Posts tagged Hit and Run

Saturday Lazy Linking

  • To-day in Anarchist history: The pacifist-Anarchist Gustav Landauer was martyred 90 years ago today, on 2 May 1919, when he was imprisoned and then stoned to death by soldiers sent on the orders of state socialist politician Gustav Noske, to crush the independent Bavarian worker’s councils and force the Bavarian Free State back under the political control of Germany.

    One can throw away a chair or destroy a pane of glass; but those are idle talkers and credulous idolators of words who regard the state as such a thing or a fetish that one can smash in order to destroy it. The state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior between human beings; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…. We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created institutions that form a real community and society of people.

    — Gustav Landauer, Schwache Stattsminner, Schwacheres Volk, in Der Sozialist (June, 1910).

  • To-day in Right to Keep and Bear Arms history: On May 2, 1967, 42 years ago today, the California State Assembly debated the Mulford Act, a bill to ban the open carrying of firearms. In response (since the bill was largely targeted at criminalizing their practice of openly carrying while on cop-watching patrols), the Black Panther Party staged a march to the state capital and walked onto the Assembly floor openly carrying rifles, shotguns, and holstered handguns. (The weapons were unloaded and were kept pointed either at the ceiling or at the floor.) Bobby Seale then read a declaration written by Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, urging that The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the American people in general and the black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder, and repression of black people. After they left the capitol building and began to head home, they were surrounded by a battalion of cops and arrested en masse for conspiracy to disrupt a legislative session.

    NRA-approved, anti-gun-control conservative politician-saint Ronald Wilson Reagan was governor of California at the time all of this went down. When the Panthers showed up, Reagan ran and hid inside the capitol building. Shortly thereafter, he showed his commitment to the right to keep and bear arms by signing the Mulford Act after the state legislature passed the bill.

  • On government-backed traditional marriage, women’s property rights, and conservative mythistory-as-justification: killjoy, wreckage found floating (2009-04-19): daily dose of stoopid

  • On bottom-line principles for a constructive secessionism: Carol Moore, Vermont Commons (2009-04-16): SECEDE & SURVIVE: Prepare to be Overwhelmed by Secession

  • On Leftist anti-statism and the class structure of the State: Chris Dillow, Stumbling and Mumbling (2009-04-17): Shrink the State: A Leftist Aim

  • On assumed audiences and gender politics in FLOSS and web development: Shelley Powers, Bb RealTech (2009-04-29): Open Arms

  • On the literacy monopolists and popular writing tools: BLDGBLOG (2009-04-22): How the Other Half Writes: In Defense of Twitter

  • On Enron, corporate privateers and deregulatory rhetoric: Jesse Walker, Hit & Run (2009-04-03): The Smartest Guys in the Tomb. Jesse mentions along the way:

    Leftists and liberals have a word for polluters who pose as careful environmental stewards: greenwashing. We need a similar word for times when the eager beneficiaries of the corporate state pose as free-market entrepreneurs. A word, that is, for propaganda like the Enron ad.

    Of course, I’ve promoted the use of the word privateering for something that’s roughly in the neighborhood, but privateering is really suited to a different purpose (it has to do with a critique of phony privatization, which is often bundled with, but not identical to, phony deregulation; and it focuses on the phenomenon, not the use of rhetoric around it). So, what’s your best suggestion for a left-libertarian counterpart to greenwashing, when state capitalist firms pose as free-market entrepreneurs?

    My own best effort, to date, is gold-plating. Thoughts? Comment away.

Libertarians for Protectionism, Appendix B: contrarium sequitur edition

I haven’t yet had the chance to read Michele Boldrin and David Levine’s Against Intellectual Monopoly. Ideas may not be subject to economic scarcity, but my time to enjoy them — alas — is. But it looks really promising, and exciting, judging from some of the excerpts and commentary I’ve seen about it online. I look forward to digging in soon.

