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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15198/new-york-magazine-on-libertariansdo-we-want-to-live-in-their-world/

New York magazine on Libertarians:do we want to live in their world?

January 1, 2011 by

In a long piece Christopher Beam concludes, “Libertarianism and power are like matter and anti-matter. They cancel each other out.”


Ohhh Henry January 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I followed the link intending to read the article but I couldn’t get any further than the first 20 words:

“The Trouble With Liberty. Libertarians, of both left and right, haven’t been this close to power since 1776.”

pffffttttt !!!

In the 1930s when fascist governments were taking over in Europe, disarming their citizens, demanding papers for internal travel, confiscating property, nationalizing finance and industry and threatening their neighbors with invasion, there were probably headlines like this in those countries’ most popular and influential journals:

Libertären: wollen wir in ihrer Welt zu leben?

Il guaio con libertarismo

Jim January 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm

You have to cut the press a little slack when it comes to libertarianism. They have a hard time with anything but neat Leftism and Rightism as it is, and when they have to run to catch up with the movement they’ve been ignoring for years and years … well, they are bound to say some strange stuff. To their (generic) credit, I’ve noticed that the mainstream has been increasingly accepting of the notion of human freedom, even sometimes asking “how much state do we want, if at all?” That’s pretty good on a basic level. Coverage of libertarianism as a movement has been getting better overall. Maybe that’s rose-colored glasses on my part, and rosy or not, I’m not sure that it means anything either way. Maybe liberty really is popular.

HL January 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm

This quote at the start of the article gave me pause:

Fox News went wall-to-wall on the (nonexistent) health hazards of body scans, naked outlines of passengers, and pat-down paranoia

What a schlepp.

HL January 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Mr. French has a stronger stomach than I. This is some tough reading. On the bright side, it’s a textbook sample hit piece, and should be enjoyed as such. Grab some popcorn. Watch the intrepid New York writer set up a strawman and – ka-pow! – demolish it. Be amazed as he recites proven falshoods as established facts. Laugh out loud as he happily paints a dark picture of what would happen if – oh gawd! – we were suddenly free.

Jim January 1, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I don’t really see this as a hit piece. This, to me, is an author struggling (as we all do) with the idea of liberty. How does it work? What would more liberty be like, and is it good? The author wasn’t entirely unfair or undeducated, but was trying to work the idea out for himself – and had the courage to do it in public and in print. It didn’t end as “I’m a libertarian now! Banish the postal service!” but this is how anybody changes their minds – or doesn’t. Nobody changes their mind overnight, and the author of this sometimes silly and logically incoherent article is no exception.

The fact that the author tries to view libertarianism on utopian grounds is interesting. Unlike the various statist remedies, libertarianism does not seek to change human nature. It takes people for what they are – warts and all. This simple insight would have answered virtually all of the controversy of page 6 of the article. Most anyone well-grounded in free-market thought could answer any criticism of libertarianism in this article. The article is a little sloppy, certainly – more blog quality than professional or publishable. But I think it would be better to encourage discussion and criticism of the sort that Christopher Beam brings forth, rather than take a Libertarianism: Love-it-or-leave-it approach. It’s an inadequate article, to be sure, but to look at it as a thought process in print – it’s not so bad.

HL January 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Now that I have settled down, I tend to agree with you.

RTB January 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Sorry, I disagree. It’s a hit piece in spite of any pretense at honest discussion. I mean, to refer to Libertarianism as from the Right tells you all you need to know.

tennanja January 1, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Quote that hit me:
“Libertarianism gets caricatured as the weird, Magic-card-collecting, twelve-sided-die-wielding outcast of American political philosophy.”

HL January 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Oh, wait, there are some treats in the piece. Ex:

“At least the highwayman would take your money and leave you alone,” says Douglas French, president of the Mises Institute. “The government takes your money, then stands around and tells you what to do with it.”

libertywarrior January 1, 2011 at 9:28 pm

This twit is so typical of the government-controlled media. He marginalizes liberty and utterly abandons reason. He follows the old “public goods” argument which is just a rationale for creeping totalitarianism. He ridicules the idea of socialism as an existential threat even though all government by nature is teeming with it. The author apparently believes libertarians are either utopian hippies or narcissistic jerks. What a naive moron. But most importantly of all in understanding the failure of the author’s analysis is his grave fear of liberty and justice. To him coercion is fair, taxation is kind, and all the State’s depredations are a foregone conclusion. The undergirding freedom instinct has almost been wiped clean from free mankind by the State. Now slavery is loved and accepted. A 1984 scenario is no longer necessary for total tyranny. The brainwashed masses have been taught like obedient dogs to love their masters and inherently rebel against the ideas of liberty and morality.

Dave Albin January 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I don’t think I saw “private-property rights” anywhere……Clearly, he needs some educating.

