[ExI] Call To Libertarians

F. C. Moulton moulton at moulton.com
Sat Feb 19 07:23:52 UTC 2011

Darren Greer wrote:
> I understand there are some libertarians in this group.
There are some people who are libertarians and then there are some who
use the term with little or no comprehension of libertarian history and
philosophy.  I have at least a modest understanding of libertarian
history and philosophy so I will attempt to provide a few comments
before I get so tired that I fall asleep.

> I am currently embroiled in an e-mail discussion where I find myself
> in a rather unique (for me) position of defending free markets and
> smaller government. I am a Canadian, and a proponent of socialized
> democracy. However, I'm not naive enough to think that full-stop
> socialization is a good idea. We tried that once, in the Soviet Union,
> and it didn't work so well. I recognize the need for competition to
> drive development and promote innovation.
I will note that libertarian philosophy covers more that just economic
systems and that economics is not "starting point" of the libertarian
philosophy.  In my comments below I will l attempt to show how this

> So, being a fan of balance, I'm trying to come up with some arguments
> that a libertarian might give while explaining why that system of
>  could benefit mankind, especially in relation to the development of
> technology and the philosophies of transhumanism.
First a couple of high level points.  There are those who hold the
position that libertarianism properly understood is anarchism.  There
are those who hold the position that libertarianism can be either
anarchism or a very limited government sometimes called a "night
watchman" government.  I personally have never seen a convincing
argument that the limited government position is intellectually
defensible.  However I will attempt to provide some insight into it as
best I can. 

As I mentioned above it should be noted that libertarian thought has
often historically been divided into the "moralist" derived branch and
the "consequentialist" derived branch.  Usually on any particular
question these two are in agreement but not always.  There is not enough
space to go into the details here; just be aware of it.

Now to get to your specific question about development of technology. 
One important aspect is the allocation of resources and the knowledge
gained from markets.  This is the point that Hayek and others have made
over the years.  One major difficulty arises when government control of
part or all of an economic system distorts the feedback loops and can
contribute to unwanted outcomes.   Thus if a regulator keeps interest
rates artificially low that might make the economy rev up just like
consuming too much coffee and doughnuts can get a person revved up.  But
when the caffeine and sugar wear off then that is when the headache
arrives.  This is not to say that the government is responsible for
every economic problem; certainly many people do foolish things on their
own.  There is not utopia.  However I think that a strong argument can
be made that we are better off without the distortions inherent in
government regulation.  And also note that the recent financial mess did
not occur in a regulatory vacuum; there were many government
institutions around supposedly watching things; everyone from the SEC to
the FDIC to the FED.  People went to the SEC on more than one occasion
and told them that Madoff was not proper but the SEC did their
investigation and said there was nothing wrong.  Now to be honest it
should be noted that the regulatory failure we saw in the past few years
is not in and of itself a conclusive argument against all regulation; it
can be used at most as an argument against regulation which is not done
adequately.  Thus the foolish (and in same cases criminal) actions of
some business on the one hand and the problems of poor regulation on the
other hand are not in and of themselves sufficient to serve as a
complete argument for either increased regulation or a complete free
market.  It is all much more complicated and nuanced but hopefully I
have at least given a flavor of some of the issues.

On the topic of knowledge let me give a small example.  Consider some
business which is protected by various tariffs that keep out competition
and the workers in the business have regulations which keep their wages
high.   The owner is happy because there is not much competition and the
workers are enjoying the good live.  But consider the knowledge
problem.  The children of the workers see how much their parents make
and might decide to skip more education or training to go "work the
assembly line with the parents" and get a really nice house because the
wages are high and they can afford the mortgage.  Then there is WTO
ruling that the tariff must be dropped.  The owner finds out that the
business was not as efficient as previously thought and the workers soon
realize that on the world market their labor is not worth what they had
believed.  Knowledge about the relative value of labor and when and how
to allocate resources are some of the things which arise out of market
activity.  Of course this knowledge is not perfect.   Many people might
miss an opportunity until one person or group figures it out.   That is
the nature of human activity.

When discussing 'free markets' it is important be on guard when someone
points to a non-free market and refers to it as if it was.  Too often
persons who advocate government crony capitalism or mercantilism
fraudulently use the term 'free market'.  I think that the philosopher
Roderick Long (see link below) is developing an interesting way of
discussing this with his terminology of left-conflationism and

> Problem is, I'm not very good at it. Anyone wanna give my their
> opinions on this? I will not plagiarize you. I've already stated in
> this discussion that I will ask some people and get back to them. It's
> not necessary that I win the argument, but I do think that my beliefs
> and preferences are simply points of view, and no better (nor worse)
> than those of others. This may be the point that I'm trying to make --
> that libertarians are not by definition inarticulate right wingers or
> rabid anarchists, which seems to be the point of view of this group
> I'm talking with. 
There are no simple answers on this however let me point you to some
additional sources of information. First I suggest avoiding stuff
published by the Libertarian Party;  occasionally they might put out
something worthwhile but it unless you are well versed you can be misled.

I do not agree in total with any of the follow but I can nitpick almost

As a general source of ideas on libertarianism and economics I find that
David Friedman usually has an interesting take on things:

Roderick Long is a philosophy professor who has some interesting ideas
and links to many others
The left-conflationism and right-conflationism discussion is in the

For libertarian history I recommend the podcast series (also available
as transcripts) by my friend Jeff Riggenbach.   Jeff has covers some
very interesting topics and they are easy to listen to when out for a walk:

And while it is not totally libertarian I find that EconTalk is an
interesting set of podcasts on economics as well as occasional
discussions of biology and other areas:
In particular this podcast might answer some of your questions
Also this is an interesting discussion of the recent financial mess

And there is the always interesting Marginal Revolution

I hope this info is helpful. 


> Darren
> -- 
> /There is no history, only biography./
> /
> /
> /-Ralph Waldo Emerson
> /
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