Thursday, February 5, 2015

Answering RJ Eskow’s rather easy questions for libertarians

In September of 2013, I stumbled across this very silly article by R.J. Eskow and decided to write a blog post refuting it (yes, that’s how backlogged my blog ideas are before I finally finish them). Anyways, I finally got around to it. I’ll go line by line. His quotes are in purple, and my responses are in black.

Eleven questions that expose their contradictions and faulty logic

Libertarians have a problem. Their political philosophy all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century, but was revived by billionaires and corporations that found them politically useful. And yet libertarianism retains the qualities that led to its disappearance from the public stage, before its reanimation by people like the Koch brothers: It doesn’t make any sense.

It’s worth noting that at no point in this raving and incoherent article does Eskow ever substantiate his oft repeated claim that libertarianism “all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century.” If I had to guess, this is probably because it absolutely did no such thing. Nor does he substantiate his suggestion that the rapidly approaching libertarian era of widespread social tolerance and fiscal conservatism our nation is about to enter, which his article is a desperate and transparent attempt to reverse, is entirely the doing of a bunch of good-for-nothing selfish rich people. It’s a pity, because I’d very much like to hear his theory as to why libertarian ideas better serve corporate interests now than they did back then.

Amusingly, insinuating that public opinion is so easily manipulated by a mere handful of wealthy puppeteers, conspiring behind the scenes to feed the sheeple what they want them to believe, sounds remarkably similar to some of the most outlandish of libertarian conspiracy theories.

They call themselves “realists” but rely on fanciful theories that have never predicted real-world behavior. They claim that selfishness makes things better for everybody, when history shows exactly the opposite is true. They claim that a mythical “free market” is better at everything than the government is, yet when they really need government protection, they’re the first to clamor for it.

Once again, it’s tough to refute such vague claims with anything but vague denials. If he’d like to back one of them up, hopefully this exercise will become something more interesting than he-said-she-said. I will remark that I don’t advocate selfishness; I’m merely not audacious enough to consider giving away other people’s money selfless.

That’s no reason not to work with them on areas where they’re in agreement with people like me. In fact, the unconventionality of their thought has led libertarians to be among this nation’s most forthright and outspoken advocates for civil liberties and against military interventions.

I welcome the help, although I had to chuckle at the “people like me” bit. He could have said “work with them on the few areas they stumble into the right answer”, or something to that effect, thereby applying to an audience larger than the pitiable group of people who agree with R.J. Eskow on absolutely everything. But I suppose “the right answer” and “agreement with me” are so conceptually inseparable to him as to be unworthy of distinction.

Merriam-Webster defines “hypocrisy” as “feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” We aren’t suggesting every libertarian is a hypocrite. But there’s an easy way to find out.

The Other Libertarianism
First, some background. There is a kind of libertarianism that’s nothing more or less than a strain in the American psyche, an emotional tendency toward individualism and personal liberty. That’s fine and even admirable.

We’re talking about the other libertarianism, the political philosophy whose avatar is the late writer Ayn Rand. It was once thought that this extreme brand of libertarianism, one that celebrates greed and even brutality, had died in the early 1980s with Rand herself. Many Rand acolytes had already gone underground, repressing or disavowing the more extreme statements of their youth and attempting to blend in with more mainstream schools of thought in respectable occupations.

I tip my hat to Eskow for acquitting the “strain in the American psyche” that likes individual liberty, even if only in passing. Truly, this strain is the heart of all libertarianism.

Unfortunately, that’s where Eskow’s understanding of libertarianism’s many nuances abruptly ends. His idea that any self-described libertarian who can articulate their beliefs as something more than an “emotional tendency,” in fact as a coherent, logical, developed holistic and internally consistent philosophy, can be clumped into one group – the Ayn Rand people – is complete nonsense. I for one don’t even like Ayn Rand. If Eskow is interested in many varied perspectives that make up the foundation of the libertarian tradition, I invite him to start with Locke, Mill, Spooner, von Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Reed, Friedman (both Milton and David!), Rothbard, and Nozick. Somehow I doubt he’ll take me up on that.

There was a good reason for that. Randian libertarianism is an illogical, impractical, inhumane, unpopular set of Utopian ravings which lacks internal coherence and has never predicted real-world behavior anywhere. That’s why, reasonably enough, the libertarian movement evaporated in the late 20th century, its followers scattered like the wind.

At least one of the above authors was alive and writing to an enthusiastic audience at all points during the 20th century. The libertarian movement evaporated only in the wishful imaginations of people who do not like libertarianism.

