Monday, July 06, 2015

Dear Professor Krugman – how to cut the libertarians’ leash

This week in Las Vegas, Freedom Fest will feature the “debate of the century!” pitting Keynsian economist and Nobelist Professor Paul Krugman against Steve Moore, supply-sider and Wall Street Journal columnist.  

(And here's a late news flash... Freedom Fest will also feature visits from Marco Rubio and... Donald Trump. See below where I explain why the Hijackers of Conservatism are so desperate to reach out to libertarians, and maintain a special effects fantasy-illusion that the two movements are somehow siblings.  Desperate, indeed.)

Let me start by saying Freedom Fest is way-fun!  I was invited to speak at last year’s event, and I found that my message – as a lonely acolyte of Adam Smith among fervid followers of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard – was both rare and greeted with attentive respect. The Smith-Heinlein branch of libertarianism is rarely heard, nowadays, but I can think of few conclaves of political zealotry where a dissenting voice would be treated so courteously. Certainly not in gatherings of today's fervid far-left or today’s raving, fanatical entire-right.

I expect Professor Krugman – famed in sci fi circles more as an acolyte of Isaac Asimov, than for his Nobel – will be similarly welcomed. Though, if you look at the Freedom Fest web site, you can see that the masters of (hijacked) conservatism are pulling out the stops, sparing no expense or effort to keep libertarianism tethered, like a dog who is deeply unhappy, but cannot break the masters' leash.

Severing that chain was my own aim, last year. It is forged out of lies, misconceptions and manipulations… but also by the neglect of moderate liberals who have shrugged and assumed that outreach to libertarians will be a lost cause.  This is foolishness of the highest order. Especially since Adam Smith was the founder of both liberalism and libertarianism.
And hence, I wrote to Paul Krugman, offering him suggested “bullet points” for his upcoming debate with one of the front men for Rupert Murdoch and the ongoing attempted oligarchic putsch.  Points that truly strike home with sincere and openminded libertarians.

 Ways to make his debate less like a sumo match, in which the right always wins, through sheer obstinacy and mountains of cash… and more like judo, in which the right wing dinosaur must stumble over its own inconsistencies.

Alas, though we have exchanged correspondence, in the past, Krugman never answered me, this time.  Well, well. Famous people and all that.  I have a backup plan, then…

…to share my advice right here, publicly.  Hoping that the message somehow will get through.

== Judo tools for separating libertarians from the mad right ==

Dear Professor Krugman,

We’ve corresponded. I’m the astronomer/science fiction author who Janet and Robin Asimov asked to tie up Isaac’s loose ends in the Foundation universe, with my novel Foundation’s Triumph.  

I see you’ll debate Steven Moore at Freedom Fest, where I spoke last year, ministering to libertarians, a movement that’s been (alas) largely hijacked by oligarchy.  

May I offer suggestions? After years trying to draw out the Rand-Rothbard poison, I’ve discovered some effective counter-catechisms that you are welcome to use.

1) The word “competition” is key! It underpins the saner libertarianism of Adam Smith and Robert Heinlein, not the present cult’s substitute obsession with -- propertarianism.”

When I point this out, the truly intelligent libertarians get guilty looks. They know these two words can be opposites!

All good things – oxygen, water, food... and property – become toxic when overly-concentrated. Smart libertarians know this. They suspect, inside, that the Murdochian hyperbole for utterly unlimited concentrations of economic power cannot be justified.

Propertarianism -- beloved of Forbes, Norquist, Murdoch and would-be feudal lords -- is opposite to the teachings of Smith and the American founders, who knew competition is only effective/creative when it is flat-open-fair. 

(The Founders seized and redistributed 1/3 of the land in the former colonies, for example, far more “leveling” than FDR ever tried.) 

Friedrich Hayek himself called for maximizing the number of knowledgable decision makers, which is not what you get when the economy is controlled by a secretive cabal of 3,000 mutually-conniving CEO golf-buddies.

Smith showed that competitive-creative arenas fail when cheaters can manipulate, as lords did in every feudal society for 6000 years. He despised feudalism far more than socialism. So why is no one using Adam Smith and “competition” against the right? I find it effective to juxtapose Smith against Rand, showing them to be opposites! With Rand's "lords" inevitably leading to feudalism's repetitiously boring and destructive song.

Were democrats to reclaim Smith, it could be a prodigious judo move. (See: Liberals Must Reclaim Adam Smith.)

Key to this… Steve Moore won’t expect it! Show that all GOP efforts -- especially Supply Side -- actually undermine competition. Top to bottom and in all ways. Today’s version of conservatism is the diametric opposite of libertarianism. At least Adam Smith’s kind.

2)  One relentless conservative meme is nostalgia, especially for the 1940s, 50s and 60s, when America was led by the stalwart "Greatest Generation." Only there's a rub. Our parents in the Greatest Generation adored one man above all others -- the very same person who moguls of the right now call antichrist. 

Our purported golden era of capitalism – the 1950s and 1960s – happened when FDR’s tax rates kept things flat-open-fair.  These are facts that demolish the nostalgia part of the right’s hypnotic mantra.

3) Refer to science fiction!  These geeks mostly love the stuff. (It’s why they invite me, even knowing I’ll diss their icons.) Talk about the future. Mention Heinlein, who was as much a liberal as a libertarian. Then ask why they ally themselves with the most reactionary, anti-science and anti-future forces in America.

4) “If this society is so awful, how come it made more libertarians than any other?” In fact, the more children of the poor and disadvantaged get healthy and educated, the more of them will become libertarians, too!

5) This one is potent. Yes, democrats and Keynsians want the state to help people… and yet, which party DE-regulates bloated government, more often?

Challenge them to name an industry the GOP - for all its ranting - ever actually de-regulated! Other than Wall Street/Finance and Resource Extraction – and those two exceptions only unleashed moguls to rape us all.

In contrast: when the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) became festered-captured wreckers of competition… Democrats abolished them!

And they deregulated Trucking, too. Or take Bill Clinton’s deregulation of the GPS system, freeing it for use by all. AT&T’s breakup ignited a golden age of cell-phone competition.

Above all, Al Gore’s bill unleashing the Internet was the greatest deregulation in history! Make them face that irony! Then demand to see the GOP's de-regulatory history, by comparison... and recall the Republicans owned every single lever of power from 2001 through 2007.  They passed anything they really cared about.  And deregulation got only lip service. Anyone who believes their promises, this time, is simply a fool.

6) Then ask why only blue states are backing away from the damned Drug War. This really makes libertarians sit up.

7) Distinguish between “liberals” and “leftists.” Yes, the latter can act crazy, supplying anecdotes for Fox to claim “Dems are even worse than Republicans! So come home to the GOP on election day you libertarians!”

But the DP is not run by its lefty radicals!  It is run by millions of moderates who want only to negotiate. (E.g. leftists may want “equalized outcomes” but liberals want all children uplifted to equal starting blocks for subsequent fair competition. A huge difference, and the reason why Adam Smith was “The First Liberal.”)

In contrast, the Republican Party is the most disciplined partisan force since 1865. (Use that word – disciplined – libertarians know it is true. And facing that truth about the GOP, they will recoil!) The so-called "differences" among GOP candidates are minuscule bits of meaningless theater. All of them repeat Roger Ailes talking points, daily. And Barry Goldwater is spinning now, at 5000 RPM. 

8) Just as "competition" is a better word to focus on than "propertarianism," so we need to address the current libertarian reflex that the word "government" is the sole and entire human sin.  

Sure, go ahead and have a reflex to hold that elite under suspicion!  (I share it!)  We need the libertarian  impulse to worry about Big Government, since that is one (but only one) of the possible ways Big Brother might arrive.

But also do look at 6000 years of human history. Recall that freedom and flat-fair competition and opportunity were repressed FAR more often by owner-oligarchies. Adam Smith recommended neutral civil servants as counters to the old, feudal sickness. 

