August 02, 2003

Mutual Amazement

Arnold Kling is amazed that anyone can understand the decentralized libertarian internet and still be a non-libertarian "statist":

Economics: information technology - Corante: The Bottom Line: Libertarians Need Not Apply: Congratulations to Dr. Weinberger on becoming Senior Internet Adviser to Howard Dean.  I gather that it is a position for which libertarians need not apply. I think that at some deep level it is impossible for someone as conventionally leftist as Dean to "get" the Internet... it amazes me that people can champion a decentralized Internet and be in favor of statist economic policies. 

Conversely, it amazes me that people who understand the incredibly complicated social division of labor that is the government-supported, standards-based, cooperative, information-sharing internet and not understand that agoric systems can only be built on top of a powerful and appopriate foundation of... ahem... "regulation."

Adam Smith understood this well: that the security of property and reasonable enforcement of justice needed to provide the foundations for his system of natural liberty had been built by an extremely long, hard, and painful process of "civilization." The truly natural, spontaneous, "unregulated" order--the catallaxy--is something like what existed to the north of Adam Smith two generations before his birth: a situation in which every other human being is either (a) a clan member to be assisted, (b) a clan enemy to be feared or killed, or (c) a stranger to be robbed.

The "night watchman" state--the state that can make what it says are individuals' property rights stick, and that can enforce what it says are individuals' contract rights--is an extraordinarily powerful, intrusive, and historically unusual institution. Think of it: it must make its writ run and prevail over not just roving bandits, not just local notables, but over its own difficult-to-control functionaries as well.

Michael Froomkin and I speculated that the future information age will require different foundational forms of regulation than did the past material goods age, for which Adam Smith's system of natural liberty proved remarkably appropriate. It's not clear to me what those foundational forms of regulation are. But it seems to me that starting from the "libertarian" assumption that the foundations are (a) already here, and (b) unproblematic is not likely to lead to rapid progress.


UPDATE: Looking over this, it is too vague and too abstract. But if I stick my neck out here, perhaps I will be forced to figure out what I really want to say.

Posted by DeLong at August 2, 2003 09:54 AM | TrackBack

Comments

When I come on "libertarian," I think radical right Republican who offers excuses for mean spirited social policy rather than simply fessing to enjoying mean spirited social policy. Who needs public schools or public defense or public health. Contract it out. Radical right Republicans in libertarian clothing....

Posted by: dahl on August 2, 2003 10:21 AM

President Bush is a libertarian's dream president. Huh?

Posted by: bill on August 2, 2003 10:32 AM

People need to get beyond simple ideas of "left/right".

It's not about control, or government. It's about cooperation.

The reason the Internet works, is that all the principles, are in essence, forced to work together. You either play the game by the rules or you get left behind.

Not at all incompatible with a democratic liberal political outlook. It is most conflicting with a "raze and burn" capitalist.

Posted by: Karmakin on August 2, 2003 10:36 AM

People need to get beyond simple ideas of "left/right".

It's not about control, or government. It's about cooperation.

The reason the Internet works, is that all the principles, are in essence, forced to work together. You either play the game by the rules or you get left behind.

Not at all incompatible with a democratic liberal political outlook. It is most conflicting with a "raze and burn" capitalist.

In a nutshell, the internet is a dream "society" for free market liberals like me. It's more merit-based, WAY less capital-based.

Posted by: Karmakin on August 2, 2003 10:37 AM

People need to get beyond simple ideas of "left/right".

It's not about control, or government. It's about cooperation.

The reason the Internet works, is that all the principles, are in essence, forced to work together. You either play the game by the rules or you get left behind.

Not at all incompatible with a democratic liberal political outlook. It is most conflicting with a "raze and burn" capitalist.

In a nutshell, the internet is a dream "society" for free market liberals like me. It's more merit-based, WAY less capital-based.

Posted by: Karmakin on August 2, 2003 10:39 AM

The reason there is an internet is that the mix of social and private capital necessary to foster such development was formed through the generations.

Posted by: jd on August 2, 2003 10:41 AM

Brad, why don't you write a long essay/pamphlet similar to the libertarian economic tracts? It would be nice to be able to point people to a clearly-written and up-to-date piece by a respectable author.

Posted by: Paul on August 2, 2003 11:53 AM

"I think that at some deep level it is impossible for someone as conventionally leftist as Dean to 'get' the Internet...."