In the meantime, besides tantalizing discussions, the online commentary has also offered a perfect opportunity for students of economics to witness the ridiculous sight of self-proclaimed free marketeers dragging out all the crassest sorts of corporate protectionism to apologize for actually-existing forms of economic privilege. And for students of logic to enjoy a few choice specimens of the contra-sequitur in its natural habitat.

Thus, for example, consider the reader comments on Jesse Walker’s notice of the book at Hit and Run:

Fluffy | January 16, 2009, 5:11pm | #

Fine — but without the ability to file a patent and make money off it, would James Watt have even bothered to invent the condenser that everyone else’s steam engine used?

Wah wah wah we could introduce innovations faster without patents! Maybe, but who would bother? Owner/operators only.

We already experienced a time without intellectual property. It was called the Middle Ages. And while the Middle Ages were not a completely backward time as imagined by the public and were marked by the gradual introduction of many important technological innovations in agriculture, mining, metallurgy, transport and power generation, just about all innovation came from owner/operators or their equivalent, and the pace of innovation and adoption of new technologies was brutally slow, despite the really high marginal utility that even the smallest advance brought under those conditions.

Of course, whatever you may think of the Middle Ages, some other eras without anything remotely like modern copyright or patent law have been called classical Athens, Renaissance Italy, Shakespearean England, and the Scientific Revolution. But never you mind that. The important thing is this: if it weren’t for copyrights and patents, technological innovation might not be profitable for large corporations to pursue. Heaven forbid; some business might have to be carried on by somebody other than large for-profit corporations. Similarly:

Hazel Meade | January 16, 2009, 8:46pm | #

Episarch. I think the idea is more that with IP rights someone else couldn’t simply take your cold fusion device apart, figure out how it works, and start manufacturing knock-offs. Unless they altered the design in a way that improved it.

The problem is that development of new technologies often takes years of research. If others can copy your designs, it makes it unprofitable to bother.

Automobile factories take years of capital-intensive construction and immense amounts of labor. If other corporations can just push cars into the market willy-nilly, it makes it unprofitable to bother. Without a protective tariff, who in their right mind would invest in American automobiles? In a free market, who would be in charge of making all the shoes?

If there is one thing that government can and ought to do, it is to make sure that no large business ever has to fundamentally rethink their business model, ever. I mean, sure, consumers and investors may have a different idea of how much art or R&D is enough art or R&D for them; they may decide they want to pay for other things on the margin — for example, they may want to put more efforts into derivative, marginal improvements rather than fundamental redesigns; or they may just want to spend some of that money on little fripperies, like food, clothing, or shelter. But if government isn’t there to force the prices of everything upward, then that may mean that corporate investment in some highly visible, culturally prestigious set of goods and services (like literary works, or mechanical devices, or Kenny G. albums) might possibly falter or fail when people want to pay for other, different things. Good lord, if nobody can make a profit from selling the easily-reproducible products of their creativity and thought, then thinking and creating might even be left to academics. Or to a bunch of rank amateurs.