Pay to Play
But the libertarian movement has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, and there’s a simple reason for that: money, and the personal interests of some people who have a lot of it. Once relegated to drug-fueled college-dorm bull sessions, political libertarianism suddenly had pretensions of legitimacy. This revival is Koch-fueled, not coke-fueled, and exists only because in political debate, as in so many other walks of life, cash is king.

The Koch brothers are principal funders of the Reason Foundation and Reason magazine. Exxon Mobil and other corporate and billionaire interests are behind the Cato Institute, the other public face of libertarianism. Financiers have also seeded a number of economics schools, think tanks, and other institutions with proponents of their brand of libertarianism. It’s easy to explain why some of these corporate interests do it. It serves the self-interest of the environmental polluters, for example, to promote a political philosophy which argues that regulation is bad and the market will correct itself. And every wealthy individual benefits from tax cuts for the rich. What better way to justify that than with a philosophy that says they’re rich because they’re better—and that those tax cuts help everybody?

Reason Magazine was founded in 1968, and the Cato Institute was founded in 1977 – right during that “late 20th century” period when libertarianism was allegedly dying out. It was followed by the wildly popular small-government rhetoric of Reagan in the 80’s and Newt Gingrich in the 90’s (though, to be clear, neither are exactly libertarian heroes). So the timing of his theory just doesn’t make sense in the first place.

But let’s presume libertarianism really did die out in the late 20th century, and that it really has been reborn instead of just steadily growing in popularity ever since 2008. If Eskow’s theory is that moneyed interests fully explains the resurgence of libertarianism, he’ll need to explain why libertarianism better suited those moneyed interests in 2008 than it did in 1998 or 1988, which seems pretty dubious to me.

The truth is that most major, well-connected corporations don’t like libertarianism because it makes their connections less valuable and restricts their power. In fact, Wall Street strongly supports establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton over people like Rand Paul (God-forbid Ron Paul!) because moneyed interests are precisely what props up the status quo Eskow so naively supports.

The rise of the Silicon Valley economy has also contributed to the libertarian resurgence. A lot of Internet billionaires are nerds who suddenly find themselves rich and powerful, and they’re emotionally and intellectually inclined toward libertarianism’s geeky and unrealistic vision of a free market. In their minds its ideas are “heuristic,” “autologous” and “cybernetic”—all of which has inherent attraction in their culture.

The only problem is: It’s only a dream. At no time or place in human history has there been a working libertarian society which provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide. But libertarianism’s self-created mythos claims that it’s more realistic than other ideologies, which is the opposite of the truth. The slope from that contradiction to the deep well of hypocrisy is slippery, steep—and easy to identify.

For most of human history, there had never been a society which outlawed slavery (so far as I know). This does not mean that outlawing slavery was a bad idea, or that trying new things which haven’t been done before is a waste of time. While it’s true there has never been a libertarian society that provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide, that’s only because there has never been a libertarian society period, which doesn’t prove much in terms of which outcomes we claim would arise from it.

That being said, some countries have been relatively freer from government intrusion than others, and there’s good reason to believe those with less intrusion yield better outcomes overall.

The Libertarian Hypocrisy Test
That’s where the Libertarian Hypocrisy Test comes in. Let’s say we have a libertarian friend, and we want to know whether or not he’s hypocritical about his beliefs. How would we go about conducting such a test? The best way is to use the tenets of his philosophy to draw up a series of questions to explore his belief system.

The Cato Institute’s overview of key libertarian concepts mixes universally acceptable bromides like the “rule of law” and “individual rights” with principles that are more characteristically libertarian—and therefore more fantastical. Since virtually all people support the rule of law and individual rights, it is the other concepts which are uniquely libertarian and form the basis of our first few questions.

The Institute cites “spontaneous order,” for example, as “the great insight of libertarian social analysis.” Cato defines that principle thusly:

“… (O)rder in society arises spontaneously, out of the actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes.”
To which the discerning reader might be tempted to ask: Like where, exactly? Libertarians define “spontaneous order” in a very narrow way—one that excludes demonstrations like the Arab Spring, elections which install progressive governments, or union movements, to name three examples. And yet each of these things are undertaken by individuals who “coordinated their actions with those of others” to achieve our purposes.