What a perfectly idiotic passage. The internet I suppose was invented by rightee loons for rightee loons. We must find a way to keep "conventional leftists" off it. Typical looney right rubbish using "libertarian" as a mask.

Posted by: lise on August 2, 2003 01:42 PM

Brad DeLong wrote, "UPDATE: Looking over this, it is too vague and too abstract." No, I think it's appropriate as it stands (barring a far lengthier analysis)---after all, the arguments it's countering are vague, abstract, and...incorrect.

Kling's comments remind me of some libertarian conclusions Matt Ridley tried to draw in _Genome_. One example, IIRC, was (roughly) that cells or systems in the body are fairly automomous, without a central control, working more through cooperation, blah blah, blah, and that this could form the blueprint for a human society. Uh huh. As if cells aren't occasionally ordered to do certain things by chemical messengers (including self-destruct, as far as I know).

I like Brad's comments on the spontaneous order---this is certainly how Diamond construes the "state of nature" in his _Guns, Germs, and Steel_.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 2, 2003 02:32 PM

While it galls me to quote P.J. O'Rourke approvingly, he summed this up nicely: "Visiting Hong Kong reminds you of how much of a system of governmental law is necessary to make a free market work." (He's also pointed out that, if libertarians really want to see the totally anarchic utopia of their dreams, they can always visit Albania -- although, these days, Somalia would be a better example.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on August 2, 2003 03:03 PM

You needn't have any particular views about libertarianism to reject such airy speculation as Kling's; you only need recognize that the Internet and the economy are two different things, and that you can't simply dismiss without argument the possibility that one of them ought to be more centralized than the other. Kling is usually an insightful guy; I hope he isn't turning into one of those technotopians who uses the Internet as a metaphor for everything and then forgets that it's only a metaphor.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek on August 2, 2003 03:21 PM

As a generality, Europeans have seldom lacked enthusiasm for regulations. Their problem is rather in recognising when another regulation was one too many or not of the kind likely to enable markets to work better.

Posted by: Bob on August 2, 2003 03:21 PM

Actually, your point is well-taken.

I was more amused by the link on Kline's page (just below the one you linked with) relating to media deregulation.

If this flatulance reflects Kline's and Noam's insight and understanding regarding complex regulatory issues generally, then good luck to the libertarians.

Posted by: GS15 on August 2, 2003 05:49 PM

Brad,

If you weren't vague and abstract at least some of the time you would have to turn in your official membership in the University Professor's Club. Says so in the bylaws.

S

Posted by: Steven on August 2, 2003 08:02 PM

Actually, what you are saying reminds me of what was termed the "orthodox paradox" in development studies in the 1980s--that neoliberal policies that required the retraction of the state from the economy still required a vigorous state.

Posted by: Steven on August 2, 2003 08:05 PM

What would Prof. Kling consider to be an overall, workable 'non-statist, decentralized' set of economic policies? Most people have at least some limited or focused libertarian sympathies, but what exactly is a wholesale or more purist libertarian in the present domestic and intl. environment?

And how can Prof. Kling be right with "I think that at some deep level it is impossible for someone as conventionally leftist as Dean to "get" the Internet... it amazes me that people can champion a decentralized Internet and be in favor of statist economic policies."

First, does Dean truly "champion" a decentralized internet, as we currently know it? That remains to be seen if he should gain the power necessary to regulate the internet according to his designs, I'd be dubious.

And "getting" the internet? In the end the internet is a tool with no inherent or indivisible moral qualities of its own. True, it does possess qualities and quantities that within its initial and current (but not guaranteed ad infinitum) social/economic/political environment serves and promotes free speech in terms of quantity of information, but that does not guanantee quality, however the term might be defined. Too, Dean's campaign clearly does "get" at least some significant aspects of the internet, he's raised some appreciable funds via the web alone. And the internet does not inherently distinguish fact and truth (without getting into debates on epistimology) from highly sophisticated forms of propaganda either.

Hence I agree with much of Prof. Kling's concerns (as concerns), but not the basis of articulating those concerns. Some substantive levels of regulation will (inevitably) be needed, the question will be the quality and degree of regulation vis-a-vis each specific, each individual issue. (E.g. most obviously right now, music and movie file sharing; are not copyright protections fully warranted here? If not, private property rights in general are surely in jeopardy.)

