Sunday, October 19, 2008

Libertarianism Is Dead

Jacob Weisberg writes a too short epilogue for the "intellectually immature" worldview that is Libertarianism. I've taken the opportunity to summarize here using his own words, but hope that someone can point out a more fully fleshed piece at a more rigorous (or at least academic) home. I provide a fast-forward version here:
But to summarize, the libertarian apologetics fall wildly short of providing any convincing explanation for what went wrong. The argument as a whole is reminiscent of wearying dorm-room debates that took place circa 1989 about whether the fall of the Soviet bloc demonstrated the failure of communism. Academic Marxists were never going to be convinced that anything that happened in the real world could invalidate their belief system. Utopians of the right, libertarians are just as convinced that their ideas have yet to be tried, and that they would work beautifully if we could only just have a do-over of human history. Like all true ideologues, they find a way to interpret mounting evidence of error as proof that they were right all along.

...Cox and Gramm, in particular, are often accused of being in the pocket of the securities industry. That's not entirely fair; these men took the hands-off positions they did because of their political philosophy, which holds that markets are always right and governments always wrong to interfere. They share with Greenspan, the only member of the trio who openly calls himself a libertarian, a deep aversion to any infringement of the right to buy and sell. That belief, which George Soros calls market fundamentalism, is the best explanation of how the natural tendency of lending standards to turn permissive during a boom became a global calamity that spread so far and so quickly.

...The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from reading Ayn Rand novels in high school. Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world's failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight and the capacity for pragmatic intervention constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.


  1. am I the only person left that hasn't actually read Ayn Rand? I'm too embarrassed to go check it out, and I'm certainly not buying it. Bah, I have too much "real" things to read anyways...

  2. still an enjoyable read... at least the fountain head was... atlas shrugged took me about 5 years (literally) to get through.

  3. Cheer up, eluzhun: You may not have read Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, George Santayana, or Theodore Dreiser, to name a few that come readily to mind, either; and they are all much more worthy reads than Rand's overwrought prose and numbing length.


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