So our first hypocrisy test question is, Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not? (boldface added, italics original)

Spontaneous order is fully compatible with unions and social movements. What it’s incompatible with is the use of force: that’s when the order ceases to be spontaneous, and starts to be imposed. The state consists solely of force (that’s what distinguishes it from fully private organizations) so state-orchestrated elections and political parties do deviate from the spontaneous order in that regard.
To most libertarians, however, this is okay, because we freely admit that the spontaneous order is not purely good, and are often okay with limited state intervention to address some of its evils. The spontaneous order is mostly just a way of warding off accusations that pure liberty would be chaos, by demonstrating that we are not choosing whether to have order, merely which sort of order is preferable to the other.

Cato also trumpets what it calls “The Virtue of Production” without ever defining what production is. Economics defines the term, but libertarianism is looser with its terminology. That was easier to get away with in the Industrial Age, when “production” meant a car, or a shovel, or a widget.

Today nearly 50 percent of corporate profits come from the financial sector—that is, from the manipulation of money. It’s more difficult to define “production,” and even harder to find its “virtue,” when the creation of wealth no longer necessarily leads to the creation of jobs, or economic growth, or anything except the enrichment of a few.

Which seems to be the point. Cato says, “Modern libertarians defend the right of productive people to keep what they earn, against a new class of politicians and bureaucrats who would seize their earnings to transfer them to nonproducers.”

Which gets us to our next test question: Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?

First off, this question is not a test of hypocrisy, so much as a test of whether someone agrees with R.J. Eskow. But I’ll answer it anyway: yes, production is the result of many forces. Yes, each should be recognized and rewarded. And they should be rewarded in close proportion to the value of their contribution to its production, as determined by the price- and wage-setting forces of supply and demand. They should not be rewarded in proportion to how valuable some group of people subjectively assesses their contribution to be, especially when that group of people is economically ignorant enough to think the financial sector is unrelated to economic growth or job creation.

Retail stores like Walmart and fast-food corporations like McDonalds cannot produce wealth without employees. Don’t those employees have the right to “coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes”—for example, in unions? You would think that free-market philosophers would encourage workers, as part of a free-market economy, to discover the market value for their services through negotiation.

Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?

Yes! Ideologically consistent libertarians wholeheartedly support the right of people to form unions, join unions, and coordinate their actions within those unions (for example, by going on strike or abiding by certain conditions in bargaining agreements) for their collective benefit. We’re pro-market (not necessarily the same as pro-capitalism), and unions can be a healthy part of that.

What we’re opposed to is, again, the use of force, and that’s where the trouble with modern unions comes in: they are backed by men with guns who work for the state. Sadly, today’s unions are not a private organization of people freely appointing representatives to negotiate with their bosses on their behalf. The National Labor Relations Board of the US Federal Government ensures that they are in fact quasi-public organizations, by regulating the sorts of negotiations which may and may not take place between businesses and labor representatives. For example, if a NLRB certified union goes on strike, it is illegal for a business to hire replacement workers outside the union – sometimes unfairly derided as “scabs” – instead of negotiating with the union. That’s how Boeing can get sued for daring to open its new plant in a business friendly state, which is clearly not just “employing market forces.”

By contrast, there can be private unions – like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, who awesomely ignore the NLRB! Charles Johnson of Reason Magazine explains:
C.I.W.’s big wins make them one of the most successful examples of the emerging trend of “alt-labor” organizations. Groups like C.I.W., the Restaurant Opportunities Center, OUR Walmart, and the Domestic Workers United dispense with formal unionization, sidestepping both the privileges and constraints of NLRB labor law, and employ deliberately non-state mechanisms – workplace activism, outreach to consumers, shaming protests, and pressure campaigns—to mobilize workers, provide social support and pressure companies for better pay and conditions. Alt-labor approaches have proven especially successful for workers excluded from NLRB recognition, or in sectors (like low-wage service or restaurant work) where AFL-style collective bargaining has proven difficult or impossible.

Inspiring success stories grab attention in an otherwise dismal scene for organized labor. So should how they happened: through wildcat tactics that only alt-labor organizations like C.I.W. could pull off. They could mobilize consumer pressure and gain Fair Food premiums from corporate buyers only because they followed the supply chain instead of dealing with stonewalling direct employers. Protests and solidarity boycotts directed at corporate buyers compelled companies like Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Walmart to weigh in. Conventional NLRB union regulations would render their entire strategy illegal, as a “secondary action” prohibited under the Taft-Hartley Act.

So no, we’re not opposed to unions. We are only opposed to the NLRB and all other government efforts to coerce businesses into negotiating with unions, or vice-versa, if they don’t want or need to.

