Home > Politics (general) > Libertarians for social democracy ?

Libertarians for social democracy ?

June 25th, 2006

Several commenters on this post about the asymmetry of the case for and against war made the suggestion that, if I applied similar reasoning to domestic policy I would come out with libertarian conclusions. So can I be a libertarian social democrat?

To recap briefly, I observed that the supporters of the war had many different and logically incompatible ideas about what sort of war should be pursued. By allying to support the war they all assumed that their own version (or something near enough to be acceptable) would be the one that would be pursued.

The same point can be made as part of a more general libertarian response to arguments for an extension of state power. There are many instances where replacing individual decisions with a single collective decision would reduce costs or generate other benefits. So, as long as the collective decision is close to what I would choose, it’s reasonable for me to support choosing in this way. But obviously, if people have very different preferences, this condition can’t be satisfied for everybody.

This is an important point, and a valid criticism of various forms of central planning. But if we agree that it’s good to expand the range of choices available to everybody, we don’t, in general, reach libertarian policy conclusions. To take one example, a society where inherited wealth is very important is one where, for many people, all sorts of opportunities and choices are closed off at birth. And in the case of public goods, a decision to provide them collectively means that everyone can choose whether or not to take advantage of them; the choice set is reduced if they are not provided (though of course there is an offsetting contraction in the quantity of private goods that are available).

Social democracy and its key institutions, the mixed economy and the welfare state, require a balance between collective and individual actions and decisions. On the whole, in my judgement, the result has been to make more choices available to more people than any alternative system.

Another aspect of the asymmetry I discussed is that between the status quo (peace in this case) and a poorly-understood alternative. Arguments for the status quo lead in the direction of conservatism, and there is a conservative component to the argument. But that’s for another day.

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  1. June 25th, 2006 at 17:57 | #1

    On the war, many of the opponents had different and logically incompatible views, so I think you make a bit much of this.
    On the more general point – I feel that the general understanding has been to increasingly recognise the inefficiencies inherent in most aspects of State control of the economy. I prefer to see this not as a modification of social democracy (or conservatism) but the realisation that many of the points that the libertarians have been making over the years have been correct all along. Perhaps the libertarians are not entirely correct – that is a judgement for the future – but to have a situation where even the large, mass social democratic parties are engaging in wholesale privatisation, for example, is a situation that simply would not have been considered even worth debating 30 years ago. I see the whole social democratic movement moving towards a libertarian outcome as the realisation of the equality that the social demcrats seek.
    The more of the sheer stupidity I see in the government interference, from governing parties of both the right and the left, the more I realise that it is not the political stripe that really matters: it is in the nature of government to get the decisions wrong and then not have to be truly accountable for them. Libertarianism solves this in a way that social democracy cannot.

  2. June 25th, 2006 at 18:14 | #2
  3. Terje
    June 26th, 2006 at 00:15 | #3

    So can I be a libertarian social democrat?

    No you can’t. Sorry.

  4. Ernestine Gross
    June 26th, 2006 at 01:01 | #4

    “So can I be a libertarian social democrat?

    No you can’t. Sorry.”

    Does this mean the libertarians have found an error in Ariel Rubinstein’s (1988) work, published in JET, or does it mean the libertarians only know economic theory results up to von Mises?


    PS: Ariel Rubinstein is not the only relevant author in this context. But this reference may suffice at present.

  5. June 26th, 2006 at 01:41 | #5


    Apologies, but I am not sure how a paper on possibly illogical choices made by humans are relevant to this topic. It would only be evidence that the choices made were consistently worse than those made by external agencies on our behalf that would affect it, at least to my understanding.
    Perhaps I misunderstood your comment.

  6. June 26th, 2006 at 01:53 | #6

    I think people should be libertarian social democrats and, of course, most of us are. There is a role for the state and a role for the individual. The unending political discussion will be where you draw the line and that won’t be resolved on the basis of some general theory. You claim:

    ‘Social democracy and its key institutions, the mixed economy and the welfare state, require a balance between collective and individual actions and decisions. On the whole, in my judgement, the result has been to make more choices available to more people than any alternative system.’

    John it seems to me that almost no-one disagrees with this – indeed, with almost no exceptions, there are no alternative systems only ‘shades of grey’. Its what Paul Samuelson has taught us in his introductory economics text for 40 years. A muddled story but right.

  7. Michael G
    June 26th, 2006 at 02:11 | #7

    It is in the nature of government to get decisions wrong? What exactly is the nature of government Andrew? Bearing in mind that any answer would have to cover any and all possible manifestations of the concept of government, not just the centralised state which dominates at present.

    National Representative Government considers me a citizen. The Market considers me a consumer. I find neither of these identities particularly satisfying, except in a least worst kind of way. As JQ points out, social democracy offers a sort of middle ground where one can be both citizen and consumer. Although S.D fosters certain individually-mediated collective identities (grasping for words there) I am too often left with the impression that the end-result is closer to the worst of both worlds than to its desirable counterpart. Where does that leave me? I’m not sure; some kind of fence?

  8. Ernestine Gross
    June 26th, 2006 at 02:19 | #8

    Yes, Andrew, I think you misunderstood my comment.

  9. Andrew
    June 26th, 2006 at 08:37 | #9

    “So can I be a libertarian social democrat?”

    Of course you can – and virtually everyone in the Western world is. Our society is a balance between individual freedoms and a social democratic state. Go too far towards individualism and we turn into a selfish society, go too far towards social democracy and there is no money to pay for anything. Although as an Australian I’m clearly biased – I think Australia has just about got the balance completely right.

  10. Zarquon
    June 26th, 2006 at 09:59 | #10

    Libertarians are like Christians, they think they’ll be rewarded by the market God for their orthodox beliefs.

  11. gordon
    June 26th, 2006 at 11:27 | #11

    Is there any difference between a “libertarian” and somebody who just doesn’t like paying taxes? Or perhaps more precisely, somebody who wants somebody else to pay taxes? Or even more precisely, a collector of tribute?

  12. stoptherubbish
    June 26th, 2006 at 12:57 | #12

    Libertarianism is less a description of real world policies that ensure both freedom and justice, and more a ‘pose’ usually adopted by slightly socially challenged individuals who are obsessed by an increasingly deracinated notion of the ‘individual’. The problem with their pose is that they consider the question of ‘what is the good’ from the standpoint of a mythical ‘individual’ shorn of any social or familial context, existing in a world where every human interraction is understood as being in the form of the 18th century notion of ‘contract’. This relatively recent way of understanding the nature of human interraction and social discourse, completely ignores the fact that both markets and societies, predate 18th century economic, legal and social thought and practice by around 50,000 years, minimum.

