Blogs > Liberty and Power > Economics and the Hollowing Out of Classical Liberalism

Jul 18, 2005 4:06 pm


Economics and the Hollowing Out of Classical Liberalism



The Karl Rove affair is doing a great job of demonstrating that some who call themselves libertarians, or even libertarian anarchists, are simply right wingers. This has set me to wondering why so many libertarians, calling themselves “classical liberals” have proven when push comes to shove to be shills for the least libertarian wing of the Republican Party.

I have the following surmise. If we go to some of the greatest classical liberals of the past, we find that they had a richer sense of what the institutions of a free society were than those appropriating the term today. In particular, they did not reduce free institutions to economics.

Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, emphasized the importance of what we call today civil society - that network of independent voluntary associations that for the most part were not simply businesses. He contrasted it to the state and saw it as the crucial player in keeping administration from growing out of control - a replacement for the old aristocracy without its bad habits.

Today many businesses have grown to become mighty corporations. In doing so they have exited civil society to become part of what Karl Hess, jr. calls, and I approve, the market order contrasted with the market place. The difference between market place and market order is simple to describe, and I have personal experience to back me up. The small business I ran profitably for some 17 years or so was a part of the market place. For me, market prices were signals, as von Mises called them, telling me where the best decisions could be made in economic terms. I then translated this information into my own set of values, along with anything else I found relevant, and acted. The market place is a realm of freedom.

Public corporations have no such freedom. They are required by law to privilege market values over all others. If they do not, and shares therefore fall in money terms, they are open to takeover bids. Voting power is based on economic investment, and no other values. If a CEO decides to raise wages higher than the market demands, he is open to suit by shareholders, as happened to Henry Ford. In short, the public corporation is a creature of the market order. The market order is the realm of impersonal organizations organized solely to pursue economic values. It is not a realm of freedom except to the degree that CEOs can find wiggle room around these pressures. Some do, and do good things, others do, and do bad things. But even for them freedom is very limited, and for others, virtually nonexistent.

Except as consumers - which is why consumer has replaced words like citizen and human being in so much libertarian and economic analysis. The problem is that while all of us are consumers, none of us are just consumers. And the consumer role is fundamentally passive: choosing among alternatives entrepreneurs bring before them.

I am not arguing that public corporations are bad. I am arguing they are not realms of freedom in the sense that classical liberals defended - and that these men and women did not much discuss them because the seminal works were written before the corporate economy had really emerged. However, one can easily find signs of unease with these institutions on the part of many of those times.

Over time the differences between market places and market orders has become blurred - in my opinion because the fight against socialism gradually turned most definitions of liberalism over to economists. And the free market economists were brilliantly successful in their challenge to socialism. The best, such as Hayek, did not reduce a free society to economic terms, but their followers often tended to do so. Economic theory was so successful at battling socialism that it seemed to some that everything could be reduced to it.

This development has had several disastrous consequences that we are experiencing now.

1.) Corporate freedom is equated with individual freedom. This predisposed libertarians not to ask what they were giving up when they were paid by the wealthy to defend business interests against government. Think tanks are not realms of intellectual freedom because they allow, as a rule (I am painting with a broad brush, some small exceptions exist), only certain dimensions of classical liberalism to be explored - those dimensions that are most in harmony with the interests of corporate economies.

2.) Therefore, for most libertarians the business community and its representatives are the most trusted defenders of liberty - something that is demonstrably false. For example, corporations have been at the forefront in urging centralization and standardization of political power because it is easier for them to organize on a large scale. This makes plenty of theoretical sense. The instrumental organizations within a spontaneous order, be they corporations in a market or parties in a democracy or (by analogy) individual animals in an ecology, are always threatened by the uncertainties of that order and will always seek to reduce them, ultimately turning it into a planned organization, if they can. This will be disastrous for most but good for the organization that pulls it off.

3.) The economization of classical liberal theory has made it difficult to see, let alone appreciate this problem. Anarcho-capitalism (of which I once was a proponent) carries this to its extreme. That is, instead of seeing business and government as intertwined, and necessarily so because the market requires a legal order (I will not discuss the fantasy of “stateless law” under modern conditions here) anarcho-capitalists see all the bad effects of this intertwining as due to government, the good effects as due to business.