Posted by: M Bond on August 2, 2003 09:17 PM

Let's see, Arnold Kling's example of "statists" are people who in his words...
~~

...look at the decentralized, autonomy-preserving, effervescent capitalist system and say, "It's evil. Government has to rein it in. The people who believe that markets are working just don't get it."

[following his link to the fuller discussion at http://www.techcentralstation.com/1051/techwrapper.jsp?PID=1051-250&CID=1051-070803A ]
~~~

... while Prof. DeLong's definition of "statist" is someone who believes in rule of law, the "night watchman state", and cooperative standards setting -- and he then takes Kling to task as if Arnold rejected any of this.

Yet these are two very different definitions. And I suspect that if the role of government could be meaningfully reduced just towards the level of the "extraordinarily powerful, intrusive, and historically unusual" night watchman state, Arnold would be joyous as his modern libertarian's dream came true.

So maybe if the Professor addressed the same "statists" that Arnold did -- and there's no shortage of them about -- instead of saying that anyone who's not a "statist" is asking for a world red in tooth and claw (the fallacy of the false dichotomy) then all this amazement could be replaced by mutual understanding and cooperative coordination in argument.

BTW, Nobelist Douglas North and colleagues had an op-ed in the WSJ on 7/30 about the failure of conventional economic policy throughout so much of Africa...

~~~~
... A major reason for the failure of reform is that the market-based policies -- the so-called "Washington consensus" -- that underpinned the African experiments had a fatal flaw: they assumed that economic reforms can create efficient markets without simultaneous reform of the political institutions.

Without a limit on government and a guarantee of property rights and individual liberty, "efficient markets" cannot exist. Economists have made an impressive start on the types of economic institutions needed to support efficient markets, but have not made equal strides in devising political institutions that will accomplish that objective.

