Libertarians for social democracy ?

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.

80 thoughts on “Libertarians for social democracy ?

  1. PrQ,
    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. “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?

    Click to access 28.pdf

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

  3. Ernestine,

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. “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.

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

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Ernestine,
    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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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.)

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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?

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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?

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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’

  30. 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.

  31. 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?

  32. 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.

  33. ‘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.

  34. 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?

  35. Gordon,
    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.

  36. Ernestine,
    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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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 .), 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.

  39. Andrew,

    “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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. Ernestine,
    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.

  43. O6,
    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.

  44. 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?

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