Think of an observation about the Kelo decision I recently read on the Hayek listserve. It was made, the poster argued, so government can raise more tax money. This is of course partly correct. But there is another part - so well connected business people can take advantage of political power to make even MORE money - and the added taxes they pay are essentially the cost of hiring the hit man. No hit man, no abuses. But no one to hire the hit man, no abuses either. And the wealthy seeking more provide the market for the hit man. This blindness is both theoretical and practical, for it helps explain why the Republican party is given such a free walk by so many libertarians and so-called classical liberals.

4.) This state of affairs allows oligarchs and their toadies and would-be oligarchs to pose as defenders of liberty when all they are is defenders against some forms of power the better to increase other forms of power.

5.) A more adequate analysis would see that we now have at least a three way division in the relevant parts of society that classical liberal theory focused on: government, the market order, and civil society. Of the three, only the third is really the realm of human freedom. This three-way division fits poorly into the good guys bad guys model of a two party system. It also fits poorly into the good guys bad guys model of state vs. market and of two party politics. It's only advantage is that it is closer to reality.

This summer I will finish a book on this issue as it applies to the environment.

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Gus diZerega - 7/20/2005

If you want to make the market simply all forms of voluntary exchange, fine. No problem - I am not an essentialist regarding words. But then I think we need to look more deeply into systems of voluntary exchange and how different systems generate different values and do our analysis at that level. Different kinds of "markets" if you will.

For example, when we meet a friend and make voluntary exchanges of time, goods, what have you, interactions of potentially quite complex and valuable ethical depths are potentially taking place compared to the more impersonal context of my going into a department store and buying a shirt from a stranger. Both are voluntary exchanges in Mises' very special sense of the term. I do both, and I approve of both kinds of "exchange" - but in my view they are not the same in more than trivial senses. In my own view, the time spent with a friend is not strictly speaking an exchange because my motive is not to give something up in order to obtain something that other person is giving up. There is no exchange motive.

Science also flourishes from voluntary exchange in Mises' sense. It depends on it. But it does not generate prices, it generates more reliable knowledge than do other forms of acquiring knowledge. If scientific knowledge shifted as much as prices do, science as we know it would be impossible. But by bringing this example into the world of voluntary exchange, I think you can see while there are market like elements in science (both are spontaneous orders in Hayek and Polanyi's senses), science is not itself easily integrated into traditional economic analysis. For example, prices play no role in scientific feedback.

Mises' praxeology, as I read him anyway, masks this difference by separating ends and means analytically. Rothbard explicitly does the same in ME&S. But this assumption makes it impossible to distinguish analytically between circumstances where all exchanges are simply instrumental - and the institutional rules might encourage that situation - and situations where exchanges are more complex and institutions might encourage that complexity.

Given that in human psychology we frequently mix ends and means together, this simplifying assumption by Mises and Rothbard reduces our ability to apply our analysis to human life as we actually live it.

Example - I enjoyed my walk to campus today rather than driving. But I would have done neither if I didn't have work to do here. Was my walk instrumental or a good in itself? Clearly it had important elements of both.

This has very important implications IF sytems of rules are not truly neutral but actually encourage the realm of exchange to move towards ethically thinner voluntary instrumental relationships and away from ethically thicker less purely instrumental relationships. I am NOT saying all relationships should be of this latter sort. Not at all. I am saying that the phenomena is real and can be important.

One important instance of it is the move from market place to market order. I am NOT against the market order - but I think its impact is more complex and problematic than do those who conflate its virtues with the virtues of the market place. Basically, it moves some market phenomena out of civil society as it uis usually conceived - a realm of thick freedom - to the market order, a realm of much thinner freedom because of the more domineering role of prices.