Before I continue to the next argument, I want to mention, in all earnestness, that there is a common problem with all of these arguments. The problem is that they attempt to support intellectual enclosure on explicitly protectionistic grounds: they begin from the premise that there is some level of innovation or artistic production which, somehow or another, they presume to know perfectly well to be the right amount. Then they offer a pseudo-economic argument intended to show that absolutely free exchanges in products that depend on intellectual discovery or creativity would fail to funnel enough money into the purses of discoverers or creators to produce the level of production that they’ve deemed the right level. Thus, they conclude, you ought to institute government restrictions on free exchanges just in order to make sure that enough money is pried from out of buyers’ hands to encourage the level of production that the protectionists have deemed the right one. The problem with all this is, first, that the Intellectual Protectionists are ignoring the invisible cost of this visible subsidy; whatever extra money buyers are forced at bayonet-point to spend on nifty inventions or works of art is extra money that would have gone to other productive purposes — like living our lives, or working on projects of our own, or gaining the leisure to put some of our own thought and creativity to work. Like all forms of protectionism, Intellectual Protectionism engages the force of the State in subsidizing some politically-favored goods (or, rather, politically-favored producers) at the expense of other goods or producers, which happen to be economically popular but looked down on by politicians. And this form of inequity and privilege — enforced through government coercion — is in fact utterly arbitrary — arbitrary because Intellectual Protectionists never offer any non-arbitrary basis whatever for their judgment of what the right levels of their favored goods would be. Non-protectionists have a perfectly good standard: we figure that the right level is the level that free people would freely choose to get for themselves, if left alone to make their own decisions. But Intellectual Protectionists cannot appeal to anything of the sort, since the whole idea is to override the normal processes of free exchange. They just know, by some kind of revelation, which they more or less never spell out in any detail, that the right level is something more than that, and thus the need for a command economy, controlled by the legally-privileged copyright- or patent-holders — usually, as a matter of fact, giant, bureaucratic corporations (Apple, GE, AOL Time Warner, Pfizer, and the like) that can sustain big-time R&D departments and, just as importantly, can pay for the small army of lawyers needed to effectively manage their politically-fabricated portfolio.

I took the time out to say all that, with my face as straight as I could make it, because most of this post has involved an argument wrapped up in a lot of ridicule and facile sarcasm. But sometimes people say things that make ridicule and sarcasm simply beyond the point. Like this:

TallDave | January 16, 2009, 11:31pm | #

IP should expire (we don’t need Michael Jackson owning the Beatles’ albums 30 years late), but we need some kind of IP rights or there will be nothing but monopolies exploiting their entry barriers and stealing ideas. Yes, it’s less efficient in some ways, but that’s true of most any private property (public transportation vs. owning your own car, etc.).

Want to know what a world without IP looks like? It’s Microsoft. Wordperfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Netscape… all reverse-engineered and shoved down the OS marketing channel.

Some things you can reply to. Some things you can ridicule. Other things you can only repeat.

See also:

Empirical falsifiability

So, Jesse Walker recently sent out his fraternal seasons’ greetings by posting a link to’s Communist Christmas over at Hit and Run (2008-12-15). I thought it was pretty funny and cute (kittens!). Right up until they dropped the joke about being worked to death in the gulag, at which point it lost its savor. I’m just mentioning this as a report on my reaction; I don’t have any worked-out analysis or theoretical explanation about why that would be.

But one way or another, before I ever clicked through from Google Reader to the original post, I already knew that the post would immediately provoke Internet Libertarian Trope #426 in the comments — the alleged softball treatment that Communist totalitarianism gets in pop culture compared with Nazi totalitarianism. And I was right. Thus, observe the second and third comments posted in the thread:

Erÿk Gabhran Boston, Esq. | December 15, 2008, 5:53pm | #

OK, who will be first to speculate on exactly what kind of shit would hit the fan if someone did that with the Nazi party?

Brandybuck | December 15, 2008, 5:59pm | #

Communists are the good totalitarians, so it’s okay to poke fun at them in a good natured and respectful manner. But Nazis are bad totalitarians, and humour is not allowed where they are concerned.

Oh, really?

Look, it’s certainly true that there are many cases in American pop culture where the Soviet regime is treated with a respect (or at least an indifference) that it doesn’t deserve. And if you just mean to say that this particular video turned out not to be funny in the end, because, you know, a lot of people died, and that’s used as a punchline, and jokes like that tend to suck, well, I’d probably agree with you about that much.

But while I’m sure you learned from the radio that all this has come about because the evil P.C. thought police who direct this culture of ours misspent their youth learning at the feet of a bunch of tenured deep cover foquistas and Cultural Revolutionaries — thus filling them with wistful nostalgia for Bolshevism and a big fat double standard in their indignation at the Nazis — well, I’m sorry, but as far as this case goes, your ideological indignation doesn’t actually have much of anything to do with the way the world is. And empirical reality will out eventually. And there’s no sense in just making shit up for rhetorical purposes.

