Sunday, August 15, 2010

Critique of libertarianism

The idea you propose of libertarians as intellectual heavyweights who rightly despise the crude thinking of the left, is devastatingly comical. Do you write your own material, siamdave?

Although I sympathise – up to a point -- with the ideas of freedom and self-reliance from which libertarianism derives its strength, libertarianism itself is a shallow, mechanistic doctrine whose partisans continually commit gross logical blunders when they think, or try to.

I grant that the Austrian School has made important contributions to the theory of planned economies and yields interesting results when used to criticise mainstream establishment economic theory. But the Austrian School is far removed from espousing the robotic extremist chatter that emanates from the current crop of libertarians.

Hayek’s critique of Keynes, for example, does not call Keynes’ economic policy recommendations into question – Hayek expressly admitted that in a situation of underemployed resources Keynes’ policies were appropriate, at least in principle. Current libertarian fashion on the other hand demands a thoroughly deflationist standpoint, namely by proposing that economic policy actively promote unemployment, virtually as a goal in itself. In politics such a propensity is known as a death wish.

Hayek does not dispute Keynes’ substantive conclusions, which constitute the essence of Keynes' work and have always drawn the most ire from the right. Hayek’s critique of Keynes merely challenged Keynes’ claim to universal validity (i.e. GENERAL theory of unemployment, etc.) for his theory. Hayek is just saying that Keynes theory isn’t general at all, but rather only applicable to special conditions.

By publicly advocating the Byzantine equivocations of Thomas Sowell, the notorious ideological mouthpiece for monopoly capital, Ron Paul has given notice that the libertarian Utopia will just be a remake of the current squalid setup, consisting most likely in changing a few labels and then muddling through as usual, leaving us firmly under Wall Street’s thumb.

Ron Paul also takes a shine to another icon of rightist economic ideology, namely Robert Murphy, who produces a unified, homogenized but nonetheless profoundly eclectic and feeble-minded extremist economic discourse that, despite its pretensions, is thoroughly incompatible with free-market economics. That is because Murphy does not theorise. What he does is string together a whole Shi’ite-load of right-wing economic clichés that serve to buttress the claim to a place at the feeding-trough for each of a number of factions of capital. It is an unreflected patchwork of special-interest slogans, which largely cancel each other out. All threaded together with admirable dexterity by Murphy, a master of the theoretical slalom, who athletically zooms from one theoretical position to its opposite and back again without pausing to catch his breath.

My esteemed Siamdave, you and I are in a way mirror images of each other: You, a rightist, keep an eye on the dangerous collectivists at Alternet and I, a leftist, keep an eye on the libertarian wackos by regularly reading their web sites. However my beat covers broad segments of the right, not just the libertarians.

My father was one of those people who have far more opinions than they could ever hope to find support for in observing and reflecting on reality. I was so repelled by his self-indulgent attitude of only noticing information that happened to confirm his prejudices and ignoring the rest, that I became his opposite and refused to accept any opinion until all objections to that opinion had first been satisfactorily refuted.

Consequently I had no firm political beliefs until I was over 40. By that time I had accumulated a huge mass of observations and considerable theoretical ability to reflect on them. That enabled me to read critically opposing arguments and draw promptly firm conclusions from them, a skill that I took 25 years to acquire.

Although my attitude remains one of resolute objectivism and hard-nosed skepticism tous azimuths, as the French say, for some reason most right-wing discourse seems to me consistently detached from reality.

After reading the right-wing US media for some 8 years now with the greatest effort at objectivity and sober analysis, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that – in a nutshell -- the right-wing US media basically exude a concoction of assorted horse-pucky whose main purpose is to entertain, deceive and confuse the populace. Although I try to seek reasons to challenge my own conclusion, I find it constantly reinforced by my observations.

That does not mean the left is perfect. As a matter of fact I constantly get static from certain lefties because of my reluctance to worship at their respective shrines. Nonetheless reading the left-wing media I do not get the same queasy Kafkaesque feeling I get when I read National Review or Weekly Standard and others. The right-wing US press gives off that unmistakable stench of propaganda that I recall so clearly from when I was living in Communist East Germany. (Strictly speaking I was in capitalist West Berlin, surrounded by communist East Germany, but I monitored local communist media of both East Germany and West Berlin.) One has the feeling that even the most innocent remark published in such a press is merely setting the stage, presenting the cooked evidence that will soon be necessary to justify their next hypocritical piece of outrageous effrontery. [1]

I grant the libertarians are less hypocritical than most of the right – but to make up for it, libertarian thinking is much more mechanical and easily distracted from the real issues.

The 18th-century rationalistic Enlightenment approach that lives on among libertarians – despite its respectable historical antecedents – is, owing to its unfortunate reluctance to incorporate findings of current social science and psychology (specifically their ignorance of behavioral economics), much too flimsy an instrument of analysis to yield any but the simplest of reliable conclusions. The Austrian School’s obsession with its atomistic methodology consistently prevents the Austrians from incorporating a theory of government into their lucubrations. See my critique on of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, where by suspending one of Hayek’s tacit assumptions about the nature of government I expose the whole argument of the Road to Serfdom as a silly misunderstanding, merely the fruit of professorial absent-mindedness.


[1] In A brief history of GOP lying, Robert Parry tells us, "It's not entirely clear when the Republican Party made disinformation a political weapon of choice. In covering the emerging U.S. policy toward Central America in late 1980, Robert Parry encountered a systematic strategy of lying. Coming as he did from movies, President Reagan seemed to have only a casual relationship with the truth anyway.

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