IHS, CATO, and why libertarians suck.

If you have ever argued with a libertarian, there are two things which will immediately strike you as odd: 1) They are the only people who are more smug than liberals 2) They seem to have some deep hatred for government.

However, the libertarian philosophy is deeply flawed in it’s philosophy of rights. Libertarians do not truly hate the state, but only when it is convenient to do so. The easiest way to expose a libertarian’s trust in the state, is to argue for private defense.

I was recently at an IHS seminar in Santa Cruz, and I was stunned by the way I was attacked by these “anti-government” folk. I thought I was going to a conference which was in the tradition of Mises, Rothbard, Etc… After all, both IHS and CATO were founded to advance the radical ideas of Rothbard.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I realized that I was in the wrong place. It hit me when I discovered that all of the lectures were not idealogical by any means. Instead, every lecture was about how we should work within the system to incrimentally reduce government. While I am not necessarily opposed to gradualism, I can only support it when the ultimate goal is the abolition of the state.

In discussion groups, we would not talk about how we should legalize drugs, get rid of the police state, or remove all regulations in the economy. Instead, we talked about sensible drug policies, making eminent domain used less often, and changing regulations to allow the market to operate more efficiently.

The goal of these institutions (which used to be used for the advancement of Austrian economics and demonstrate why the state is the greatest evil) is no longer the goal held by Rothbard or any radical. Instead, they are just pragmatic people who are no longer dedicated to the abolition of the state, but rather making the state better. The state is no longer the mass murdering thief that it used to be. It is now an obstacle to prosperity, which should be controlled, not abolished. It is no longer immoral, but rather impractical.

So I figured that these seminars were filled with disappointed people like me. Once again, Iwas wrong.

When we would get into our group discussions, I was ridiculed for having “radical” beliefs. I soon discovered that these “libertarians”, don’t hate government, they are simply annoyed with it.

But maybe they aren’t even annoyed with it. These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play. When I said that government has no role in society, everyone quickly jumped to those topics. They could not figure out how this could work. Government is absolutely necessary, private companies could not possibly be up to such a task. It would be absolute chaos.

So notice two things here: 1) There is no talk of right or wrong. 2) How come the government always makes things worse and the market is always better, yet when it comes to this, it is the exact opposite?

Every conversation consisted of “how will that work?” rather than “is that right or wrong?”. The morality has been completely removed from their arguments. The discussions had nothing to do with natural rights, but instead were composed of utilitarian claims based on how the government is impractical.

I won’t say that I gained nothing from this experience, but if this is the direction of the libertarian movement, I’m no longer on board. There were a couple bright people there, but most of the students were just repeating what they have read on the CATO blog. They were just looking for opportunities for internships at CATO and other institutions. The knowledge of the students was very shallow, especially that of Austrian economics and natural rights philosophy. If you ask them about trade in Armenia, they can talk for hours. Beyond that, it was weak.

Some students were on fire for hatred of government, but this was all they had. Passion without knowledge is useless. However, I would much rather have passionate libertarians than libertarians with no principles. The only other passion that I saw, was the hatred for Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, and the Mises Institute.

Another random fact, is that I only heard the word “liberty” 3 times at a week long libertarian conference. I think I’ll be looking for a seminar with either the Mises Institute or FEE next summer. No more IHS.

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27 Responses to “IHS, CATO, and why libertarians suck.”

  1. sympatico Says:

    Although I can sympathize with your frustrations about other libertarians, here is something to consider: if you can’t even convince other *libertarians* that your positions (e.g., private law and defense) are correct, how do you expect to convince the broader public? Maybe that is not your goal, but as someone who agrees with you on law, defense, etc., I think it should be your goal. (Aside: looking at the reading list, the one’s on Law seem quite radical to me.)