Here is the plain fact: 
Bureaucrats can stifle flat-fair competition, if not carefully watched.  
Oligarchs always stifle flat-fair competition.

The reflex to always pour hate only at "government" (and on scientists) is being pushed by... can you guess who? That's right. Owner-oligarchs.

9) Sure, liberals and libertarians will always disagree.  We both want a better world than this one.  Libertarians think it will happen through unleashing the maximum number of free and empowered competitors into flat-fair-open markets. 

Guess what… so do liberals!  Where they differ is that liberals see a central need for committed investment… in infrastructure, education and public health... in order to maximize the number of 25 year olds who reach equal starting blocks in that flat-open-fair arena!  

And without the slightest doubt, many past Rooseveltean efforts have increased the fraction of kids reaching that free and confident readiness to compete.  Do you guys want to try some more market-oriented ways to eliminate poverty and disadvantage?  Great! Bring your plans to the table.  But remember, today's mad conservatism does everything in its power to destroy the negotiating table! 

(10) The crux:

a) Liberals are not leftists!  The latter want to equalize outcomes.  The former want just enough common action to ensure that talent is not wasted by poverty and so we'll get more equality of opportunity and starting blocks.  Sometimes this boundary is fuzzy and confused.  But in their hearts, liberals can be negotiated with, and even talked into ending obsolete programs. Liberals can be talked into emphasizing programs for the young and old and leaving adults much less coddled. Leftists make no such distinctions.

b) Libertarians are not right wingers!  Or, they wouldn’t be, if they remembered Adam Smith. If they recalled 6000 years of awful feudalism. If they weren’t suckered by propaganda financed by oligarchs and confederate fanatics.

If liberals and libertarians argued, debated fairly and negotiated, they might find surprising common ground. Overlaps that the mad-dogmatic far-left and the raving insane entire-right will never perceive.  But these distinctions need to be made, first. 

Paramount is this – libertarians must sever the oligarchy’s leash on their movement. Just look at the money that the oligarchy is spending, sending missionaries to Freedom Fest. They are terrified you all might wake up and rebel.

Libertarians must banish this notion that “I know the Republicans betray us, every time, but they are still home.”

No, they are not home.  

They are puppetmasters. 

Tell us they are ‘home’ when you can show us pro-freedom measures they ever took. 

All right. Guns. I’ll admit they talk more about guns. Talk. 

Meanwhile, it’s the dems who dissolved the CAB and ICC and ATT and unleashed GPS and the Internet and are ending the Drug War… and dems aren't even proposing much more than some tepid-tiny ideas about guns.  And scientists, the smartest folks alive, are fleeing the party of oligarchy as fast as they can.

Come on guys.  Look at actual facts.

Laugh at the oligarchic shills they keep sending to events like Freedom Fest. Tell them you won't be holding your nose and "coming home" in 2016.  The Murdochians need you in order to supply a gloss of intellect atop their heap of rationalizations for a return to feudalism.

The fellow you need to remember - and come home to - is a guy named Adam Smith.


Okay that's it.  My "capsule" list of talking points for libertarians.  Sorry, Professor Krugman. I know my input was unsolicited. And I know your own emphasis will be on pointing out that Supply Side (Voodoo) Economics has never been correct in its predictions -- not even once -- across 35 years, a track record that would have invalidated any theory based on science... 

...which is why the right hates science, so.

Still, do not miss this opportunity to reach out in other aspects. My own Freedom Fest experience suggests you might use some rhetorical jiu jitsu.  These polemical tools have been effective. I hope you’ll find use in one or two of them. Especially the contrast between "competition" and "propertarianism," in the contaxt of 10,000 years of feudalism.

Because these folks are worth the effort!  They represent a major streak in the American psyche... one of irascibly independent belief in the creative power of competition. These aren't fools, though oversimplification can make them seem foolish.

They are worth reaching out to, if only to help free them from the puppet masters who would end creative competition forever.

With cordial regards,

David Brin


*** ADDENDUM for the rest of you, out there:  Sorry, I can't help it.  I see that Glen Beck will be speaking at Freedom Fest.  OMG, the oligarchy truly is cranking up the message that "libertarians and right wingers are cousins! We bicker but we're the same team!" They are terrifed the "libertarian wing" of the GOP may bolt.

Glen Beck.  Eep. I am hoping someone in Beck's audience will draw him out on just one of the ten thousand limbs of deceit that Savanarola has regularly spun. This one is a doozy.

"Mr. Beck, you claim that George Soros is a really scary guy.  So devilishly clever and manipulative that he personally toppled eight foreign governments. Is Soros still worrisome?"

That is just part 1 of the question. It's purpose: getting Beck to scoot down the branch with a fervid rant about Soros.  But the audience questioner should then ask this followup:

"Mr. Beck, not one person in your TV audience... nor a single person at Fox, where they endlessly repeated your truisms about Soros... has ever asked about those eight foreign governments the scary George Soros 'toppled.'  That dittohead failure of curiosity is what I now want to correct.

"Would you now please NAME THEM FOR US? Right now, please NAME the eight foreign governments that George Soros personally toppled?"

Oh, to be there, with a phone cam aimed at Beck's face, when this happens!  Please, oh please someone do this and record it? 

Because yes! George Soros did help to topple eight foreign governments. It's true! On this one occasion, Glen Beck didn't lie!

Only when those "eight toppled foreign govenrments are named - when you stare at the list, in stunned, ironic amazement - you will all despise yourselves for ever having ever listened to a word shouted by Glen Beck or the Fox shills.  You will never again heed a further word they say.  And you will learn the value of asking followup questions. The value of science.


Stefan Jones said...


With that guest list, I can't help but picture this "Freedom Fest" as not so much libertarian as Freedom(tm) Fetishist. Where Freedom(tm) is a highly limited set of cherry-picked activities, plastered with evocative symbols -- e.g., flags, screaming bald eagles, and Minute Men -- that resonate with the highly limited set of Americans that is the Republican base.

They're going to be celebrating the freedom to segregate and discriminate, and show their respect for democracy by limiting the vote to Real Americans . . . you know, the ones who look and think like them.

I suggest packing hand cleanser and a discrete pair of nose plugs.

Acacia H. said...

Heh. Just as I'm planning on posting a link to a rather interesting concept, you create a new blog post.

Anyway, going off on a non-politics tangent... ;)

This looks rather interesting - it's creating underwater greenhouses, utilizing the ocean for their stable temperatures, water resources (through evaporation), and carbon dioxide.

And the vegetables don't require pesticides or the like.


And meanwhile in London, England we have an underground hydroponics garden. And to be honest, it's facilities like this that make me roll my eyes at the plant-killing bug in Interstellar. You can't tell me humanity, facing such a disease, wouldn't turn to sterile gardens using robots to do the farming? (For that matter, how did they avoid exporting the plant-killing disease from Earth when they colonized the other solar system? Why go to another solar system when you could colonize asteroids and the like? Meh...)

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

Keynsians vs Supply Siders. Ugh. As if either side had any claim to knowing economic truths.

Sorry David. I don't see how getting Krugman to advocate for Smith helps. My friends won't believe him because we will think he's been hijacked by an alien or something. Krugman's own ideas strike me as a form of mysticism and the supply-side folks are worse.

Jumper said...

I think they changed their name to "neo-Keynesians" because they acknowledged the crow they had to eat, and did some recalculation. But I'm no expert.
Dr. Brin, I posit if you go on the internet with a secret plan, it won't stay secret.

David Brin said...

Keysianism requires perpetual tweaking because it is at the Galilean/Keplerian pre-Newton level.

That is very different than Supply Side, which is at the Aztec priests on a temple ripping hearts out in absolute confidence that that will have positive outcomes level.

One has had flaws and bloopers, but is known to function in simplistic situations... e.g. increase money velocity in a recession.

The other has not one case of a successful large scale prediction to point to. Not one. Ever. Even once, or even one. Ever. And it is pushed by oligarchs precisely because if they can corrupt the system to listen to Aztec priests, then others will suffer by they will get the blood.