The bankers who collude to deceive their customers, as US bankers did with the MERS mortgage system, were permitted to do so by the unwillingness of government to regulate them. The customers who were the victims of deception were essential to the production of Wall Street wealth. Why don’t libertarians recognize their role in the process, and their right to administer their own affairs?

That right includes the right to regulate the bankers who sell them mortgages. Libertarians say that the “free market” will help consumers. “Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized,” says Cato.

But victims of illegal foreclosure are neither “freer” nor “more prosperous” after the government deregulation which led to their exploitation. What’s more, deregulation has led to a series of documented banker crimes that include stockholder fraud and investor fraud. That leads us to our next test of libertarian hypocrisy: Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?

I preempt my response to this so called “question” to point out its remarkable resemblance to an opinion. In fact, look at the way Eskow has began the past three “questions:

“Is our libertarian willing to admit that…”
“Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that…”
“Is a libertarian willing to admit that…”

In all three cases, what followed “that” was merely Eksow’s opinion about the way the world works. If that opinion is wrong, the libertarian could decline to acknowledge it without in any way contradicting his stated ideology. So all Eskow is doing is illuminating places where libertarians disagree with viewpoints he holds very strongly, not illuminating the hypocrisy his title alleges.

But I’ll respond anyway: a free market needs only that regulation which forms the structure of the market itself. For example, in order to qualify as “free,” all markets need laws against stealing (stealing violates the right to property and the Non-Aggression Principle, both fundamental libertarian beliefs). One form of stealing is taking people’s money or property on false premises, since this nullifies the terms of the agreement and renders the transaction nonconsensual. If bankers who “collude to deceive” their customers are taking money from people by lying outright, then yes – that is theft. There should be laws against that, as a more nuanced and industry-specific subset of laws against stealing in general. If you want to call such laws “regulations”, fine, but the point is they’re fully consistent with the same libertarian ethic that forms the boundaries of acceptable conduct in all interpersonal relations.

What is inconsistent with that ethic is prohibiting honest transactions which some uninvolved person considers too risky or unwise, and that’s what most of the regulations the modern left is pushing for seek to do. The “right to administer one’s own affairs” does not in any way “include the right to regulate the bankers who sell them mortgages” outside of one’s own affairs, as Eskow suggests. If a banker is trying to sell me a mortgage, I can self-regulate his dealings with ME by declining to consider certain types of financial offers. But I cannot insert myself into his dealings with others by prohibiting those offers across the board (unless, of course, those offers contain deliberately false information that would render the transaction nonconsensual theft).

Digital Libertarians
But few libertarians are as hypocritical as the billionaires who earned their fortunes in the tech world. Government created the Internet. Government financed the basic research that led to computing itself. And yet Internet libertarians are among the most politically extreme of them all.

I know he hasn’t gotten to his question yet, but I have to interject – government invented ARPANET, the earliest form of something that resembled modern internet technology, as a form of military communication technology during the early Cold War. They then didn’t know what to do with it, so they sat on it without applying it to anything for decades. It was only in the late 80’s when they made the technology publicly accessible, which is when private entrepreneurs with big ideas stepped in to make it what it is today. Needless to say, the 25 years after the market got involved have witnessed a far greater explosion of life-bettering applications of the internet than the 25 years of state control that preceded them. The modern internet is one of the greatest examples of spontaneous order left on the planet. It is a forum for exciting and mostly unregulated human interactions from which everyone profits. To simplify that story into four words, “government created the internet,” is such a bastardization of history that it sounds like one of the historical revisions from George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Yes, government created the internet, and then the market made it useful.

Perhaps none is more extreme than Peter Thiel, who made his fortune with PayPal. In one infamous rant, Thiel complained about allowing women and people he describes as “welfare beneficiaries” (which might be reasonably interpreted as “minorities”) to vote. “Since 1920,” Thiel fulminated, “the extension of the franchise to (these two groups) have turned ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

With this remark, Thiel let something slip that extreme libertarians prefer to keep quiet: A lot of them don’t like democracy very much. In their world, democracy is a poor substitute for the iron-fisted rule of wealth, administered by those who hold the most of it. Our next test, therefore, is: Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.

I believe in restrained representative democracy, because it is the least bad form of government I know of. That does not mean I must agree with every decision that every democracy makes. Government’s that impose unnecessary regulations are wrong to do so whether or not those regulations are supported by a majority vote, because the entire point of individual rights is to identify the very many things which majorities should not get to decide.

