Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day 1: It's popular and successful, so it must be stopped! (summary)

Day 0: The Libertarian catechism
Day 1: It's popular and successful, so it must be stopped! (summary) (response)
Day 2: Jackbooted thugs (summary) (response)

On June 18 2012 the Ludvig von Mises Institute website posted an excerpt from "The Task Confronting Libertarians," chapter 24 of Man vs. the Welfare State*, written by Henry Hazlitt (1894–1993) in 1969, presumably in response to Robert Wenzel's J30 Day Reading List, posted on June 11 of the same year*. I'm describing the complicated provenance in some detail to highlight first that even forty years after Hazlitt's book, Libertarians still consider this chapter relevant. I also want to make clear that it is they, not I, who ask us to consider this chapter outside of the context of the original book, as the "hook" for becoming more knowledgeable about Libertarianism. In this chapter, Hazlitt presents the task confronting Libertarians as daunting, but maintains that the committed Libertarian can make a difference, and that it is the responsibility of all committed Libertarians to take up the struggle.

*The excerpt does not seem to fall under fair use, so presumably the Ludvig von Mises Institute has seen to the appropriate permissions and compliance with copyright protections.

**Given that von Mises post of the chapter is dated a week after Wenzel's post, it's unclear what Wenzel was originally linking too.

Hazlitt describes the Welfare State's almost insurmountable advantage. Hazlitt complains that "more than 100 out of the 111 or so nations and mini-nations that are now members of the International Monetary Fund" are drifting towards socialism and government control. In just our own country, Hazlitt claim the Welfare State is promoted and defended by "armies of bureaucrats," with 2,500 agencies and nearly 3,000,000 employees in the United States federal government alone. According to Hazlitt, these bureaucrats — especially the 100,000 in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare — have an obviously self-interested motive in protecting their own jobs and work to undermine and marginalize any honest inquiry by "the individual businessman, the occasional disinterested professor of economics, or columnist, or editorial writer" as to their utility. Furthermore, Hazlitt argues that even the individual efforts of these bureaucrats swamps any individual's capacity to keep up. Hazlitt highlights that to intelligently comment on the FCC's 1967 "extremely harmful decision" that AT&T must lower their interstate telephone rates, well-informed criticism requires reading its 144 single-spaced typewritten pages. Libertarians, Hazlitt contends, must somehow navigate a "Niagara of decisions, regulations, and administrative laws" to effectively oppose the Welfare State. And it is not just the bureaucrats. Every day, according to Hazlitt, "individual private zealots" present "elaborate statistics that supposedly prove" the need for government reform. Hazlitt accuses even business owners of at least passive complicity in this creeping socialism, whether from confusion, cowardice, or self-interest. It seems that all of the world is united against the occasional champions of liberty.

Hazlitt proposes the obvious solution, organization and specialization. If the enemies of liberty are united, so too must its champions. These organizations must not only promote "pious generalities" but also grapple with all the detail and complexity of the Welfare State's propaganda in specialized organizations such as the Citizens Foreign Aid Committee, the Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy, and the Tax Foundation. However, Hazlitt contends that even the lay Libertarian can contribute by concentrating on a few basic principles. The first principle Hazlitt highlights is that government is not productive. All the government can do is unjustly redistribute, "robbing Peter to support Paul." The supposed justification, which Hazlitt attributes to J. K. Galbraith (presumably John, not his son James), is that "the taxpayers, left to themselves, spend the money they have earned very foolishly, on all sorts of trivialities and rubbish, and that only the bureaucrats, by first seizing it from them, will know how to spend it wisely." Every expenditure is a trade-off, and when the government seizes a billion dollars from the taxpayers, it is taking away millions of needs and wants from those taxpayers. Government redistribution is inherently arrogant and unjust. Second, Hazlitt exhorts Libertarians to highlight the long-run consequences of government redistribution. Fundamentally, Hazlitt contends, all redistribution destroys the incentives of both the rich and the not-so-rich. The rich cannot keep the fruits of their labor, and why should those otherwise "capable of earning at least a moderate income" labor to obtain that which the government gives away for free? Finally, Hazlitt believes Libertarians should strongly condemn inflation and the fiat money that makes it possible, and push strongly for a 100% reserve gold standard. Inflation really is the keystone issue: without absolutely hard money and the impossibility of inflation, the Libertarian agenda, Hazlitt argues, is feasible; with fiat money and inflation, the Libertarian agenda is vastly more difficult. Thus we can say that opposing government redistribution, preserving incentives, and demanding an absolutely hard currency form the core of the Libertarian agenda.

(Because the summary is already long, I'll post my response later today)

1 comment:

  1. Libertarians are crazy, they want to kill millions of people of hunger and disease by denying them food stamps and free health care


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