Alex Tolley said...

Krugman's own ideas strike me as a form of mysticism

why? He is as close to textbook econ as it gets. If PK's ideas are like mysticism that is tantamount to saying so is economics. I cannot believe that is what you mean.

Alfred Differ said...

There is plenty more crow to consume. My cat tries to help thin the population, but she won't take them on once they grow large enough. That's a bit like how I feel with some of the interesting economic aggregates fabricated from nothingness. How do we think about international trade without GDP's for example? The concept is useful in discussions, but giving it firm meaning is almost as hard as when we talk about our morals. Every time I try, I have to break things down to what individuals do and that's obviously microeconomics instead.

Fuzzy stuff fitting political needs makes me suspicious. It's too close to magical thinking. I'd rather admit ignorance.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: Ptolemy's cosmology required constant tweaking to make it work too. It had nothing to do with reality, but sure looked like it did. I suspect Keynesian theory is analogous.

I'm with you regarding the supply-siders, but I can't support a solution that looks Keynesian. Too much suffering occurred last century for me to back more of it.

@Alex: There are more than two competing schools in economics. The only one I'm tempted to believe rests upon a foundation of microeconomics. The rest strikes me as illusion that's not even good enough to be tested like we did with Aether.

I have no faults with the advocates of any of this stuff. It's just that I think we are barely past their equivalent of Ptolemy and still fighting it out over a bunch of hooey. Billions of lives are impacted when US economic policy gets swayed with this hooey. I care about that.

Alierias said...

Robert, about the garden in space -- it's pretty easy. You do it the same way they clone orchids. You need a sterile medium in a flask, a centerfuge, and a tissue culture of apical meristems. Meristemic cells are undifferentiated cells that occur in areas of new growth. They are analogous to human stem cells. The starter tissue must be from a plant that has been cultivated in a manner, usually hydroponically, to ensure it is virus/fungi/bacterial disease free.
This process is why orchids are now so cheap, because it's so easy to mass produce them.

Lloyd Flack said...

I think that libertarians have become obsessed not so much with property as with individual accomplishment or what they can see as that. With Rothbard especially, property becomes the measure of that, primarily because he is so much in love with the idea of a logically elegant philosophy and property lends itself to being the single simple measure that he needs. Rand is primarily interested in hero worship and human accomplishment and is less interested in property as the measure.
Libertarians become focused on what they see as the high achievers cheering them on and telling themselves that that is what they might become if government was not in the way. The older Adam Smith style was not focused on the high achievers but on the dignity of ordinary people. This is a huge difference between current libertarianism and the Founding Fathers. This makes them blind to cheating by their high achievers.
As well of course this fettishizing of achievement means that they try not to recognize the role of chance and circumstance in success. Also they try not to recognize collective achievement and its role as the foundation for individual achivement.

Lloyd Flack said...

I think this fetishizing of accomplishment is behind a type that I run into often among libertarians, the anti-science technophile. This type is especially common among space travel enthusiasts.
These are people who refuse to recognize any limits to human activity and always value human accomplishment above the natural world. Whatever problem we get into they think that technology will be sufficient to get us out of it. They are not concerned about population increase or resource depletion. They are over optimistic about the prospects for large scale settlement in space, thinking that it can save us from having to look after this world. They deny the danger from climate change.
I sympathize with their valuing of accomplishment but I also sympathize with the environmentalists valuing of the natural world. I believe we have to balance these two. Anti-science technophiles are hostile to what they see as not valuing human accomplishment on the part of environmentalists. They have a point but see far more of this than is really there.

David Brin said...

Interesting LF. But I do not see "accomplishment" being their focus. If it were, then the unambiguously huge JOINT accomplishments of nations and universities etc would be persuasive to libertarians.

You are right that libertarians have been talked into valuing one simplistic angel: property, and hence ANY limitation on it, even anti-trust breaking of monopolies to restore competition, becomes evil. As "government' is now equivalent to Satan... like hating and throwing out all the umpires and referees... then confidently expecting sports to work.

Lloyd Flack said...

I think they either refuse to recognize joint accomplishments or they try to see them as individual accomplishments of the leaders. They tell themselves that these would happen even if private enterprise was the sole source of funds. They want to believe that the market can solve all social problems or that those problems that it can't solve are not important.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Have you read "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money"?,_Interest_and_Money

There is no wishing into existence just straight forward logic accompanied by rigorous testing examples in the real world

I think Dr Brin is being a little harsh when he says Keynesian Economics is at the "pre-Newton level"
And it has an impressive history of predicting outcomes - most recently mostly by predicting failure of the "Austerity" - which duly came to pass!!

I think it is at the Newton - Pre-Einstein level and as such is a very good tool which is normally not used because it recommends actions that do not fit with the "punish the poor" that our "Very serious people" prefer

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I have it on my shelf here along with von Mises 'Human Action', Smith's two big books, Hayek's many books, and a number of others that deal with comparisons and critical analyses of them all. I've got a few primer books for teaching economics concepts to people first encountering them and a couple of specialist dictionaries to help as well. Reading through all of them is a challenge I doubt I'll complete in this life, but they aren't sitting pretty on my book shelf. Some of them are getting to be a bit ragged.

I started to fill up that particular shelf after reading Matt Ridley's book 'The Rational Optimist.' He has an issue with the advocates of policy changes regarding climate change that I had difficulty refuting. I didn't know enough economics to do more than recite the incantations I was taught to defend against supply-side arguments. So... I decided to learn. I'm still finding it difficult to refute the foundation of his complaint. Some of the policy changes desired by those who want to avoid climate change are far, far worse than doing absolutely nothing. I've got friends who essentially advocate for policies that would cause mass starvation and they don't believe it when I tell them they are being stupid. They think I doubt the science when I really don't. I doubt their economics.

Keynes' straight forward logic doesn't work. It's smoke and mirrors. It's geocentric astronomy. You CAN make it work, but only after adding an infinite number of epicycles will you get the path of Mars across the sky. You get nothing else, though, because it is a fraud underneath.

My background is as a physicist, so I'm at risk of simplifying and dismissing the complexity of the work of those outside my field. I admit that. My love in physics, though, was the construction of models. I didn't care about precisely which models were Right or represented the True way the universe worked. I find joy in HOW people model the universe around them. Failed models are still fun because they either worked for awhile until our knowledge out grew them or they helped direct us away from false knowledge. Very often they do both. Keynesian models of our economy look VERY much like geocentric astronomy to me. They start with monstrous assumptions few bother to challenge and then proceed toward a solution space requiring infinitely many tweaking refinements. One doesn't have to be a scientist to see the dishonesty in a zealot's stand when they avoid examining their assumptions. An honest philosopher would revel in the opportunity to argue about them, but the people we put in charge of our governments have much stronger motivations for avoiding the bright, hot sunlight I think their pronouncements should face.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
I'm an engineer - like a physicist but with a bit more of "If it works I'll use it"

I have never seen the flaw in "Keynes' straight forward logic" - and it seems to describe the world I inhabit so if you can explain - please do

I find his ideas about the velocity of money and the adverse effects of high interest rates very similar (if more detailed) to those of Adam Smith,

The main ideas I take from Keynes are
(1) Recessions are caused by lack of demand and governments should spend counter-cyclically to reduce the swings
(A "swing" in economics will represent a huge number of people being tortured by not having jobs or money)
(2) The "money supply" is a requirement of a modern society and things like Gold are unlikely to expand at the required rate
(I liked Heinlein's explanation of how the money supply should be expanded in "Beyond This Horizon")

Governments worked quite well using this until the rich took over and decided
(1) Not to pay a sensible amount of Tax
(2) A high level of unemployment would make the country more efficient

Since then the "reward" for improvement (as per our earlier conversation) has been stolen by the 1% and the overall growth has been much lower than it would have been

Keynes work also appears to agree with the massive amount of data in Piketty's book (which is the only book I have had to re-charge my Kindle while reading)

Paul451 said...

