Over On “League of Ordinary Gentlemen” there is a very long thread fitfully attempting to be critical of Libertarianism.
It’s interesting how almost no one on the thread understands anything other than what they’ve read in the popular press about libertarianism.
Which is common, because like any doctrine, people adopt it because of the appeal of it’s general sentiments, not because they actually understand it. And they propagate the sentiments very simplistically. Then, those who have adopted other doctrines because those doctrines appeal to their own sentiments, react to these simplistic statements of sentimentality, rather than to the libertarian doctrine itself –and all potential opportunity for rational discourse is lost in the chaos.
A TECHNICAL, EMPIRICAL PHILOSOPHY
But Libertarianism is a technical philosophy that can be rationally articulated. It is often, for historical reasons, articulated as a moral philosophy as is most western ideology. THis is because the French enlightenment philosophers ‘Catholicized’ what was an empirical Anglo philosophical system and converted it to sentimental, moral, and rational system of thought. It was this moral, rational, and sentimental French framework, not the empirical Anglo framework that was popularized by continental philosophers and through their writings, distributed to the world in printed literature — thereby removing precisely what made the Classical Liberal economic political program innovative: that it was procedural and empirical rather than rational.
The term “Libertarian” was coined by Classical Liberals because the left appropriated the term “liberal” for their Moral political program.
First Principle: Economics
Libertarianism relies on economics.
a) The best society is the most prosperous because more people have more choices, and because all humans seem to demonstrate a preference for additional material choices whenever possible.
b) Prosperity is the result of increases in production made possible by a division of labor where prices signal demand, and function as the information system by which people coordinate their actions.
c) Maintaining prosperity requires constant increases in production are due to rapid innovation – a process which we call competition.
d) Personal property rights are necessary for the form of planning we call ‘economic calculation’, and to create incentives for as many individuals as possible to participate in innovation.
e) Planning production with personal property requires predictable and constant rules of transfer, contract, and dispute resolution.
f) Government is the means by which we determine the rules of contract, transfer and dispute resolution.
So, in any political discourse, given a multitude of possible choices, libertarians ‘err on the side of liberty’ because they believe liberty will have the most positive and the least negative side effects.
Second Principle: Anti-Bureaucracy
Libertarians use the term government as a synonym for bureaucracy. They use anti-authoritarian arguments. Anti authoritarian arguments are Moral and rational arguments. Anti-bureaucratic arguments are rational and empirical arguments: meaning that the evidence is that bureaucracies universally consolidate power and abuse it because of the processes and incentives necessary for humans to operate in a bureaucratic organization. (See Michels and Mises).
Libertarianism then, is an anti-bureaucratic rather than anti-government philosophical framework. It suggests that people can and do organize into groups we call governments. It suggests that in almost all cases, privately owned, market-driven service providers will provide better services at lower cost with less danger of bureaucratic abuse of group members than the alternatives.
Third Principle: Voluntary Transfer
Libertarians use moral arguments to criticize involuntary transfer of property. However, the rational and empirical argument is that only voluntary transfer allows people to ‘calculate’ positive social ends together by making use of their collective knowledge, rather than the supposed knowledge of one or more bureaucrats – and that ‘externalities’ (the secondary effects) are beneficial when transfers are voluntary.
The single moral property that defines all libertarian philosophy is that individuals have a monopoly on the use of their minds, bodies and property.
Libertarian is a middle class (commercial) philosophy.
It consists (largely) of two wings:
1) Classical Liberal (Protestant Empirical) – Hayek/Jefferson
a) Constitutionalism and Rule of law, b) Small State, c) Cautious Redistribution that does not create a dependency d) conservative monetary policy. e) Privatization f) a dependence on empirical institutions. (This is the important part that is lost on everyone – libertarians included. It is an empirical system of government.) and g) Meritocratic rotation of elites through demonstrated service to consumers in the market (rather than politics) and h) Multiple houses of government that reflect the class structure of society.
The Classical Liberal wing of Libertarianism advocates an empirical method of government whose purpose is to prevent the rise of bureaucracy and systemic risk. It is effectively a restatement of european post-aristocratic philosophy in contemporary terms. ie: it has the structure of formal institutions we call government.
2) Anarchist (Jewish Moral) – Rothbard/Rand
a) No state. b) No redistribution c) No community d) Ideological Individualism. e) gold standard f) Absolute propertarianism.
Anarchism is a form of rebellion against the status quo.
It is effectively a restatement of the jewish moral code in modern economic terms. In that sense it is a non-empirical, moral, non-institutional form of government. ie: it has the structure of a religion.
THE VALUE OF LIBERTARIANISM
The libertarian research program has contributed significantly to political discourse because it has:
1) Provided the understanding of why Socialism and Communism are economically impossible. (Economic Calculation and Incentives)
2) Contributed to political thought by developing the means by which services can be provided by privatization. (These arguments are persuasive. The west is a minority civilization that depends upon technical creativity in order to maintain it’s standard of living and only individual property rights make rapid and disruptive innovation possible.)
3) Demonstrated that freedom is synonymous with constitutionalism and the rule of COMMON law, without which freedom is impossible.
4) Produced a more predictive view of economic cycles, and in particular, correctly argued that the use of aggregates in economics and the DSGEM is not only anti-empirical, but actually irrational.
5) That social classes make decisions according to different time preferences, and that these preferences appear to be impervious to change.
In the end, the combination of poor data collection, fiat monetary policy, use of the DSGEM in economics and it’s ‘static’ limitations, undermining the constituion’s implied but unstated empirical nature, and the democratic rather than class-based process of debate, have put us in a position where it is not possible to make rational economic and political judgements.
Thanks to Libertarians, we know that whether or not we have moral ambitions, we cannot currently make rational decisions in our form of government with the information at our disposal. And that is profound.