    If convincing others is a goal of yours, you might need to make a shift in argument (and possibly attitude). One suggestion: there is nothing wrong with making a consequentialist argument now and then. Mises stated explicitly that he was a utilitarian, not a natural rights guy. Rothbard even made utilitarian claims on his better days. Making such claims does not necessarily involve selling out or weakening your anti-statism, it just gives you a common ground for discussion.

  2. I might be missing something in your attempt to be colorful, but you said, “These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play.” Now I can only speak for the graduate student participants of IHS and the faculty that I have met, but they understand the difference between LAW and the STATE. Everyone knows why law is good, but I could see how someone could default to the position that law is provided by the state — this is a moderate position. But law does not have to be provided by, for example, the US government. I do think it is funny, however, that almost any body which provides law would look like a government in some respect, so in a way your complaint is incoherent. But maybe you are being particularly persnickety.
    One thing I have always hated about Rothbard types is their big brain attitude. I have been so turned off by these people because they have contempt for the learning process of anyone else. It is far easier to jump into the radical bandwagon and claim that Rothbard held the truth in his hand (the truth that Hegal, for instance, dropped and lost after his conversation with God). Anything more subtle is stupid. This is a major turn off.
    I share the contempt for marginalists, even when I agree with them. I think that the state really sucks and more people need to be confronted with that fact. But I also understand the concept of division of labor; not everyone has to be the intolerant Jack@$$ that accuses other people of being luck-warm. This attitude worked for the likes of Mises who called MPS people like Friedman socialist. He earned this right, he narrowly escaped the Nazis and had all of this belongings stolen or burned. I don’t expect moderation from him. But what is your reason for judging others?

  3. I would like libertarians to get over their “rights” fetish. See L. A. Rollins’ Myth of Natural Rights.

  4. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    @ sympatico

    “Although I can sympathize with your frustrations about other libertarians, here is something to consider: if you can’t even convince other *libertarians* that your positions (e.g., private law and defense) are correct, how do you expect to convince the broader public? Maybe that is not your goal, but as someone who agrees with you on law, defense, etc., I think it should be your goal. (Aside: looking at the reading list, the one’s on Law seem quite radical to me.)”

    Generally, when I argue with a non-libertarian, I don’t try and persuade them by saying we should privatize defense. That would be stupid. I would argue for libertarianism based on the issues which are easiest to accept. That is different than compromising on principles, which is what CATO and most other libertarians do.

    “If convincing others is a goal of yours, you might need to make a shift in argument (and possibly attitude). One suggestion: there is nothing wrong with making a consequentialist argument now and then. Mises stated explicitly that he was a utilitarian, not a natural rights guy. Rothbard even made utilitarian claims on his better days. Making such claims does not necessarily involve selling out or weakening your anti-statism, it just gives you a common ground for discussion.”

    I have no problem with making utilitarian claims, I am an econ major. What I do have a problem with, is the libertarians who argue from a rights perspective up until a certain point (defense), and then changing to the utilitarian perspective.

    But since utilitarianism is an awful philosophy, I don’t think an entire belief system should be formulated off it. A lot of times, when I argue with a statist, the first think I ask them is this: “Do you care about the results of actions or the actions themselves?”

    The answer to this question depends on how I argue. But to say that a system is “better” because it “might” yield mroe economic results is a joke.

  5. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    @ Mike

    “I might be missing something in your attempt to be colorful, but you said, “These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play.” Now I can only speak for the graduate student participants of IHS and the faculty that I have met, but they understand the difference between LAW and the STATE. Everyone knows why law is good, but I could see how someone could default to the position that law is provided by the state — this is a moderate position. But law does not have to be provided by, for example, the US government. I do think it is funny, however, that almost any body which provides law would look like a government in some respect, so in a way your complaint is incoherent. ”

    Who said anything about law? I don’t think I have said that “law” should be provided by private companies. I said “protection”.