Colorado gave away free (or near free) birth control to low-income woman and teenage girls across the state for 6 years, funded by Warren Buffett's healthy charity.

Teen births fell by 40% and abortions fell by 35% (**), saving the state tens of millions in direct Medicaid costs and god knows how much in welfare costs over the next 20 years, but the program still can't get government funding to continue.

[** NYT says 42%, CDPHE says 35%, I'll use the lower figure.]

Duke said...

Krugman has been out of touch on a week long bicycle tour recently, so that could be a reason for no response from him. See . Plus with the Greek situation, he must be getting lots of communications.

Laurent Weppe said...

Sooooo, basically your advice to Krugman is to go there and repeat your speech, instead of whatever he intends to say?

Jerry Emanuelson said...

In the main post, David does an excellent job of separating classical libertarians from those who have been trying (with very great success) to steal the word "libertarian."

Lloyd Flack tries to re-assemble libertarians into something monolithic, which is quite ridiculous.

During the past two decades or so, since libertarians have been described as either something monolithic or a part of the "right wing," most libertarians have simply decided to run away from the spotlight and maintain a very low profile.

First, (long before I was born) we were called "liberals." When that name was stolen, we called ourselves "classical liberals" and then later, "libertarians." I have thought about using the term, "classical libertarian" to describe myself. But when will the name-stealing end?

The point is that words must have a particular meaning to be useful. It is fine for languages to be fluid and slowly evolve, but not to the point where the meaning of significant words changes completely every few years.

The meaning of "libertarian," and its predecessor terms, has always been very broad; but it has historically been used to describe the opposite of "authoritarianism." When the popular meaning of a word becomes so broad, though, as to encompass its opposite, the word becomes useless.

This situation became so bad that, in 2008, the U.S. Libertarian Party nominated an staunch authoritarian for its presidential candidate.

Lloyd Flack said...

Perhaps I should have been a bit clearer. I was talking about the strain of libertarianism that you hear most these days, the one influenced by Rand or Rothbard. The one that tries to reduce morality to "no coercion". Yes there are other types of libertarian but this is the type that David was referring to when he talked about proprietarianism. This is the strain of libertarianism that right now has the most influence.

ZarPaulus said...

The $495 admission fee really tells you all there is to know about "Freedom Fest."

locumranch said...

What we have here is political fraud on a massive scale, one with which our host appears to share oligarchic complicity, the equivocation of the economical with the political and the social, the problem being that these are non-identical concepts unified with the specific intent to serve (bipartisan?) authoritarian purposes.

This is what the Smithian 'Invisible Hand' has become: A Tool, an Iron Fist, designed to (efficiently; invisibly) compel sociopolitical movement toward despotism; the deliberate re-purposing of marketplace efficiency (its outcome, product, tail) to wag the entire sociopolitical dog; and the antithesis (the enemy) of both autonomy and democracy.

Time & time again, I've tried to make this point but have failed miserably, leaving me no choice but use another's (better) words:

"Democracy is the worst form of government. It is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical. No machinery has yet been contrived to carry out in any but the most farcical manner its principles. It reduces wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap and demagogy.

The critics of democracy have the easiest of tasks in demonstrating its inefficiency. But there is something even more important than efficiency and expediency- justice. And democracy is the only social order that is admissible, because it is the only one consistent with justice. The moral consideration is supreme. Efficiency, expediency, even practical wisdom and success must go by the board; they are of no account beside the categorical imperative of justice. Justice is only possible when to every man belongs the power to resist and claim redress from wrong. That is democracy. And that is why, clumsy, inefficient, confused, weak and easily misguided as it is, it is the only form of government which is morally permissible.

The ideal form of government is an enlightened and benevolent despotism; but that is an absolutely unrealizable dream much more visionary than any democratic Utopia. There can never be an adequately enlightened and justly benevolent despot. Your philosopher king is not a practical success. Put a Sir Thomas More in power, and you have a Torquemada; your ineffectual Marcus Aurelius is succeeded by a Commodus. Justice is only possible through the diffusion of power, and it is in point of fact by the progress of democratic power that the progress of justice has been brought about [Briffault,The Making of Humanity,1919]".

This is exactly what is happening with this whole EU-Greek mess: Economics has been & is being used to crush democratic dissent. This is why 'Progressivism' (with its uniform standard of 'political correctness') is so despicable; this is why any uncompromising ideology tends toward authoritarianism; and this is why our host's dreams of 'Scientific Rule' are so dangerous. All are monopolistic oligarchies, the first being monetary, the second being mass tyrannical (majority consensus), the third being ideological and the fourth being knowledge-based.

This also why the true 'laissez-faire' libertarian supports balkanisation, State's Rights, proprietarianism and (even) the New Confederacy because it only through the Dissipation, Diffusion & Decentralisation of Power that both individual liberty and democracy can still exist, hence our fascination with self-defence & guns, rest(ing) assured that the oligarchs (of all-types) will get theirs, sooner or later, and this is also why the monied GOP oligarchs are busy kissing our arse.

George Soros is a Lefty Oligarch, so much so that all this "You're wonderful, George Soros" claptrap only proves that some 'progressives' are shameless toadies who prefer a boot on their neck AS LONG AS it's a ideologically-sound PC boot.

David Brin said...

Duncan I stand by my Pre-Newtonian appraisal of Kaynsian economics. They have some basic notions of cause and effect that are generally valid, at the level of Galilean and even Keplerian descriptive laws of cause and effect. … certainly compared to the always-wrong Aztec gods-propitiating-human-sacrifice approach of Supply Side…

But the Newton-equivalent of Keynsianism would seem (to us) almost akin to Hari Seldon. We would have useful models that reveal in stark clarity the recurring tendency for capitalism’s winners to thereupon start to CHEAT and warp the very same competitive systems that had benefited them. Such models would explicitly reveal this inherent flaw and contradiction in market economies – though it was certainly mentioned, qualitatively, by Ricardo, Adam Smith and Marx. And both Roosevelts.

This tendency, for successful competitive systems to then be drawn toward a quasi feudal attractor state, would be blatantly described and analyzed and counterbalanced, were Keynsian economics an actual science.

Alfred truly draconisn CO2 restrictions are an extreme case. We have spoken often of TWODA. Heavy investments in sustainables and efficiency research that would have brought us to sustainables tip-over possibly a decade earlier. That should have been the BASELINE from which more ambitious measures were then negotiated. Those who dismissed draconian measures as the only alternative to doing nothing were zero-sum crazy-folks, or else coal-petro shills.

Your Ptolemaic view of Keynsianism is as wrong as Duncan’s Post Newtonian one! It is a proved fact that in recessions caused by insufficient demand, you want an infusion of high-velocity money, meaning that it must go to the lower middle class, where it will be immediately spent, and the best way to do this is by hiring them to do productive tasks, like defeating the Japanese in WWII or rebuilding infrastructure. Likewise, wise Keynsians believe in spending some good times surplus building reserves… as Jerry Brown is doing in America’s most successful state.

Above all, Keynsians look at evidence and revise. Their opponents absolutely do not.

======counter-snarks ===

Laurent Weppe, you clearly did not read my essay, or you would not have said such an incredibly stupid thing. Try stepping on the brain-clutch, then easing into first before setting your yap in motion.

I can scan and tell when locum is drooling and sputtering. He no longer even cares that paragraphs contradict each other. I advise a trip to the pharmacy.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Laurent Weppe, you clearly did not read my essay"

On the contrary: I came, I read, and I quite easily noticed that you merely took tropes and ideas you had already written extensively about when you presented your worldview and barely even changed their layout: you're basically asking Krugman to become your spokesman, even if you're unwilling to acknowledge it (not that I don't understand the sentiment, mind you)

David Brin said...

