Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who is Jane Galt?

I can't recall reading a single thing of Megan McArdle's on my own volition. All I know of her "philosophy" is what others have linked to, like my friends Billy Beck and jk have done.

But I've read enough snippets to see that she's a fraud and/or an idiot. Whatever she is, she's no libertarian. Jane Galt?! Anyone remotely familiar with Rand, who does not necessarily agree, should realize how the name doesn't fit. Yet she excuses herself: "Then there's the taxation is theft crowd. I'm sorry if my nom de blog fooled you, but I'm not that sort of libertarian."

Even without her admission, anyone with a modicum of cognitive capacity should be able to see through her: can the fox impersonate the hen merely by slapping on a few feathers? In the same way, it takes more than a "freedom" belief on a few social issues to be a "libertarian," which is to say that anyone who believes in redistribution of wealth, to any extent really, is no libertarian. No genuine libertarian, then, could possibly support a candidate like Obama whose platform is entirely about redistribution.

So how can she call herself a "libertarian," or has the word simply lost all meaning that the likes of McArdle can call herself one? When even Sean Hannity says, "We're pretty libertarian on this show," you know that what once had a specific denotation has succumbed to a perverted connotation. Has the word really become so diluted, in the same way Obama can downplay his outright socialism by calling himself a "progressive," and McCain can downplay his own form of "conservative" socialism by invoking Teddy Roosevelt? Or are libertarians so desperate for political success, instead of staying true to their principles, that they've come to accept a "big tent" philosophy of accepting McArdle and other liberals? Yes, she's just a liberal, in the modern sense: socially similar to real libertarians, but rejecting economic freedom.

I don't know how I came across it, but whenever I hear the idiot's insulting pseudonym, I think back to her "children are a special libertarian case" post:
I not only think that the state should intervene if parents are abusive, should garnish the paychecks of reluctant parents, and should ensure that parents attend to the health of their children, but also believe that the state should provide high-quality education and health care for children under the age of eighteen (plus pregnant women who can't afford prenatal care). Now, many would argue that in so believing, I have forfeited any right to call myself a libertarian. But if this be treason, make the most of it.
And how exactly does "the state" provide anything? By taking from one person and giving to another, and/or forcibly preventing a private person from making a competing offer. That is the only way that government can supply goods and services. Oftentimes the two methods work together, by government subsidizing social services and thus pricing out private competitors.

Remember the pig in the "California Cheese" commercials trying to pass himself off as a cow? There you go.

Even the use of "treason" is absurd. It can be called "treason" (whether or not it's true) only when the one being betrayed had an expectation -- legitimate or not -- of "loyalty." Libertarianism, whether a system of beliefs or a political party, inherently rests on the principle of voluntary association, so it could have never expected anything from McArdle, or me, or anyone. Thus it's logically impossible for McArdle to commit "treason."

What about Friedrich Hayek, to whom certain progressives point to as having supported a welfare state? For as he wrote in The Road to Serfdom:
The successful use of competition does not preclude some types of government interference. For instance, to limit working hours, to require certain sanitary arrangements, to provide an extensive system of social services is fully compatible with the preservation of competition. There are, too, certain fields where the system of competition is impracticable. For example, the harmful effects of deforestation or of the smoke of factories cannot be confined to the owner of the property in question. But the fact that we have to resort to direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function. To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible, to prevent fraud and deception, to break up monopolies— these tasks provide a wide and unquestioned field for state activity. This does not mean that it is possible to find some “middle way” between competition and central direction, though nothing seems at first more plausible, or is more likely to appeal to reasonable people. Mere common sense proves a treacherous guide in this field. Although competition can bear some admixture of regulation, it cannot be combined with planning to any extent we like without ceasing to operate as an effective guide to production. Both competition and central direction become poor and inefficient tools if they are incomplete, and a mixture of the two - means that neither will work. Planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition, not by planning against competition. The planning against which all our criticism is directed is solely the planning against competition.

[...]

But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. It is planning for security of the second kind which has such an insidious effect on liberty. It is planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their incomes.
First, Hayek hardly argued for anything approaching the level of "high-quality education and health care for children under the age of eighteen."

Second, Hayek certainly never supported anyone so overtly Marxist like Obama and Biden. Even Nixon's pseudo-conservative approach to "stabilizing" inflation, wages and prices, no matter how "in the interest of the people" they ostensibly were, appalled Hayek and anyone else who understands the price mechanism.

