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Lies About Libertarians

Post #1714 • July 9, 2014, 7:36 PM • 1 Comment

You can look at any long-term market indicator right now—Tobin's Q, Buffett's market cap to GDP, Schiller's P/E, take your pick—and it will tell you that equities are dangerously overvalued. Correction is inevitable. The only question is when. If it happens prior to 2016, the Democratic brand is going to get soiled at a time that its presumptive nominee is a politically damaged career politician who leaves even her supporters feeling a bit lost and whose book is hardly being read even by the people who bought it. This is causing the prospect of a Rand Paul presidency to inflict terror upon the liberal imagination, a terror that increases as it looms closer.

Liberal punditry has responded by ramping up its lies about libertarians. Such abuse has gone on for a long while, mostly in the form of jabs about their being fascinated with Ayn Rand (who hated libertarians). But the leader of the current trend is Paul Krugman, who has turned lying about his rhetorical opponents—accusing them of every sin of which he himself is guilty—into a staple of his writings. Krugman would have you believe that a zombie ate Rand Paul's brain back in 2012, but the truth of the matter is that he mischaracterized a fact cited by Paul as erroneous and attacked the mischaracterization. A few months ago he repeated his uncorrected attack while pointing out a fact that Paul did get wrong while talking extemporaneously to an audience at the 2014 Freedom Summit.

Over the past week we got two in a row. Noah Smith writing for Bloomberg:

In the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the super-genius villain puts alien worms into people’s brains in order to subvert them to his demented cause. I think Khan could have been an Austrian economist. To those of you who have run afoul of the defenders of Austrianism on the Internet, the analogy will be clear. The Austrian worldview is like a brain worm that has infected large swathes of our financial industry, commentariat and general public. Even you, dear reader, may carry one or two of its wriggling larva inside your gray matter.

When the Austrian brain-worm invades, you start believing things like: 1) Federal Reserve money-printing is a government plot to boost big banks, 2) prices are rising much faster than anyone thinks, 3) real “inflation” means money-printing, not an increase in prices, 4) printing money can never boost the economy, 5) academic economics is a plot to use mathematical mumbo-jumbo to cover up government giveaways to big banks, etc., etc.

The Austrian catechisms range from almost plausible (taking toxic mortgage assets off of bank balance sheets must have been part of the reason the Fed did quantitative easing), to somewhere in the neighborhood of the 9/11 truthers and moon-landing hoaxers.

It goes on like that, cluelessly. Thankfully, this essay has been demolished by other writers so I don't have to do it: see Pater Tanenbaum...

...Noah Smith, evidently knows nothing about Austrian economics—and we actually doubt that he really knows anything about other economic schools either. He has certainly never read or understood a single work by an Austrian economist. The whole thing simply reads like an ad hominem attack on supporters of the theory penned by a politically motivated hack. What is especially bizarre is his insinuation that Austrian economics somehow has antisemitic overtones—never mind, he says, that Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, two of the preeminent Austrian scholars were themselves Jews (not the only ones by the way), they're antisemitic anyway!

...Mike Shedlock...

Curiously, and leaving the conspiracy plots aside that many, if most Austrians do not believe, I propose that when the brain-worm invades you start believing things like monetary printing boosts the economy, and inflation only pertains to prices.

...Hunter Lewis...

We could leave it there, and dismiss Smith’s overblown rhetoric as simply a sign of panic, but it is also worth noting that Smith doesn’t really offer an argument. Apart from the name calling, his main technique is to set up straw men and then knock them down. So, for example, he says that Austrian economists are discredited because all the new money created by the Fed and other central banks hasn’t yet led to runaway consumer price inflation.

This just shows that Smith hasn’t actually read the Austrians. If he bothered to do so, he would read that both the timing and the direction of new money flowing out into the economy are unpredictable.

...and The Daily Bell.

There's so much wrong with this article, it's hard to know where to start.

This isn't so much the case with an article at Salon by Paul Rosenberg lamenting the outcome of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby. In it he tries to make points against Mises. (To clarify the nested blockquotes, this is Rosenberg citing Corey Robin citing Mises; the summary paragraphs are Rosenberg's.)

In “Love for Sale,” Robin discusses Ludwig von Mises‘ classic 1922 text ”Socialism,” and some contemporary discussions concerning it, particularly its fourth chapter, “The Social Order and the Family.” Here is where Robin gets to the heart of the matter:

The real reason Mises’s arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Here’s Mises describing the socialist program of “free love”:

Free love is the socialists’ radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions….The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.

Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he’s criticizing it. Not because it makes people unfree but because it makes people — specifically, women — free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of “social and economic conditions” is that … women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.

If you want to know why libertarians reflexively embrace the National Rifle Association’s vision of freedom, but not Planned Parenthood’s (contrasting visions I discussed here), you need look no further.

We know this is a lie and not mere misinterpretation because five seconds of searching turns up the germane chapter from Socialism for all to read on the website of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where it becomes clear that Mises meant nothing of the kind. (And we know that he searched on it because he linked to Socialism at Amazon and Robin linked to its table of contents at the LvMI.) [It] is against nature that man should take woman as a will-less thing, says Mises, and he inveighs against the sorry circumstances that women throughout history have had to endure.