Ah, then being an offensively off-target twit was *deliberate*? Thank you for the clarification, I can see where someone of delicate ego and inferior cognition would interpret things in that zero-sum way.

What a bore.

David Brin said...

PS... also an outright liar, since only by skimming with hostile intent would that interpretation even remotely occur to a fool.

Anyone actually reading would have seen the many places where I phrased it as suggested arrows PK might choose to add to his quiver, effective polemical tools offered from one ally to another, in case he decided to add one or another to his arsenal.

BTW, anyone else knows you are a liar, too, so don't even pretend you did more than quick-skim. Look in a mirror and repeat the outright lie.

Really? You'd lie to your own reflection?

Laurent Weppe said...

Oh Come ON: your essay can be summarized as:

"Dear Professor Krugman
Here's a 1.600 words-long digest of my own political stances
Kidding, kidding, I know you're here to present your own views instead of mine but wouldn't you add one argument or two I personally used, pretty please?

Not that the points you made are devoid of merit, but when roughly 88% of your text is a retread of your own blog's political posts with the rest sounding like some overeager fan mail, well, I most certainly am not about to feel even a sliver of remorse for reacting sardonically.

Alfred Differ said...

@David & Duncan: Regarding the notion that recessions are caused by a lack of demand, I’ll challenge both of you to demonstrate that in a non-circular way. The Keynesians assume it and to many this belief is well justified. It sure looks like that is the case. However, the causation assumption can be attacked by an exploration for other models that fit the observed data. Ptolemy’s model worked, but after a bit of refinement offered by Kepler, so did the Copernican model. When two models fit the observed data, it is worth stepping back from both of them to take the time to look for even more of them. When multiple models fit our data, there is an argument to be made that we are making distinctions about things for which distinctions make no real sense. Before you both recite this particular incantation, you really should take a close look at the Austrian school model and be able to compare and contrast them. It makes the case for recessions being the bust associated with misallocation of private resources during a previous boom. When governments engage in counter-cyclical spending, they create a resonant feedback ensuring the next cycle. Recessions might still happen without government distortions in the market since we can still create a modern equivalent of a tulip craze, but the correct role for government meddling if any is to be tolerated is to provide damping feedback like the Fed tries to provide for currency inflation.

I don’t want to turn this into an economics diatribe. This isn’t the place for it. What I do want to accomplish is to point out that many people, including the two of you apparently, are guilty of a bit too much blind faith in an economic model that has been successfully attacked by scholars, but is still defended by the modern equivalent of astrologers who provide council to kings. Ptolemy’s model worked to a point and so does Keynes’ model, but the predictive value of each is fundamentally flawed. We can do better… and have.

@Duncan: Blaming the rich cheaters isn’t without some merit, but it is very easy to take that too far in defense of a failed ideology. I’ll support you in slamming cheaters, but we might not always agree on what constitutes cheating. Fighting against the failed ideology is not enough to convince me someone is cheating.

@David: You are spot on with respect to TWODA. When I make similar arguments the only thing I add is a demand that the ‘right’ should be co-opting the movement. They should be doing all the TWODA things AND cross-blocking the fools who advocate the draconian CO2 measures. If they owned the issue, they would gain so many political allies their heads would spin while the loony folks would be pushed aside. That isn’t going to happen, of course. You’ve pointed out how unwilling the ‘right’ is to engage in political negotiations.

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin,
Do you have a shorter version of this essay that could be contributed to the Gaston Gazette? The word count is a bit over their usual average. I tend to feel pretty alone in the county, but at least the paper does give me a voice once a month or so. In between I have to suffer through the likes of Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, John Stossel, and a host of local right wing voices. I do occasionally see other reasonable people in the paper, but their frequency of appearances in total is about equivalent to mine.
Be well,
Jared W Frick

locumranch said...

Aldous Huxley said everything I just said. In 1958, , yet all David can offer in rebuttal is ad hominem, catchword repetition and the furious scapegoating of political adversaries, all of which reflect the misological fallacy, the moralising belief that what we desire (twoda) is rational because we desire it.

This is a tautological truth: An oligarchy is an oligarchy, regardless as to whether or not said oligarchy is due to monetary wealth, military force, the noblest ideology or scientific expertism.


occam's comic said...

I think that the problems with economics as a science go very deep.
- First of all there is a categorical problem. Pretending that the “economy” is separate and independent of the social system in which that economy operates is a fundamental problem.
- Secondly the major schools of economics don’t explicitly incorporate the truth that the human social system is a subset of the biological ecosystem and depends on that ecosystem for its continued existence.
-Thirdly, all major schools of economics don’t recognize and incorporate the laws of thermodynamics.

I would use the analogy that economics as a science is in its alchemy stage – some useful ideas and results in a sea of philosophical misunderstanding.

Alfred, you may find the (out of the mainstream) work of Kenneth Boulding and General Systems Theory to be more in tune with physics background.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin, I do not think you gave enough thought to the issue of guns. Many, seemingly sane, libertarians I have known over the years will turn into the equivalent of Pro-Life fanatics when they think about their precious dick-extenders being taken from them. You can get them to think rationally about the massive scam that is the Grande Olde Confederate Party, but the moment they enter the voting booth all they can think about is limp-wristed bureaucrats confiscating their firearms, leaving them defenseless. There has been a strain of apocalyptic thought that the Right Wing Nut Jobs have infected too many libertarians with; such that it is pointless to try to fix the system with Democratic ideals when the whole system will soon crumble. Then all the mooching welfare queens will want some of the Prepper's food stores, only to be fended off by the gun-toting ubermench. Any insistence that we all work together to improve our economy and environment is viewed as a direct threat to the Prepper's driving need to protect their families and (more importantly) their fantasies of gloating over the starving, defenseless "sheeple".


Alfred Differ said...

@occam’s comic: Thanks. I’ll look him up. Honestly, though, I think any attempt to treat economics as a science is doomed. Our science method includes a set of customs that enable us to deal with sensory data (subjective) as objective data. As long as we stick to our conventions (varied between the sciences) when can agree on what qualifies as objective. Nothing in economics is going to pass any of these customs as tests until we get fMRI’s involved in examining what people really want. I’m not knocking any of the economics schools when I say they aren’t doing science. I’m just pointing out a fact that we should appreciate so we can make the best use of what they learn that we can.

There is also some fundamental conceptual confusion going on I think. For example, the only social groups that actually economize are small units like individuals, families, and small corporations. Communities do not economize their use of resources, so it is a mistake to confuse a market with an economy. Markets exist to enable economizers to trade with one another. Markets are simply not economies. Von Mises and Hayek took slightly different approaches to deal with this confusion, but I like Hayek’s best. He distinguished between economies and catallaxies in his model. Both of them, though, clearly stated that we would not be able to address problems of prudence (Smith’s language) unless we considered the larger scope of human actions. For example, the apparently irrational actions of modern market participants (e.g. outlawing Human Kidney sales)makes sense once you realize prudence isn’t the only virtue in play.

Dave said...

I think Lloyd Flack's sample of libertarians is a bit skewed, and I'm sure my sample size is bigger!
I'm not sure that I get David Brin's distinction between pro-competition libertarians and propertarians. Maybe I just don't get out enough.
Lakoff and Johnson's discussion about "old neuroscience" and "new neuroscience" seems to resemble what happens in economics. They claim neuroscience was hamstrung by the unintentional incorporation of some assumptions of western philosophy into the methodology. And since more recent, correct neuroscience refutes these philosophical assumptions, the early neuroscientists faced great difficulties finding anything other than results predetermined by these hidden hypotheses.
Even in physics, the bias of the scientist can throw off results. In economics, bias is stronger and our ability to control the experiment is weaker. We are practically forced to abstract away the ability of persons to learn, yet this is an important aspect of the problem. Philosophical assumptions sneak in.
“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

David Brin said...