It took a Sekou Toure, or a Hastings Banda, five minutes of despotism to undo the finest economic theory....
~~~

Note the *limits* on government described above. I don't think Kling would have any problem with them.

And as far as "statism" is concerned, I think there are a lot of African regimes (not to mention so many others elsewhere throughout the 20th Century) that make the "night watchman state" look *very far* from being "extraordinarily powerful and intrusive", but limited indeed.

So I find it curious that the "natural" state of government in the modern world, as seen in Africa today and throughout the last century of history, seems to be presented by the Professor here as being *too small*, with "statism" as an enlightened remedy. As if the leading practitioners of statism didn't make the world red enough by tooth and claw over the last 100 years.


Posted by: Jim Glass on August 2, 2003 09:31 PM

http://216.239.39.104/search?q=cache:http://www.law.duke.edu/pd/papers/boyle.pdf

yeah, it seems like the enclosure movement is a nonstarter for the intellectual commons.

http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=73220&cid=6588849

whether socializing or collectivizing IP is the answer or not, i dunno, but i'd say farming, education and healthcare are already heavily subsidized endeavours. plus after 200+ years of the property regime, it seems kind of fitting that "foundational forms of regulation" might shift towards defending the public domain instead. certainly, it seems, new forms of hybrid institutions may already be sprouting up...

http://www.arstechnica.com/archive/news/1053580315.html

"There are four business models out there today. The first is the vertical model exemplified in the 1980s by the IBM monopoly. The second, which dominates today, is the horizontal model dominated by AOL, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft. They are also monopolies, I might add. The third is the Linux/open-source business model. And the fourth is the Ethernet business model.

"It's based on de jure standards with proprietary implementations of those de jure standards, and it is unlike open source in that competitors don't give their intellectual property away. The competition is fierce, but there is a market ethic that products will be interoperable. And the standard evolves rapidly based on market engagement in such a way to value the installed base. There is a heavy value placed on sustaining and maintaining the installed base. That's the Ethernet business model."

even you and summers have said so!

http://econ161.berkeley.edu/Econ_Articles/Summers_New_Economy_2001.html

"New institutions and new kinds of institutions--perhaps even some that have been tried before, like the French government's purchase and placing in the public domain of the first photographic patents in the early nineteenth century (see Kremer (1998))--may well be necessary to achieve the fourfold objectives of (a) price equal to marginal cost, (b) entrepreneurial energy, (c) accelerating the cumulative process of research, and (d) providing appropriate financial incentives for research and development. The work of Harvard economist Michael Kremer (1998, 2000), both with respect to the possibility of public purchase of patents at auction and of shifting some public research and development funding from effort-oriented to result-oriented processes (that is, holding contests for private companies to develop vaccines instead of funding research directly), is especially intriguing in its attempts to develop institutions that have all the advantages of market competition, natural monopoly, and public provision."

also it seems a lot of lawyers, like moglen, froomkin, boyle and benkler all seem to be wanting to take a crack at it, which seems like if you wanted to establish new "foundational forms of regulation" that'd be a good thing :D

http://216.239.39.104/search?q=cache:http://www.law.nyu.edu/benklery/IP%26Organization.pdf
http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html

"I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands."

as for the theoretical underpinnings it seems like coase is a good place to start...

http://216.239.39.104/search?q=cache:http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/print/0,1643,8850,00.html

"How has the Internet affected Coase's Law? Strictly speaking, the law remains as valid as ever: A firm should still expand until the cost of performing a transaction internally exceeds the cost of performing it externally. But the Internet has caused transaction costs to plunge so steeply that it has become much more useful to read Coase's Law, in effect, backwards: Nowadays firms should shrink until the cost of performing a transaction internally no longer exceeds the cost of performing it externally. Transaction costs still exist, but now they're often more onerous in corporations than in the marketplace."

and in a larger context...

http://www.santafe.edu/sfi/publications/wpabstract/200101003

"(iii) well-designed institutions make communities, markets, and states complements, not substitutes; (iv) with poorly designed institutions, markets and states can crowd out community governance; (v) some distributions of property rights are better than others at fostering community governance and assuring complementarity among communities, states, and markets; and (vi) far from representing holdovers from a premodern era, the small-scale local interactions that characterize communities are likely to increase in importance as the economic problems that community governance handles relatively well become more important."

also in my mind, in addition to transaction costs, framing goods and services in terms of use vs exchange value has taken on new relevancy. cuz if network effects and increasing returns to scale have taken on new prominence in the "information age" then economics based on acquisitiveness should give way to one(s) based on sharing, where use trumps exchange in maximizing social utility. according to heilbroner and thurow's the economic problem:

"Remember that we are talking about the kind of behavior that we find in a market society. Perhaps in a different society of the future, another hypothesis about behavior would have to serve as our starting point. People might then be driven by the desire to better the condition of others rather than of themselves.

