Miscellaneous Observations

I used to like Rachel Maddow’s show; but lately all she talks about is economics, and on economic issues she is especially smug and especially wrongheaded. Paul Krugman is her oracle. Argh!

Kassandra saw this comingOh well. In other news, here are two libertarian comments – from opposite ends of the optimism-pessimism spectrum, but both dead on nonetheless.

From John Hasnas:

Being a libertarian means living with a level of frustration that is nearly beyond human endurance. It means being subject to unending scorn and derision despite being inevitably proven correct by events. How does it feel to be a libertarian? Imagine what the internal life of Cassandra must have been and you will have a pretty good idea.

Imagine spending two decades warning that government policy is leading to a major economic collapse, and then, when the collapse comes, watching the world conclude that markets do not work. …

Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. …. And because no one likes to hear that he cannot have his cake and eat it too or be told that his good intentions cannot be translated into reality either by waving a magic wand or by passing legislation, these predictions are greeted not merely with disbelief, but with derision.

It is human nature to want to shoot the messenger bearing unwelcome tidings. And so, for the sin of continually pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, libertarians are attacked as heartless bastards devoid of compassion for the less fortunate, despicable flacks for the rich or for business interests, unthinking dogmatists who place blind faith in the free market, or, at best, members of the lunatic fringe.

[Read la enchilada entera.]

From Charles Johnson:

A law that cannot be enforced is as good as a law that has been repealed, and that is where we’re headed, faster and faster every day, when it comes to the intellectual monopolists and their jealously guarded legal privileges.

Statists constantly accuse anarchists of being naive, or utopian, or infantile, because we so often question the value of playing the game and working within the system. But if this is supposed to be a strategy based on the empirical prospects for success – and not just on some kind of felt need to come off as properly Serious and Grown Up to the right sort of people – then let’s look at the facts, and let’s see what kind of activity actually offers proven results, and realistic hope for success in the future.

If you put all your hope for social change in legal reform, and if you put all your faith for legal reform in maneuvering within the political system, then to be sure you will find yourself outmaneuvered at every turn by those who have the deepest pockets and the best media access and the tightest connections. There is no hope for turning this system against them; because, after all, the system was made for them and the system was made by them. Reformist political campaigns inevitably turn out to suck a lot of time and money into the politics – with just about none of the reform coming out on the other end. But if you put your faith for social change in methods that ignore or ridicule their parliamentary rules, and push forward through grassroots direct action – if your hopes for social change don’t depend on reforming tyrannical laws, and can just as easily be fulfilled by widespread success at bypassing those laws and making them irrelevant to your life – then there is every reason to hope that you will see more freedom and less coercion in your own lifetime. There is every reason to expect that you will see more freedom and less coercion tomorrow than you did today, no matter what the law-books may say.

[Again, read la enchilada entera.]

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9 Responses to Miscellaneous Observations

  1. Sergio Méndez February 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm #


    I see that both are right. At the same time people find ways to resist statism in all levels, yet statism itself seems to grow unrestricted in our societies. I wonder if a final balance can be made between the positive optimistic side and the nagativem pessimist observations….

    P.D: I think you meant “La enchilada entera”

    • Brad Spangler February 7, 2009 at 2:29 pm #


      There are two different socio-political qualities under discussion that you refer to with the same word (“statism”). One is the scope of state policy. The other is the grip of statist false consciousness on the subject populace (and corresponding degree of freedom of action or lack of same), which is approximately what Rand referred to as “the sanction of the victim” as I understand it — even if that equivalency might not have been completely apparent to Rand as a minarchist.

    • Roderick February 7, 2009 at 3:06 pm #

      I think you meant “La enchilada entera”

      No, alas, I meant “El enchilada entero.” But I should have meant “La enchilada entera,” and now I do.

      (Despite its feminine ending, I had thought “enchilada” was masculine because Babelfish said so. Folly!)

  2. Sheldon Richman February 8, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    Re Maddow, her recent segment “Laissez Faire, Laissez Dead” (huh?) blamed the SEC’s failure to investigate fraud allegations against Bernard Madoff as evidence that the Bush administration favored deregulation and free markets. As though fraud were part of the free market, as though Wall Street would want $50 billion Ponzi schemes overlooked, as though free-market economists haven’t long warned that regulatory agencies would be captured by the regulatees.

  3. Ray Mangum February 8, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    The two perspectives you’ve presented here represent the two major stumbling blocks to popular acceptance of libertarian/anarchist ideas, which are the perceptions of pessimism on the one hand for rejecting the current system in toto and declaring it doomed to failure, and utopianism on the other, for wanting something different, something better. We are dismissed as either Cassandras or Pollyannas, and are all too often vulnerable to the charge.

    I have often been charged with cynicism for my dim views on government and politicians. But a libertarian defines “government” with what is accomplished by force, and the “market” as what is accomplished peacefully. Isn’t the truly cynical position the one which posits force as the source of improvement, and voluntary action as unworkable?

    It doesn’t help either that most people who want to better the world in some way are encouraged to go into government or become active in politics, while everybody who wants to better themselves is encouraged to go into business.

    A quote from John Stuart Mill is relevant here:

    “The spirit of improvement is not always a spirit of liberty, for it may aim at forcing improvements on an unwilling people; and the spirit of liberty, in so far as it resists such attempts, may ally itself locally and temporarily with the opponents of improvement; but the only unfailing and permanent source of improvement is liberty, since by it there are as many possible independent centres of improvement as there are individuals.”

    • Roderick February 8, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

      That’s a great quote.

  4. Bob Kaercher February 8, 2009 at 11:46 pm #

    Hasnas and Johnson somewhat correspond with Rothbard’s short-term pessimism and long term optimism, respectively.

  5. Alex J. February 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm #

    I share Johnson’s belief that the government’s ability to accomplish anything worthwhile is shrinking. However, I fear it will remain cheap and easy for the government to disrupt other people’s plans and efforts


  1. Mill Gets it Right | Anything Peaceful - February 9, 2009

    […] I came across this wonderful John Stewart Mill quote by in a comment by Ray Mangum at Roderick Long’s great blog, The Austro-Athenian Empire: […]

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