Yes, Atomic ZeppelinMan, the last refuge of dogmatism addicts is to glom onto a single issue and simplistically elevate it into a white-black litmus test. Abortion has enabled millions to shrug off any and all ways that the right has betrayed their own interests. When they cannot get riled over embryos, then it is guns, despite the fact that both issues are in fact analog, not digital. And there are potential compromises that would give every reasonable person more of what they want or need.

Re guns: Alas, hallucinations of intent to grab all guns will be the fallback of confederate, no matter how many facts show they’ve been betrayed by the right.

This is not solely a phenomenon of the right. Leftist PC police cannot allow past reforms to reduce their ire. Hence they will deny any progress has been made, re any agenda items, whatsoever. The recent “micro-aggression” scandal shows that sanctimony addiction is not monopolized by one side. (Though one side does greater harm and is currently more dangerous.)

Our own in-family example is locumranch, who has repeatedly shown that the very concepts of analog spectra, positive sums, negotiated outcomes and progress are simply outside of his cognitive range. Even in theory. Instead of seeking to address this lack, it simply makes him angrier. Oh BTW: Locum. I know Huxley well. I read Huxley (an archetype positive-summer) thoroughly. You are no Aldous Huxley.

David Burns, try again. Since cheating by the top owner caste was THE destroyer of market-competitive systems for 6000 years… and feudal oligarchies were blamed by Adam Smith for the destruction of flat-open-fair capitalism… the facts about toxicity of excessive property-concentration are as plain as the air surrounding you. Air that you take for granted. If you cannot look at 6000 years and nearly all cultures, then I am not responsible for that willful blindness.

But at least you engage the topic at-hand, arguing over substance instead of stupid insults. Unlike certain insipid snarkers. Mr. Weppe has – as on some other occasions – sunk to levels triggering “why should I bother reading the twerp?” response. Yes, it is a layer well above troll – you all know that I put up with a lot before banning - but he’s sunk well-below any interest to me. He’s on one month ignore. Marroon.

Dave said...

Dr. Brin, thanks for the response, but I don't know what you're responding to, propertarians, economics, or something else?

LarryHart said...

@locumranch, the quote was beautiful. Too bad you have to spoil it with the Glenn Beckian rant afterward.

This is exactly what is happening with this whole EU-Greek mess: Economics has been & is being used to crush democratic dissent.

Yeah, but have you noticed it's not working?

This is why 'Progressivism' (with its uniform standard of 'political correctness') is so despicable;

You misspelled "Red-State jingoism".

this is why any uncompromising ideology tends toward authoritarianism; and this is why our host's dreams of 'Scientific Rule' are so dangerous.

Our who the what now? Seriously, what "dreams of Scientific Rule" are you talking about? As I'm sure you're familiar with Ayn Rand, you sound an awful lot like Mr Thompson assuring John Galt that if Galt plays ball, his "gang" of industrialists will be given the sorts of spoils that rulers always expect.

and this is also why the monied GOP oligarchs are busy kissing our arse.

You misspelled "kicking".

At best, the monied oligarchs are whispering sweet nothings in your red-state ears, and you, who despises the feminine so much, fail to recognize the metaphorical position this casts you in.

Dave said...

Looking at your link, you are probably responding about propertarianism. I think your definition may be a bit eclectic. But then again, it's not in common use, so maybe I am the one who is confused. Why must people who care about competition not care about property rights? To me, an application of the idea of propertarianism is, when the USG makes laws against smoking pot, they in effect claim to own all the pot and everyone's bodies. From this standpoint, the oligarchs should prefer to control the government rather than reduce or limit its scope. They are a danger in either case, and no social analysis or innovation can ignore that.
Maybe I'm going slow today, you got out ahead of me. I'm far from certain I know all the implications of propertarianism. I just didn't see the obvious conflict between propertarianism and competition that you seem to see.

Acacia H. said...

I'm being reminded again on why I took a break from CB.

It's a shame such an intelligent and insightful individual as Dr. Brin allows himself to rise to trolls and to act churlishly. Ah well. Time to stop reading the comments again; the primary articles are still good after all.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

@David Burns,

I can't speak for our host, but here's the way I see it. When you've just discovered a virgin continent on which there are plenty of resources for all, and all that limits your wealth is your willingness and/or ability to put in the necessary work to cultivate those resources, then there is no conflict between personal property and personal liberty. If you work hard and become filthy rich, while I like to idle in the sun and just work enough to barely subsist, your wealth does me no harm.

However, when you acquire enough of the continent so that the only food, water, housing, etc. are your personal property, then (through no failing of my own) I am forced to deal with you on your terms for the very means of survival. In that situation, I cannot be said to be "free" in any meaningful way.

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David Brin said...

Mr. Burns did you even notice your strawman? “Why must people who care about competition not care about property rights?”

Please. The suffix “ianism” makes clear that the main word is a primary focus. It is the paramount value. “Libertarianism” should mean that liberty is a primary value. Propertarianism means that property is the PRIMARY value and that it should be unlimited.

So do not conflate (or try to) that dissing that monstrous religious cult means not caring at all about property rights. Indeed, you cannot have competition without a generous allowance for property to be one of the prizes of successful competition.

You utterly ignored the fundamental point that unlimited property leads to obligate oligarchies who then cheat and ruin competition. You know this to be the historic fact, across more the 60 centuries, yet you try to distract and shout squirrel and point at a blatant strawman

If you intend to try tricks like that, when you know the answer in advance, then I will cease participating in conversation with you. You are willfully evading discussion, rather than seeking an exchange we both can learn from.

Lloyd Flack said...

Part of the problem is that many libertarians frame liberty in terms of property rights. They talk about self-ownership and talk about liberty as a property right over yourself. I think this mostly an attempt to simplify morality by making what they see as the crucial moral questions all matters of one simple thing. But property is not simple at all. It is a complex and subtle concept concerning usage and control rights.

David Brin said...

LF of course the wholly owned and co-opted "libertarian" "institutes" like CATO promote relentless well-funded propaganda that property rights must be unlimited and are the absolute determiner of liberty! Because those who pay the propagandists want unlimited property in order to restore feudalism and end liberty the old fashioned way. The way it was crushed in 99% of human generations, by owner lords.

Try this test on such fools who swallow that line. Would it be worrisome if one person owned everything and could kick anyone off his land? Hm, then there should be limits. How about a hundred people owning 98%? How's competitive enterprise working, then? We know how the Greatest Generation answered such questions, voting for FDR over and over again, which engendered the most spectacularly successful middle class, entrepreneurial-competitive market economy in all of history.

And that generation would have called those ranting "hate all government" fools and traitors. WORRY about dangerous govt over-reach? Sure! Calling govt the only possible threat to liberty? After 6000 years of feudal bullies? That's myopia tipping into insanity.

Lloyd Flack said...

That's part of it but much of it is seeking simplicity and certainty and following them over a cliff. Rothbard appears to want logical elegance so much that he can't see when this is leading him to attrocious conclusions.

Lloyd Flack said...

And consider that the think tanks might have corrupted a certain type of right-wing billionaire rather than the other way around. Or at least that the corruption was a two way street
The think tanks tell them how important they are and how much socity owes to them. Very flattering especially if they do have a sense of vocaton and take prid in their work. I can see how it could appeal to someone with not much of a life outside their work.
As for the think tanks I think that some members of them, especially ones with an economicbackgrond, are tempted to try to see everything in economic terms because of training and because that makes their work more important.

Paul451 said...

You can't feign tolerance for an idiot like Locumranch, then go off your tree when someone like Laurent offers you a little teasing criticism. Re-read with fresh eyes what you wrote to him, say sorry, make up. CITOKATE and thick skin, remember?

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I agree completely with Lloyd Flack's last two posts. The relationship between think tanks and their financial contributors is most likely a always two-way street. They simply tend to reinforce each others errors.

The attraction for many people for many forms of libertarianism is the apparent simplicity and certainty of the philosophy. But the reality is not simple, and certainty is always just beyond our reach. Knowledge and certainty are mutually exclusive.

