questions about his intellectual honesty when he was speaking
to the mass public.
Paul Krugman, Who Was Milton Friedman?
But, perhaps more seriously, Friedman ducked the big questions regarding the
relationship between economic freedom and political liberty, and he was com-
pletely incapable of seeing that political liberty is both a negative and a positive
liberty: freedom from tyranny and oppression but also the freedom and power
to decide on and accomplish our common purposes. These are the master ques-
tions of history and moral philosophy, and for all his brilliance and hard work,
Friedman is of absolutely no help in answering them. As Posner says, Friedrich
Hayek's Road to Serfdom "flunks the test of accuracy of prediction . . . [The] view
that socialism of the sort that Britain embraced under the old Labour Party was
incompatible with democracy [is] extreme and inaccurate." Yet Friedman bought
into that Hayekian view. And in so doing, he ultimately led his followers, and
tried to lead the rest of us, down a false path.
Brad Delong, Right from the Start? What Milton Friedman can teach progressives.
Libertarians, hearing such a description, run gagging to the sink.
There are no nations, no communities, no families. Only self-seeking
individuals exist, and the "common good" is a term invented by fascist
oppressors. This is the only answer they have for any social question,
from drugs to pornography to fast food. This shopworn and
counterintuitive platitude from the Enlightenment is so self-evidently
stupid as to require no refutation, though David Hume supplied one in
his great essay on "The Original Contract." Nonetheless, people such
as Ayn Rand and the nerds and geeks who cling to her in the naive
belief that her rotten novels will turn them into supermen could never
understand the fact that human beings are social animals. This is a
part of human nature which no libertarian theory can eradicate, and my
advice to them is to find another planet where they can all live in
solitary caves, where they can snort coke and watch porn videos to
their hearts content. Their ideas are irrelevant, not just to present
circumstances, but to the human condition.
Thomas Fleming, Chronicles of Culture
[A] 'fudge word' is a word that functions to make fudging easy.
'Rational' and 'man qua man' are Rand's fudge words. She never gives a
precise and unambiguous criterion for their applicability. Thus, suppose
someone tries to argue that, on Rand's theory, it would be morally
acceptable to steal from people, provided you could get away with it.
Then she has at least two fudges she can employ (probably more):
(a) She could claim that this is not in your interests, because there
is always a risk that you might get caught, and it's not worth it. This
works because no one knows how to calculate this risk, so no one can
actually refute this claim. This is the sort of thing I have seen many
Objectivists do. However, Rand doesn't do this in 'The Objectivist
Ethics'; she goes for the second sort of fudge: (b) She can claim that
although you would gain money from this, it would not be in your
rational interests, or it would not be serving the life of
'man qua man', or that it would reduce you to a 'subhuman' status. Thus,
she can immediately bog down the counter-example in an interminable
debate about what is or isn't 'rational', 'subhuman', etc., because no
precise and unambiguous criterion of the rational, or the human, has
been identified. She gets to make it up as she goes along.
Michael Huemer, Critique of "The Objectivist Ethics"
Libertarian rhetoric about "getting the government off our backs" makes
the positive correlation between individual rights and state power
difficult to comprehend. Better guidance comes from classic liberals,
who insisted that, when organized constitutionally, liberty and
authority can be mutually reinforcing. Consider David Hume's famous
essay, "Of Commerce." In this classic defense of liberal political
economy, Hume argues that Britain should deregulate commercial and
industrial life and welcome the accumulation of private wealth, because
such a system will increase the resources "to which the public may lay
Stephen Holmes, "The Liberal Idea"
Correctly understood, libertarianism resembles a view that liberalism
historically defined itself against, the doctrine of private political
power that underlies feudalism. Like feudalism, libertarianism
conceives of justified political power as based in a network of private
contracts. It rejects the idea, essential to liberalism, that political
power is a public power, to be impartially exercised for the common good.
Samual Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View"
But libertarians do not condemn all coercion or aggression... Libertarians
clearly endorse the coercive enforcement of personal and property rights
and contractual agreements... it is misleading to suggest that the
coercion required to enforce the rules of a libertarian society will be
less than in other systems. Whether libertarianism requires less (or
more) coercion depends upon its popular support and the degree to which
members of a libertarian society see its principles as legitimate and
accept the many restrictions that they imply.
Samual Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View"
Despite their emphasis on consent, voluntariness, and contract,
libertarians are adverse to appeals to consent or social agreement to
justify their preferred list of moral rights and duties.
Samual Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View"
It is true that libertarians often try to claim Mill as their own.
Yet the briefest acquaintance with Mill's work shows that his version
of human freedom went far beyond non-interference -- what Isaiah Berlin
called "negative liberty." Mill saw an important role for government,
believing that people needed educational and economic resources to lead
their lives along paths of their own construction.
Richard Reeves, John Stuart Mill
I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think
that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on;
that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's
heels... are the most desirable lot of human kind.