  13. observa
    June 26th, 2006 at 13:10 | #13

    Critics often say Iraq is all about oil, but suppose it really was. Imagine a ME where Taliban like regimes across all countries in the ME hold total sway in a strong Pan Arab alliance. They totally control the flow of ME oil and decide Ugo Chavez like that it will only be supplied/sold to Muslim countries or those that are totally amenable to Islam. ie NK is a ‘friend’ because it supports the resettling of Israelis out of Israel, as well as supplying new missile and nuclear technology to ensure that happens soon. India can have some oil too if it cedes Kashmir to Pakistan and a few drops for France for dropping its Hijab ban and so on and on.

    Muslims in Muslim countries own the oil and rightly presume they can actively discriminate in trade for their (or the prophets) own ends. They want to continue to do that in peace. My question to John Quiggin, et al is- Is that OK or does the international UN have the right to threaten war if they don’t sell it on the open market in a non discriminatory way? I think we can all safely assume economic sanctions are futile here.

  14. observa
    June 26th, 2006 at 13:35 | #14

    I should nail my colours to the mast here and say I’d be in favour of UN military intervention, but I’m not sure whether that makes me a conservative Anglophile, an international social democrat or international libertarian. I describe, you decide. It should be fairly black and white under the circumstances.

  15. June 26th, 2006 at 13:48 | #15

    To be useful, an explanation would be good – where was I wrong, how can you help me to understand?
    Most of the rest of the comments above are the usual stereotyping, so no real use to the point.
    To answer Michael G’s question, though – I will return to Lord Acton’s maxim that all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The nature of government is to have power – that is why governments exist – therefore, if we accept this maxim, government will always have an element of corruption in it. The more powerful the government, the more corrupt it is. If we can put it this way, a S-D government (like a conservative one) has much more power, and a greater willingness to use it, than a liberal/libertarian inclined one would have. It is therefore more prone to corruption – i.e. to make the wong decision.
    With a truly libertarian outlook you are truly free to be who you want to be, whether an active or passive engager in society, in the economic mainstream, out by yourself or in a commune – each is a valid choice and treated no differently by the government.

  16. FDB
    June 26th, 2006 at 14:09 | #16

    Andrew – are you saying there’s no such thing as non-governmental power? Or that only governmental power corrupts?

    “With a truly libertarian outlook you are truly free to be who you want to be”

    What if you want to be a CEO of a huge corporation which denudes forests, burns fossil fuels at an unsustainable rate, employs child labour etc etc. Has your power corrupted you? Absolutely.

    Let’s not forget that Lord Acton’s background and status might have left him with a somehwat rosy picture of self-determination.

  17. FDB
    June 26th, 2006 at 14:17 | #17

    To clarify – I see power in society as a function of the number of competing interests (i.e. the number of people/organisations) and the structures set up for the excercise of authority. The more power is excercised with authority the better, even if it’s inefficient. The only reasonable authority is an elected government.

    The alternative is unfettered power in the hands of whomever wants it most. Give me a government any day.

    Libertarians say they know what’s best for them, but scratch the surface and lo! they all turn out to know what’s best for me, too!

  18. Ernestine Gross
    June 26th, 2006 at 15:09 | #18

    Andrew, this is my last reply to your comment.

    Please apply the advice you give to others, namely to read before you comment.

    JQ’s post contains: “So, as long as the collective decision is close to what I would choose, it’s reasonable for me to support choosing in this way. But obviously, if people have very different preferences, this condition can’t be satisfied for everybody.”

    This statement presupposes a concept of ‘close to’ or ‘approximate’ in relation to an individual’s preferences.

    The 1988 paper by Prof. Rubinstein, which I referenced, contains a concept of ‘similarity’ in preference relations.

    The paper is titled: “Similarity and Decision-making under Risk”. You seem to not even have bothered to read the heading.

    The paper also contains a brief discussion of the term ‘similarity’ in relation to how other people may use the word. This is the point where ‘approximate’ is introduced to please those who take issue with the word ‘similarity’. Changing word labels does not change the concept.

    The term ‘collective’ has been expanded upon by Harry Clarke.

    I recall a post by JQ in which he stated that the usable ideas (technical term) of von Mises have long been integrated into mainstream economics.

    So, the relevance of my question (to which you replied) should now be obvious, even to you.

  19. still working it out
    June 26th, 2006 at 15:22 | #19

    There will always be centres of power in a society to which the corrupt are attracted whether government exists or not. Market participants are certainly capable of accumulating significant power and behaving corruptly. To believe that markets are always efficient enough to prevent this is naive.

    Look at the recent problems with the Cross-City tunnel in Sydney. I don’t doubt that it was a result of incompetence or corruption of one kind or another by the NSW government. But I note that there was a private entity acting in its own interests just as heavily involved in the whole sorry debacle.

    At least with the NSW government I can vote the bums out. There is not much I can do about the behaviour of Macquarie Infrastructure Group except hope that someone nicer, more efficient and presumably happy to lose lots of money will come along and provide competition. To believe that markets will force MIG to behave in the interests of society is to believe that potential competiors are ready race out and deliver competition. This is difficult to swallow when you realise that realistic competition requires building multi-billlion infrastructure with decision-to-operation lead times of a decade or more that will very likely be subject to predatory pricing at the end of it all.

    The reality is the Cross-City tunnel is a monopoly which MIG have every incentive to seek monopoly rents from and will do so without government intervention.

    A libertarian will argue that markets are efficent enough to prevent the concentration of power and its abuse by market participants. This requires more faith in the universal efficiency of markets than I think can be justified.

  20. June 26th, 2006 at 16:56 | #20

    So can I be a libertarian social democrat?

    A lot of people seem to say “I’m a libertarian!” or “I’m a socialist!” or “I’m an insert label here“, and it all seems a little silly. Are the situations in the world where the application of free market economics is going to be superior to that of government determined provision? Yes!
    Are there going to be situations in the world where the application of taxes and provision of public goods is going to be superior to what the market determines? Yes!
    Why do we feel as though we need to label ourselves as something and respond to all situations accordingly? Wouldn’t it be better to let the circumstances shape the results rather than pure ideology?

  21. June 27th, 2006 at 02:16 | #21

    Gordon: certainly there is such a difference. While I’ve moved from libertarianism to more liberal or social democratic areas, I can recognize the appeal and force of libertarian/classical liberal thinking. As the crookedtimber commenters noted, Quiggin reconstructed Hayek’s warning about diverse coalitions forming to back central control when they can’t all agree on how to use the control. That’s not about “not paying taxes”, but a model of societies and how they can go wrong. Libertarians have a core philosophy of “coercion is wrong, and should be minimized” which I still think sounds noble enough.