The leap from knowledge to certainty is a leap of faith, and a leap that nearly always blinds a person from seeing errors, and even obstructs a person from straightforward methods of error correction.

This does not mean that libertarianism is wrong. In fact, I think it is closer to reality than any other philosophy. There are many tempting traps in libertarian philosophies, though. The big value of David Brin's ideas on this subject is that they can keep you from falling into those traps of deceptive simplicity and certainty.

Marino said...

"Smith showed that competitive-creative arenas fail when cheaters can manipulate, as lords did in every feudal society for 6000 years. He despised feudalism far more than socialism. "

Socialism didn't exist as political force in Smith's times (unless you label "socialist" the Diggers of the British Revolution), the first attempts to turn socialist ideals into a political force were Babeuf and Owen, well after Smith died. Just nitpickin'.

Mr. Flack is right when he points that Libertarians attempt to frame rights as form of "property", which usually end in some nasty logical trap: "I" cannot "own myself", unless a "ghost in the shell" fallacy where there is something (will, soul, whatever) owning the body.
If any, rights should stem from rights and human person being "unalienable", which literally means "not for sale". And a main attribute of "property" is "something that could be bought and sold"
btw, I have to deal with a Randian libertarian on an Italian blog I follow... well, exporting that ideology should have been a good reason to declare war...(I'm joking...)

Paul SB said...

Jerry, I agree with your statement about the value of Dr. Brin's ideas (last sentence above), but I would like to add another. I kind of wish I had earlier, in fact, before he and Laurent got into their little kerfuffle (communication by internet lacks all the non-verbals, proxemics, etc, which make sit easier to misread one another). The crux of the matter between them was that Laurent seems to have misread Dr. Brin when he mocked him by saying he wants Krugman to replace his speech on supply-side economics with his own. Brin made it very clear near the end that he was suggesting that Krugman augment his speech with a few of Brin's points.

That brings me to the other source of value. It sounds like Krugman plans to deliver a speech oriented around disproving supply-side economics, something that has been done before. In fact, the results of "Reaganomics" decades ago made it clear that supply-side economics doesn't work. The problem is that huge numbers of people are not persuaded by facts, or no one would still cling to this debunked theory. People by and large choose what they believe for social and emotional reasons. Generally this means they find a social group they like, or are born into a place where there is only one social group, and they conform to that group's orthodoxy. Once they have chosen a 'side' they more or less parrot back their group's orthodoxy (though in some cases they, for emotional reasons, reject that orthodoxy and usually drift to the opposite extreme and a life of social marginality). The level of vehemence and vitriol with with they do this depends on many factors, one of the most important of which is how threatened they feel. This is why the right-wing rhetoric is so consistently looney compared to the left-wing rhetoric. The American right-wing knows at some level that they are losing the so-called culture wars. They have enough power to keep themselves in office for a long time, but their brand of scapegoating has been steadily losing sway for decades.

Since so many people are minimally persuaded by facts, then Krugman is going to need a different sort of argument. Anti-smoking campaigns spent decades trying to convince people to not smoke by showing them the cold, hard facts of what smoking does to the human body, but huge numbers of people did it anyway. They started making more headway when they simply started to portray smoking as uncool, using peer pressure against the smokers. When Dr. Brin points to aspects of Adam Smith's writing that are ignored by the right-wing extremists, what he is doing is giving people who have chosen the Libertarian label an out, a way to maintain their membership in the Libertarian camp while rejecting the unthinking orthodoxy of the Rand school of thought, the orthodoxy that makes Libertarians sound as blind as Republicans. Facts are great, but huge numbers of people will merely select those facts that they can logically twist into appearing to support the orthodoxy of their chosen tribe.

David Brin said...

Paul451 I agree that it would have been better simply to ignore L Weppe's snark. But notice that I only got truly angry when he flat out lied that he had actually read the posting.

As for Rob H... well, I have never come to his realms, as a guest and dissed him, the way Rob does his like, critical drive-bys here. Even when he's right... as he may have been -- slightly -- here... his drive-by snipes are, well, ironic to say the least.

But ah well. What it all REALLY shows is that I read you guys. I pay attention.

Dave said...

@LarryHart, thanks for the explanation of the implications you see in propertarianism. I'm not sure I really get it yet, though. First of all, let me emphasize that I am not advocating anything so far, I am just trying to understand what others are saying.

In your scenario (very flattering to me) I am rich and charismatic enough that everyone (whether they work for me or not) just lets me take over? If I am such a stud, how is a government going to stop me? Is it the institutional structure that has allowed my dominance, or have you just stacked the deck? I do not even know what you think is different between this world and that one.

@David Brin, if you prefer not to answer a question, feel free to not answer, rather than scolding me for asking. I know what I think, yes (though it is still evolving), but apparently we do not agree and I was asking for purposes of clarification. What does it mean to you for property to be unlimited?

@ Jerry Emanuelson, I agree with you completely. I would only point out that there is nothing unique about libertarianism here, that any political position or ideology can jump on the crazy train.

Dave said...

Rand was never quite my cup of tea. I prefer Wilson.
“belief is the death of intelligence.”
― Robert Anton Wilson
“...when dogma enters the brain, all intellectual activity ceases. ”
― Robert Anton Wilson

Alfred Differ said...

The thing about property and it's relationship to liberty is that it makes one of the few measures we have for the abstraction. If one is a slave, one is obviously deprived of all liberty, but the measure we use is that the slave does not own their own personhood.

No 'ghost in the shell' nonsense is needed for this to work. It is obviously recursive and there is no problem with that. Self-hood is just as recursive.

My understanding of David's gripe with the propertarians is that they take things too far. I might be able to convince him I have unlimited property rights to my own self, but for the land and house I own... probably not. If the community's needs are strong enough, he'd probably back them in there action to take my house. A propertarian who takes things to far would argue my rights trump the community always.

The obvious problem the propertarians won't face is that 'rights' are claimed by individuals, but meaningless until the community acknowledges them. I can't even own myself if the community disagrees and there are plenty of historical examples where this was the established custom. My 'self' was owned by my family, my lord, or my king.

Dave said...

I had a chance to look more closely at No definition or description of propertarianism, but I think I am beginning to get the idea. Competition is the thing, but competition can be gamed, the winners can use their influence (and desperately wish) to stop the competition and put in the fix. Propertarianism, in Dr. Brin's mind, lacks any mechanism to maintain competition. Perhaps the splendid market competition in US history owes its success to the careful tending it received from the federal, state, and local governments. By his understanding of propertarianism, no such mechanism would be available to keep competition up and running. Whether sooner or later, eventually the oligarchs would take control and stifle competition.
What is the null hypothesis, and how to we test?
Or, if we put on our propertarian hats, how could we alter propertarianism to incorporate and negate this critique?

David Brin said...

All right! Mr. Burns I am freaking proud of you. You maintained curiosity throughout. You were able to step back, scratch your head and express puzzlement when a concept eluded you. You showed persistence & research and when ready, you attempted to PARAPHRASE the other person's argument, concluding with the question: "Is that what you meant?"


In my mind, as a pragmatist, outcomes matter foremost. Regulated competitive systems are what have delivered by far the best outcomes of any human innovations. Markets, democracy, science, courts and sports are all highly regulated, by consensus rules that are re-adjusted frequently. Partly because we learn better and partly in an adaptive struggle with CHEATERS that very closely resembles a body's war with infectious parasites.

Almost no one talks about the genius of regulated competition. leftists despise the word "competition" while libertarians insanely disdain the "regulated" part, ignoring 6000 years across which the winners in competitive arenas would thereupon use their wealth and power to cheat and repress any further competition, ensuring their sons would inherit unearned power and own other mens' women and wheat.

SPORTS are the perfect model, extremely regulated to prevent such cheating. Indeed, when a team gets too strong, it may be broken up or get last draft pick and so on, to level the playing field. As Title Nine leveled the field so that we now have vibrant womens' athletics. The same is true of market or political power. Concentrations must be broken up, not for ideological reasons but the purely pragmatic reason that democracy and markets work best when flat-open-fair, with the maximum number of skilled, confident participants. Libertarians who quote Hayek forget that this was his CORE POINT!