Contrarium sequitur

In logic, a non sequitur is the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which does not logically follow from the premises.

Usually when somebody commits a non sequitur, it happens because the conclusion somehow seemed to follow from the premises even though it does not — for example, if it follows only when some controversial but not-yet-mentioned auxiliary premises are added to the premises already on the table, or if the conclusion follows from a distinct claim which has been confused with the claims that the premises actually made.

But life and politics being what they are, sometimes a label like non sequitur just isn’t enough. For example, there’s an extremely common argument, supposedly a refutation of anarchism, which holds that anarchism may be ideal for a society of angels, but that, in the real world, people are nasty and untrustworthy and will relentlessly exploit and violate each other given half the chance. The conclusion the statist then expects us to draw from these premises is that we should all agree to give a small handful of these admittedly nasty and untrustworthy creeps monopoly power to force their will on other people without any significant outside constraints from the rest of the populace (!). Or consider Naomi Klein’s repeated recent efforts to point to the failures and massive government violence against free association and peaceable assembly that attend government outsourcing, government transfers of forcibly expropriated resources to legally-privileged monopolists, and other forms of government-backed privateering — and then to use these as evidence for an indictment of those who argue that the government should keep out of people’s peaceful economic arrangements (!).

In cases like these, just pointing out that the conclusion fails to follow from the premises is not really enough here. I’d like to suggest a new name for a certain sub-set: the contrarium sequitur, or perhaps contra-sequitur for short. It’s the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which is exactly the opposite of the conclusion you ought to draw from the given premises.

Examples aren’t hard to find in this modern world. Consider, for another example, the recent miserable failure of the Barr/W.A.R. ticket.

The Libertarian Party leadership hamhandedly foisted Bob Barr and his crew on the party because, as they saw it, the things holding the Libertarian Party back are the fact that many libertarians don’t have much practical experience in electoral politics, and the common perception that libertarians are weird, kooky, or extremist in their positions. So instead they decided to try a new tack of nominating non-libertarians. Their favorite, ex-Congressman Bob Barr, promised that, what with the benefit of his political experience, and with his attempt to repackage watered-down libertarian and smaller-government conservative views as mainstream, he’d be able to deliver millions of votes and tens of millions of dollars in fundraising. Of course, even if he had gotten that, his Presidential campaign still would have been a miserable failure, but a bit less miserable than the past several miserable failures by LP Presidential candidates, which in the world of LP internal politics counts as something like success. But, be that as it may, when it came down to it, Barr made no significant fundraising inroads and picked up just over 500,000 votes out of about 126,000,000 votes cast, coming in at 0.40% of the popular vote. That makes his miserable failure even more miserable than the miserable failures of Ed Clark in 1980 (1.06%), Ron Paul in 1988 (0.47%), and Harry Browne in 1996 (0.51%).

Thus, Barr, the mainstream libertarian and professional conservative politician, failed even more miserably than a gold-bug politician who ran on abolishing the Federal Reserve and unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from the Cold War, and who took time out of his campaign to give long interviews about the Trilateral Commission and the secret manipulations of the international bankers. And both of them failed even more miserably than an investment consultant whose main campaign planks were to completely abolish the IRS and to use the presidential pardon to immediately release nonviolent heroin and crack users from prison, and who spent the 1970s publishing self-help books about tax evasion, his unconventional sex life, and defending against invasion under libertarian anarchism.

When this miserable failure is pointed out, the response from the political realists and the Barrbarians has been to insist that libertarians need to do even more to sacrifice radical appeals in favor of making mainstream pitches and attracting professional politicians:

We can (and will, undoubtedly) yammer endlessly on about how and why Barr failed, but what did (and always will) infuriate me was that a pragmatic approach was asked for one friggin’ time, once!, and we couldn’t get the Church Members to stop howling long enough to give it a shot.