    I don’t know about this Sydney tunnel, but I’d note that non-extreme libertarians agree that natural monopolies and public goods exists, and that the former need regulating and the latter may need provision (especially for defense.) They do tend to be skeptical of claimed public goods, or (pace Hayek) that the power granted to achieve a public good will in fact be used to do so.

    As for “collecting tribute”, the US Libertarian Party has always been strongly against US foreign policy, whether it be war, military bases abroad, or foreign aid. Think free-trade free-migration isolationists. Of course, many individual libertarians supported the Iraq war, but not necessarily a majority — like any other label, there’s lots of diversity in actual beliefs and sophistication of thinking (including, yes, “I’ve got mine” anti-taxists.)

  22. gordon
    June 27th, 2006 at 11:26 | #22

    Observa agonises: “I’m not sure whether that makes me a conservative Anglophile, an international social democrat or international libertarian. ” No need to worry yourself into a tizz over complicated labels, Observa; it just makes you self-interested.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all are. The problem with the military option, though, is that it is too self-interested – “I want all the oil.” Besides, it’s not practical. I would have thought that after the Crusades, Suez, the post-WWI mandates, Lebanon and now Iraq we would have learned that military occupation of Middle East countries doesn’t provide long-term solutions.

    It is a bargaining situation. Middle East countries have oil. We want oil. They need to sell oil. For a long time, during the reign of the Seven Sisters and the posted price, everybody was reasonably happy. That was the outcome of complex bargaining among oil producers, oil companies and (implicitly) consumers. It was not, perhaps, an optimal solution for any of the parties involved or affected (particularly consumers – remember the infamous oil depletion allowance which US consumers had to pay via their taxes) but nobody was getting killed and only experts were concerned about the suboptimality of the compromise. The economies of the oil consumers were expanding and most people had confidence in the future.

    I think only a bargained solution to the current situation is likely to be viable – not a military one. As for your horror scenario of fundamentalist control of all Middle Eastern oil states, it seems to me that the current military-dominated thinking about the Middle East is the course most likely to lead to that awful outcome. More intervention to prevent fundamentalist control is rather like putting a fire out with petrol (that was accidental). What, anyhow, is wrong with fundamentalism in the Middle East? At bottom, the problem is that it is difficult to bargain with fundamentalists. So let’s start bargaining now.

  23. gordon
    June 27th, 2006 at 11:41 | #23

    By the way, there’s a very interesting and concise article entitled “Oil Markets and Prices” by Robert Mabro (August 2000) on how the crude oil price is fixed here

    Sadly, the link only takes you to a site from which you click “Oxford energy comment” in the list of links at the bottom, then browse to August 2000 and look for the title.

  24. gordon
    June 27th, 2006 at 11:56 | #24

    Damien; so now there are extreme and non-extreme libertarians! Except for your good self, only the extreme ones seem to get any airtime. As a lonely moderate, I’m happy to shake hands with a non-extreme practically anything these days (even non-extreme Satanists, probably)

    Does this mean you are prepared to pay at least some of your taxes?

  25. observa
    June 27th, 2006 at 12:16 | #25

    The problem with the military option, though, is that it is too self-interested – “I want all the oil.â€?

    No I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that as a last resort I want some kind of force used to allow me to openly trade and compete for the available oil in a free market. In other words I want the same freedoms internationally as my police and law force upon us all locally. ie I’m not allowed to put up my shingle and also state -No blacks/ragheads/poofters/loose women/etc served or employed here. Now presumably even JQ thinks I should feel the strong arm of the law if I do that locally, then why not internationally? My black and white ME example was designed to illustrate a ceteris paribus point, which gets muddier in the real world. However we even confiscate the assets of criminals locally so why not internationally by the same logic? It is a bit of a rhetorical question really to show that force against bad guys can be agreed upon by conservatives, social democrats and libertarians, which was the broad issue John raised.

  26. June 27th, 2006 at 13:53 | #26

    Gordon: yes. I’m more concerned with wiping out victimless crimes than cranking taxes down to teensy levels. As for finding “moderate libertarians” or “pragmatic libertarians”, just google. I found one working at the Cato Institute.

  27. Michael G
    June 27th, 2006 at 23:08 | #27

    Alpaca: (Hoping you weren’t asking a rhetorical question) I think it’s basically because it allows us to make sense of things and because it gives us all kinds of meaning to grab on to and build our lives and lifestyles around. I suspect religion and even some forms of science fulfil a similar role. The question of how we organise ourselves and how we make decisions as a society and as a planet is so incredibly complex that we desperately need these guideposts. And then the guideposts become crux’s and the crux’s become rapiers and eventually the rapiers become blinders, well in extreme cases anyway.

    I don’t think it’s enough just to say, let past history and present circumstances determine our instituional and individual choices (If that’s what you mean.) I don’t think that gives us enough information to properly address the above questions . To do that requires a fair bit of theorising and, unfortunately, label-creating. I think the trick is to consistently try and refine the labels you believe in, adding and subtracting all the time and taking particular care as to what you regard as your basic principles. Problem is this difficult process is made even harder by all the partisan political crap that dominates so many discussion of this kind. I mean, what’s a liberal these days? What’s a socialist? What’s a democrat? Then again, maybe that’s what you were getting at. To answer JQ’s question, it depends what you mean by libertarian… by many people’s standards i suspect not.

  28. Michael G
    June 27th, 2006 at 23:44 | #28

    Andrew: So we can agree that power tends to corrupt. it looks like we have, but two options.

    1) Get rid of all power
    2) Set things up so that the corrupting tendency of power is limited and its empowering tendencies are, well, empowered.

    The first is obviously ridiculous. The second involves looking at all sources of power, including (as FDB points out), government, market and civil society. In your description you seem to see a dualism; the choice is between a fairly centrlaised SD (or conservative) gov or a smaller, libertarian inclined one.
    But if you decide to make central, represntative government smaller, you are faced with a bunch of questions which I think can be boiled down to one: Where does the rest of the power go? Am i right in assuming your answer would be, for the most part, markets? If say, Lord Acton pressed me, i would find it difficult to say which form of power corrupts more, central government, or free markets (as we now know them.) In other words I agree with your diagnosis but I don’t buy the solution.

