An Open Letter to Libertarians and Socialists

A spectre is haunting the blogosphere – the spectre of Libertarianism.

Nothing would please me more than to give in to its haunting charms. Libertarianism is neat, it is consistent and it is beautiful. Its economics are marvellously simple; a tidy web of self-interested individuals reaching an equilibrium and prospering.

People can exchange what they have earned for what others have created, and through this voluntary exchange everyone ends up even more prosperous than before. Ad infinitum.

When pure, Libertarianism is consistent too; drugs are yours, as is sex and smoking indoors, so long as you don’t coerce anyone to get hold of them.

Those “without” go with what charity can provide. Those “with” keep it, because there are no grounds for removing it; you own yourself and what you produce. Because when people are free they produce fabulous wealth those without become less and less numerous, and the burden on charity becomes less and less burdensome.

However, like a rubber sheet loaded with a lead ball, Government distorts and tangles this beautiful web, drawing prosperity towards its own centres of gravity and will eventual tear a hole in it.

The only thing that’s warns me away from this beautiful web is the overwhelming body of evidence in favour of Socialism.

Libertarians

Now that I’ve set up the straw man, it is time to flesh him out so that I can explain what I really mean.

As mentioned at LibCon, some people really don’t get Libertarianism and I don’t want to talk about morons like Roger Helmer – Bella Gerens explains what a real Libertarian is to her. No, it is Charlotte Gore, our humble Devil, Mr Eugenides, Tim Worstall and The Economist that I need to challenge.

First things first

The economics of Libertarianism are not what got us here. The world is fabulously but it isn’t the free market that got us here, it was a hobbled, chained and unfree market.

England, Hong Kong, Singapore. I’ll admit that these are the places which got to where they were mostly by the free market, however each is unique in its own way and has little to teach us.

Germany, America, South Korea – in fact, the rest of the rich world – got to where it is today by ignoring Libertarian fantasies and by embracing some form of blatant non-market intervention. This is where there are lessons for those that really need them.

Germany didn’t lead the second industrial revolution when the state “got out the way.” It became an industrial leader when state created entrepreneurs set up businesses and state sanctioned banks created credit for strategic industries.

America is not a free trade nation and never has been, it is the home and bastion of protectionism. It built up its industries not in competition with Britain, but with intense protection from her output.

South Korea’s firms did not compete against each other under the careful eye of a night-watchman state. These firms were arranged into giant chaebols, they were infected with nepotism and were deep in the pockets of Government, yet it produced one of the great miracles of the 20th Century.

Property Rights

In an argument atypical, perhaps anathema, to some Libertarians Tim Worstall argues that…

…creators have rights over their creations because we want to encourage the next creator to create. Nobody gives a damn how much effort goes into creating something, the labour used or indeed any other resource used. All we actually care about is encouraging more people to create more things: and to do so we reward those who have created.

In essence, Tim’s argument is that intellectual property rights – and by extension, all property rights – need to be protected because they make us all better off. By working backwards from results to the system which yields them, Tim gives us the classic Libertarian argument that respect for property makes us richer.

This argument is well worn, although usually presented in a completely different. For most Libertarians property rights are sacred because what you produce is yours, and what you buy with that is as much yours as if you produced it yourself. Tim inserts the proviso that it is also the best way to get the results we all want.

However it is not nearly this simple, sometimes property rights can get in the way of wealth creation, no simple Libertarian rationale will cure what ails us.

Enclosure involved stealing land from those who owned it in common. Yet it helped kick start the greatest wealth creation in human history.

Ignoring or not granting patents on medication has helped increase the quality of life for millions of Indians, and others around the world. The research into treatments and cures continues.

Directing tax revenue towards strategic industries can be beneficial. When the tax revenue of South Koreans was directed towards the manufacture of Microwaves it was neither an area they specialised in nor one which returned a profit. However, they soon became market leaders and the welfare of all was increased.

Property rights don’t need to be treated as a sacrament, in fact it can be damaging to do so.

Beyond Economics…

… Libertarians are generally right.

  • Huffing on a crack pipe? Your choice, a drug’s illegality only makes it more harmful.
  • Girls Aloud murder porn? Your choice, banning it only drives it underground.
  • Smoking in a pub? Your choice, surely this one doesn’t need an explanation.
  • Want a divorce? I won’t force you into a “cooling down period.”
  • Fancy a pint or ten? Sod it, I’m heading to the bar myself, I’ll get them in.

So long as you don’t hurt anyone else, do as you like. But for not one second does the evidence suggest this is a good guiding principle when it comes to economics.

The evidence around us in  points to a system of economics and a vision of the good society that is markedly differnt from that presented to us by Mises or Hannan.

And the Socialist shall lie down with the Lambertarian

Socialism as I understand it, is the only way to a better material existence and a more free life for all of us. A smaller state can be compatible with Socialism, and social liberalism has long gone hand in hand with the left, Socialism is not anathema to what Libertarians want. So join us.

This is our rallying cry. Bloggers have nothing to lose but the chains of an ideologically consistent viewpoint. They have evidence based policy to win!

EMPIRICALLY MINDED SOCIALISTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Socialists

Mr Eugenides, Devil’s Kitchen, Tim Worstall (you’re a classical liberal, I know, but sadly there’s no CLPUK), Charlotte Gore, Thomas Byrne, Dave Semple, Chris Dillow, Paul Sagar, Paul Cotterill, A Very Public Sociologist, Will Straw, Paul Krugman and Steven Levitt you are my favourite Socialists and Libertarians and this letter is directed towards you. Discuss.

Further Reading: A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part One

Even Further Reading: A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part Two