The Angry Optimist, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:40pm

The LP needs to start marketing and building the party. Part of this means they have to stop with their purity litmus tests. Stop scaring off voters by insisting on the right to own nukes. Sheesh. While I myself may be a radical minarchist, I am not so naive as to believe that anarchists/minarchists will ever be a sizable minority. But we can get significant buy-in on smaller less intrusive government. Let’s aim for that goalpost for a while…

Brandybuck, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:57pm

The Libertarian Party is a joke, and libertines are its jesters. It’s fun to navel gaze from the comfort of the parents basement, but out in the real world politics are the art of compromise.

ellipsis, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:58pm

The Libertarian Party insists on doctrinal purity and has no plans to open its tent. Given that reality, people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal will continue to stick with the major parties. The LP doesn’t really represent them anyway. Until the LP becomes practical and realistic, it will remain a protest party. Having seen the last convention, it looks like a reasonable LP ticket is impossible, and as such, a strategy focusing on a few Congressional seats also seems unlikely.

— Lamar,Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 4:26pm

Or, for another example of the contra-sequitur, consider this recent exchange at The Distributed Republic, where Kyle Eliason objects to some common feminist claims about male dominance in conventional heterosexual relationships, and insists that forcable [sic] rape is the only time women don’t control sex. When challenged, the evidence he uses to defend his claim that women, not men, control sex is that in his experience lots more women than men complain that they’ve been pressured into having sex when they don’t want to:

[How Many Men] Have you heard complain that a woman was pressuring them into having sex too soon or that a woman was just using them for sex?

— Kyle Eliason, comment on Where Do I Join the Women Approach Men At Bars Feminist Coalition?, 29 October 2008, 9:24

What does it say about the state of our society, and public debate, that you really need a name with which to pick out contra-sequiturs? Well. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

See also:

The ALLied invasion of Cato

(Via Austro Athenian Empire 2008-11-10 and a bunch of other places.)

Congratulations to Roderick for heading up a round-table discussion in the latest Cato Unbound on corporate power, with a fine introductiory essay on left-libertarianism, and left-libertarian takes on corporatism, the alliance of big government and big business, class, and vulgar libertarian conflation of freed markets with actually-existing capitalism. Our efforts to cover the world with lying, thieving mutualism proceed apace.

Defenders of the free market are often accused of being apologists for big business and shills for the corporate elite. Is this a fair charge?

No and yes. Emphatically no—because corporate power and the free market are actually antithetical; genuine competition is big business’s worst nightmare. But also, in all too many cases, yes —because although liberty and plutocracy cannot coexist, simultaneous advocacy of both is all too possible.

First, the no. Corporations tend to fear competition, because competition exerts downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on salaries; moreover, success on the market comes with no guarantee of permanency, depending as it does on outdoing other firms at correctly figuring out how best to satisfy forever-changing consumer preferences, and that kind of vulnerability to loss is no picnic. It is no surprise, then, that throughout U.S. history corporations have been overwhelmingly hostile to the free market. Indeed, most of the existing regulatory apparatus—including those regulations widely misperceived as restraints on corporate power—were vigorously supported, lobbied for, and in some cases even drafted by the corporate elite.[1]

Corporate power depends crucially on government intervention in the marketplace.[2] This is obvious enough in the case of the more overt forms of government favoritism such as subsidies, bailouts,[3] and other forms of corporate welfare; protectionist tariffs; explicit grants of monopoly privilege; and the seizing of private property for corporate use via eminent domain (as in Kelo v. New London). But these direct forms of pro-business intervention are supplemented by a swarm of indirect forms whose impact is arguably greater still.

. . . So where does this idea come from that advocates of free-market libertarianism must be carrying water for big business interests? Whence the pervasive conflation of corporatist plutocracy with libertarian laissez-faire? Who is responsible for promoting this confusion?