    For me the above question turns into another one; What institution (or combination of institutions) can best deliver power into the hands of groups and of individuals – proportionate to the extent that a decision affects them. This leads to a follow up question,;what spheres of life should we actually create institutions to govern and what spheres of life should we just leave to develop more organically. To me the answer goes something like this; We should create and enforce appropriate institutions when not doing so will cause conditions of hardship (poverty. war, civil discontent, alienation)

    So we have room for a libertarian approach, where the above condition does not apply. Now back to the question of what form of organisation is best suited to ‘filter’ power, I’m not ruling out markets as part (or even all!) of the solution, but right now I think they are over-rated by many people. They offer attractive possibilities in some areas and, as best i can figure it, they have significant drawbacks, for society as a whole and when applied t certain areas . I think we should be paying more attention to possible civil sociey structures and to ideas of local, decentralised, participatory or deliberative democacy. Tthis should be combined with a ‘crust’ level of centralised (possibly world) government and also with market forces.

    Just In case you made it this far, Is there anything that particularly repels you about this kind of arrangement? Maybe it’s too detached from reality?

  29. June 28th, 2006 at 03:51 | #29

    Michael: too vague for comfort. What sort of decisions should be turned over to “local, decentralised democracy”? You already raised this question (what spheres of life should we set up vs. grow organically) but it’s a rather key question. Local democracy as an alternative to big centralized democracy is one thing; local democracy as an alternative to markets… what are they taking over? Food allocation? Medicine? Decisions of what jobs people should work at? Land use?

    Local (especially democracy) isn’t always better — the US has many homeowners’ associations, little private democracies which tend to be associated with petty tyranny. Many US states seem to be more corrupt (and single-party) than the Federal level, and kept in check by that level (even now, I think there’s a branch of the FBI grinding away at the worst abuses.) The distant imperial capital often has an interest in everyone else playing by the rules, even if it can get up to some corruption doozies itself.

    Conversely, markets are ideally the ultimate localization: me making decisions for me and my property and reaping the consequences thereof. Lots of market failures are rooted in me being able to wiggle out of the consequences thereof, which gives a role for government, in internalizing those externalities.

  30. gordon
    June 28th, 2006 at 11:38 | #30

    Observa, have you any idea how weird the statement “I want some kind of force used to allow me to openly trade and compete for the available oil in a free market” sounds?

    First, I can’t remember a time when there was a classical free market (open, contestable, everybody price-taking) in crude oil. The era of the Seven Sisters and the posted price was not that.

    Second, there are very few such classical free markets anywhere. Life goes on.

    Third, “the same freedoms internationally as my police and law force upon us all locally” is unachievable without some kind of latter-day Roman Empire which by its very existance would destroy the “freedoms” you speak of. We would end up with the same kind of exploitative, corrupt and generally oppressive regime as that initiated by Diocletian. To demand that every country be like our own is no more than the cry of the tired tourist.

    Finally, “force against the bad guys” – whoever they may be (maybe ourselves?) – sounds like you’ve been watching too much television.

    I don’t know where these sorts of ideas come from. Maybe the Rodent is right, and we just don’t teach history properly these days. But the fact is that other countries are different from ours. That’s not a bad thing, nor does it imply that people different from ourselves are necessarily and ipso facto bad. Anyhow, we have to live with them, and (to return to the original point) trade with them. This can be done, as just about all human history shows. There is no need to impose any kind of universal law or economic theory on everybody for trade to be possible. But you do have to bargain.

  31. LamontCranston
    June 28th, 2006 at 15:08 | #31

    “So can I be a libertarian social democrat?” — I think the term is ‘Libertarian-Socialist.’

  32. June 28th, 2006 at 15:13 | #32

    Michael G,
    You are right in that power, wherever it is held, tends to corrupt. The thing with a market, though, is that the power is highly diffuse. Every participant in a market has some of it – but, as a result, no one really has it. I already hear the cry that this is only under conditions of strong competition – and that is correct. However, why do weakly competitive markets exist? They exist for any number of reasons. One of the main ones, historically, has been by legislative fiat – the government creates them. The second source would be through coercion and thirdly (possibly) from the nature of the market.
    A solution is obvious to the first. An imperfect market created by coercion I would argue as being temporary anyway, but I concede a role for government here. There must be some body enforcing a monopoly on violence, although some may disagree. Some may argue that the third reason, the nature of the market, is the main source. Some argue that it not a source at all. If it is a source of market imperfection, and the holders of that power exploit it (without coercion), then in time technological development will get around it. This has happened time and time again – many of the companies that were huge and dominant in the 1950s are now, if they still exist, small. GM, Ford and Chrysler, acting as an oligopoly, were all huge in the US in the 1950s (with, it should be added, large government support and effective protection). Chrysler is now part of Daimler-Benz, GM’s problems are well documented and Ford has nowhere near the power it once had – and also may not last.
    Telstra’s dominance of the Australian telephone infrastructure, previously a government enforced monopoly, is being broken down as competition is introduced.
    Once trade and business is freed from restrictions, most of these anomalies disappear. Any that remain can then be dealt with piecemeal, if needed.

  33. stoptherubbish
    June 28th, 2006 at 17:57 | #33

    Markets are created by the activity of people, and are constituted by the cultures in which they operate. They have existed long before anybody ever heard of Adam Smith or the Cato Institue. What is new about the current situation, is that we are witnessing the wholesale reengineering of the polity to ensure that the ‘market’ (the term ‘free’ is mere vulgar rhetoric), fills every available nook and cranny in the culture, so that even institutions beloved by conservatives like the ‘family’ and ‘religion’ are being melted in the crucible of its inexorable logic. That is the conundrum for conservatives who love a bit of libertarianism when it comes to property rights, but would prefer a bit of old fashioned social control when it comes to say, civil rights for homosexuals. John Howard has managed the balancing act quite well so far, but has just let slip the wolf’s grin from under the pose of balanced old fashioned conservative suburban Dad. There is nothing conservative or suburban about capitalism letting rip. Nothing at all. It is more corrosive of venerable institutions than anything ever thought up by groups like the trots. The ‘market’ sweeps all before it.
    It was best said a long time ago:- ‘All that is solid melts into air’

  34. gordon
    June 28th, 2006 at 18:21 | #34

    For some reason the link to the Mabro article which I included in a previous comment is now working properly. Ghost in the machine, thanks.

  35. Michael G
    June 28th, 2006 at 23:19 | #35

    There’s a bunch of things i want to say in response to Andrew and Damien once I’ve processed the above, but for now, I’ll content myself with 2 questions:

    1) Andrew writes: “Once trade and business is freed from restrictions, most of these anomalies disappear. Any that remain can then be dealt with piecemeal, if needed.”

    It is generally considered that this idea has been tested empirically and if so on what scale? Or does it retain the pure simplicity of a theoretical hypothesis?

    2) Stop the rubbish invokes Marx; “All that is solid melts into air.”

    If we do manage to attain that perfect market with a universal condition of strong competition, will everything else then sort itself out? Seems to me that anti-corruption is only one of many goals that we should set an economic or political system. My instinct says that conditions of perfect competition might be at odds with some of them and moreover probably create their own downsides (some of which we can’t imagine.) What other goals are important to you guys? Obviously Efficiency and Security, but what else?