To try and forestall an obvious objection, I am not saying the market place is virtuous and the market order is not. There are rascals and crooks in the market place and very good people working in the market order. I've encountered both. I am working at the level of different systems of cooperation - the patterns that emerge when we step back from looking at individual exchanges to see what we can see when we look at the networks of relationships they generate.

My application of hayekian insights about spontaneous oreders identifies several networks generated by voluntary interactions by people. They may also have elements of forced interaction, but they do not depend on them. they include

The Market

Science

Civil Society

Language

at a minimum.

I also consider democracy a spontaneous order whose basic value is consensus rather than majority rule. But I will not debate this one with anyone who doesn't take the time to read at least one thing I have written on the subject so I don't have to spend lots of time rerpeating myself. Among the sources are many articles in Critical Review and The Reviw of Politics, as well as my book Persuasion, Power, and Polity: A Theory of Democratic Self-Organization. Some of the articles can be downloaded for free from my website www.dizerega.com


Kevin Carson - 7/19/2005

I fully agree that a freedom depends on the institutions of civil society, and not just business. That being said, I think you're taking an overly restrictive view of market values by limiting them to the cash nexus.

Certainly too many libertarians envision a society organized around capitalist corporations. But they don't have a monopoly on the term "free market."

I'm not an Austrian, but I think Mises was right in saying that all human action is governed by the same basic laws as economic action. In all aspects of life, we're utility-maximizing beings. But we maximize utility by pursuing what we see as the good--which includes helping our fellow human beings and cooperating for mutual benefit.

The free market is the whole realm of voluntary exchanges, including cooperation and mutual aid. Cooperatives, common property, LETS systems, the household and gift economy, charity, etc., are just as much "market" institutions as the capitalist corporation. More so, actually, since most of the latter survive only with government subsidies and privileges.

The only thing inconsistent with a market society is the use of force to live off someone else's labor.


Gus diZerega - 7/19/2005

Good question. Here's the answer.

Presidents lied well beforeTruman. I cut 'em some slack since it seems to be a prerequisite for the job - but that's another discussion.

The machine point is important. Machines are basically highly organized party structures that control government from the top to the bottom, and do so by their control of resources. The machine form of organization was perfected in American cities by bosses, and the top down organization of the old communist states was based on the same logic - without hindrances from law and the constitution. It is a very dangerous form of political organization.

Historically we have not had national machines for a few reasons. First, parties have been organized at state levels, and the state parties have been largely independent from us. That is why liberals, obsessed with Progressive ideals of administration, wanted us to adopt strong European style parties - so we could organize government effectively and so have more "responsibility." But they never got it together, thank the Gods.

Second, the Democrats were unable to create a national machine during the long period of their ascendency because they were a very loose coalition. Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats agreed on relatively little other than that they were nopt republicans. Often the working majority in one or both houses was a mix of Southern Democrats and Republicans. See Theodore Lowi's work on some of this.

Now we have a unified party with plenty of discipline growing from national domination of important areas of funding, energized by a well organized radical wing, and majorities for most purposes in both houses as well as the Presidency. It is now seeking to undermine judicial independence as well. Under such circumstances the logic of Federalist 10 breaks down. We have potential majority tyranny - something like a parliamentary system WITHOUT the checks that developed in parliaments to keep them under some control.

DeLay and others are trying to institutionalize this majority so as to protect it from electoral challenge, and ironically, free market rhetoric is being used to do so. Contracting out removes federal money from a bureaucracy, where civil service rules drastically limit its ability to influence politics (that is why those rules were passed - to prevent the bureaucracy being used to create a national machine) and transfer it to corporations that are well connected politically. Think Halliburton. They then return some of that money as financial support for the incumbents. Further, they do not give much to the oposition if they want to continue getting good contracts.

Hence, THIS logic of "contracting out" encourages more spending because more then returns to the majority party. It works with the opposite incentives of what many market advocates think it does. Evidence? Look at the budget.

Machines are often violent. A student of mine was hired by the Daley machine while a high school student in Chicago. His job was to throw stones and bricks through the windows and car windows of political opponents. This was a machine that existed within a constitutional order and did not control the courts. I doubt that it would have stopped with stones if it were national. Think of Mexico's old PRI.