"A story about heaven and hell is to the point. Hell has been described as a place where people sit at tables laden with sumptuous food, unable to eat because they have three-foot long forks and spoons strapped to their hands. Heaven is described as the very same place. There, people feed one another."

it could also be that it's already enshrined in the constitution under free speech, and just needs a more activist interpretation, broadly defined. like i could see someone eventually making a case in front of the supremes that content is a pure public good, but i guess we're still homesteading the noosphere :D may anarchism be triumphant!

Posted by: dirk on August 2, 2003 09:57 PM

I've spent many years of my life learning to speak American, but it's difficult sometimes.

Fer instance, I grew up knowing that "socialist" and "civil libertarian" were, if not synonymous, mutually necessary and sufficient. Socialism is about freedom. Period. Americans who try to distinguish between "positive" and "negative" freedoms get so mixed up so quickly that they cease being fun after about 25 minutes of hilarity. The fun stops sooner when you find that Americans who are loudest in their talk about liberty so often turn out to be mindless authoritarians.

About the vast evils of the attempts at socialism in China and Russia there's always the easy out: "As Winston Churchill said of the USSR, `the only country with four lies in its name'."

I think there's one thing to be said beyond this jape: both the USSR and the PRC were born in war, and subjected to war long after their birth, violence taken to them by outside powers. The British and Americans, for instance, did not leave the Soviet Union until 1922 -- by which time Lenin was on his last legs, and Trotsky and Stalin had spent most of their time in power fighting the accurately named "imperialist powers."

My friend Jim Glass (who under the right business conditions may yet end up being one of my lawyers) hauls out, above, his familiar trope about the bloodiness of the communist dictatorships. He's quite right as far as he goes. He omits to observe that the imperialist nations slaughtered millions too; you can slice it two ways, either they slaughtered their own by sending them to the trenches, or they slaughtered each others'. Either way, Stalin and Mao have to fight for place in line beside General Haig, or equally respectable Prussians and Germans like the von Moltkes, Guderian or Raus. The salugher carried out, plus that made possible, by the latter two is larger, perhaps twice, what Stalin ever presided over, and approached the scale of the Great leap Forward in bloodiness. "Oh, but it was military." Yeah. Right.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on August 2, 2003 10:57 PM

Well, being libertarian or semi-libertarian is most emphatically not the same thing as being pro-imperialist (read the Cato Institute on the subject!) -- and we really ought to remember that the 20th century Communist tyrannies had no more qualms about imperialist wars than the non-Communist ones did. (Brezhnev, lest we forget, asked Nixon for permission to launch a sneak nuclear attack on China in 1969, and was refused.)

The whole debate over the extent to which the state, in a political democracy, ought to interfere in market processes and the distribution of income that they produce is totally separate from the question of whether democracy is preferable to dictatorship (and do I actually have to tell an adult this?) I speak, by the way, as an enthusiastic Democrat and income redistributor.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on August 2, 2003 11:31 PM

Brad - Some UK government departments in the 1980s introduced two administrative vetting tests on internal proposals for new regulations or technology support programmes. In summary: Proposals in the administrative machine were required to have a formal ROAME Statement attached, where R=Rationale (often a market failure argument); O=Objectives; A=Actions/Activities; M=prescrition for a Monitoring regime to assess how the regulation or programme was working out; and E=an Evaluation programme to assess cost-effectiveness at appropriate milestones. A Compliance Cost Assessment was required for proposed regulations for data collection or restricting or directing business activities to assess the likely scale of additional costs that affected businesses would incur as a result.

Neither test is foolproof, of course, but these measures did help restrain rushes to regulate and did, as I know, induce some head banging on the part of some administrators. But it needs to be said that pressures for regulation don't necessarily originate from within oppressive bureaucracies. Unanticipated events leading to public alarm often generate intense media pressures for a government to be seen "to do something", failing which media criticism mounts. Notoriously, public perceptions of comparative risks are often perverse, so fatalities in a rail accident will generate huge pressures for government intervention, regardess of cost in what is a comparatively safe transport mode, while a far large total of road accident fatalities excites little comment.

Posted by: Bob on August 3, 2003 03:40 AM

The Internet is a libertarian metaphor in the sense that the central regulation of the delivery of internet packets is minimal. Packets are opened and read at the endpoints. People use terms like "peer-to-peer" and "end-to-end" to describe it.

If libertarianism means anarchy (i.e., there is no state to defend private property), then I am against it. In fact, people on this thread have attacked as "libertarianism" a variety of positions that to me are not libertarian.

To me, libertarianism means looking for a set of regulations that works assuming that people can look after their own interests. It means assuming that people can make their own choices on health care, education, drugs (prescription and otherwise), etc. I think of libertarianism as trying to maximize the extent to which social transactions are "peer-to-peer" rather than top-down dictates from the central government.

