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[Reddit] A reasonable critique of libertarianism. - Adventures in Engineering — LiveJournal
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2006-10-03 20:31
  Subject:   [Reddit] A reasonable critique of libertarianism.

I have painted myself into a corner: big government doesn't work, and though the free market is the perfect solution to problems of supply and demand, there are certain areas of human aspiration which are best served by commons, common interests, common actions. Therefore, there are certain zones in which the free market is just as inept as big government. All of which is another way of saying that humans are inept at managing their destiny - a proposition for which I see significant evidence every time I read a newspaper, take a subway, or have a conversation.

So, should we give up? No; we can, motivated by the foolish but sustaining optimism that has always kept us alive, realistically work for the best accomodation of bad systems - hoping that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, as it is with the best of human endeavors. Let's use the free market where possible, and government where necessary.


I've touched on this topic before. I like to think of this argument as the "environmentalist's objection" to Libertarianism. Now, I don't agree with all the points made in this essay. But I do think there's at least a core of truth he's getting at. A quick summary of my thinking on this issue might be:

1) The environment can't really be privatized, not practically anyway. So when someone pollutes they're hurting everyone. (This idea runs fairly contrary to current Libertarian dogmas.)

2) Some things will never be profitable, so the free market will never provide them. But they may still be important. Law enforcement comes to mind - I can't see any way that the police can be simultaniously both uncorrupt and for-profit.

3) Market failures do exist. Free markets are great, but they're not 100% perfect. And when market failures start interfering with freedom, how do we deal with that?

I suppose all of this makes me more in the Minarchist camp than the hard-core Libertarian. But I'm cool with that. I think, given the current state of the nation I live in, that there's way more than enough common cause between Minarchists and Libertarians for us to set aside our relatively small differences as academic for the moment. We can get right back to infighting when it might actually make some practical difference. I think, also, given the nearly universal tendency of governments to expand and annex themselves more power, the differences between Libertarians and Minarchists may continue to be be academic for quite a while...
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Alex Belits: mona
  User: abelits
  Date: 2006-10-04 03:33 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
That would be great if:

1. Markets' tendency to degrade into playgrounds for monopolies and national/regional borders' tendency of being used as fences for keeping producers away from the consumers were less prominent than governments' tendency to expand their power.

2. Libertarian ideas weren't constantly used by all kinds of big business/corrupt government/social conservatives to promote their power grabs under disguise of free market, yet easily abandoned when they use political and market monoply power against everyone else.

First allows to make at least as strong case (if not much stronger) for minimizing businesses' ability to affect people's lives as for minimizing the scope of government's power. Second will keep Libertarians being milked by the most sinister forces in American political landscape for slogans, quotes, economic theories and voters.

Personally I prefer assuming that "all power is political", so I see no honest justification to submit to one kind of power (based on property, employment, market -- what mostly businesses use) yet fighting another one (based on structure of society, traditions, laws -- what mostly government uses). This "ALL OBEY THE WINNERS OF THE MARKET" part of Libertarian ideology is the reason why I reject it, and it spills way too much into Minarchism.

In my opinion, power of the government can be only balanced by the power of the people, and power of businesses can be only balanced by the power of the government. Intentionally weakening the government places people against businesses, what would be just as much a one-sided fight as revolutions against kings and aristocracy were in the past. Without reforming businesses' relationship to society it's dangerous to give them this amount of power, so government has to be at least as powerful as necessary to keep them in check. What now is nowhere close to "small".

How to make the government actually represent the population is a different question, and in US two of the obvious problems are antiquated, blatantly undemocratic election system, and abysmal quality of most of the population's education. None of those things can be fixed by weakening the government, just like none of USSR problems were fixed by removing the top layer of it in 1991, the problem in both cases if in who/what is IN the government.
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May 2015