Much is being made of the nonsensical, fact-free attack on libertarianism in this article by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey on John McCain and virtue. Those arguments are valid, but I’m stopped by this:
The main current of opposition to McCain faults him for departures from strict free-market ideology. McCain’s decisions about tax cuts, campaign finance, and greenhouse gas caps may be prudent or imprudent, and it is important to debate their practical effects on our economy and on our nation’s well-being. Nonetheless, if conservatives succeed in marginalizing anyone who does not toe the doctrinaire line of their free market ideology, they will lose an important–indeed the most central and precious–aspect of their creed: the faith in the virtue of individuals to make a good society for themselves, rather than the faith in an ideology to make a good society for us.
Faith in the virtue of individuals to make a good society for themselves… is not free-market “ideology”? What am I missing? That’s exactly the point of free-market economics. Rather than some central decision-maker, even someone as “virtuous” as John McCain, each person working with and against¹ each other
can will make a better society.
The article continues with a defense of free markets. The authors seem to get stuck on ideology, as if a commitment to free markets implies some specific outcome. Other than the commonly known fact that the iPod’s planned appearance, granted by decree to Apple, was on page 347 of Milton Freedman’s The Free-Market Ideologue’s Complete Guide to Acceptable Progress and The Organizations Granted Such Opportunities², I’m not sure how any thinking person can come to such a conclusion. Economic progress is almost by definition unexpected and devastating to the old ways. An ideologue wouldn’t accept such reckless change to his status. But then, I’m also invested heavily in buggy technology. We’re going to run out of oil someday, since the free market has no idea what to do about the situation.
Naturally, as an ideologue, I’m required to ignore the helping hand of government in trying to make us free from dependence on foreign oil. And those reports of rising food prices as an unintended consequence of government’s well-thought-out subsidies to turn America’s corn into gas? Those reports are shoveled from the stables where I’m keeping the horses that will pull my buggy.
Now I’m bored³. Prudent leadership is a euphemism for central planning. It doesn’t matter if the Dear Leader is John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Stalin, or Jesus Christ. Any will imposed on another for his own alleged benefit without his consent is not liberty. In the absence of liberty, political and/or economic mandate is not virtuous.
As for the “critique” of libertarianism, aside from my suggestion that the authors invest in a dictionary of political terms, kudos are in order to Matt Welch at reason for getting to the point:
Turns out there’s a pretty important difference between wishing the government out of people’s free transactions, and assuming those transactions are wonderful (let alone wanting to force them upon the rest of society).
But I’m partial to Will Wilkinson’s pitch-perfect dismissal:
National Greatness Conservatism is like a grotesque wood-paneled den stuffed with animal heads, mounted swords, garish carpets, and a giant roaring fire. Only the most vulgar tuck in next to that fire, light a fat cigar, and think they’ve really got it all figured out.
I hate wood-paneling.
¹ The two are not mutually-exclusive or counter-productive.
² Freedman’s companion volume, How to Oppress the Proletariat, is a great read.
³ If I chose to continue, I’d remark that “greed is good” advocacy in the free market is distinctly different from the irrational belief that “greed is good” has a place among our “prudent leaders”.