Sunday, June 12, 2011

What I've learned from libertarians/libertarianism

Well, for starters, it's not my sense of humor. I suspect that if a libertarian had to listen to my jokes all day, even he or she would support, "for the good of society," some restrictions on speech.

But I have learned a lot from them. First I should clarify what I mean by "libertarians" and "libertarianism." By libertarians, I mean those who call themselves libertarians and appear (to me) to be sincere. In other words, I have not read most of the intellectuals credited with being "libertarians," like Hayek or Friedman, although I have read Locke, who might be a proto-libertarian. I have also read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations--the whole thing, although I can't claim to have understood it or to remember it. By libertarians, I mean, for the most part, those who I have met on the blogosphere, either at the belated Positive Liberty site and its successors or at the Volokh Conspiracy.

By libertarianism--well, I guess I should clarify what I mean, but I don't know what I mean, so I'll just assume I know what I mean.

Finally, when I say "I have learned" x, y, or z "from libertarians," I acknowledge that perhaps what I have learned has something to do with things that aren't essentially "libertarian" but are consistent with what I've observed libertarians support or believe in. In short, I am not a libertarian, but I have learned a lot from people who claim to be.

Here's my list:
  • Acti0ns have unpredictable consequences.
  • Government regulations usually (maybe always?) impose costs, and even the best regulations usually (maybe always?) get us something good at the cost of something else that is also, although not necessarily as, good.
  • Government regulations can and often do create "perverse incentives."
  • The state is coercive, and coercion of any sort is something we should be at least wary of. Even if it's necessary.
  • Fraud is a form of coercion.
  • The morality and efficacy behind antitrust laws is, to say the least, problematic. (I've actually probably would have come to this conclusion without the aid of libertarian bloggers of the libertarian scholars who I've read on this subject--my dissertation research has in some ways led me to this conclusion--but they have helped me in affirming this conclusion.)
  • Torture is not only wrong (which I either learned or "knew" on some level for a long time), its effectiveness is highly questionable. Its effectiveness being highly questionable gives yet another reason why it is wrong.
  • The notion of what many libertarians call "economic liberty" deserves respect. ("Deserving of respect" does not, in my view, have any obvious implications about the role of the state, and I certainly remain comfortable with, for example, only rational basis review by the courts over restrictions on economic liberty. But I have more respect for the argument that economic liberty is an important thing for people.)


James Hanley said...

Hey, if all the people I argue with got those points I'd be in blogospheric bliss, even if they disagreed with me on most actual policy proposals. I, speaking only for myself of course, don't expect I can persuade everyone (or perhaps anyone) to become a libertarian, but it's just so tremendously refreshing to have a non-libertarian who has an honest and fair understanding of where we're coming from. Thanks much for that.

Pierre Corneille said...

Thanks for your comment! I've learned a lot from reading your blog and the Positive Liberty people (and some of the Volokh conspiracy people, too).

James Hanley said...

Volokh's a great blog. For some reason I always forget to go check them out until some other blogger reminds me.