Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Response to Milton Friedman's Hole

A friend asked me to respond to this point:


First of all, I'll need to point out that I cannot speak for all libertarians (nor can anyone else, hence our organizational dilemma). Nor am I versed enough in Milton Friedman's theories to argue in his stead.

However, I do have a my own opinions and a platform upon which to voice them, so...

Hartmann implies that in a libertarian fantasy world,
or libertopia, as we've jokingly termed such a place, is one in which an agent can select from a anarchic marketplace of sewage line providers, beating down our collective door with the best deals I guess?

It's unfair to assume that libertarian thought precludes rationalism, and I think Hartmann really pitches himself a softball, yet he fails to knock it out of the park. Using the government to "enforce competition" is how we ended up with policies like the bank bailouts, which did little for competition but rather reinforced a few large institutions at the expense of Hartmann's vaunted "commons."

But taking only the extremes of the argument, as Hartmann says he does early on, is how one justifies conflating natural monopolies with the whole of the marketplace. (As a side note, technology has rendered some natural monopolies rather unnatural since Friedman's heydays).

But the point here is that libertarianism is not anarchism, and it is simply untrue that the only choices are between absolute anarchy and the current bloated regulation state. Where I, and most libertarians I think, fall on this continuum is the point where the least amount of government interference in all affairs up to the point where it is simply logically imprudent to go further is the ideal form of governance, and that elected representatives should be chosen to both find this ideal spot and work toward achieving it.

This is where Hartmann's most offensive point fails to hold water. I hold no assumption that a mass of people will somehow aggregate to "perfect knowledge" and it is upon the following idea that many libertarians base their distrust of government: no one has perfect knowledge.

It is precisely because no individual can be trusted to have perfect knowledge that political power must be disseminated as widely as possible. The greater degree of government regulation, the more centrally controlled and consolidated power becomes, which I believe is Friedman's case. It is because, generally, no one individual knows what is best for another individual that we insist on making as many decisions for our own lives as possible, unless...

That decision infringes on the freedoms and choices of another individual.

Hartmann supposes that libertopia is full of quack optometrists, free to running from village to village stabbing people's eyes out at leisure. This pokes (heh) at one of the sore assumptions of most true free market advocates: free markets should tolerate crime*.

Fraud is a crime, not a right, in the libertarian's view. As is murder, theft, breaking contracts, etc. This fallacy about a lawless, unchained form of capitalism is simply a weapon for authoritarians and hardly representative of the views of anybody.

And yes, not all crimes can be prevented before they happen, and at times people get hurt. But the alternative, like arresting someone before they commit a crime, is both frightening and highly impractical. And no rational actor would suggest a world where there is no repercussions for crime.

A doctor running around libertopia, ruining people's eyes, would likely end up in jail, and sooner rather than later.

As for Hartmann, perhaps he should try debating an actual libertarian rather than the caricature he hastily drew up to hang on his verbal dartboard.

*The most extreme supporters of a "free market" may believe this, but I am simply stating it is unfair to tar with this label everyone who wants a greater degree of freedom in their lives.

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