Warren Gibson on Bad Libertarian Arguments
By David Henderson
I’m a dedicated libertarian but my first allegiance is to accuracy. It pains me when I see libertarians making arguments that are inaccurate, irrelevant, or just plain wrong. When they do so, they do themselves and our movement a big dis-service. I list seven such arguments here. More could be added.
This is from Warren Gibson, “Seven Ways Libertarians Sometimes Run Off the Rails.” Warren is an economics instructor at San Jose State University. Over the years, as I’ve gotten to know him, I have come to respect and like him a great deal. I won’t repeat his arguments on each of the 7 ways. Read those for yourself. The piece is short and pithy.
I will, though, give, for each of the 7, my number of cheers, with 3, of course, being the maximum, along with, in a few cases, my own thoughts and comments. [Wow, that was a lot of commas.]
1. The Fed is privately owned. 3 cheers.
When I give talks to libertarian-oriented groups, invariably this assertion comes up in Q&A.
2. The Bureau of Labor Statistics disguises the true unemployment situation by excluding workers who are “discouraged,” i.e., not seeking jobs. 3 cheers.
3. “Chain-weighted” versions of the Consumer Price Index are politically motivated. 2.9 cheers.
Why the missing 0.1? Because, in a literal sense, the chain-weighted version does have some political motivation, even though it is a better version than the non-chain-weighted. In about 2003 or 2004, I attended an economics roundtable at the Hoover Institution with George W. Bush’s head of the National Economic Council, Stephen Friedman. I remember Mike Boskin, who is one of the experts on the issue, laying out the dramatic effect chain weighting could have on Social Security payments over time. I call that a “political motivation.” Which doesn’t mean he was wrong. If I had thought he was wrong, I would not have commissioned his piece for the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
4. The Consumer Price Index is politically manipulated by excluding food and energy. 3 cheers.
5. “Banksters” control the U.S. government. 3 cheers.
This is a subtle public choice insight that I often have trouble getting my students to see. Once I have taught them concentrated benefits/dispersed costs, they start seeing things differently and often go too far. In particular, they miss two of the biggest sets of players in the government: the politicians themselves, who constitute their own interest group, and the bureaucracy, which is its own interest group.
6. Global warming is a myth and a scam. 2.3 cheers.
It’s not a myth and it doesn’t have to be a scam. But the way it’s used to justify some extreme policies is a scam. Warren’s 3 basic facts are absolutely correct. But notice that they, in themselves, say nothing about global warming. Warren writes, “This would be a great time for all parties to step back an[d] exercise some epistemic humility. There’s a great deal about this issue that we just don’t know.” That I totally agree with. Which is why I think it’s hard to justify so many of the policies that believers in global warming agree with.
7. Let’s get rid of the state entirely, and all will be well. 2 cheers.
On this one, I’m torn. I saw David Friedman interviewed on Stossel recently, pointing out that the biggest weakness in his own case for anarchism is that we might not get enough defense. But David pointed out that this is less of a weakness now, with the evil Soviet empire gone, than it was when he wrote the 1st and 2nd editions of his book, The Machinery of Freedom. And, of course, we’re talking about whether all will be well in the context of politics and stability. Even if anarchism still led to a much more peaceful world, a conclusion that I am closer to believing than I ever was before, there will still be cancer, some poverty (though less), horrible train crashes, etc.
That’s 19.2 cheers out of a possible 21.