  36. June 29th, 2006 at 02:24 | #36

    Michael G,
    If we are to be honest, all economics is theory. None of it can be tested in a lab – differences from the theory can always be explained away. There are those that are able to demonstrate that communism was a success – as there are those who can demonstrate the fascism made the trains run on time. We all also have our biases. Mine is a belief that the individual in society really matters and can make is or her own decisions.
    Efficiency and security? No. Freedom – the ability to choose our own path in life? Yes. An inefficient choice that you learn from is better than a forced one you do not learn from. Security is normally bought at the price of welfare. No thanks.

  37. June 29th, 2006 at 02:58 | #37

    If you really want to know – here is a video worth watching.
    To be honest, though – not many here will bother. It confronts too many of your prejudices.

  38. Dioktos
    June 29th, 2006 at 05:37 | #38

    Dr. Quiggin,
    Have you read Sunstein and Thaler’s “Libertarian Paternalism Is Not an Oxymoron”? (University of Chicago Law Review, 70-4, p. 1159-1204)

    You can find a copy here: http://gsbwww.uchicago.edu/fac/richard.thaler/research/LIbpatLaw.pdf

  39. observa
    June 29th, 2006 at 10:25 | #39

    ‘Observa, have you any idea how weird the statement “I want some kind of force used to allow me to openly trade and compete for the available oil in a free marketâ€? sounds?’

    The ACCC is weird is it? Do you know what happens to me as a company director if I seriously break its non discriminatory, free market advocacy laws? What then happens to me if I use force to defend myself from its police that come to arrest me? If I pull a gun they’ll shoot me dead. You think that’s all a bit too abitrary and violent do you? I guess the Taliban and Saddam feel the same.

  40. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2006 at 11:31 | #40

    Andrew, the link you provided contains a video of Milton Friedman’s latest missionary activity, accompanied by the customary advertising hooplala, and some pictures of soccer (football). Is it the poor quality of the footy pictures you find confronting?

  41. observa
    June 29th, 2006 at 11:32 | #41

    With my ACCC scenario can you understand how a John Quiggin type ‘good guy’ can ultimately sanction my killing as a ‘bad guy’. It may even be because as a Muslim I had God on my side and thought there was nothing wrong with colluding on price in my business dealings in Australia in order to send more profits to some false prophets. Basically now that I’m in Paradise for doing Allah’s will, you can all see culturally what filthy infidels JQ and his ACCC and police really are now 😉

    Yes I take your point about where are the ‘perfect’ free markets, but that doesn’t stop me from hankering after an international ACCC, to prevent the worst cases of abuse of market power. ie freer markets. It’s hard to argue that tyrannical regimes should have unlimited property rights and the monopoly market power that goes with it to do their darnedest. Hence JQ can support an attempt at an international ACCC like the UN. Not least he supported UN economic sanctions against Iraq, presumably with that in mind. However I take your point about some modern day Rome becoming unwieldy and corrupt, which is why I would restrict it to a United Liberal Democratic Nations, which could accept a degree of cultural diversity within, but some broad common goals externally. As ‘associate’ members (talk at the table but no vote) met the minimum requirements of the club, so they could vote. We virtually have this club within the UN now. It’s those that do the international heavy lifting within it now, while the rest of the bludgers and gangsters play the victim or blame game. In that they’re ably aided and abetted by the usual suspects. The ones that want their ACCCs, but naturally with no blood on their hands.

  42. June 29th, 2006 at 12:34 | #42

    No. The football I can take or leave. His economics (at least those presented here) I find compelling in real world terms. From your lack of knowledge on the markets, though, I suggest you stick to theories in academia. A move into the real world may improve your analysis.

  43. Michael G
    June 29th, 2006 at 13:30 | #43

    Thanks Andrew, I’m confused about the ‘confronting’ remark though.

    It’s too hard because I’ll start throwing up prejudices or because getting right down to it forces libertarians to question their prejudices?

    Also, I wasn’t suggesting that Efficiency or Security should trump freedom or equality or anything else. I think a certain degree of security (understood in broad terms) is a base need, but it should not intrude past absolute neccesities and I don’t rate efficiency particularly highly but find it hard to understand economic libertarians without assuming that they do.

  44. O6
    June 29th, 2006 at 13:56 | #44

    Andrew Reynolds:
    If we are to be honest, all economics is theory. None of it can be tested in a lab – differences from the theory can always be explained away.

    Not true. There’s quite a lot of economic testing being done under equivalent conditions to those of science labs – google ‘experimental economics’ and you’ll find some good stuff among the dross.

    In any case, experimental departures from theoretical predictions, if repeated, eventually lead to modification. Even if Max Planck was right (“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” See
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/bpplan.html .), a scientific theory at odds with evidence cannot persist.

    One of the depressing things about blog discussions is how rarely anyone appeals to the evidence.

  45. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2006 at 14:06 | #45


    “No. The football I can take or leave. His economics (at least those presented here) I find compelling in real world terms. From your lack of knowledge on the markets, though, I suggest you stick to theories in academia. A move into the real world may improve your analysis.”

    Andrew, you have no information about my knowledge of ‘the markets’. I am asking you to retract your statement and to apologise for substituting your beliefs for your lack of information and writing as if your beliefs were facts.

  46. Michael G
    June 29th, 2006 at 14:10 | #46

    Oh – scrap the earlier questio, I get it. Better still, think of it as rhetorical.
    I thought you were referring to the addressing of my questions, not the video.

  47. June 29th, 2006 at 14:13 | #47

    Michael G,
    I think you will find many people that consider themselves libertarians are not primarily concerned with efficiency, but with freedom. This includes a freedom to be inefficient if an individual chooses to. We all know that it makes no sense to smoke, for example, and that the benefits are far outweighed by the cost. Yet a person calling themselves a libertarian may well support the right to smoke (provided considerations of second hand smoke are met) and even argue for a lowering of tobacco taxes. This is not because of a discussion about smoking or efficiency, but a consideration of freedom.
    Once efficiency becomes a consideration higher than freedom then classical conservatism may be a more natural home for your thoughts, rather than libertarianism.

  48. June 29th, 2006 at 14:19 | #48

    The reason I amde that comment, which may well be incorrect, was your apparent lack of knowledge of the flow on effects of positive price information into other firms listed on an exchange. If I was wrong, I retract, but I could not interpret this comment of yours in any other way.
    It may not be in any books (I am not sure) but it does operate that way.

