Monday, October 20, 2008

Jacob Weisberg Incurs the Wrath

Jacob Weisberg wrote an article called "The End of Libertarianism" and set forth a wrath of libertarian rejoinders. I think Weisberg's final passage summarizes how he really feels:

The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from reading Ayn Rand novels in high school. Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world's failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight and the capacity for pragmatic intervention constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.

It was nice to see that I wasn't the only one whose blood boiled upon reading this egregious straw man of an argument. This being the internet, however, Weisberg's flimsy contentions were soon shredded by an all-star cast of libertarians.

Radley Balko: As I mentioned this morning, what gets me is this notion that libertarian ideas have been tried, and failed. That’s not the case at all. This administration has denounced libertarians at every turn. Its ideas come largely from the moral right and from the neconservatives, two groups wholly at odds with libertarianism.

Brink Lindsey: In firing this broadside, Weisberg poses as the pragmatic, empirically minded anti-ideologue. In fact, he is engaging in the lowest and most intellectually trivial form of ideological hack work.

Will Wilkinson: I think Weisberg rightly sees that control over the popular narrative about the causes of the financial collapse could have a big effect on public opinion. And Democrats are about to win the White House together with a robust Congressional majority. So here’s the main chance! The long-awaited dream! The desperate desire! The rightful claim of establishment liberals to the commanding heights is imminent! Now is the time! The sense of entitlement is about to meet title! And the GOP is in utter disarray, having long ago lost any semblance of a coherent philosophy of government. The field is almost clear. Only the utopian punter, holding a tattered copy of Atlas Shrugged, guards the goal line. The embittered professors and graying editors-in-chief cannot bear to wait another season. They will wake to their triumphant dawn. The cry goes up: “Smear the libertarian queer!” And never mind the rules. Bring it, Weisberg.

Jesse Walker: When you don't believe in the heroic corporate chieftain, it should be equally hard to put your faith in that alternative fantasy, the heroic regulator: neutral and public-spirited, always attuned to market failure, constantly prepared to right the ship of commerce. Instead we favor a decentralized system of checks and balances, of which the most important are the checks imposed by an open, competitive marketplace. Not because it's heroic, but because it can ruthlessly cut a would-be hero down to size.

Matt Welch: There is no space in Weisberg's conception of "libertarians" for people like, for instance, me: Not remotely a utopian, not "of the right," never read an Ayn Rand novel, spent high school playing sports instead of reading political philosophy, don't want to do history over (except for Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS), and don't pine for some presumably awful world where everyone shares my political views. (And, I might add, unlike Weisberg, I don't want to convert my political views into increased state power over fellow citizens who don't happen to agree with me.) No, I just think that, all things being equal, capitalism is vastly superior to socialism, government is by definition inefficient, and would be much better off focused on essential tasks, rather than, say, nationalizing hundred-billion-dollar chunks of the mortgage industry, or trying to guarantee that asset prices never depreciate. In my world, at least, not all regulation is automatically evil, just ripe for being gamed by the very interests being regulated, and so better when pruned back.

I think Matt Welch just about perfectly captures my thoughts.

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