Third, I find it easy to forgive Hayek. In TRTS he didn't seem to quite grasp the idea that if the state is to provide this minimum measure of "equality," that itself is the start of the road to serfdom. I don't think he had completely thought things out by the time he wrote the book, but after all, he did live five more decades after its first publication. By the same token, what if someone pointed to my (thankfully short-lived) enamoration with Marxist revolutions as a teenager, or even to my early blog entries when I was altogether too conservative? So for anyone to point to TRTS and say, "Aha, even a great Austrian supported a welfare state," is dishonest at minimum.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

It is a fact that in "The Road to Serfdom" and in his later major work, "The Constitution of Liberty," Hayek advocated a moderate version of the welfare state.

Unfortunately, virtually all the older liberals in the 1930s and 1940s (with the notable exception of Ludwig von Mises) conceded to the left on the "need" and "reasonableness" of a state-provided "safety net."

Having read a good number of the free market liberals of this period, I think it can be said that they fell, generally, into two categories.

First, those who honestly believed that such a safety net was needed and was compatible with the market economy (a leading liberal in this group was the German free market economist, Wilhelm Ropke, who became an intellectual father of the post-World War II German "social market economy").

Second, those who believed that given the strong trend toward socialism in the 1930s and 1940s, only those who seemed to "concede" some things to the collectivist premises could get a "fair hearing" to prevent a total collapse into socialism and planning.

In other words, these individuals were "pragmatists," i.e., better to accept 20 percent socialism and prevent 90 or 100 percent socialism.

Though he is more or less forgotten today, one such individual from this period in this camp was Frank Graham, who was a professor of economics at Princeton University and a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society, and highly respected at the time.

Where does Hayek fit in this general two-category schema?

In my view, somewhere in between. He clearly did think that some of these minimal social safety nets were compatible with the market economy. But he also, I believe, thought that making the "extreme" case for laissez-faire would only result in the critic of the collectivist trends not being taken seriously in the debates over social policy and comparative economic systems of the time.

Richard Ebeling

Monday, October 27, 2008 8:00:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Dr. Ebeling, I humbly defer to you.

(To my readers: if you don't know who Richard Ebeling is...you should.)

Monday, October 27, 2008 8:47:00 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

It doesn't matter whether Hayek advocated a welfare state.

He was wrong about that, for all kinds of reasons, beginning with the moral argument against people taking things that don't belong to them.

I don't care what he had to say about it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:41:00 AM  
Blogger jk said...

And Milton Friedman gave us tax withholding. Life can be quite the pisser.

I don't submit McArdle as the gold standard of pure libertarianism, Perry. I remain intrigued because she frequently does say intelligent things and has a worldview that rejects the conventional populist and socialist tropes.

And yet, she supports Senator Obama. Not some starry eyed Berkeley Sociology major who wants to recreate France on the Potomac, but a real live free-trader, let-the-market-decider who plans to vote D.

Thursday, October 30, 2008 5:49:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Milton Friedman was also extremely monetarist to be considered truly "free market," but where did he advocate anything like the social programs McArdle calls for? And in later years, Friedman said he regretted that he ever dreamt up the concept of withholding.

The thing is, McAdardle is hardly a libertarian, even in the most forgiving sense. You claim she's a "free-trader, let-the-market-decider who plans to vote D." If she truly believed in markets, she wouldn't have written half the things (if not more) she has. It's "letting the market decide" to give health insurance to children and single mothers on my dime?

And so what if she supports free trade? That's not something exclusive to libertarians. Socialists like Paul Krugman advocate free trade, and some putz on "Money Talk" some months back is a complete wealth redistributor but talked about the virtues of free trade.

So McArdle is really just a social "libertarian" but falls short on the economics side, which is to say, she's no libertarian at all. She claims to be a libertarian, but the fact is that she's supporting someone who is the complete antithesis of everything she supposedly stands for.

Real libertarians don't believe in providing goods and services to some people by robbing others. Libertarians don't trust the state at all to eliminate problems like poverty and bad health. You might like McArdle for things she brings up, though I can't see how because you're far too smart to fall for her vapid, veiled proposals of redistribution. Don't for a second let yourself be fooled as to what she really is.

Friday, October 31, 2008 8:59:00 PM  

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