Matthew Swaringen January 1, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Is Christopher Beam michael? Ugh, his stupid history of minarchism and it’s progression towards what he sees as legitimate government is such an annoying narrative with no truth in it whatsoever.

Chris January 2, 2011 at 12:44 am

The author writes that lengthy article on libertarianism while being woefully uninformed about various libertarian positions.

Money, fraction-reserve banking, airport security, air-pollution, private fire companies, the business cycle, property rights, private accreditation, public goods, bailouts.

He takes the time to inform himself about things like Atlas Shrugged or the Sea Steading Institute, but forgets to look into the actual solutions to todays problems.

Typical state propaganda.

BioTube January 2, 2011 at 10:07 am

I like how he casually acts like everybody agrees child labor needs to be outlawed; how many libertarians actually believe a child ought to be barred from selling his labor?

DixieFlatline January 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I read the whole thing, then wanted the 10 minutes of my life back.

Blender January 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

The author is a very young journalist whose way was paved with nepotism — his father is also, by sheer coincidence, a famous journalist. He’s had good gigs placed in his lap since before he was out of college. He’s also not a critical thinker (I know him), which is a prerequisite for being a big DC or NYC journalist. Just parrot the statist line and you’re good.

HL January 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm

For me “journalist” is a pejorative term. It’s a nice way to insult someone on the sly. “My, you are like a journalist in your perceptions and analysis!” See also, “My, isn’t that special!”

Jeffrey Tucker January 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm

For those who won’t click through, check out this genius mind at work, justifying the whole of the modern state out of a state of nature, and in only one paragraph!!!!

Say we started from scratch and created a society in which government covered only the bare essentials of an army, police, and a courts system. I’m a farmer, and I want to sell my crops. In Libertopia, I can sell them in exchange for money. Where does the money come from? Easy, a private bank. Who prints the money? Well, for that we’d need a central bank—otherwise you’d have a thousand banks with a thousand different types of currency. (Some libertarians advocate this.) Okay, fine, we’ll create a central bank. But there’s another problem: Some people don’t have jobs. So we create charities to feed and clothe them. What if there isn’t enough charity money to help them? Well, we don’t want them to start stealing, so we’d better create a welfare system to cover their basic necessities. We’d need education, of course, so a few entrepreneurs would start private schools. Some would be excellent. Others would be mediocre. The poorest students would receive vouchers that allowed them to attend school. Where would those vouchers come from? Charity. Again, what if that doesn’t suffice? Perhaps the government would have to set up a school or two after all. And so on. There are reasons our current society evolved out of a libertarian document like the Constitution.

It’s amazing that this kind of sophisticated thinking has been lost on so many until now!

Sione January 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm


Oh, the waste!

You’ve made my day!


Matthew Swaringen January 2, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Yes, this paragraph is what I found most annoying.

El Tonno January 2, 2011 at 5:31 pm

You now realize that jobs come from a central government!

Btw, does the author think the American Enterprise Institute is Libertarian as opposed to home of inarticulate wannabe Darth Vaders in cushy chairs?

Jim January 2, 2011 at 6:39 pm

That was the best part of the whole article. Anybody with half a brain would, hopefully, wonder “Huh huh! Gee, why didn’t them dumb libertarians think a dat!” The ones that didn’t have the brain to wonder what the libertarian answer is to any of those important issues are probably beyond hope anyway. So what loss? The ones that do attempt to answer the questions either immediately found the article silly and malformed, or will explore for themselves and figure that out, shortly.

Particularly amusing is his concern that some private schools might be mediocre. What a compelling argument for public schools. I almost expected him to say “But public schools WILL be mediocre – at best

The whole piece has the feel of someone sounding their thoughts out on paper for the first time. Of course, most people don’t publish their unfinished thoughts … but that’s another matter.

A Liberal in Lakeview January 3, 2011 at 1:18 am

But, El Tonno, who in the imperial republican capital of the American social democracy will get to decide who does not have to take out the trash?? I have a solution.

Let’s play musical licences-for-all-jobs! But before we can start, the chairs must be arranged. They must be set up. How about a preliminary guideline for setting up the jobs? No diploma from high school, no chair for you.

What’s that you say? All the best trashgathering jobs have been allocated to unions, esp. those of government employees? Awwww, that’s too bad for mister no diploma. Maybe he get GED and go into Navy to see world and with promise of his choice of chairs when he come home.

Ok, now everyone. We have a few rules for the game and even a transcript of a hypothetical one. Would everyone please turn to the relevant section of their copy of Sozialdemokratische Zukunftsbilder – frei nach Bebel, Pictures of the Social Democratic Future – frank according to Bebel.

Amerikanische Sozialdemokratie macht frei, nicht wahr?