I go into this in more detail in my web site on the radical right. Go to www.deal-with-it.org. Go to the top and click on American Shadow, then on th "subverting conservatism" piece.

A machine is in many ways the ultimate mutation of business and government, something that has the potential to do good administration (Chicago, Singapore) , but is brutal, corrupt, and in time very destructive to its own society. What keeps it under some check in cities is that they are far smaller than nation states and have to pay better attention to economics. Put one in charge of a nation and you get Mexico, Russia, and the like.


Gus diZerega - 7/19/2005

You read WAY too much into my post. Much too much.

First, I am well aware of Tocqueville's praise of American commercial activity - in fact I rather explicitly included it in his conception of civil society. I did not expand on the point because it was not directly relevant to the point I wanted to make and I assumed that every regular reader of this blog would either be aware of it, or if not, would agree with it - as I do. He wrote before the distinction between market place and market order made much sense. Even so, Tocqueville was worried about some of the possibilities involved in the incipient rise of giant industries. (Democracy in America, Vol 2, Bk. II, chapter xx.) In this regard he was more sensitive to the broader cuoltural context of a free socety than are MOST classical liberals today, in my opinion.

Second, what all your stuff about church and the like is about - beats me. I am anything but secular in my beliefs, but that is irrelevant, COMPLETELY irrelevant, to the point I am trying to make. One can be an atheist, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Buddhist, or a Wiccan, and agree or disagree with my arguments on grounds completely separate from their spiritual position.

So that is all a non sequitur.


Gus diZerega - 7/19/2005

First, William Stepp is correct and I was wrong with the Ford example, I took it from an article and when I double checked after his criticism, it seems the author must have conflated two separate issues in Ford's history. His paying high wages, which annoyed other shareholders, but they didn't sue. And his not paying high enough dividends at a later date, where they did sue and won. Ford then engaged in some creative corporate politicking (about which I agree with Ford) and bought them out. So, I was wrong on the facts of that case, and Stepp is right.

The case I cited was based on faulty history but the basic argument I used is not. In fact the case illustrates my point, albeit more indirectly. If the aggrieved shareholders had been the majority, Ford would have had to bow to their wishes or try to buy them out. Also, they could have sued in the first case as they in fact did in the second. So the logic of my case stands unassailed.

Consider also Milton Friedman's famous case against arguments for corporate social responsibility - corporations have none - they only should serve their shareholders by making the highest profits possible. Friedman's argument is only the flip side of my case - or mine the flip side of his - and is often favorably cited by libertarians and classical liberals.

Friedman could not possibly make that case for a self employed business person. Why? Because for that person the monetary profits are only a part of the psychic profit he or she derives from the business. The business person might refuse to maximize financial profit or give much or all of it away to what he or she believes to be the social good, and neither friedman nor I think any of us would have grounds to criticize the legitimacy of his or her doing so.

Given that many shareholders are owners of mutual funds, where they do not know what specific companies they "own" it is quite possible to imagine a case - in fact not unlikely - where an owner of mutual funds contributes money to a group that is opposing the actions of a company in whuch he or she is an indirect shareholder. It is even possible to imagine a case wherte the owner xcontriubutes MORE than the profit he or she receives from those shares.

This is a simple instance of the market place vs market order example.

Another way of looking at the issue: early classical liberals praised private property because it gave people a base of independence against both government and wealth. They called this autonomy: people could live independently and vote their conscience and so on. In fact, that was a major argument for property qualifications to vote - autonomous people could cast votes that were not bought.

We do not hear about that reasoning any more. Instead we hear about how the market order serves consumers, which I gladly grant that it does. But the shift in the kind of defense of a private property regime is significant historically, politically, and philosophically. That Stepp denies the distinction is not an argument against it - it may simply be a refusal to cope with my arguments that it does.


Anthony Gregory - 7/19/2005

Not trying to be coy, here, but all presidents break the law, and every one of them since at least Harry Truman has deceived the public in defense of illegitimate foreign interventions.

