Blogs > Liberty and Power > Katrina bin Laden

Jun 22, 2006 10:26 am

Katrina bin Laden

Today's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks comes in the middle of a remarkably similar crisis, the New Orleans flood. On parallels between the two, see my anniversary message Floodgates of Statism.

For questions about where we should be going from here, see Austro-Athenian Empire guest blogger Phil Jacobson's piece Failed Hurricane Response Is an Opportunity for Libertarians.

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Roderick T. Long - 9/13/2005

Let's try that link again:

God of the Machine

Roderick T. Long - 9/13/2005

To Mark: I had various worries -- some consequentialist (I bought the argument that markets require secure proeprty rights and so that markets presuppose a legal framework and therefore can't produce one -- and argument that I now think was deeply confused) and some deontological (I thought the existence of different rules in the same geographic territory constituted unjust differential treatment, though on whose part it's hard to say).

But probably I would have to blame Isabel Paterson as the main influence that kept me from anarchism for so long. In God of the Machine she presented a compelling argument for the claim that a free society requires a political structure, and more specifically a structure incorporating mass veto and regionally defined bases.

I concluded (as did she) that anarchism was impracticable because it lacked political structure. More specificaly, I thought that mass veto required a voting system, and that regional bses was incompatble with non-territorially-defined jurisdicttons. (Today I would say that anarchism does have political structure, indeed that it represents checks-and-balances constitutionalism taken to its logical conclusion; that the market embodies the mass veto perfectly well; and that private property is all you need for regional bases. But it took me a while to figure all that out. IHS helped to radicalize me.)

Mark Brady - 9/12/2005

"After I became a libertarian it took me eleven more years to become an anarchist; I was dragged into it slowly, kicking and screaming." Rod, why did it take you so long? This is a serious question, btw.

Roderick T. Long - 9/12/2005

I think the reason your name dropped out is that comments no longer require HNN registration, and so if you're not logged in and you try to post a comment without providing your name, you will now succeed (and so end up inadvertently being anonymous) whereas with the former policy you would hae bene prompted to log in.

Roderick T. Long - 9/12/2005

I think there are two different questions here. One is: a) do we need an account of how free markets would handle flooding in order to be justified in thinking markets would handle it better than government? The other is: b) do we need an account of how free markets would handle flooding in order to present a plausible case to non-libertarians?

I think the answer to (a) is no. We understand in general the principles by which markets and government work, including the incentival and informational differences between monopolies and non-monopolies; that is reason enough to have greater confidence in markets. Demanding a precise blueprint for how the market will solve something ignores the very means by which markets solve things, namely by coordinating and utilizing, Hayek-style, various bits of knowledge that no one mind possesses, as well as motivating, Kirzner-style, entrepreneurial alertness to devise solutions. If in the absence of free markets we could figure out exactly how a free market would solve each detail then we wouldn't need a free market.

I think the answer to the second question, however, is yes. (And that is likewise the point of the Phil Jacobson piece I linked to.) While we can't provide a blueprint, we need to offer at least some possible solutions in order to make nonlibertarians find more plausible our claims for the superiority of markets in this area.

After all, while I accept the superiority of markets on abstract grounds and no longer need concrete examples to make me expect markets to be superior at solving any specific X, I certainly needed a healthy diet of concrete examples in order to get to my present point of not needing examples. (After I became a libertarian it took me eleven more years to become an anarchist; I was dragged into it slowly, kicking and screaming. From where I stand now, of course, anarchism seems self-evident; but as Aristotle says, the path of knowledge runs from what is most evident to us, to what is most evident in itself.)

Irfan Khawaja - 9/11/2005

Sorry the preceding post was by me (Irfan Khawaja), not sure why my name dropped out, and didn't mean to be anonymous.

- 9/11/2005


I have to say I'm totally puzzled by both of those pieces vis-a-vis the Katrina disaster.

I have so far not read a libertarian author who's said a single useful thing about how, under a purely libertarian regime, the aftermath of Katrina would have been averted. The Phil Jacobson piece you cite not only doesn't answer that question, but explicitly admits that the author has no answer to give.

That strikes me as an astonishing concession, made yet more astonishing by the intensity and vituperation with which one finds libertarians making brazenly hand-waving and underdetermined claims about the causal relation between the existence of the state and the eventuality of the disaster. We are being told on the one hand, "It's all the state's fault," and: "Well, to tell you the truth, we libertarians have no idea how we would have handled the problem ourselves on our own terms."

That strikes me as a fairly problematic epistemic predicament to be in. I suppose it's admirable that Jacobson is seeking an answer. But doesn't that merely draw redoubled attention to the fact that he doesn't have one?

People at L&P have previously wondered why I make such a big deal of calling myself a "classical liberal" to differentiate myself from libertarians. Part of it is the anarchist/statist issue.

But part of it is what strikes me as the deontic attitude toward political norms expressed by so many libertarians, and now being expressed about Katrina.

Human survival and flourishing is the ultimate standard of our political norms. Rationality requires that our beliefs be epistemically justified. How then can we endorse norms or policies whose consequences for human survival we can't predict? How can anyone say "Away with government flood policies!" if one has no idea what would happen if one did do away with them? The answer, I think, is that one can't.

If I'm right about that, how can anyone criticize government flood control policy unless they have a fully-worked out account of how flood control would work in the absence of the state? The answer, I think, is, once again, that one can't--at least consistently with a defensible epistemology and meta-ethics.

If anyone sees a heretical deviation here from libertarianism, they're right to see it. I'm not a libertarian. And I'm perfectly willing to endorse the preceding principle across the board: for any policy undertaken by the state, if the policy seems to promote survival better than any worked-out alternative, stick with (i.e., promote) the state policy until someone comes up with a worked-out alternative to it.

That may mean expanding the state in the name of survival for lack of any alternatives to doing so. So be it. In the case of levees, I don't see the alternative. Mostly because no one's presented one.