    “One thing I have always hated about Rothbard types is their big brain attitude. I have been so turned off by these people because they have contempt for the learning process of anyone else. It is far easier to jump into the radical bandwagon and claim that Rothbard held the truth in his hand (the truth that Hegal, for instance, dropped and lost after his conversation with God). Anything more subtle is stupid. This is a major turn off.”

    I’ve always been attracted and turned off of philosophies based on validity, not the adherents attitudes.

    “I share the contempt for marginalists, even when I agree with them. I think that the state really sucks and more people need to be confronted with that fact. But I also understand the concept of division of labor; not everyone has to be the intolerant Jack@$$ that accuses other people of being luck-warm. This attitude worked for the likes of Mises who called MPS people like Friedman socialist. He earned this right, he narrowly escaped the Nazis and had all of this belongings stolen or burned. I don’t expect moderation from him. But what is your reason for judging others?”

    I judge others because their arguments opposing government are far from satisfying. Of course Mises hated Friedman. Friedman supported government military, a central bank, police, etc…

    These “small government” libertarians are the true utopians. They say “Give the government a monopoly on coercion, unlimited money, all the big weapons, write the laws, and tell it to limit itself”.

    What I just explained, is the typical libertarian position. People such as Friedman have this insane view that you can keep a government “limited”. Governments always, ALWAYS, always expand. They always will. That’s because all governments (even minimal) have the perfect recipe to grow themselves into monsters.

    That’s why I’m so judgmental. The position a persoan is in (Mises running from nazis) is irrelevant to the arguments they make. Friedman was a statist, just like Obama, Bush, and all small government libertarians. THe only difference, is to what extent.

  6. sympatico Says:

    @ blog author

    “That is different than compromising on principles, which is what CATO and most other libertarians do.”

    Umm, perhaps they just have different principles than you, and thus they are not compromising anything. (Aside: why do Cato-haters put CATO in all caps? It’s not an acronym.)

    “I have no problem with making utilitarian claims, I am an econ major. What I do have a problem with, is the libertarians who argue from a rights perspective up until a certain point (defense), and then changing to the utilitarian perspective.”

    Yes, this is annoying. Jeff Friedman calls it “the libertarian two-step.” But aren’t you doing the same thing, by starting with utilitarian arguments and moving to rights arguments.

    “But since utilitarianism is an awful philosophy”

    Wow, that is a strong statement. So do you think Mises was an awful economist or just an awful philosopher?

    Some Rothbardians (I don’t know about you) will claim that they would support libertarianism even if it brought poverty to the world. This is pure nonsense. Thankfully, we do not live in that world, which makes such a claim cheap talk.

  7. sympatico Says:

    @ blog author

    I’m sure Michael can speak for himself, but two quick factual points of clarification:

    “Who said anything about law? I don’t think I have said that “law” should be provided by private companies. I said “protection”.”

    From your original post:

    “These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play.”

    On Mises and Friedman:

    “Of course Mises hated Friedman. Friedman supported government military, a central bank, police, etc…”

    Mises also supported government military and police. Furthermore, the later Milton Friedman can be seen as coming around to more free market views on money, convinced by public choice and other arguments (see his 1986 articles in “Economic Inquiry” and “Economists and Economic Policy”). It is Rothbard and his followers that had a major axe to grind with Friedman, not Mises.

  8. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    “Umm, perhaps they just have different principles than you, and thus they are not compromising anything. (Aside: why do Cato-haters put CATO in all caps? It’s not an acronym.)”

    Then they should claim to have different principles. And I put it in all caps because it is obnoxious, which fits CATO very well.

    “Yes, this is annoying. Jeff Friedman calls it “the libertarian two-step.” But aren’t you doing the same thing, by starting with utilitarian arguments and moving to rights arguments.”

    No, I don’t do the same thing. I argue from two different perspectives. I either argue entirely for A) The state is immoral. OR B) The state prevents economic success.

    I don’t mix the two. I just pick a stance epending on who I am talking to.

    “Wow, that is a strong statement. So do you think Mises was an awful economist or just an awful philosopher?”