On this score, at least, Thiel is no hypocrite. He’s willing to freely say what others only think: Democracy should be replaced by the rule of wealthy people like himself. But how did Peter Thiel and other Internet billionaires become wealthy? They hired government-educated employees to develop products protected by government copyrights. Those products used government-created computer technology and a government-created communications web to communicate with government-educated customers in order to generate wealth for themselves, which was then stored in government-protected banks—after which they began using that wealth to argue for the elimination of government.

By that standard, Thiel and his fellow “digital libertarians” are hypocrites of genuinely epic proportion. Which leads us to our next question: Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?

This question presupposes a flawed premise: that any wealth created in an economy marked by large government intervention would not also exist in an economy with less government intervention. When the government offers free education to every child in America, for instance, of course most families will take advantage of it, and of course the result is that most consumers and employees will be “government educated.” This does not mean that those people could not have been educated by private schools in the absence of such massive state interference and taxation. The same goes for private mechanisms for insuring banks, driving innovation, building roads, etc.: just because the government does it in the status quo doesn’t mean it would not occur were the government to stop doing it. By analogy, it is not hypocritical for a communist to buy a house, or a car, or a coffee, or to otherwise participate in the market economy, because at the moment there exists no communist alternative for her to acquire those products. She can criticize the existing system and advocate for its downfall, but still live her life in the meantime.

Many libertarians will counter by saying that government has only two valid functions: to protect the national security and enforce intellectual property laws. By why only these two? If the mythical free market can solve any problem, including protecting the environment, why can’t it also protect us from foreign invaders and defend the copyrights that make these libertarians wealthy?

The government has a valid function to protect national security because it protects the natural rights of its citizens to life, liberty and property from outside aggression. Violence can be justified in self-defense, and this applies to large groups of people (like a country) as much as it does to individuals. Ideally, this would be fully voluntary, but the pure market alternative would not protect everybody’s rights (some people could not afford it, for instance, but that wouldn’t lessen the moral imperative that their rights not be violated by outside aggressors). As such, it’s not a question of whether someone’s rights be violated, but of how much violation takes place. I believe that on net, coercive taxation to fund a minimal national security apparatus lessens aggregate human violence in a morally preferable way. The same goes for small police forces and other “night watchmen” state functions.

Nevertheless, current military spending (and the taxation that must go on to fund it) is much too high, and current national security policy may actually make us less secure, so shrinking the government’s role is important to libertarians even in this field.

For that matter, why should these libertarians be allowed to hold patents at all? If the free market can decide how best to use our national resources, why shouldn’t it also decide how best to use Peter Thiel’s ideas, and whether or not to reward him for them? After all, if Thiel were a true Randian libertarian he’d use his ideas in a more superior fashion than anyone else—and he would be more ruthless in enforcing his rights to them than anyone else. Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?

Actually, yes! At least, pretty much all of them. The cutting-edge tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are at the forefront of the movement for copyright reform. Google is fighting lawsuits about it as we speak, because they’re frustrated by how labyrinthine regulations in that field are slowing the pace of innovation.

I confess my own views on intellectual property are immature in their development; I simply haven’t thought about it all that much. Believe it or not, libertarians are not experts in everything, and it’s unreasonable to expect us to be. But since I have no well-established views on it, my views cannot contradict my ideology, which means he hasn’t exposed any hypocrisy there. And since I’m far from wealthy and have no patents or copyright protections to my name, no conflict of interest can be alleged.

Size Matters
Our democratic process is highly flawed today, but that’s largely the result of corruption from corporate and billionaire money. And yet, libertarians celebrate the corrupting influence of big money. No wonder, since the same money is keeping their movement afloat and paying many of their salaries. But, aside from the naked self-interest, their position makes no sense. Why isn’t a democratically elected government the ultimate demonstration of “spontaneous order”? Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?

No I don’t recognize that, because it isn’t true. A democratically elected government is still a government, and all governments boil down to the use of force. That’s what distinguishes them from private organizations (and to be clear, democratic elections within a private, voluntary organization are perfectly fine by us). As I’ve said a bunch of times by now, the use of force makes the order not-spontaneous, but imposed. This is what I mean by “RJ Eskow’s Rather Easy Questions”: when you don’t take the time to learn the first thing about the ideology you’re attempting to criticize, your attempts to criticize it will make elementary blunders like this one, and pointing out those blunders will be a rather easy task for anyone who actually understands what the ideology is about.

We’re told that “big government” is bad for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is too large to be responsive. But if big governments are bad, why are big corporations so acceptable? What’s more, these massive institutions have been conducting an assault on the individual and collective freedoms of the American people for decades. Why isn’t it important to avoid the creation of monopolies, duopolies and syndicates that interfere with the free market’s ability to function?

