Lessons From the Market: Libertarians

I will often describe my politics as libertarian, but that’s just to avoid having to talk about it with people who can’t think beyond the Left-Right paradigm. For the most part, I hate libertarians. The good ones are mostly nuts. The bad one, which are most of them, suffer from the same defect as Progressives. They just refuse to accept the human condition and instead imagine a world in which humans act in ways no one has ever witnessed.

Libertarians, like liberals, tend to confine their thinking to the hot house where conditions are optimal. Unlike liberals who get to experiment on real people, libertarians have to confine themselves to thought experiments. That probably explains the obsession with legalizing weed. If you spend all of your time imagining a utopian society, drugs are a good way to break up the monotony, or at least get you pas the reality of the present.

Any political philosophy that does not start with the understanding that some portion of society is irrational, no matter how you define rational, is not getting very far. Well, it’s not going to work if you try to implement it. That’s why utopian schemes always end in a blood bath. It sounds good on paper, but the people never cooperate, so the solution is to get better people, which means getting rid of the bad people.

This is obvious when you go to the grocery store. My habit is to go on Sunday morning to pick up my provisions for the week. At 8:00 AM on Sunday the crowd is tiny and it is a quick in and out for me. Today I was a little late, showing up at 9:00 AM. We were expecting a snow storm. It is Christmastime. The parking lot was 80% full and the store was packed with people. Specifically it was packed with mothers toting children.

There were old people staggering around for no earthly reason. Then there were the families, who decide a trip to the store is a good time to share their family experience with the world. What should have been a 30 minute trip to the store took over an hour. It would have been longer, but I did not need anything from the deli so I avoided that line. I also got a little lucky when I hit the register lanes. A fresh one opened as I arrived.

Now, what does this have to to do with libertarianism? Libertarians start from the premise that, left to their own devices, people will self-organize. Yet, left to their own devices, people cannot figure out it is a bad idea to bring your kids to the grocery store. They cannot figure out that a little snow is not the end of civilization, requiring them to load up with groceries. They cannot navigate the self-checkout in an orderly fashion.

There’s no way in hell these people last a week in a world without rules and custodians to make sure they follow the rules. If they found themselves in such a world, their singular focus would be on finding people willing to setup a custodial state and make sure they are safe and protected. They may not be a majority, but they are a large enough minority to make libertarianism impossible. It is at odds with nature and the human condition.

Libertarian Stupidity

When you look around the public square, you can’t help but notice that the number of interesting and insightful people seems strikingly low. It’s like television where expanding from three channels to three hundred resulted in 297 channels of crap, in addition to the previous three channels. The democratization of the media has not opened the field to new and interesting people and ideas. Instead, it has allowed in an army of mediocrities who repeat all the same stuff everyone else says. It is a sea dull-witted conformists.

A post like this in the American Spectator is a good example. There is a worthy discussion, maybe even a debate, to had over the role of populism in a modern western society. It’s a debate we will have to have, one way or the other. Populism is not an unalloyed good. It can run amok, like we saw with Hugo Chavez, where it turned into a cult of personality that has lived on after his death. Granted, it is Venezuela and western style liberal democracy is a poor fit, but populism seems like a poor fit too.

Closer to home, the Bolsheviks are probably the quintessential populists. There movement was the literal overturning of the old hierarchical order. You can’t get any more populist than that. The Nazis were certainly appealing to populist sentiment. Granted, they were battling the Bolsheviks for popular support, but that just goes to the heart of the criticism of populism in general. When the goal is simply to win enough of the crowd to gain power, populism can easily become mob rule and then authoritarianism.

The point here is that we are about o have a long debate about populism and it would be a good idea if serious people, or at least people with serious pretensions, were capable of discussing the issue like adults. It would also help that the people writing for public consumption knew something about the subjects. For example, there is a lot of overlap between political libertarianism and populism. In both cases, there is a rejection of rule by expert and the rejection of expertise as a requirement for rule.

Even if you think the similarities between populist politics and libertarianism are incidental, the rejection of populism in that post is just crude posing. It is something that has become a common feature of so-called conservatism. It’s a cultivated sneer from people with nothing to show for themselves. What conservatism has borrowed from libertarianism is the dilettantism. They parade around as if they know everything, but they sport of record of failure that would make a Cleveland sports fan blush.

In a way though, studying modern libertarianism a good way to understand why Buckley-style conservatism was a huge flop. Their goal was to engage the Left within the constraints of the political system, designed by the Left. Before long, they turned playing by the rules into a badge of honor, despite getting whipped by the Left, who never abides by the rules. Libertarians similarity shoot themselves in the foot, but always finding someway to remain a marginal player. They take pride in being ignored.