    I think he was possibly the best economist to ever live, but I don’t like his philosophy at all.

    “Some Rothbardians (I don’t know about you) will claim that they would support libertarianism even if it brought poverty to the world. This is pure nonsense. Thankfully, we do not live in that world, which makes such a claim cheap talk.”

    I do believe that and it is not “nonsense”. I would argue against the state regardless of the results it might yield. It’s the same reason I oppose slavery. When I decided whether slavery is good or not, how it might effect the economy does not even cross into my mind. Instead, I just see that it is an immoral act, so I oppose it.

    But just as you said, thankful this is not the case. It wins on both fronts.

  9. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    “I’m sure Michael can speak for himself, but two quick factual points of clarification:

    “Who said anything about law? I don’t think I have said that “law” should be provided by private companies. I said “protection”.”

    From your original post:

    “These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play.”

    You’re right, I mispoke. It should just be “defense” since formal law requires a state. Perhaps private “order” services may be better? It’s all semantics, but I do believe that an entire system of protection, arbitration (courts), and so on can be possible.

    “Mises also supported government military and police. Furthermore, the later Milton Friedman can be seen as coming around to more free market views on money, convinced by public choice and other arguments (see his 1986 articles in “Economic Inquiry” and “Economists and Economic Policy”). It is Rothbard and his followers that had a major axe to grind with Friedman, not Mises.”

    Yup, which is why I am not as much of a follower of Mises as I am Rothbard. Mises was amazing when it came to monetary policy (Theory of Money and Credit was the 2nd best book on economics I’ve read). But even as being an Austrian, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything he says.

    However, I do disagree that Rothbard and his followers were the only Austrians who opposed Friedman. Mises’ economics are opposed to Friedman as well, not just Rothbard’s. Opposition to central banking is the most important aspect of the Austrian theory, so to any Austrian, Friedman’s views are absolutely unacceptable.

  10. sympatico Says:

    @ blog author

    I’m not saying you can’t dislike Mises as a whole (or Friedman) while still admiring him in certain respects. I certainly have mixed feelings about just everyone economist associated with libertarianism. But to go around making factually incorrect and intellectually dishonest statements like “Of course Mises hated Friedman. Friedman supported government military, a central bank, police, etc…” is what I’m complaining about.

    Can you at least see how, if you made such statements in a seminar room or group discussion, people would just ignore everything else you say? Especially if they respect those guys as economists and libertarians.

    This brings me back to your original complaint. Let me try to summarize the way I’m understanding your argument. While it’s fine to make consequential arguments for libertarianism among non-libertarians, this should be off the table among groups of libertarians. Only natural rights arguments are valid. And you think that libertarians associated with IHS and Cato suck because they disagree with you on this point.

    Is this close? Or is your complaint that these other libertarians won’t even discuss the merits of natural rights vs. utilitarianism? Sorry if none of this correctly states your position, but I’m still trying to figure out what your original complaint in the blog post is.

  11. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    “I’m not saying you can’t dislike Mises as a whole (or Friedman) while still admiring him in certain respects. I certainly have mixed feelings about just everyone economist associated with libertarianism. But to go around making factually incorrect and intellectually dishonest statements like “Of course Mises hated Friedman. Friedman supported government military, a central bank, police, etc…” is what I’m complaining about.”

    Hated Friedman as a person, who knows. But he did hate his theories, ESPECIALLY his views on central banking. And Friedman DID support government military, central banking, and police. These things are not intellectually OR factually incorrect.

    “Can you at least see how, if you made such statements in a seminar room or group discussion, people would just ignore everything else you say? Especially if they respect those guys as economists and libertarians.”

    Nope.

    “While it’s fine to make consequential arguments for libertarianism among non-libertarians, this should be off the table among groups of libertarians. Only natural rights arguments are valid. And you think that libertarians associated with IHS and Cato suck because they disagree with you on this point.”