I don't exactly know what you mean by "the first national political machine in American history." At the end of the so-called Civil War, the Republicans emerged with control of the government as a virtual single party state.


Gus diZerega - 7/19/2005

Two quick points. First - with respect to Alan Gregory's point, I am well aware that some libertarians have attacked corporations. I said as much. I am talking about a broad tendency in libertarian thought that makes it easy for many practitioners to end up supopiorting right wing and pro-corporate positions that are NOT libertarians - and I have tried to explore why that is so.

Second, with respect to Mark Brady's chastisement - yes- I was uncivil. Perhaps too much so. BUT for God's sake, we are talking about evidence that the most powerful or certainly one of the two or three most powerful men in government broke the law, did so to punish political critics who did not break the law, did so in defense of a war of aggression in whiuch tens of thousands have died and that was sold via lies, and as part of an effort to build the first national political machine in American history.


Anthony Gregory - 7/19/2005

Oh, surely! I agree with all of that. I certainly wouldn't assume a local government would be less tyrannical than a big business, and, in fact, I'd assume it would be much worse.


William J. Stepp - 7/19/2005

Gus diZerega mentions Tocqueville's famous discussion of civil society, but--tellingly in my view--ignores his illuminating discussion of commercial society, which he saw as at least as important to Americans. After all, then as now, Americans spent more time working then attending church, going to quilting bees, and bowling, whether alone or with friends. As for church attendance, Finke and Stark and other historians of religion have shown that it's a lot higher now than it was 200 years ago. Maybe liberal academics don't get it because their church attendance is among the lowest in America.
(Just for the record, I have never bowled alone, but given my horrible average, maybe I should.)


William J. Stepp - 7/19/2005

As the recent _Kelo_ shows, and as a number of libertarian commentators have pointed out (see the libertarian board at fool.com for example), local governments can be quite as tyrannical as Big Government. So too, small businesses can run to the State for anticompetitive favors just as Big Businesses can. And as the Microsoft antitrust case shows, Big Business is not exempt from being the victim of Big Government--a point too often lost on left-wing critics of Big Business. (Ironically, Uncle Sam was the Soft One's biggest customer and still is as far as I know.)


Anthony Gregory - 7/19/2005

"Libertarians don't reduce institutions to economics. Better than other analysts, however, they do understand that all institutions are based either on voluntary transactions (civil society and market institutions), or on coercion (the state) within a means/ends framework. If you ignore this, you get some erroneous conclusions--like the false distinction between big/small business, and the market order and the market place (a distinction I don't accept)."

I make a distinction between big business and Big Business. Maybe I shouldn't rely on such a subtle distinction in the wording, but what I mean is that I have no problem with businesses, no matter what their size, to the extent that they rely on market transactions, and not state coercion, for their profits and health. I tend to think there'd be less Big Business in a free market, but, of course, if I were wrong I would never call upon the state to "remedy" this "problem."


William J. Stepp - 7/19/2005

A few comments on Gus diZerega's post:
The Rove affair is a tempest in a teapot. It will blow over the way the Lewinsky affair did. There is no evidence that Rove committed a crime. If there's no crime, there's no coverup.
(And for the record, I miss Bill Clinton terribly. You knew what he was up to of a Friday eve. He was fun! Democrats do fun a lot better than Republicans. And I am amused by the way that liberals are foaming at the mouth over Bush/Rove the way that conservatives were over the Clintons. So bring back Bill for a third term and put a camcorder in the Oval Office already. Charge admission and run the government at a profit for pete's sake!)

Libertarians don't reduce institutions to economics. Better than other analysts, however, they do understand that all institutions are based either on voluntary transactions (civil society and market institutions), or on coercion (the state) within a means/ends framework. If you ignore this, you get some erroneous conclusions--like the false distinction between big/small business, and the market order and the market place (a distinction I don't accept). Market prices affect both the latter, not merely the market place, as Gus diZerega seems to imply. The market place is a realm of freedom, but so is the market order.