  49. June 29th, 2006 at 14:33 | #49

    You are right – many things can be tested. What I think I was trying to get across (not very well) was to agree with your later comment. Too many ignore the evidence and try to use biased research to bolster their position and / or excuse the inexcusable. I had a good, long argument with a current member of the Communist Party of Australia not long ago and he was trying to justify what Stalin and Mao did. The evidence did not seem to worry him.

  50. Michael G
    June 29th, 2006 at 14:38 | #50

    So is there or is there not generally accepted evidence (from the real world or in lab conditions) showing how a perfectly competitive market would work?

  51. Michael G
    June 29th, 2006 at 14:40 | #51

    Unless that was what the Milton Friedman clip was about (my computer doesn’t like it for the time being.)

  52. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2006 at 15:22 | #52


    Thanks for providing the evidence that you have no information about my knowledge of ‘the markets’. Your belief rests on your interpretation of a comment I made but not on what I actually said. So, please retract.

  53. stoptherubbish
    June 29th, 2006 at 16:49 | #53

    A ‘perfectly competitive market’. What a georgeous phrase, so redolent of the 17th century clockwork universe, to which adolescent economic liberals are so attached. I suggest the purveyors of the simplistic, historically illiterate nonesense concerning markets, freedom, competition blah blah blah, go pick up a book and read up on the history of actually existing markets. It might prove more useful in a practical sense to observe what actually happens in the world we all live in, rather than argue about what it would be like, if weren’t for those pesky old issues concerning people, their values, and the franchise, aka social democracy.

  54. June 29th, 2006 at 17:55 | #54

    Michael G, stoptherubbish – could you please point out where I have relied on there being a perfect market. I have said strong competition, not a perfect market.
    Nowhere, AFAIK, do I refer to a perfect market being needed, merely a strongly competitive one. If I am incorrect, please let me know. Otherwise, please rephrase your points to discuss a strongly competitive market.
    If you want an example of one, go here. Or to Hong Kong prior to 1997. Or many of the bazaars in the Middle East. Or the market for most good in this country. Or the stock markets. Or the bond markets. Or plenty of others.
    None may be perfectly competitive, but in all of them neither the sellers nor the buyers can exert significant price pressure. This is all that is needed.
    Please let me know how I can interpret your linked comment in a way that discloses a strong knowledge of the market and I will retract wholly and unreservedly. Otherwise, retract your comment and I will then indicate that I do not know your experience in the markets and we return to status quo pro ante.

  55. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2006 at 18:16 | #55


    I request you retract your statement

    “From your lack of knowledge on the markets, though, I suggest you stick to theories in academia. A move into the real world may improve your analysis.â€?

    on the grounds that you have no information about my knowledge of ‘the markets’. I am asking you to retract your statement and to apologise for substituting your beliefs for your lack of information and writing as if your beliefs were facts.

  56. June 29th, 2006 at 18:37 | #56

    You have impugned my intelligence, knowledge and ability several times – and probably many times by inference. I will withdraw when you demonstrate me wrong – not before. So far, all I have is a comment that seems, on first sight, to indicate a lack of knowledge of the way a real market works. I pointed this out. If you do not like it, prove me wrong.

  57. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2006 at 21:10 | #57


    You wrote, “From your lack of knowledge on the markets, though, I suggest you stick to theories in academia. A move into the real world may improve your analysis.�

    I asked you immediately to retract your statement and to apologise on the grounds that you substitute your beliefs for information you don’t have and write as if your beliefs were facts.

    I have not changed my mind on this.

  58. June 29th, 2006 at 22:04 | #58

    Very well, I shall have to live with that – as you will if you provide no evidence. You made a comment that, to me, discloses an ignorance of the operation of markets. If you provide me with evidence of an error on my part, as I have indicated I will happily retract. I see none so far.
    You have, as I stated, previously commented on my lack of knowledge on certain issues – a point I concede. I see no shame in it. I just ask you to return the compliment.
    On reflection, perhaps the first line should read “From your apparent lack of knowledge on the markets…” to correctly affect appearances.

  59. Michael G
    June 29th, 2006 at 23:27 | #59

    Yeah. This ‘perfectly competitive market’ appears to have been my creation. A ‘situation where trade and business is freed from restriction’ were the original words I took off from. I interpreted this to mean as perfect as it gets and was lazy with my words.

    In any case, you made a reasonable attempt at answering my question. You’re examples are interesting, but obviously each of them have their own spatial or temporal restrictions. So i guess my question regarding empirical evidence is flexible depending on how great a role for the market you are envisioning.

    Even so, is it generally considered that Hong Kong up to 1997 was a success? I know there is controversy over some of the actions that take place inside the tent of the stock market. Ebay I haven’t followed that much but I tend to think that the E-world provides some of the more fruitful opportunities for successful and ethical markets. Largely this is because it has a particular ability to encourage communication and to build trust, which is exactly why the bazzaar example, with its face to face bartering and its sensory overload, is the most interesting to me. Surely, even among strongly competitive markets there are umpteen different forms conducive to all kind of different outcomes? And are these differences not to do with conditions we have, to some extent engineered?

    Perhaps I’m projecting on to you the more extreme libertarian views of others but isn’t it all much more complex than market logic ueberall?

  60. June 30th, 2006 at 00:27 | #60

    There is plenty of controversy in the stock market, as there is in any bazaar. People getting fleeced, others making a packet. The important thing is that, in the long run, there is no systemic way to consistently win; except to do as guys like Buffett do and buy and hold. Pick your stocks well and then try (if you have that sort of pull) to influence company management to do better.
    Examples of weak competition in markets abound – but these are almost always temporary and the actions of a government to fix them are almost invariably worse than the problem. The ‘solution’ also tends to hang around, long after the reason for it is gone (if there was one).
    Hong Kong from the 1960s to 1997 was an enormous success. The colonial administrators ignored their democratic socialist masters in the UK government, instituted free trade and a 15% income tax and stood back. The wealth generated was staggering.
    Every government action, like every other action, includes an opportunity cost. To me at least, because governments tend to be big, slow to react and acting on information that will almost always be less than the active participants in a market, that opportunity cost will almost certainly be higher, and higher than the cost of doing nothing.

  61. June 30th, 2006 at 06:56 | #61

    Bah, I’m no fan of that Planck quote. Scientific evidence frequently convinces its opponents. Continental drift and quantum mechanics are two big examples, where establishment beliefs phase-shifted upon new data coming in. More recently we have the accelerating universe, where an idea *no one* believed in is now standard… of course, that might be psychologically easier than capitulating to opponents. Various scientists who were skeptical of global warming ten years ago have caved in since.

