Re: [sl4] Re: Property rights

From: Stuart Armstrong (
Date: Fri Jul 11 2008 - 04:31:29 MDT

>> It has some aspects that are
>> unquestionably smart (mostly in economics, and individual autonomy)
>> but there are many cases throughout history when libertarian ideas
>> were unquestionably stupid and harmful (dysentery and other disease
>> control, the Irish famine, market crashes (the tulip market in Holland
>> and the south sea bubble chief among them), laissez-faire educational
>> policies in underdeveloped countries, etc...)
> I agree with your generality, but not with your specifics. "Dysentery" is
> not a libertarian idea, and as libertarian idealists point out, proper
> medical prevention *could* be arranged by a free people who were
> both smart enough, well educated enough, and farsighted enough.

I have no doubt about that; I've looked into some of those solutions
myself, and most of them look like complicated and risky methods to
construct an inefficient liberty-based version of something that could
be accomplished much easier by governmental fiat. I'm not saying its a
bad idea to do so, but it carries a large cost (that might be
compensated by an increase in liberty, but that's a philosophical

To put in economic terms, negative eternalities (it is to the
advantage of every parent to have every child immunized, except their
own). To solve these you need most people to be not only smart but
altrusistic, and to have some mechanism for them to organise their
altruistic impulses. If some people are not altruistic enough, and if
the externalities are sufficiently large, you need compulsion (maybe a
soft, financial version of compulsion, but some compulsion non the

> The Irish famine was to a great extent produced by *government*.
> Had the free market, where those who produce goods get to keep
> them and trade them freely both internally and externally, it would
> never have happened.

You seem to have an interpretation of the Irish famine at odds with
most - and certainly at odds with most Irish historians. Could we
continue the debate off the list? It seems interesting.

> The "tulip market"? Well, yes, people who
> who like to gamble and have the freedom to do so sometimes lose
> their shirts. So what? Take their freedoms away? What about a
> government oversight committee today that would keep you from
> playing the stock market because you might do something stupid?
> You surely don't want that too.

Of course not. But interest rate setting, various central bank
interventions, mandatory circuit breakers, and a host of related
interventions, seem essential to make sure the pain doesn't spread.
The pain of market crashes are rarely confined to investors.

> And laissez-faire educational systems work fine in most Western,
> advanced nations, and most countries are ready for them. But
> not impoverished third world countries who are hundreds if not
> thousands of years behind culturally. They're not even ready for
> rudimentary democracy.

Laissez-faire educational systems to not exist in most Western nations
(at least not as the main stay of the pre-university educational
system). Even for private schools and universities, most are
established under laws that are very far from laissez-faire.

But I don't want to turn this post into a debate on libertarianism
(Note from the editor: a bit late for that, isn't it? Note from
Stuart: shush! They might not have noticed it until you draw attention
to it!).

I just want to make the point that we are living in a civilization
which is very very far from libertarian ideals; government and
regulations saturate the whole edifice. And it's not too bad a
civilization, on balance. Libertarian ideas sound tempting, and some
are undoutebly correct (partial-Futarchy is good). But communist ideas
sounded tempting in their day, and some were undoutably correct
(family law, a few aspects of educational policy, abolition of fedal
principles). Until we have a working, stable minarchy in a large
country (ie until demons can go ice-skating without leaving home), we
can't assume that the smartest idea for future government is likely to
be a minarchy.

I personally think the ideal will be far more libertarian than I'm
comfortable with, but far less that Lee would like :-) But that's a
complete guess at the moment. Time, and the AI(s), will tell.


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