There are three different groups that must shoulder their share of the blame. (Note: in speaking of “blame” I am not necessarily saying that the “culprits” have deliberately promulgated what they knew to be a confusion; in most cases the failing is rather one of negligence, of inadequate attention to inconsistencies in their worldview. And as we’ll see, these three groups have systematically reinforced one another’s confusions.)

Culprit #1: the left. Across the spectrum from the squishiest mainstream liberal to the bomb-throwingest radical leftist, there is widespread (though not, it should be noted, universal)[10] agreement that laissez-faire and corporate plutocracy are virtually synonymous. David Korten, for example, describes advocates of unrestricted markets, private property, and individual rights as corporate libertarians who champion a globalized free market that leaves resource allocation decisions in the hands of giant corporations[11]—as though these giant corporations were creatures of the free market rather than of the state—while Noam Chomsky, though savvy enough to recognize that the corporate elite are terrified of genuine free markets, yet in the same breath will turn around and say that we must at all costs avoid free markets lest we unduly empower the corporate elite.[12]

Culprit #2: the right. If libertarians’ left-wing opponents have conflated free markets with pro-business intervention, libertarians’ right-wing opponents have done all they can to foster precisely this confusion; for there is a widespread (though again not universal) tendency for conservatives to cloak corporatist policies in free-market rhetoric. This is how conservative politicians in their presumptuous Adam Smith neckties have managed to get themselves perceived—perhaps have even managed to perceive themselves—as proponents of tax cuts, spending cuts, and unhampered competition despite endlessly raising taxes, raising spending, and promoting government-business partnerships.

Consider the conservative virtue-term privatization, which has two distinct, indeed opposed, meanings. On the one hand, it can mean returning some service or industry from the monopolistic government sector to the competitive private sector—getting government out of it; this would be the libertarian meaning. On the other hand, it can mean contracting out, i.e., granting to some private firm a monopoly privilege in the provision some service previously provided by government directly. There is nothing free-market about privatization in this latter sense, since the monopoly power is merely transferred from one set of hands to another; this is corporatism, or pro-business intervention, not laissez-faire. (To be sure, there may be competition in the bidding for such monopoly contracts, but competition to establish a legal monopoly is no more genuine market competition than voting—one last time—to establish a dictator is genuine democracy.)

Of these two meanings, the corporatist meaning may actually be older, dating back to fascist economic policies in Nazi Germany;[13] but it was the libertarian meaning that was primarily intended when the term (coined independently, as the reverse of “nationalization”) first achieved widespread usage in recent decades. Yet conservatives have largely co-opted the term, turning it once again toward the corporatist sense.

. . .

Culprit #3: libertarians themselves. Alas, libertarians are not innocent here—which is why the answer to my opening question (as to whether it’s fair to charge libertarians with being apologists for big business) was no and yes rather than a simple no. If libertarians are accused of carrying water for corporate interests, that may be at least in part because, well, they so often sound like that’s just what they’re doing (though here, as above, there are plenty of honorable exceptions to this tendency). Consider libertarian icon Ayn Rand’s description of big business as a persecuted minority,[14] or the way libertarians defend our free-market health-care system against the alternative of socialized medicine, as though the health care system that prevails in the United States were the product of free competition rather than of systematic government intervention on behalf of insurance companies and the medical establishment at the expense of ordinary people.[15] Or again, note the alacrity with which so many libertarians rush to defend Wal-Mart and the like as heroic exemplars of the free market. Among such libertarians, criticisms of corporate power are routinely dismissed as anti-market ideology. (Of course such dismissiveness gets reinforced by the fact that many critics of corporate power are in the grip of anti-market ideology.) Thus when left-wing analysts complain about corporate libertarians they are not merely confused; they’re responding to a genuine tendency even if they’ve to some extent misunderstood it.

— Roderick Long, Cato Unbound (2008-11-10): Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now

Read the whole thing. It’s great.