  62. gordon
    June 30th, 2006 at 13:09 | #62

    Observa, maybe the short answer is that Middle Eastern oil states have to sell their oil; they really don’t have the option to just leave it in the ground. There are other factors too: there are sources of oil and gas outside the Middle East; there are considerable efficiency gains available in our use of petroleum (and coal), and there are possibilities of substitution of renewables. So the Middle Easterners’ market power is not unlimited – and they know it. Nor should we forget that oil is a special case – there are the WTO and OPEC which, though they aren’t the ACCC, can and do make trade rules and (in the WTO case) have a sort of arbitration power for many sorts of non-oil trade disputes. Not that I’m a great admirer of the WTO, but it does exist. Maybe you are arguing for inclusion of oil within the WTO ambit? Would be fun to watch, and a change from the eternal wrangling about agriculture.

    As far as “tyrannical regimes� is concerned, I fear this is hysteria. There are lots of tyrannical regimes, but it seems the oil producing ones are regularly singled out for attack. The real issue, I think, is State ownership of oil. If the Saudi government was a corporation, would anybody worry about its being tyrannical? Most corporations are, and many are just as corrupt as the oil-producing tyrannies. There are a lot of oligopolies in raw materials production, but anybody who complains about “market power� is called a radical leftist greenie. I suspect Rupert would just buy shares in “Saudi Inc.� and call off the attack dogs.

  63. Ernestine Gross
    June 30th, 2006 at 15:22 | #63

    Question to the Libertarians:

    Does your notion of ‘freedom of choice’ involve chosing to tell other people what they should do or think?

    Does your notion of ‘freedom of choice’ include chosing to represent your beliefs as facts?

    My questions arise because of Andrew Reynold’s correspondence. Maybe Andrew Reynolds is not a representative Libertarian. I have inadequate information on ‘politics’ and labels that go with it to form an independent opinion on this one.

  64. Ernestine Gross
    June 30th, 2006 at 15:37 | #64

    Andrew Reynolds,

    You have not taken up the option of simply retracting your statement, to which I objected for stated reasons, but you added a lot of other statements.

    I don’t wish to bore the audience of this thread with going through all your statements one by one, each one of them would require a lot of questions on my part (what does it mean? where? when?, etc). And, I don’t want to waste my time either.

    To bring this to a closure, my first request for you to retract your statement remains and I don’t agree with all your other statements .

    If you have a gripe, please let me know the details and I shall address it.

  65. June 30th, 2006 at 16:07 | #65

    I have no gripe, Ernestine – I am not the one seeking a retraction.
    I have never told you what to think, nor do I believe I have misrepresented the position in any way. If you want to continue this, feel free to do so. I will feel free to ignore you, as others may.

  66. Ernestine Gross
    July 1st, 2006 at 17:02 | #66


    I don’t think it works out the way you want it. See


  67. Ernestine Gross
    July 1st, 2006 at 18:48 | #67

    Andrew Reynolds says: “Apologies, Ernestine. I have known one other Ernestine and he was male. Please feel free to correct the comment as you see fit to correct for my mis-conception.”

    Source: http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2006/06/13/back-to-full-employment/

    I accept your apology.

  68. July 2nd, 2006 at 22:07 | #68

    I am glad you accept the apology over your sex – not, perhaps that any was needed as there is nothing inferior or superior that arises from either sex.
    I am still waiting to see if you have any evidence to prompt me to accede to your request to retract on other statements made in this thread.

  69. Ernestine Gross
    July 3rd, 2006 at 01:10 | #69

    Andrew Reynolds,

    I did not ask for an apology for gender confusion. If you think different, as you apparently do, then this is nothing but yet another one of your misconceptions which you asked me to correct.

    Since you ask for the correction of your latest misconception, I suppose I have to do it, although with considerable displeasure.

    Gender turned out to be a critical parameter in the unravelling of your cross-thread obfuscations.

    I asked you explicitly who the ‘he’ is in one of your cross-posts. Since you insist on knowing everything better than everybody else, I took your no-response seriously and then draw the logical conclusion.

    Here are the details from the thread “Back to Full Employment?�

    1. Andrew Reynolds Says:
    June 30th, 2006 at 11:33 am
    Apologies for the double comment.
    I also note that Ernestine has not yet responded with any proof that one of:
    1. His earlier comment can be understood to reveal a deep understanding of the operations of a market; or
    2. It was an abberation used merely to try to score a cheap point and that he actually knows much better.
    3. Some other reason why I should withdraw other than his apparently hurt feelings.
    On any of those proofs being presented I will happily withdraw my earlier comment regarding his academic approach. Until then, it stands.

    2. Ernestine Gross Says:
    June 30th, 2006 at 11:46 am
    To whom is your last post addressed? I am asking because my name appears in it.

    3. Andrew Reynolds Says:
    June 30th, 2006 at 1:34 pm
    Perhaps you should read the advice you ascribed to me here.

    4. Ernestine Gross Says:
    June 30th, 2006 at 1:59 pm
    Andrew, You are talking in riddles.
    My question remains: To whom is your post of 11.33 am addressed?
    My second question is: Which advice do I ascribe to you where and where would I locate it?
    For your information, the heading of this thread is “Back to Full Employment�. If you don’t understand any one or all of these words, please ask JQ or read up.

    5. Ernestine Gross Says:
    July 1st, 2006 at 12:11 am
    Who is “He� in your post, reproduced below? This is a serious question.
    “Apologies for the double comment.
    I also note that Ernestine has not yet responded with any proof that one of:
    1. His earlier comment can be understood to reveal a deep understanding of the operations of a market; or
    2. It was an abberation used merely to try to score a cheap point and that he actually knows much better.
    3. Some other reason why I should withdraw other than his apparently hurt feelings.
    On any of those proofs being presented I will happily withdraw my earlier comment regarding his academic approach. Until then, it stands. “

    6 Ernestine Gross Says:
    July 1st, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Alright, Andrew, as you wish.

    I am not the ‘he’ in the questions because I am a female.

    Given the links you have set, the he is you.

    So, I shall answer your question:
    1. You have failed to provide a proof that your earlier comment can be understood to reveal a deep understanding of the operations of a market.
    PS1:I am the only Ernestine on this blog site for at least 8 months. If you want to go back through all the blog threads, you’ll find a post by Katz in which he wrote to you something to the effect that he would not give to much weight to comments made by a man by the name of Ernestine. You left out part of the statement and started talking about ‘him’. I made a post, which reintroduced the distinction between ‘a man by the name of Ernestine’ and Ernestine. So, Andrew, academic rigour may be quite useful in ‘the real world’. You and I were part of the same ‘real world’ at the time. I do hope this is the last time you or any of your ‘mates’ will talk about none-sense such as ‘ivory tower’ and the ‘real world’ versus academics.
    PS2: I am going on an extended blogging holliday�

    The link you gave is:

    This site contains a post by me, followed by a post by you.