I am a "bleeding-heart libertarian" (Dan Pink's term) in that I would like an economic safety net to protect the poor. But I do not care about the distribution of income otherwise (i.e., the ratio of income at the top to income at the middle does not concern me).

I hope that clears up some misconceptions about my views.

Posted by: Arnold Kling on August 3, 2003 05:28 AM

"Adam Smith understood this well: that the security of property and reasonable enforcement of justice needed to provide the foundations for his system of natural liberty had been built by an extremely long, hard, and painful process of 'civilization.'"

Yes. And when Smith speaks of the "invisible hand" (which phrase he only uses once in the Wealth of Nations) he already presupposes a complex and elaborate system of "Justice, Police, Revenue, Arms." Complete liberty without institutions of government/police/revenue/arms = poverty and misery (which is how he defined the precivil "savage" state).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on August 3, 2003 06:34 AM

Libertarian -

Pot smoking, porn reading, Republican.

- - -

That Libertarians are insane is proven by their presence, and indeed concentration on, the internet.

The computer was invented by governments to calculate ballistics.

The transistor was researched for missile technology.

Lithography - etching on silicon - was developed for NASA.

Switching was invented at DARPA.

3rd Generation Languages were developed by government (COBOL), Academic institutions (Pascal, Basic) or government regulated monopolies (C).

The UNIX operating system was developed at a government regulated monopoly - which ran the phone system.

Much of the current functionality of UNIX was developed at UCal Berkeley - a state University - it produced the BSD version of
UNIX which was given away for free.

TCP/IP - upon which the internet runs, was developed at a university.


The internet was, for most of its time, run by NSF - the National Science Foundation, or DARPA - Defense Advanced Research Projects - both government agencies,

HTML was developed at CERN - a European state run research establishment.

The current browsers are descended from the one written at NSCA - a US Government research facility.

Much of the decentralized infrastructure of the internet runs on GNU-LINUX. The Linux kernel was developed by someone on Finland's generous unemployment benefits, and is advanced by cooperative research.

And so on....

Most of the components of the internet - including the Newsgroups which libertarians rant against government on, were developed by, run by and created for the purposes of - government, or at the behest of government, or under the aegis of government.

The other industry with large numbers of libertarians? The airline industry of course...

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on August 3, 2003 06:43 AM

"When I come on "libertarian," I think radical right Republican who offers excuses for mean spirited social policy rather than simply fessing to enjoying mean spirited social policy."

Dahl. This quotation is priceless. If only more people.

Posted by: Bobby on August 3, 2003 06:59 AM

. . . could say it this well

Posted by: Bobby on August 3, 2003 06:59 AM

Max Weber covered most of the political institutions necessary for modern rational capitalism. I know that economist think of themselves as better than sociologists and therefore think that they can't learn anything from them - but the question of how and why Capitalism arose is one of the particular programs of sociology.

For a good basic introduction - try Randall Collins' "Max Weber: A Skeleton Key".

There's no need to reinvent the damn wheel.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on August 3, 2003 09:43 AM

Bobby

We all love your PKArchive site.
We use it over and over.

Posted by: jd on August 3, 2003 10:20 AM

Brad DeLong left out one key adjective when describing the night watchman state: small. And that's precisely the point - most libertarians don't advocate having no laws. A society where one can kill and be killed is unattractive. Libertarians (most anyway) advocate strictly limited government. That doesn't somehow mean that rules created by a small government shouldn't be enforced. Seems to me that many of the commentators are tilting at strawmen.

Posted by: Scot Johnson on August 3, 2003 10:52 AM

Arnold Kling writes, "If libertarianism means anarchy (i.e., there is no state to defend private property), then I am against it."

Well, you're in luck. Libertarianism only means anarchy to: a) people who don't have any clue what libertarianism means (i.e., who are completely ignorant about libertarianism), or b) people who know what libertarianism means, but prefer libel to honest debate.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 3, 2003 11:49 AM

Brad DeLong writes, "But it seems to me that starting from the "libertarian" assumption that the foundations are (a) already here, and (b) unproblematic is not likely to lead to rapid progress."

a) The foundation (the *concept* that laws should only deal with force and fraud) is already here, but it has never been completely practiced.

b) Anyone who insists ANY form of government or social organization is without any problems is a fool or a liar. Perhaps Dr. DeLong would care to name "libertarians" who think there is a form of government or social organization that is without any problems?

The real, honest question is, "What form of political/social/economic organization leads to the 'best' outcome?

To answer that, honest debate would require an agreed on order of priorities for what is "best". If that order of priorities is,

1) liberty, 2) democracy, 3) prosperity, OR

1) liberty, 2) prosperity, 3) democracy...

...then it can very easily be extrapolated from current and previous experience, that libertarianism is the best form of political/social/economic organization.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 3, 2003 12:17 PM

Brad DeLong writes, "But it seems to me that starting from the "libertarian" assumption that the foundations are (a) already here, and (b) unproblematic is not likely to lead to rapid progress."

a) The foundation (the *concept* that laws should only deal with force and fraud) is already here, but it has never been completely practiced.