    Nope. I disagree strongly with basing beliefs on utilitarian principles (or lack of). However, when some people are utilitarians and cannot be converted, then I have no problem bringing them into the cause of liberty by using utilitarian arguments.

    So here is my complaint: Libertarians constantly make moral claims about why we should have liberty. They oppose force, they hate government, and they came to libertarianism because of some moral issue.

    However, as soon as something becomes difficult to accomplish or seems “impractical”, they abandon their values in the name of pragmatism. Then, they turn on those who stay true to their principles and call them “radicals”.

    So that said, here are my main points:

    1) I despise utilitarianism, but as an econ major, it is very successful to convince people that free markets kick ass.

    2) You have 6 premises based on rights claims, and then for premise 7, make a utilitarian claim when things get sticky.

    3) Arguing that the government should not exist based on utilitarian claims means nothing for those who are not utilitarians.

    For us principled folk, we can argue our position for anyone. If I argue from the stance of morality against the state, someone might try to tell me that they only care about the consequences of having a state. MY response will be “Well I don’t care about the consequences, so have your system somewhere else and leave me the fuck out of it.”.

    So it is not possible to argue for the existence of the state from a utilitarian standpoint, since not everyone is a utilitarian. It is also impossible to argue AGAINST the state from this standpoint for the same reason: Not everyone is a utilitarian.

    However, I don’t have that problem. My views allows you to be a utilitarian, or whatever you want. The argument from natural rights applies to everyone, because no matter what your beliefs are, you can act upon them. The utilitarian REQUIRES everyone to be a utilitarian to justify the state or no state.

  12. sympatico Says:

    “Hated Friedman as a person, who knows. But he did hate his theories, ESPECIALLY his views on central banking. And Friedman DID support government military, central banking, and police. These things are not intellectually OR factually incorrect.”

    Do you have any evidence to support that Mises hated Friedman? Hate is a very strong word. Yes, they disagreed on central banking. But to state that Mises hated Friedman, and did so in part because Friedman supported state military and police, things that Mises supported, is both incorrect and intellectually dishonest.

    If you can’t provide any evidence that Mises HATED Friedman (not just disagreed about monetary policy) after these repeated assertions, then this conversation is over. And I will fully understand why no one is willing to engage you intellectually in seminar discussions.

    “Nope.”

    If you can’t see why the above is dishonest, I’m not surprised you can’t see this next point. But seriously sir, you need a healthy dose of Smithian sympathy in your interpersonal interactions.

    “The utilitarian REQUIRES everyone to be a utilitarian to justify the state or no state.”

    This entire circular argument makes zero sense, but if it makes you happy to think so in your alternate reality, so be it. I see you’ve tapped into Rothbard’s phoneline to God and have all the answers about morality. Now you can just dismiss everyone else’s arguments that doesn’t agree with you and wonder smuggly why liberty doesn’t improve in the world.

  13. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    “Do you have any evidence to support that Mises hated Friedman? Hate is a very strong word. Yes, they disagreed on central banking. But to state that Mises hated Friedman, and did so in part because Friedman supported state military and police, things that Mises supported, is both incorrect and intellectually dishonest.”

    Nope. I said that that I don’t know how he thought of him as a person, I said he hated his theories considering the majority of his work was focused on monetary policy. I don’t see why you find it so strange that I use the word “hate”. Have you read many of my posts? I have also called certain respectable philosophers “shit fuckers”. I can say anything I want, and I don’t usually expect my ridiculous exaggerations to be taken literally.

    I’m rather immature.

    “And I will fully understand why no one is willing to engage you intellectually in seminar discussions.”

    A few did engage me, they just failed miserably.

    “But seriously sir, you need a healthy dose of Smithian sympathy in your interpersonal interactions.”

    I’m not sure what smithian sympathy is….is it a drug? If so, I’m in.

    “This entire circular argument makes zero sense, but if it makes you happy to think so in your alternate reality.”