That amnesia is no accident. It has been fostered by oligarch-cheaters who want flat-open-fair to fail. Propertarianism and "government is always evil" are the propaganda memes to turn libertarians into direct and vigorous enemies of liberty.

David Brin said...

PS... to the extent that liberals push for state interventions that effectively expand the fraction of the population that is healthy, educated and empowered enough to compete in those arenas, to that extent liberals are today's true "libertarians."

Of course the LEFTY emphasis on equalizing outcomes and disdaining the word "competition" is not libertarian at all. Still, we must root for their alliance to clobber the risen confederacy. Because any other outcome to this current phase of the civil war could end our experiment.

Acacia H. said...

Please, Dr. Brin. I have utmost respect for you. This is why I hold you to a high standard. And yes, I know you are "only human" (as the term goes - often as an excuse for various "faults" considered an aspect of "being human") but considering you are urging people to give up on the Republican Party (and rightfully so, given their varied activities that go against what's best for most of the people they claim to represent), then yes. There is a reason to hold you to a higher standard. Sniping and badmouthing various folks online who show up here, including terms like "off his meds" and the like? Can you not see the problem here?

Or are you too close to this?

As for not going on my old site and stomping around... I'm afraid my website's been kind of dead for over a year now (something about being hacked and malware inserted into it, even if I probably figured out which files are infected and had them quarantined, pulled the wind from critiquing sails) but I welcomed intelligent discourse on that site back when. I even welcomed comments like "I preferred your reviews when you were more positive" (or even "I have to stop reading your site, I'm reading too many good webcomics now").

I'm sure it doesn't matter though. You'll post what you want. And I'll likely go to just reading the main articles and ignoring the comments section unless I want to send a link to an interesting (usually science-related) story your way.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob, we are talking past each other. All I ever see from you, anymore, is quick drive-bys in which you cast judgement on me and then scurry away in a huff of superior maturity. That's your privilege and it really doesn't matter much to me. I add it to a stack and when the stack is high enough, I consider modifying my behavior.

Still it seemed worth a counter-snark. But you seem impervious to irony. So let it go. You are welcome here any time.

David Brin said...

onward to next posting

Dave said...

If I have a remaining quibble with Dr. Brin's position, it is that the way he expresses it seems to indicate that we can rest assured that we have cracked the secret of keeping competition upright, and no further experimentation, refinement or criticism is required. When I put it that way, I'm sure he would back off, so perhaps I am just building a strawman in my own head again. We certainly agree that we need the referees to do their jobs. The point is, competition. Try out new ideas. Let people be different. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!

Also, I hope I am allowed to be amused by his choice of the model of ideal competition. Professional sports is a bit of a propertarian oligarchy, isn't it? Just kidding.

Alex Tolley said...

I agree that it would have been better simply to ignore L Weppe's snark. But notice that I only got truly angry when he flat out lied that he had actually read the posting.

Except that you cannot know that. It is just an inference you make, and you use it regularly when criticized. I think you compound that mistake by calling someone a liar based on that inference. I agree with the comment CITOKATE, and make up. As it happens, I had rather similar thoughts. I just steered clear of saying so.

@PaulSB - Krugman has his style and he sticks to it to maintain his gravitas. Maybe it won't change minds, but no one can argue he plays games, and he always backs up his claims with data. The best you can do is suggest his data is selected for bias, or just the wrong data for the analysis. But then you need to find better data and be subject to criticism.

Robert Reich has a very different style, much more popular with his famous drawings. I find Reich very engaging, but I look to Krugman to provide real meat to address policy issues. Reich engages the heart, Krugman the brain. Even I with my non-Nobel laureate econ training can pull to pieces WSJ Op-Ed pieces by flacks.

Just as Bill Nye didn't really beat Ken Ham with sound facts that had no good counter reply, I don't expect Krugman will change minds except at the margin. I doubt he would change our own Alfred's mind about his econ thinking, and Alfred can hardly be described as close-minded IMO.

What I find more insidious is the memes generated by Republicans, especially the talking points promoted by Faux News. Just yesterday I met a charming older lady who, after we small talked after business about the election, asked if I thought Hillary Clinton couldn't handle the stress of the presidency because she was a woman. I countered with a number of strong women leaders of the past, Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, to name a few. She didn't like that and "agreed to disagree" over HC. She was also convinced that Obama was a Muslim. Those memes are going to be hard to eradicate, as they are clever propaganda that mesh with other beliefs. I doubt she will give them up. And no, I wasn't going to try the DB "name one thing" challenge on such a sweet old lady. Liberals are going to need to operate on a number of fronts - facts, emotions, sloganeering, etc to change the mind set. The best attack IMO would be tv programming that really showed the value of the liberal mindset. Perhaps more like "It's a Wonderful Life" did in movies lo these many decades. Constant exposure to engaging characters confronted with different issues that demand using one approach versus another and showing the consequences of each policy. Right now, Greece would be a lot better supported if we could see the misery of the destroyed economy and jobless youth as a result of austerity policies and putting creditors, rather than people, first.

Alex Tolley said...

OT but last thread - P Z Myers on the life in the comet story.
They had me going for a moment

David Brin said...

Alex had Weppe actually read the blog he would have known I was offering arrows for his quiver.


Anonymous said...

One has had flaws and bloopers, but is known to function in simplistic situations... e.g. increase money velocity in a recession.

Keynes' insights were considerably more sophisticated than this. Two impact the theoretical function of markets directly. Firstly that wages and prices are sticky downward; they resist falling. The classical position was that wages and prices were perfectly flexible, therefore in a downturn these would fall to an equilibrium level and ensure continuous full employment. Keynes suggested that due to social resistance from employers and workers this would rarely occur and an economy would become mired at a point of equilibrium (supply matching demand) accompanied by mass unemployment.

Secondly, Keynes brought forth the idea of uncertainty. In the classical period and, unfortunately, the modern day, it has been assumed by most economists that risk is solely a matter of probabilistic modeling, that if the model is good the risks can all be accounted for. Keynes' idea of uncertainty can be summarized as events that cannot be modeled or anticipated no matter how sophisticated the model. This explained why investors would prefer to hold cash rather than productively invest during downturns; they were hedging against an uncertain future.

Forgetting these two insights (and economists have very much forgotten them) is the prime reason for the economic theories which led to the global financial crash.

Anonymous said...

Why would a mean wage above zero even exist in a global economy? It seems to me that wages are obviously going to trend towards zero since there is always some one who will work for cheaper somewhere else. All you need is a rolling layoff. It's not as if consumer spending even matters anymore since the rank and file own 10% of the wealth. In terms of work in the mechanical sense any 1/4 hp motor has the advantage over a man. I've worked customer service and as soon as IBM Watson grows up those jobs will vanish. So what keeps the economy inflated at all? So why have we not all been slaves for the last 2000 years?

Damien Sullivan said...

"The only one I'm tempted to believe rests upon a foundation of microeconomics."

Insisting on micro-foundations is pseudo-scientific at our level of understanding, and may always be so. It's like saying we can't understand gases or liquids without modeling the atomic behavior; in fact, you can experiment with bulk fluids directly, and when the micro level interactions are sticky and imperfectly understood then you can't simply derive macro behavior from it.

If we observe that prices, especially wages, are sticky downward (a key Keynesian point) then it is not more scientific to refuse to believe that until it's been grounded in some microeconomic/microfoundation story.

There's been a lot of effort over the decades to give Keynesianism some microfoundations; in the end, I'm not sure they've had any more predictive success than the old pure macro approach, analogous to observing the behavior of gases or liquids. And that approach is pretty successful, what with regulating economic behavior for decades, and predicting the general course of the crisis, certainly much better than the alternatives.

siska said...
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