b) Anyone who insists ANY form of government or social organization is without any problems is a fool or a liar. Perhaps Dr. DeLong would care to name "libertarians" who think there is a form of government or social organization that is without any problems?

The real, honest question is, "What form of political/social/economic organization leads to the 'best' outcome?"

To answer that, honest debate would require an agreed on order of priorities for what is "best". If that order of priorities is,

1) liberty, 2) democracy, 3) prosperity, OR

1) liberty, 2) prosperity, 3) democracy...

...then it can very easily be extrapolated from current and previous experience, that libertarianism is the best form of political/social/economic organization.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 3, 2003 12:23 PM

"About the vast evils of the attempts at socialism in China and Russia there's always the easy out: "As Winston Churchill said of the USSR, `the only country with four lies in its name'.""

Well, then one would logically be able to provide an example of an "attempt at socialism" that turned out reasonably well.

Cuba, perhaps? :-/

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 3, 2003 01:43 PM

Paul Krugman* said it best: "Socialists are control freaks." They suffer from have a vast fear that if people are left to their own devices they will behave without regard to the canons of political correctness.

Socialism presents itself as a solution to the problem of human inequality. The solution is for an elite of socialist bosses to force people to be equal. The paradoxical nature of the proposed solution seems to escape the attention of socialist theorists.

*(Prof. Krugman is suffering at the moment from the delusion that he is a leftist, but a reading of his books reveals that this is not the case.)

Posted by: Joe Willingham on August 3, 2003 03:19 PM

Arnold Kling wrote, "It means assuming that people can make their own choices on health care, education, drugs (prescription and otherwise), etc."

Very interesting. Of course, on the face of it, this is something no one would want to disagree with.

The problem is one of information:
(1) With what information are people making their decisions? Where does that information come from?
(2) If you assume/expect people to find all the information on their own, you run into terrible economies of scale.

In fact, if you look at medicine, *doctors* don't have good information and are incapable (typically) of even basic probabilitistic reasoning and utilitarian calculation, and so on. Which is why the health care system (private sector component *and* public sector component) should become *more* centralized.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 3, 2003 03:19 PM

Arnold Kling wrote, "It means assuming that people can make their own choices on health care, education, drugs (prescription and otherwise), etc."

Very interesting. Of course, on the face of it, this is something no one would want to disagree with.

The problem is one of information:
(1) With what information are people making their decisions? Where does that information come from?
(2) If you assume/expect people to find all the information on their own, you run into terrible economies of scale.

In fact, if you look at medicine, *doctors* don't have good information and are incapable (typically) of even basic probabilitistic reasoning and utilitarian calculation, and so on. Which is why the health care system (private sector component *and* public sector component) should become *more* centralized.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 3, 2003 03:24 PM

"The problem is one of information:

(1) With what information are people making their decisions? Where does that information come from?"

The Internet. That's where all information comes from.

"2) If you assume/expect people to find all the information on their own, you run into terrible economies of scale."

With Google I can find enough information to make my own choices on any question in health care, education, and drugs (prescription and otherwise) in under an hour.

"In fact, if you look at medicine, *doctors* don't have good information and are incapable (typically) of even basic probabilitistic reasoning and utilitarian calculation, and so on. Which is why the health care system (private sector component *and* public sector component) should become *more* centralized."

Yeah, right. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney and all the brilliant members of Congress should be deciding whether or not marijuana is appropriate for me. I and my doctor should NOT decide.

No, thanks. I do have a suggestion, though, Stephen. Why don't you let them (the "central authorities") decide for YOU...and leave me (and my doctor) alone?

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 3, 2003 03:31 PM

Mark,

Why do you think anyone presented with the mass of information from Google will understand how to reason correctly about probabilities, or even understand why it's important?

"...me and my doctor..." Fine: let your doctor prescribe for you all sorts of unnecessary treatments, because he doesn't understand basic probability.

Furthermore, *you* can pay for the resulting expensive healthcare sytem, and let me save *my* money: countries where the health care system is under central control have roughly the same outcomes we do, with (say) 60% of the cost (as a fraction of GDP).

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 3, 2003 03:38 PM

Jim Glass wrote:
"And as far as 'statism' is concerned, I think there are a lot of African regimes (not to mention so many others elsewhere throughout the 20th Century) that make the 'night watchman state' look *very far* from being 'extraordinarily powerful and intrusive', but limited indeed.

"So I find it curious that the 'natural' state of government in the modern world, as seen in Africa today and throughout the last century of history, seems to be presented by the Professor here as being *too small*, with "statism" as an enlightened remedy. As if the leading practitioners of statism didn't make the world red enough by tooth and claw over the last 100 years."

But this makes assumptions about the meaning of "powerful," "limited," and "small".