Now, Christopher, if libertarianism is to power as matter is to antimatter, then how could it be that the Constitution is a libertarian document? Something about that doesn’t compute well. I didn’t vote for it. You didn’t vote for it. In fact, doesn’t libertarianism reject compulsory submission to religionlike texts, esp. if those texts require submission by all those in the territory who didn’t vote for it? What is this business called constitution? A formula for neodhimmitude?

Say, Chris, did you get your definition for “libertarianism” from the cool kids?

A Liberal in Lakeview January 3, 2011 at 1:26 am

Let’s make that…

“How about a preliminary guideline for setting up the licences?”


“All the best trashgathering licences have been allocated to unions, esp. those of government employees?”.

Adam Cuevas January 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Holy logical fallacy batman!

Adam Cuevas January 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm

This guy criticizes libertarians as delusional for five pages and that’s the best argument for big gov’t he can come up with.

Dave M January 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Most people today consider the Media to be nothing more than a info-mercial for the state. Y2K, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Global Warming, Swine Flu Pandemic ect. have made the public doubt everything they, the Media publish. By trying to discredit the libertarian movement they will actually cause people to investigate it and maybe accept it.

Johnny Kramer January 3, 2011 at 1:53 am

I’m writing a book about the two common errors to which this writer falls prey:

1. Most people have an incorrect model for how the world works, which is that the people who go into the private sector are greedy and selfish, but the people who go into government are somehow a different breed of human being, concerned only with selflessly fixing the problems caused by the selfish people in the private sector. And this is necessary because those who are harmed (usually amorphous, ill-defined groups of people like “the poor,” “the weak,” “the vulnerable,” “minorities,” “women,” “the children,” “society,” etc.) are largely powerless without government to “protect” them.

It’s no coincidence that people receive this model in compulsory government schools, a conflict of interest that’s lost on most people.

The correct model is that all humans are greedy and selfish (although what they’re most greedy and selfish for varies considerably from person to person; some want money; some want power over others; some want to work as little as possible, but still be financially comfortable — and what constitutes financial comfort is also subjective; etc.), and government is a way people invented to circumvent the free market process of having to satisfy their selfish greed by first improving the lives of others on a voluntary, value-for-value basis, and/or to get things they wouldn’t be able to attain on the market at all, such as being able to legally engage in behavior that would — and should — be regarded on the market as criminal.

Models are the way the human brain filters information — such as history and current events — and incorrect ones lead to erroneous conclusions.

As one example, the wrong model indicates that the TSA exists to protect airline passengers from terrorists. The correct one indicates that politically-connected people are getting rich selling naked body scanners; or that others have jobs in the new bureaucracy that pay higher wages than they could earn on the market; or that people take low-paid jobs as airport screeners because they’re pervs who want to commit legalized sexual assaults, or because they have other deficiencies that make them unemployable on the market due to minimum-wage laws (which were enacted by politically-connected groups, like unions, to hamper wage competition, not to help the poor).

The idea that people care about the safety of a bunch of total strangers in a way beyond generic human compassion, but to the point of making it their work when they aren’t benefiting from it more than they could by doing something else, is absurd on its face and should contradict every experience anyone has ever had with reality. But that shows how powerful conditioning can be.

2. Most people seem to believe that they possess all of the world’s knowledge, that if they can’t personally envision the solution to a problem ahead of time, then there is no solution.

This belief ties into the incorrect model, which is that government actions arise to address deficiencies on the market. If government dominates something, it must be because government is the only way to accomplish that task. (This also ignores the displacement effect government has on sectors where it still allows private sector activity.)

This is another example where the model contradicts reality. We constantly see new, ingenious consumer products appear that not one person in a million could’ve imagined ahead of time. And none of understands how even 1% of the things we use every day work even AFTER they’re invented.

All you need to know is how markets work: if there’s a problem in society, and there’s a solution to be found, and there’s money to be made finding a solution, then someone will find the solution. Whether any of us can envision the solution beforehand is irrelevant. And the solutions that arise in such an environment will be the best that can exist in an imperfect world, and there’s nothing government (force) can do to improve the situation on the whole.

Even so, I’ve found this second point especially to be woefully unconvincing to most people. Like I said, the conditioning against free markets is strong.

Peter Surda January 3, 2011 at 9:44 am

Very accurate observations.

Ben Pike January 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This was shared with me by a friend and I’m glad he did – I need a good laugh.

This article is nothing more than a hit-piece on libertarianism. The author has an OBVIOUS problem with libertarians and classical liberalism from how he paints Senator Ron Paul (and his son) as “crazy” for wanting to take down the Federal Reserve to how he apologizes for the current statist agenda that flows freely among modern leftist “liberals”.

JFF January 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm

He also got the recent “fire insurance” incident wrong as well as the actual libertarian position on it.

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