Rather than engage in an extended critique of di Zerega's theory of corporate governance, public vs. private corporations, and the market, let me comment on this sentence:

"If a CEO decides to raise wages higher than the market demands, he is open to suit by shareholders, as happened to Henry Ford."

First, no such suit was pressed against Ford, who owned the Ford Motor Company. It had no public shareholders until 1956, the year of its IPO. His $5/ day pay scale (and reduced work day from nine to eight hours) gained Ford market share, replaced the luxury automobile market with a mass market, and cut its employee turnover to a fraction of what it had been, thus increasing the firm's profitability. (To put that pay in perspective, it was tantamount to raising the pay of his workers from something over $30,000 annually to about $60,000 in today's purchasing power.)

Ford's pay scale was a stroke of marketing and financial genius. Why would outside shareholders have necessarily opposed this, if they had existed?

Finally, libertarians have written extensively on the unholy relationship between business and government.
I don't think you've made a substantive criticism (or even a dent) in that body of work.





Mark Brady - 7/19/2005

"This post was sparked by my exchange with William Stepp and his pushing Republican talking points in the name of anarcho-capitalism. How could he DO that, I wondered."

Having known Bill Stepp for twenty-five years, I can assure you he is no Republican. Yesterday when you responded to Bill’s remarks, it struck me that you had completely misidentified Bill’s location on the political compass. You really shouldn’t expect anarchists to get excited about one government official ‘outing’ another.

“If I thought you could follow the argument I'd try and offer a rebuttal. But I don't.

“All but the most cretinous agree government has a legitimate role in defending us.
“Apparently you don't.
“Connect those two observations, bucko.”

That was rather uncivil, Gus, and a totally unsubstantiated condemnation of all anarchists. It’s the sort of response we might expect from a Republican talking-head, which, of course, you’re not. As a private-property anarchist myself, I would never think or argue that “All but the most cretinous agree government has no legitimate role in defending us.”

“But then, they aren't libertarian anarchists, so Karl Rove is the more reliable source. After all, he sometimes wears an Adam Smith tie- like other beloved allies to libertarian anarchists, such as Ed Meese.”

I doubt if there is ONE libertarian anarchist who is favorable towards either Karl Rove or Ed Meese. You can do better than this, Gus.

"But its [this post’s] roots lie in my frustration over many years with how libertarians - classical liberals - approach a lot of other issues."

Now you’re talking.


William Marina - 7/19/2005

Over 30 years ago in Egalitarianism & Empire, I described 4 basic political economiesl Socialism, Mercantilism, Corporatte Syndicalism, and the Market.
All 4 are evident today, but in America, Corporatism is clearly the dominate structure. The Chinese are challenging with an interesting kind of mercantilism in which the state has a dominate role except that the corporations are, as has been traditional, family based, an interesting turn on the notion of civil society. This was true when I was last in China in 1986, and also in Korea and Taiwan in 1988. On the US see Wm Grieder's excellent piece in The Nation right now.


Anthony Gregory - 7/19/2005

I have attacked corporatism in writing, and from my experience, a number of free market thinktanks are very open to criticisms of Big Business when it is in bed with the state. Some "free market" and "libertarian" organizations and people, however, whatever their other virtues, do come off as shills for Big Business, rather than the free market.


Gus diZerega - 7/18/2005

This post was sparked by my exchange with William Stepp and his pushing Republican talking points in the name of anarcho-capitalism. How could he DO that, I wondered. But its roots lie in my frustration over many years with how libertarians - classical liberals - approach a lot of other issues.

For example, I have been exploring salmon farms in the book I am finishing up. PERC and Fraser Institute - both considered major libertarian or classical liberal voices - have been cheering leaders for this industry as well as vociferous critics of those who question it. But the industry relies on governmental favors for its existence, destroys the livelihoods of people who long made their living in waters it now pollutes and sickens, and even asks for governmental subsidies to get it through problems its practices have created for it. This is in addition to the damage it causes ecologically.

How can supposedly classical liberal think tanks of such long standing as PERC and Fraser be guilty of this? I could just write it off to the most egregious forms of opportunism, or try and find an explanation that gave them some credit for integrity.