It is important to avoid their creation, which is precisely why the state must not get involved. If there’s one thing the state is good at, it might be creating monopolies. This happens when the state sells favors that meddle with the economy’s natural competitive balance. These favors are often called regulations by people like RJ Eskow.

Libertarians are right about one thing: Unchecked and undemocratic force is totalitarian. A totalitarian corporation, or a totalitarian government acting in concert with corporations, is at least as effective at suppressing the “spontaneous order” as a non-corporate totalitarian government. Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?

This is the fifth of Eskow’s eleven questions to take the “do you recognize that I’m right?” format. He doesn’t get specific about how this happens, but I’ll get specific for him: it happens when your right to do as you please is restricted by violence or the threat thereof. For so long as corporations are unable to wield violence to coerce you into doing their bidding, your freedoms will be safe and sound from them. And the moment corporations do take up arms to demand you do as they say, they will by definition cease to be corporations and instead become something we libertarians like to call the state. If you still hate them then as avidly as you do now, you can be a libertarian too!


Extra Credit Questions
Most libertarians prefer not to take their philosophy to its logical conclusions. While that may make them better human beings, it also shadows them with the taint of hypocrisy.

Ayn Rand was an adamant opponent of good works, writing that “The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.” That raises another test for our libertarian: Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?

No, I completely disagree with Ayn Rand, and so do many if not most libertarians. Voluntary charity is awesome and should be encouraged, especially those which focus on long-term solutions with some sort of “teach to fish” model. By the way, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are two of the greatest libertarian heroes of all time, because they enacted meaningful and inspiring change by standing up to the state’s violence in peaceful ways.

There’s no reason not to form alliances with civil libertarians, or to shun them as human beings. Their erroneous thinking often arises from good impulses. But it is worth asking them one final question for our test.

Libertarianism would have died out as a philosophy if it weren’t for the funding that’s been lavished on the movement by billionaires like Thiel and the Kochs and corporations like ExxonMobil. So our final question is: If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?

Leave aside for the moment the indisputable fact that libertarianism did not, at any point since its invention, die out. Also leave aside that the rise of libertarianism has had much more to do with Ron Paul’s presidential runs and the overwhelming distaste for both major parties than it has with big-government loving, handout-seeking Exxon-freaking-Mobil. Why the hell does belief in the marketplace of ideas require agreeing with the conclusions of people who lived before you? Belief in the marketplace of ideas is about protecting free speech so people can encounter all the evidence, and all the viewpoints, and come to their own conclusions!!! I was going to say this question was beneath you, but then I reconsidered because I’m not so sure it is.

Instead, I’d like to close out by asking Eskow some questions of my own:


  1. If libertarianism’s ideas are so illogical, why do you consistently resort to ad hominem attacks on libertarians themselves and their motivations, rather than engaging with the actual ideas? Shouldn’t it be rather easy to prove people like Peter Theil and the Koch brothers wrong without whining that they only say these things to enrich themselves?

  2. If the absence of examples of libertarian societies working suffices as evidence that libertarianism couldn’t work, wouldn’t the abundance of examples of governments failing be yet more compelling evidence that government doesn’t work? Perhaps libertarianism has never been tried, but big government has been tried thousands of times – and yet it still fails spectacularly on almost every occasion.

  3. If “government created the internet” is proof that anyone who uses the internet and still prefers the private market is a hypocrite, wouldn’t that logic apply in reverse? Wouldn’t anyone who prefers government solutions to market solutions by a hypocrite to use privately made products? And if so, which government made the computer on which you are presently reading this question?

  4. Why does it follow that just because government intervened in the creation of a thing, this thing wouldn’t exist had government not intervened? This applies not only to the internet but to education, banks, etc; all the things you insinuate libertarians are hypocrites for using. Perhaps these things would exist anyway without government intervention, but be better, cheaper, or more widely accessible, etc.

  5. Have any of your political opinions ever been shared by a rich person? If so, does that invalidate them?

  6. Does the decreasing popularity of labor unions make them a bad idea? If not, why does the ebb and flow of an ideology’s political popularity over time strike you as evidence that previously unpopular ideologies should not be revived.

  7. Have you ever read a libertarian text? (no, the Cato Institute’s FAQ page doesn’t count, and neither does Googling “crazy Ayn Rand quotes). If so, why didn’t you mention it in your article? And if not, why do you feel qualified to do battle with its ideas?

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