In "The constitution of sovereignty in Jean Bodin," (Chapter 4 of _Passions and Constraints_: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy, 1995), Steven Holmes notes that the State is made *more powerful* by *limiting itself*:

"...we can avoid repeating and reinforcing one of the most common blunders of constitutional theory. I have in mind the view that the primary or even sole purpose of a constitution is to secure individual liberty by hamstringing the government and its agents.

"What this *negative constitutionalism* neglects is that a constitution also creates institutions, assigns responsibilities, inculcates aims, and makes a country governable. Bodin, of course, is essentially concerned with the construction of a strong monarchy, capable of dealing effectively with the problems of a religious civil war. Limited government he accepts as a means to this end. His constitutionalism, such as it is, is explicitly designed to strengthen the state. By tracing out his argument in some detail, we can prepare ourselves to see the constitutionalism of his liberal successors in a similar light. Better than any other theorist, Mill aside, Bodin teaches us the attraction and persuasiveness of *positive constitutionalism*. This is a vital lesson, for the idea that state capacities can be sharply increased by strategic limitations on power turns out to be a fundamental premise of liberal-democratic thought."

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 3, 2003 03:40 PM

Mark,

One important point is that it ain't just you and your doctor---if you're like most Americans, most of the money for the expensive, big ticket items comes from insurance, public or private.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 3, 2003 07:04 PM

"Libertarian - Pot smoking, porn reading, Republican."

Where can I sign up?

Posted by: Micha Ghertner on August 4, 2003 03:18 AM

Stephen Fromm writes, ""Fine: let your doctor prescribe for you all sorts of unnecessary treatments, because he doesn't understand basic probability."

Well, thank you, King Stephen! Yeesh!

I absolutely guarantee you that my doctor (actually doctors, because my doctor calls in specialists when appropiate) knows more about my medical situation, and the appropriate medical treatments than ***you*** do, despite your "expertise" in "basic probability!"

I never cease to be amazed by the infuriating arrogance of (faux) "liberals." You have the arrogance to think that ****you**** could do better than my doctor and I, because you know "probabilities?!!" Fahgedaboutit! Where the @#$% did you even go to medical school?

This reminds me of Al Gore's response to a reporter's question about medical marijuana. King Al said that he hadn't seen the studies necessary to persuade him (or "Him") that marijuana was medically useful.

Here are DOCTORS...SPECIALISTS IN CANCER TREATMENT OR PAIN MANAGEMENT, EVEN...who think that certain of their patients can benefit from smoking marijuana. But Al f*%$ing Gore, who has never even spent a single day in medical school, deciding whether or not these DOCTORS can prescribe marijuana for their patients!

And this has nothing to do with Democrat versus Republican. I have the same absolute CONTEMPT for John Ashcroft and every Republican who thinks it's the federal governments @##$%^& business whether or not sick (or well) people smoke marijuana.

King Stephen continues, "Furthermore, *you* can pay for the resulting expensive healthcare sytem,..."

NO ONE should pay for the "healthcare system." YOU pay for the portion related to you and your loved ones (and your charitable beneficiaries) and I'LL pay for the portion related to me and my loved ones (and charitable beneficiaries).

"...and let me save *my* money: countries where the health care system is under central control have roughly the same outcomes we do, with (say) 60% of the cost (as a fraction of GDP)."

Fine! You THINK that's true, then you and the other people who think like you do, set up your OWN, VOLUNTARY centralized system.

You have absolutely no right to impose payment for any centralized (federal) healthcare system on me. To do that is a violation of my rights under the 10th amendment. (An amendment that Thomas Jefferson called the "foundation" of the Constitution...but which Democrats--and most Republicans--don't support.)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 4, 2003 03:29 PM

"One important point is that it ain't just you and your doctor---if you're like most Americans, most of the money for the expensive, big ticket items comes from insurance, public or private."

In my case, it's private insurance. But the fact that I have private insurance isn't really relevant to this discussion, because even if the private insurance refuses to pay for some treatment, I can spend my own money on it.

The point *I* was making is that the federal government has absolutely no legitimate--legally OR morally--business coming in between my doctor and me. Telling him or her what he or she can or can not prescribe.

More than 99% of these #$@% politicians have never even been to medical school...let alone are they practicing physicians...let alone do they have any expertise in the specific specialty involved (e.g. medical marijuana as an anti-nausea drug).

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 4, 2003 03:40 PM

" The problem is one of information:
(1) With what information are people making their decisions? Where does that information come from?
(2) If you assume/expect people to find all the information on their own, you run into terrible economies of scale."

I guess Stephen Fromm thinks the probability is greater that people who may live thousands of miles from the doctor and patient, who have ZERO firsthand information about the medical condition of the patient, and next to zero incentive to actually cure the patient, are more likely to bring to bear useful information, than are the patient and doctor with that firsthand information and incentives of, perhaps, life and death.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on August 4, 2003 04:14 PM

"Looking over this, it is too vague and abstract."

Sounds right. Have your daughter edit this for you and repost at a later date.

Posted by: northernLights on August 6, 2003 07:11 AM
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