Also in the environmental arena - I am mostly sticking to it because I know it best - environmentalists are continually attacked by the likes of Reason magazine - or were (I finally gave up on reading Reason after it published a piece on how environmentalists were likely planning to let disease germs kill us all) when the timber industry and similar groups were allowed to bid on timber sales in national forests and mere citizens were prohibited from bidding unless they cut the trees down. If they won the bid and didn't cut the trees, the allotment was put up for auction again. Yet it was the enviros who were accused of being for big government and the timber industry that was depicted as the poor free market victim.

This is bizarre. Truly bizarre. The enviros are precluded by law from doing anything other than using governemnt - and then attacked for seeking to use government. meanwhile the timber and other extractive industries use government up the wazoo - and are defended (with occasionally a small hand slap) as paragons of freedom.

The pattern is repeated. WHY? I wondered. Again, the answer seemed to me, and still does, to suggest something other than simple opportunism to where think tank money comes from.

I have argued with many calling themselves libertarians, libertarian conservatives, or classical liberals about the Bush administration. When I have attended meetings from Mt. Pelerin to others with a more scholarly basis, I am struck with the fact that a great many are, or until recently were, either strong supporters of Bush - or argue vehemently that he was the least of two evils. Which in classical liberal and constitutional terms he certainly is not.

This blog is unusually anti-Bush and critical of the Republican party, which is why I pay attention to it. But I think the readers of this blog will mostly admit that most free market forces are not vociferous critics of the Republican Party compared to their criticisms of the Democratic Party, even though on balance the Democrats have been less anti-classical liberal under Clinton than the Republicans have been under Bush.

Examples? Try openness in government - freedom of speech and information, respect for privacy, free trade, balancing the budget. Even respect for federalism was stronger under Clinton, (Terry Schiavo, constitutional amendment on gay marriage, medical marijuana, education). Why this blindness? Similarly - the Supreme Court's decisions in non-economic cases were for a long time relatively friendly to classical liberal values - and this was because it was “liberal.” This was rarely acknowledged in libertarian circles when I was more closely associated with them than I am now. Instead they looked forward to more “conservative” justices.


The answer seems to me to be that modern “classical liberals” in general are far more sensitive to limitations on economic liberty than to limitations on other kinds of liberty. I hope I do not get accused of being anti-market when I contend that sometimes other kinds of liberty may be more important. (I am well aware of arguments such as Rothbard's that all freedoms are property rights and all violations of freedom are violations of property rights - it is silly, as his conclusions about parents owning their children should demonstrate to all. But Rothbard never had children.)

Further, while classical liberals/libertarians say they are concerned with civil society, they do not appreciate in most cases the differences between the market place and the market order, and try and argue that corporations are part of civil society. They suppot civil society by making it analytically indistinguishable from the market order. I know Tom Palmer does this in his additon to an anthology on civil society I use in a class I teach. I know he is not alone.

While any entirely blanket statement about libertarians, classical liberals, or what have you, will be filled with exceptions, the problem I described is very real. The issues least able to be understood in traditional economic terminology are the ones that best exemplify my oint - the environment being one of them.


Bill Woolsey - 7/18/2005

Some libertarians defend Rove to....

The claim that libertarians are a bunch of shills for big business interests.

I don't agree that libertarians fail to appreciate the role of noncommercial institutions in society. I think there has been an improvement along those lines over the years.

I don't think that libertarians fail to see that business lobbying is often aimed at expanding the role of government in various undesirable ways.

I don't think that libertarians typically give the Republicans are free ride. Big spending Republicans are get quite a bit of criticism. Anti-war libertarians are especially down on the Republicans these days. And then, there is that long standing issue of enforcing traditional morals.

Sorry, but I can't get all worked up over one of Bush's hired hands. The problem is Bush and his foolhardy foreign policy.

I do think Bush should fire Rove. But I would hardly build a critique of the libertarian movement based upon someone's view that Bush shouldn't fire Rove.

Now Gus, have you been reading the Volokh Conspiracy? Who has you all worked up?

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