Monday, December 29, 2008

"Sunshine libertarians"

A while ago, I left a comment to my friend jk's post explaining that Instapundit Reynolds is hardly a libertarian: "Reynolds is to real libertarians what a light beer is to San Miguel. There are superficial similarities until you realize the difference in depth and complexity."

On the same subject, here's a comment I left at the Foundation for Economic Education's blog -- how could I not resist when someone mentions Bastiat?
"but when libertarians join the inflation chorus, we know we a crisis exists."

Self-professed libertarians like Chapman bother me. I wish I could absolve him and dismiss his calls for inflation as misunderstood. If he had merely said in passing that "We need inflation," perhaps he only meant that inflation is a necessary counter to any deflation that the central bank is causing (and vice-versa). But he's clearly advocating central banking action to control the economy, creating inflation rather than risking deflation — ignoring who creates inflation in the first place. Also, he clearly does not understand the role of prices, that it's a Very Bad Thing for government to raise or depress them. Only buyers and sellers know when any given price is correct, not a third party.

Moreover, Chapman cited several statist measures and says, "It's possible these measures can restore the economy to health. But only possible." Someone who understands the free market, who has read Bastiat (whom I claim as a patron saint), implicitly knows that government cannot push without equally pulling elsewhere.

When we see Chapman's attitude in self-professed libertarians, we can now readily distinguish them as not truly believing and/or understanding the free market. Walter Williams recently told John Stossel, paraphrasing, that failed companies are important in that they provide information as to what decisions were bad. Similarly, I point out that during economic failures we can recognize state-worshippers by their reactions and calls for government intervention. In fact, there may be nothing as effective as an economic crisis for some of us to prove that we love and crave true liberty, and for others to expose themselves as having a form of freedom but denying the power thereof.

The Boy Scouts have an old term "sunshine Scout," referring to someone who only wants to do outdoor activities when they're pleasant (e.g. when the sun is shining). A true Scout will hike and camp when planned, even if it's cloudy and wet. A "sunshine libertarian," then, is one who touts "laissez-faire" when things are good, but is ready to turn to government for salvation when things are bad. A true libertarian credits the free market for successes and knows the free market is its own answer to any failures.

Thus when anyone claims to be a libertarian but supports these bailouts, which are merely theft in that they forcibly take one person's property to give to another, we know the person isn't a true libertarian.

Or is the problem in the very word "libertarian"? Is it what I feel, that "libertarian" has become so watered-down that it's meaningless? Even Sean Hannity has claimed, "We're pretty libertarian on this show," and lots of liberals call themselves the oxymoronic term "libertarian Democrat." Has the word "libertarianism" lost all precision in meaning that it's degenerated into a "big tent" for social liberals who oppose the War on Drugs but believe in wealth redistribution, and conservatives who talk a good line but ultimately believe in economic intervention? When the economy does well, it's easy for the latter to talk about "free markets" and "tax cuts." We see them all on the time on TV. More than a couple have their own shows where they pontificate not about real freedom (economic or otherwise), but about different ways for people to be taxed and regulated.

The slave may be free to smoke marijuana and be married to a partner of the same gender, or he may be beaten less harshly and/or more efficiently so he'll be more productive (a variant on the Laffer Curve), but in the end he's still a slave toiling for a master.
I'm going to have to stop calling myself a libertarian. There are too many who are giving the term a bad connotation.


Blogger T. Greer said...

Perry, I think part of the problem might be that most people think of politics in very general terms- labels like "progressive", "conservative", "environmentalist", "statist", etc. are often applied to opposing policies. The words have come to mean nothing more than a general philosophy. In the case of libertarian, I think the general use of the term has come to denote anybody supporting a government size reduction.

~T. Greer, sticking with "almost Libertarian."

Friday, January 02, 2009 11:45:00 PM  

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