Saturday, October 27, 2007

Family Feud

It often astonishes me how it is that libertarianism can cause such a visceral reaction, especially when people seem to misunderstand what it's about. My brother, who to his credit does step up to the plate every so often on L3, wrote in a thread:
My brother, David, is a libertarian and I find his blog to be filled with garbage centered around the idea "anything Government does is Bad and anything Private Enterprise does is Good". He's also graduate student in economics and hasn't spent much time in the real world. As much as I've seen libertarianism is a nice-sounding theory that degrades into abuses of power when it comes in contact with reality.

PS He doesn't get much traffic on his site so everyone please go there and comment on his blogs. At the least, they can be worth a laugh.
This is very disturbing. I don't necessarily mind my brother's tone (I'm used to it) but this blog is over two years old and he still doesn't understand what a libertarian is. This seems like a good opportunity to clarify a few things.

Libertarians do not believe that anything the private sector does is good. That's absurd. There are a myriad of problems that crop up, from corporate corruption to lead paint in toys. No reasonable person would claim the private sector is a bastion of perfection--nothing is that grand.

The question we must ask ourselves is not what is perfect but what is more likely to be punished for error: markets or government. In a free market, firms that don't deliver what people want go away. Fraudulent companies go bankrupt. Lead toys don't sell. In government, failed agencies stick around. That is not to say that some bad firms last longer than one would think or some agencies don't improve thanks to public outcry. And indeed, there are some things government does that is quite good. But for any given circumstance, the free market check is much more reliable and robust than a bureaucratic check.

A common criticism I get is that I live in academia and thus am not in touch with the real world, a strange criticism to be sure. Setting aside the fact that most academics are strictly not libertarians, my discipline--economics--is dedicated to understanding how the real world works. There's certainly something to be said for putting theory to practice but what you gain in experience you lose in perspective. People outside the ivory tower complain that the free market doesn't help one particular group (a group they are usually connected with) and thus is bad. I welcome such opinions, but I beg everyone to understand that creating a wealthy society can't be just about them; it's about everyone.

Thus I encourage you to engage in the conversation. If you read a post that makes you laugh, stop and ask if that feeling is justified. If you have constructive criticism, feel free to comment. I'll be happy to explain my argument. And who knows: I could be wrong. It's been known to happen.

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