John Stuart Mill
[...] modern economists took an isolated metaphor, used rarely by Adam
Smith, and in his name invented a wholly misleading belief of how
commercial markets function and how people in them necessarily and
unintentionally work for public benefit, independent of the consequences
of their actions. And they introduced a self-contradictory concept into
economics, described as an 'invisible hand explanation', yet it does not
explain anything close to the explanatory value offered by economics
as a science, even where Smith left it. If anything, it obfuscates
everything to which it is applied.
Gavin Kennedy, Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand: From Metaphor to Myth
People who finally gained equal political rights through a long
democratic struggle cannot have been unreasonable to see democratic
politics as a morally and politically progressive force. An ideology
that damns democratic politics as almost necessarily immoral might not
look so good to them. And if libertarian-style politics seems especially
unnatractive to members of formerly oppressed and disenfranchised
groups, maybe that's because it is reasonable to suspect that a politics
that focuses relentlessly on the inviolability of property rights in a
system that once treated people as property, and for centuries denied
much of the population the chance to accumulate any property, is a
politics meant to protect those who reap the gains of a still-rigged
and unjust system.
Will Wilkinson, Libertarian Democraphobia
One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is
'Libertarian.' People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds
fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it's
just one more bullshit political philosophy.
Most obviously in need of amendment is the view that minimally managed and regulated markets are both more stable and more dynamic than those subject to extensive government intervention. The Thatcherite assumption, in other words, was that government failure is far more menacing to prosperity than market failure.
This was always bad history. The record shows that the period 1950-73, when government intervention in market economies was at its peacetime height, was uniquely successful economically, with no global recessions and faster rates of GDP growth -- and growth of GDP per capita -- than in any comparable period before or since.
Robert Skidelsky, Anatomy of Thatcherism
But the trouble is that he [Alan Greenspan] had been an Ayn Rander.
You can take the boy out of the cult but you can't take the cult out
of the boy.
It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never
I can't resist telling you that when the Vienna Economics Institute
celebrated its centennial, many years ago, they invited, as their
keynote speaker, my father [John Kenneth Galbraith]. The leading
economists of the Austrian school-- including von Hayek and von Haberler
-- returned for the occasion. And so my father took a moment to reflect
on the economic triumphs of the Austrian Republic since the war, which,
he said, "would not have been possible without the contribution of these
men." They nodded -- briefly -- until it dawned on them what he meant.
They'd all left the country in the 1930s.
James K. Galbraith
Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.
Theories of "natural law" and the "law of nations" are another excellent
example of discussions destitute of all exactness. [...] "Natural law"
is simply that law of which the person using the phrase approves[....]
Vilfredo Pareto, "The Mind and Society" p.245
Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly
find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he
has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy.
This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice,
out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world.
B. Traven, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", pg. 2
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life:
The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that
often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes,
leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable
to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
John Rogers, on the blog Kung Fu Monkey
Cynically defined, a libertarian is a person who believes that all
humans should live in total and absolute submission to market forces,
at all times from birth to death, without any chance of escape.
Paul Treanor, Why is libertarianism wrong?
Liberalism and science are methods, not ideologies. Both incorporate
feedback loops through which actions (e.g., laws) can be evaluated to
see whether they continue to meet with general approval. Neither science
nor liberalism makes any doctrinaire claims beyond the efficacy of its
respective methods -- that is, that science obtains knowledge and that
liberalism produces social orders generally acceptable to free peoples.
Timothy Ferris, "The Science of Liberty"
Isaiah Berlin said (and it is widely quoted by people who want to sound
profound) that the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big
thing. Mind you, the thing that the hedgehog actually knows, is how to
shove its nose up against its arse and hope that its problems go away
by themselves. It's not really all that impressive a thing to have as
your Very Big Knowledge.
Daniel Davies, D-Squared Digest
If you have loosened the stone libertarian mind-vise enough to admit
that there is such a thing as a market failure, and enough intelligence
or education to understand that market failure is a technical property
of a good or service and implies no rap on markets, you will be OK with
the idea that government is exactly the right agency with which to get
stuff we want that the market won't supply (enough of) by itself, and to
avoid stuff we don't want, like pollution, that the market will
overproduce. If you have a heart, you will also be OK with ideas like
"death by starvation is cruel and excessive punishment for 'not having
been able to save enough to retire on', even for 'having been too
careless to save enough', certainly for 'having been unlucky enough to
be smitten by illness or accident'" and you will find government is also
well suited to correct some important unfairness and injustice, even
when the best it can do along these lines entails some moral hazard and
bad incentives. It's worth noting that absent slavery, every productive
activity, whether managed (or obligated) by government or by private
enterprise, is in the end carried out in the private sector: public
schools are built by private contractors, and government workers are
economically just small private businesses with no employees.
Michael O'Hare, Right-sizing government
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816
Freedom! If there's one thing America loves, it's... well, war. But if
there's two things America loves, it's war and torture. But if there's
three things America loves, it's war, torture, and genocide. But if
there are several dozen things America loves, they are war, torture,
genocide, chattel slavery, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, assassination,
poverty, institutionalized bribery, remote-controlled flying death
robots and somewhere down the list, between prison labor and lagoons
of toxic pig shit, there is almost certainly a special place in our
national heart for freedom.
The Medium Lobster, Humanitarians of the Year
Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
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