    I don’t want to know why you seem to think that a share market trade, which is profitable under very special circumstances is (a) a ‘standard share market theory’, (b) works in the ‘real world’ when one of the conditions of trading share in ‘the real world’ does not hold, namely that share market regulations require that listed (traded) companies file annual reports, and ( c ) why your verbal cocktail of ‘standard share market theory’ com special case trading strategy com imaginary real world stock market without a financial reporting requirement should have anything to do with the labour market.

    And, I also don’t want to know why you carry on, given that you publicly stated that you have no gripe.

    I hope I can return to my holliday from blogging.




  70. Hans Erren
    July 3rd, 2006 at 20:14 | #70

    “So can I be a libertarian social democrat?”


    that would make you a centrist or a left liberal libertarian.

  71. July 4th, 2006 at 18:58 | #71

    I have no gripe, I just wanted the point, and apology, to be clear. Your cross posting to the other thread seemed to imply that I was apologising for my market related comment. I was not. I was apologising for making a mistake vis-a-vis your gender, which you seemed to think was an issue, having looked back over 8 months (as you put it) for another Ernestine to make the point about “He”.
    If you care to come up with some evidence on the market related point, I will read it and retract if appropriate. If you do not, I don’t mind. Failing that, this comment will be my last word on the matter as I consider I have made my case clear.
    I have replied to you as I believe that polite – not through any real concern as to whether a “gripe” exists or not.

  72. Ernestine Gross
    July 5th, 2006 at 10:38 | #72

    Andrew Reynolds, hope you enjoy your conversation with your own perceptions.

  73. July 5th, 2006 at 11:49 | #73

    As I hope you enjoy your conversation with yours.
    BTW, weren’t you on holiday?

  74. July 6th, 2006 at 21:51 | #74

    I think that where JQ gets it wrong is in assuming that the core of libertarianism is somehow about maximising the choices available to people. In my view that is not the core ideal. The core ideal within libertarianism is that no person should interfere in another persons life without justification (ie except to right a wrong pepetrated by that other person).

    As I opened a couple of letters from the government today (FAO and the ATO) I summed up the idea to my better half as follows: “In an ideal world the government would only be interacting with me if I had done something wrong”.

  75. July 8th, 2006 at 00:30 | #75

    Terje (and others), I suspect JQ may be confusing a question of essential identity of concepts with the everyday working questions of who they might line up with, tactically. It’s like the difference between a communist party and a popular front which also includes useful idiots and insightful fellow travellers fully intending to get off at Redfern.

    But for those going all the way, a social democrat has already made up his or her mind on the end of socialism, only embracing democracy as a tactical means to get enough people onside so as to enable coercing the rest. A libertarian, however, reads that last stage – however democratic – as fundamentally flawed and mere force, i.e. he or she does not accept that even the democratic endorsement confers any ethical justification.

    So there is a fundamental incompatibility between being a social democrat and a libertarian, arising not from the “social” part but from the “democrat” part. Interestingly, social democracy itself involves a previous ingenious way of systematically deferring conflicts between socialists and democrats, rather like renormalising an infinity away. The socialists accept what could theoretically be “never, i.e. no”, since they suppose that it won’t work out as never – even though they are genuinely committed to socialism and not open to persuasion.

    JQ may be a full blown committed socialist of this sort, the analogue of an atheist, or he may be a fellow traveller under the social democrat umbrella, the analogue of an agnostic who is open to persuasion but not expecting reality to support it. Either way, he cannot be a libertarian, since they are by definition people who have made their minds up already on a different and incaompatible basis.

  76. Ernestine Gross
    July 9th, 2006 at 05:49 | #76

    Andrew Reynolds, I don’t have conversations with my perceptions. Holidays are sometimes interrupted.

    P.M. Lawrence, are you suggesting that Libertarians are fundamentalists who have a closed mind (ie “libertarians… are by definition people who have made their minds up already on a different and incompatible basis”).

  77. July 9th, 2006 at 16:49 | #77

    The way I saw PML’s missive was that the mindset of democratic socialism and libertarianism is different to the way I think you saw it.
    A democratic socialist, at least from my reading of PML, is someone who sees the socialist path as a desirable outcome and mass democracy as the way to achieve it. If you can get the majority, presumably the lumpen proletariat, to agree to a socialist outcome it would be alright to force those who disagree to conform to the will of the majority as this is the democratic outcome.
    A libertarian, on the other hand, would tend to agree with the old Millsian statement that “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
    I would tend to disagree with PML on this, if I have correctly represented his position. I see democratic socialism more as socialism-lite. A truly socialist outcome must (IMHO) involve some degree of force and the more extreme the socialism desired, the more force involved. I see democratic socialism as the movement that involves using only as much force as the majority would vote for.
    A true libertarian (IMHO), however, would not countenance any use of force beyond that necessary to secure their person and property rights. A true socialist would feel the use of whatever level of force appropriate to achieve their desired outcome is OK. A democratic socialist would countenance the degree of force approved by the majority of the voters.

  78. Katz
    July 9th, 2006 at 17:22 | #78

    PML’s statement about the unethical nature of state coercion applies also to even the most minimalist of proponents of government.

    This is because there always exist people who disbelieve in the morality and/or efficacy of any government.

    Thus PML’s attempt to draw a bright line between socialists and libertarians thus creates a false dichotomy.

    The real dichotomy exists between those who abdure all government and those who accept some government.

  79. July 9th, 2006 at 20:17 | #79

    I’ll follow this up with more clarification later, as and when practical. For now, I only want to say that – contra Katz’s reading – I wasn’t trying to draw a “bright line” so much as to demonstrate that the idealised libertarian has no overlap with the idealised democrat (and so, by extension, with social democracy). I was not trying to suggest that there were no modi vivendi so much as to illustrate the incompatibility of the ideal forms – which, as I read it, is where JQ is coming in. That leaves open (or for JQ himself to explore) whether he himself is an idealised democrat or a working soultion democrat.

    But either way, the question JQ brought out related to ideals, which remain of value even to the practical minded if only for providing a frame of reference.

    The other follow up should, I believe, relate to my own views of what are the essential and/or material features of libertarianism and/or democracy, and social democracy as a special applied case of the latter.

  80. Felipe
    May 24th, 2009 at 08:08 | #80

    “Question to the Libertarians:

    Does your notion of ‘freedom of choice’ involve chosing to tell other people what they should do or think?”


    I dont belive a libertarisn should support the so called “social-democracy” mainly because like any socialist derivation the state doesnt know when to stop coercing the people from their resources.

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