    I don’t think it’s circular.

    “I see you’ve tapped into Rothbard’s phoneline to God and have all the answers about morality.”

    1) I don’t get my moral views from Rothbard 2) Do you have his number?

    “Now you can just dismiss everyone else’s arguments that doesn’t agree with you and wonder smuggly why liberty doesn’t improve in the world.”

    I have no problem dismissing bad arguments. And I don’t have to wonder why liberty doesn’t improve the world…because it does.

  14. WelcometoReality Says:

    Let me guess, you are about 20 years old, you live in the middle of nowhere, you go to some liberal arts school and you are OBSESSED with academia. I like some of the stuff you say, but get with it. Not everything can be as simple as the stuff you read in your books. Save this blog and in 15 years after you hopefully have a real job and you have experienced a little more about life, I will be curious if you still think the same.

  15. lilburtonboy7489 Says:

    “Let me guess, you are about 20 years old, you live in the middle of nowhere”

    How can you live “nowhere”?

    “you go to some liberal arts school and you are OBSESSED with academia.”

    I do enjoy learning from time to time. I enjoy it much more than my last job where I welded 60 hours a week in a factory. Academia is waaaaay nicer.

    “Not everything can be as simple as the stuff you read in your books.”

    When did I suggest any of this would be simple?

    “Save this blog and in 15 years after you hopefully have a real job and you have experienced a little more about life”

    I bet I have had more “real jobs” than you…..even though I’m not really sure what a “real job” is. What’s a fake job?

    “I will be curious if you still think the same.”

    Well I’ll be sure to let you know.

  16. 1 п. “Не имей сто друзей, а имей сто шекелей” тоже хорошо рифмуется 🙂
    8 п. Ты никогда не потеряешь работу. Когда закончатся фотографии можно размещать рисунки (да хоть бы и конкурс объявить на лучший рисунок Одри (-:), аппликации и фотографии поделок из пластилина…
    9 п. Сто пудов ! 🙂

  17. Как хорошо что удалось отыскать такой замечательный блог, и тем более отлично, что есть такие автора толковые!

  18. I Hate Governments Says:

    “The easiest way to expose a libertarian’s trust in the state, is to argue for private defense.”

    As a libertarian, I have absolutely nothing against private defense.

    We should let private individuals and private entities buy as many and any weapons they want to defend themselves and their property.

    People should have the right to form private militias and private militaries and private security forces.

    A government standing army is the biggest threat to the people of any nation as history is littered with stories of armies turning against their own citizens.

    Nations should not be allowed to have armies because they always use it to attack other nations.

    Only private entities should have armies.

  19. I Hate Governments Says:

    ““These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play.””

    The minarchist libertarians think like that. However I think that the ONE THING that should NEVER be trusted in the hands of government is precisely law and defense.

    As it is always used to plunder and kill it’s own citizens. Trusting law and defense to the government is like trusting your life savings to the theif and your protection to the drug lord.

    I’d rather see the government in arts endowment than law and defense.

    I too am really irritated that other libertarians would want to let the real power in the hands of government.

    With law and defense, you have pretty much the power to grow back to totalitarian proportions.

    Defense and self-defense should be left to private entities.

    A government who makes the laws and who protects you is a government who can make laws justifying the plundering of your private properties and then who can protect you from the government ?

    I think that we absolutely DON’T need the governement and that law and defense are precisely the two things we should never let the government handle.

  20. I Hate Governments Says:

    teageegeepea,

    “I would like libertarians to get over their “rights” fetish. See”

    And I would like you liberals to get over your kleptomania !!!

  21. Вчера подруга скинула на мыло адрес вашего сайта. Но я не придал особого значения, я сегодня зашел и понял что она была права – сайт действительно СУПЕР!

  22. Cato isn’t libertarian, and neither is the libertarian party.
    However, anyone that does not reject the state does not really understand politics or economics.

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