Unlimited rule of the male characterizes family relations where the principle of violence dominates. Male aggressiveness, which is implicit in the very nature of sexual relations, is here carried to the extreme. The man seizes possession of the woman and holds this sexual object in the same sense in which he has other goods of the outer world. Here woman becomes completely a thing. She is stolen and bought; she is given away, sold away, ordered away; in short, she is like a slave in the house. During life the man is her judge; when he dies she is buried in his grave along with his other possessions. With almost absolute unanimity the older legal sources of almost every nation show that this was once the lawful state of affairs.

Mises's argument is not so much in favor of marriage per se, but the contract of marriage that elevated women from that sad state to one of equality in her own household.

As the idea of contract enters the Law of Marriage, it breaks the rule of the male, and makes the wife a partner with equal rights. From a one-sided relationship resting on force, marriage thus becomes a mutual agreement; the servant becomes the married wife entitled to demand from the man all that he is entitled to ask from her. Step by step she wins the position in the home which she holds today. Nowadays the position of the woman differs from the position of the man only in so far as their peculiar ways of earning a living differ. The remnants of man's privileges have little importance. They are privileges of honour. The wife, for instance, still bears her husband's name.

This evolution of marriage has taken place by way of the law relating to the property of married persons. Woman's position in marriage was improved as the principle of violence was thrust back, and as the idea of contract advanced in other fields of the Law of Property it necessarily transformed the property relations between the married couple. The wife was freed from the power of her husband for the first time when she gained legal rights over the wealth which she brought into marriage and which she acquired during marriage, and when that which her husband customarily gave her was transformed into allowances enforceable by law.

Thus marriage, as we know it, has come into existence entirely as a result of the contractual idea penetrating into this sphere of life. All our cherished ideals of marriage have grown out of this idea. That marriage unites one man and one woman, that it can be entered into only with the free will of both parties, that it imposes a duty of mutual fidelity, that a man's violations of the marriage vows are to be judged no differently from a woman's, that the rights of husband and wife are essentially the same—these principles develop from the contractual attitude to the problem of marital life. No people can boast that their ancestors thought of marriage as we think of it today. Science cannot judge whether morals were once more severe than they are now. We can establish only that our views of what marriage should be are different from the views of past generations and that their ideal of marriage seems immoral in our eyes.

His criticism of the socialists on this point was that private ownership was intrinsic to the advancements in feminism that had been achieved by contractual marriage.

Woman's struggle to preserve her personality in marriage is part of that struggle for personal integrity which characterizes the rationalist society of the economic order based on private ownership of the means of production. It is not exclusively to the interest of woman that she should succeed in this struggle; to contrast the interests of men and women, as extreme feminists try to do, is very foolish. All mankind would suffer if woman should fail to develop her ego and be unable to unite with man as equal, freeborn companions and comrades.

To take away a woman's children and put them in an institution is to take away part of her life; and children are deprived of the most far-reaching influences when they are torn from the bosom of the family. Only recently Freud, with the insight of genius, has shown how deep are the impressions which the parental home leaves on the child. From the parents the child learns to love, and so comes to possess the forces which enable it to grow up into a healthy human being. The segregated educational institution breeds homosexuality and neurosis. It is no accident that the proposal to treat men and women as radically equal, to regulate sexual intercourse by the State, to put infants into public nursing homes at birth and to ensure that children and parents remain quite unknown to each other should have originated with Plato; he saw only the satisfaction of a physical craving in the relations between the sexes.

The evolution which has led from the principle of violence to the contractual principle has based these relations on free choice in love. The woman may deny herself to anyone, she may demand fidelity and constancy from the man to whom she gives herself. Only in this way is the foundation laid for the development of woman's individuality. By returning to the principle of violence with a conscious neglect of the contractual idea, Socialism, even though it aims at an equal distribution of the plunder, must finally demand promiscuity in sexual life.

There are things to criticize here and throughout the chapter; Freud is no longer cutting-edge sociology and the ensuing theories about homosexuality are obsolete. But it's indisputable that Mises wants—in 1922, no less—the opposite of what Rosenberg says he wants, leaving us to wonder what other distortions lay waiting for us elsewhere in Rosenberg's seemingly erudite essay.

This is just going to get worse as we approach 2016. I'd like to think that pleas for honest dealings with one's rhetorical opponents would have an effect, and maybe here and there it would. But we've been witnessing for years how immune certain pundits, and often their readers, are to such pleas.




July 10, 2014, 11:38 AM

As an admirer of Harry G. Frankfurt, I've considered that Noah Smith's remarks at Bloomberg might be characterized as bullshit as distinct from lies, the difference between them being that the latter requires you to appreciate the truth so you can mislead the reader away from it, while the former is brutish indifference to truth. Nevertheless they're sufficiently dismissive of the truth that I'm sticking with my headline here. Pace Tanenbaum, Smith likely knows one or two legitimate Austrian principles.



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