Annus Horribilis Libertarianis
On a personal level, it's not been the best of years; although that corner seems to have been turned, seeing yourself being described as a 'morally bankrupt parasite' by some libertarian goofball does not really do anything to endear their philosophy to you.
Yet he who laughs last, and all that jazz. The year 2008 might just be recorded as the year in which libertarianism, an ideology as doctrinaire as Communism, finally hit the skids, like the light going out of a Terminator's eyes, or HAL being disconnected. Its true-believing cheerleaders (amongst whom I count some with whom I hope to remain on friendly terms), will no doubt continue to sit around singing The Hayek Hallelujah in the same way HAL sang 'Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do', their voices becoming slower and slowweeerrr, until someone turns them off as an act of kindness. When the end comes, one hopes that, for their sake, it is quick.
A philosophy that deserved to be strangled at birth, the intellectual props supporting this vicious, unforgiving cult of the self were finally cut away when Hank Paulson proposed a public sector bailout of the American banking system which could only be described as being fascist in character. The word 'fascist' is often abused by those who seek to discredit their opponents - the one thing upon which even scholars of fascism cannot agree is what fascism actually was. It beggars definition as surely as a flying giraffe. Yet what they can agree upon is that fascist economic policy was once defined by a now long dead Italian, who took a load of abuse from libertarians, as being that profit should be private and personal, loss public and social. That was Paulson's first bailout proposal. That's fascism.
Even as we speak, it is being asserted in the fastnesses of libertarian bunkers that the Israeli assault on Gaza is all about property rights. This is wackadoo, loony toons stuff, the product of having read way too many ideological tracts and nothing like enough history. For this grossly disinterested observer, libertarianism will only be able to recover some intellectual credibility when its adherents can actually answer the following questions -
1. Where 'spontaneous order' has ever 'broken out' in the absence of government. It has not ever happened, and it never will happen, because all societies are hierarchies of one kind or another and in hierarchies it is incapable of happening. Some will shout 'It happens in evolution!' Yeah, right. I'm sure that there were dinosaurs who were really pleased with their evolution's spontaneous order - just before the asteroid hit them; and
2. Name just one war, just one, that proves Bastiat's maxim that 'if goods don't cross borders, troops will'. Name one. Just one.
They can't do it; because there has never been such a war, because when he said it, Bastiat was addressing the concerns of a specific audience at a specific time. It was not meant to be of general application. In The Great Unmade Economic History Movie, one could imagine The Pie in the Sky Fairy being played by the late Charlton Heston; but Bastiat, the man who once tried to besiege a castle only to discover that it had already surrendered, well, he would be Charlot - an amiable if rather pathetic loser.
But he wrote The Candlemakers Petition in support of free trade!
And as they say on the Scottish soccer radio phone-in shows, what's your point, caller? As satire, it fails. It is a defence of the practice of importing manufactured goods that uses the admission of sunlight, the greatest gift that nature has bestowed on us, as its starting point. If you're going to satirise something, satirise like with the example of like. Anything else can be dismissed as the scribblings of charlatans and clowns.
What really gets to me about free trade is the almost schizophrenic way in which free traders can divorce their personal reality from wider macroeconomic reality. We're all protectionists - if you own a home, you protect it with locks. When I first started visiting my wife's home town in rural County Cork, her family all still left their keys in the front door - mass immigration into Ireland, the imposition of free trade in labour on the Irish without any real consent, has since put paid to that. If you're a Bismarck or Colbert amongst homeowners, you might even own a burglar alarm. If you own a car, you protect it with a deadlock, or one of those things you stick across the steering wheel.
So why shouldn't we protect our economy with a tariff in the same way? What is particularly different about the nature of the economy of which we are all a part that the rules for protecting its security should differ so radically from the simplest domestic precautions?
Friedman's Doxology to The Pie in The Sky Fairy that 'there's no such thing as a free lunch' (a phrase he did not coin) breaks down when discussing free trade. It's just like the way that Newtonian physics breaks down at the sub-atomic level - the great principles can only stand a particular level of scrutiny. Look at them under a higher degree of magnification, and the whole bang shoot comes apart.
If there is no such thing as a free lunch - how can there be such a thing as free trade?
Libertarianism is a philosophy which has been adopted by many civilised men; yet other civilised men have also adopted other political philosophies, and all of them have turned out to be nothing more than post-Christian barbarism.
Good. I feel better after that.
Have a Happy, and Sacred, New Year. Let's hope it's better than the last one. At this point, 2008 has still got 18 hours to go, and anything can happen.