The post has already provoked a lot of discussion. Some of it — for example, from Wirkman 2008-11-10, Peter Klein 2008-11-10, and Will Wilkinson 2008-11-10 — is insightful and raises important issues. I’ll also be interested to see the upcoming promised replies from Steven Horwitz, Dean Baker, and the Danny Bonaduce of the Blogosphere. The commentary is a bit much to cover fully here, and is getting hashed out in comments threads, anyway; but I will say that I’m a bit puzzled about this from Will Wilkinson:

But this hints at a thicket of trickier issues. We want a system in which profit-seeking behavior creates the greatest net positive externalities (like continuously increasing the consumer’s share of the cooperative surplus from mundane purchases). But positive spillover maximization within the constraints of a sub-optimal overall system is really desirable, despite the less-than-best incentive structure.

Dude, I just want Sam Walton to get his cold, dead hands out of my pockets. The rest is all details, as far as I’m concerned.

In any case, it seems to me that whether or not Wal-Mart and its business practices ought to be regarded with admiration, contempt, or indifference is really an importantly separate question from the question of whether or not Wal-Mart would have a sustainable business model under freed markets. If Wal-Mart as we know it could not exist but for State privileges, that’s reason enough for libertarians to be wary of reflexively defending Wal-Mart’s bidniz practices as examples of the free market at work, even if it’s not yet clear whether or not libertarians ought to find Wal-Mart objectionable (as a matter of thickness from consequences, and it seems to me that Roderick’s point has to do more or less entirely with the simpler point about sustainability, not the more complicated point about how to feel about the State-dependent business in question.

Meanwhile, Jesse Walker also kindly posted a notice over at Hit and Run, which provoked a discussion in which Hit and Run commenters were fully able to live up to their reputation for fair, insightful, and thought-provoking discussion of issues in libertarianism. For example, here’s the top comment in its entirety:

joshua corning | November 10, 2008, 2:14pm | #

If libertarians are accused of carrying water for corporate interests, that may be at least in part because, well, they so often sound like that’s just what they’re doing

Fuck you Roderick Long.

I mention the Hit and Run thread, though, mainly because it contains the nicest illustration you could possibly hope for of vulgar libertarian reasoning. Roderick wrote:

In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous

To which R. C. Dean replies:

I don’t see why. Just to take one example of a market that is pretty free of overt government intervention of the kind listed above: Bookstores. Most smaller, less hierarchical local bookstores are now history, replaced by Big Box Bookstores and on-line booksellers that have huge inventories and lower prices.

So, you see:

  1. Big box bookstores are more successful than smaller, more localized bookstore in the (unfree, government-regulated, privilege-infused, development machine-driven) actually existing market.

  2. Therefore, big box bookstores will be more successful than smaller, more localized bookstores in the free market.

Far be it from me to bag on Borders and Barnes and Noble — I like them each a lot. But this notion that we can just look at their current market success, under the constrained and distorted conditions of the actually-existing unfree capitalist market, in which their business model is fundamentally dependent on the use of government highways to ship huge piles of books, on the use of the government development machine to seize huge tracts of land and lucrative subsidies to artificially encourage big box retail outlets, and, lest we forget, on government copyright laws that forcibly restrict booksellers to a limited number of centralized, monopoly-priced suppliers; without them, any jackass with a printer or a Kinko’s card could start her own local bookstore for little more than the cost of ink and paper — the notion, I say that we can just look at their current success on the unfree market and immediately infer it to be the result of processes that would continue with no noticeable reduction in a freed market, is desperately in need of a substantive argument that has not been given. Economies of scale only seem to matter here because, as usual, the costs of scale (like, the freed-market cost of consensually acquiring big blocks of contiguous land; like, the freed-market cost of competing with hyperlocal, extremely low-cost competitors that current laws force out of business) are being ignored, and while the rest of the (artificially centralized, subsidized, monopoly-protected) corporate market is assumed to remain fixed just as it is, even though the whole supply chain would in fact be radically altered by freed markets.

See also: