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How I Became a Libertarian

by Michael Shermer, May 05 2009

In reading through the many critical comments in response to my occasional foray into issues political and economic, readers seem to think that there are two Michael Shermers: Mr. Rational Skeptic and Mr. Kooky Libertarian. I will respond to the specific comments, but let me say at the outset that I do appreciate your skepticism of my libertarian beliefs (hey, we should be skeptical of the skeptics, or else we’re not true skeptics, right?!). Perhaps if I provided some background to how I became a Libertarian you can see that there is just one Michael Shermer, and even if you still disagree with my economics, you’ll at least understand where I’m coming from. And do remember that we libertarians are social liberals just like you (I’m presuming that the vast majority of readers of Skeptic, eSkeptic, and Skepticblog are liberals, which itself is a troubling bias in our readership that I’ll address another time). In the meantime…

In the mid-1970s I was an undergraduate at Pepperdine University, a Church of Christ institution with a strong conservative bent at a time when liberals ruled academe. I matriculated there because I was an evangelical Christian who wanted to be a college professor, so theology seemed like the most appropriate field and Pepperdine had a strong theology department (it didn’t hurt that the campus is located in the majestic Malibu hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean). But I soon discovered that in order to earn a Ph.D. in theology one had to master four dead languages — Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic — and since I found even Spanish to be taxing, this made my career choice problematic. When my advisors also warned me about the questionable university job market for theologians, I switched to psychology, where I discovered the language of science, which I both enjoyed and mastered. Theology is based on logical analysis, philosophical disputation, and literary deconstruction. Science is founded on empirical data, statistical analysis, and theory building. To me, the latter seemed like a better method to tell the difference between what is real and what is not, what works and what doesn’t, and in any case meshed will with my cognitive style of thinking — for whatever reason, I can sort through data sets and scientific charts much better than I can logical syllogisms and thought experiments.

My introduction to economics came in my senior year when many of the students in the psychology department were reading a cinderblock of a book entitled Atlas Shrugged, by the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. I had never heard of the book or the author, and the novel’s size was so intimidating that I refused to join the ranks of the enthused for months, until social pressure pushed me into taking the plunge. I trudged through the first hundred pages (patience was strongly advised) until the gripping mystery of the man who stopped the motor of the world swept me through the next thousand pages.

I found Atlas Shrugged to be a remarkable book, as so many have. In fact, in 1991 the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club surveyed readers about books that “made a difference” in their lives. Atlas Shrugged was rated second only to the Bible.1 What scientist or scholar wouldn’t find resonance with proclamations such as this: “Man cannot survive except by gaining knowledge, and reason is his only means to gain it. Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses. The task of his senses is to give him the evidence of existence, but the task of identifying it belongs to his reason, his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind.”2 Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism was so compelling that it took me two decades to discover what I consider to be the shortcomings in its founding principles, which Rand once outlined (“while standing on one foot”) as: 1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality; 2. Epistemology: Reason; 3. Ethics: Self-interest; 4. Politics: Capitalism.3 I am most troubled by Rand’s theory of human nature as wholly selfish and competitive, defined in Atlas through the famous “oath” pronounced by the novel’s heroes: “I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Science now shows us that, in fact, in addition to being selfish, competitive, and greedy, we also harbor a great capacity for altruism, cooperation, and charity, the evidence for which is now overwhelming from a variety of fields from anthropology to neuroscience. But reading Rand, and absorbing the logic of her case for economic freedom and political liberty (she called herself a “radical for capitalism”), led me to the extensive body of work on the science of markets and economies and the philosophy of liberty and freedom, all of which resonated deeply with my personality and temperament.

I cannot say for certain whether it was the merits of free market economics and fiscal conservatism (which are considerable) that convinced me of its veracity, or if it was my disposition that reverberated so well with its cognitive style. As it is for most belief systems we hold, it was probably a combination of both. I was raised by parents who could best be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, which today would be called libertarian, but there was no such label when they were coming of age in the 1940s and 1950s. Products of the depression and motivated by the fear of returning to abject poverty, my parents skipped college and worked full time well into their later years. Throughout my childhood I was inculcated with the fundamental principles of economic conservatism: hard work, personal responsibility, self-determination, financial autonomy, small government, and free markets. Even though they were not in the least religious (as so many conservatives are today), my parents were exceedingly generous to those who were less fortunate — greed is good, but so too is charity.

After Pepperdine, I began a graduate program in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton, by which time I had abandoned my religious faith and embraced in its stead the secular values of the Enlightenment and the rigorous methods and provisional truths of science.4 But after two years of enticing rats to press bars in proportion to the frequency and intensity of the reinforcements we gave them, my enthusiasm for practicing this type of science waned while my wonderlust for the real world waxed.5 I went to the campus career development office and inquired what I might do for a living with a Master’s degree. “What are you educated to do?” they inquired. “Train rats,” I replied sardonically. “What else can you do?” they persisted. “Well,” I searched, “I can research and write.” The employment book included a job description for research and writing at Bicycle Dealer Showcase, the trade magazine of the bicycle industry, about which I knew nothing. My first assignment was to attend a press conference hosted by Cycles Peugeot and Michelin Tires in honor of John Marino, a professional bicycle racer who broke the transcontinental record from Los Angeles to New York. I fell in love with the sport, entering my first race that weekend, and for the next two years I learned the business of publishing and the sport of cycling. I wrote articles, sold advertisements, and rode my bike as far and as fast as I could. At the end of 1981 I left the magazine to race full time, supported by corporate sponsors and an adjunct professor’s salary from teaching psychology at Glendale College.

One day in 1981, Marino and I were on a long training ride during which he told me about Andrew Galambos, a retired physicist teaching private courses through his own Free Enterprise Institute, under an umbrella field he called “Volitional Science.” The introductory course was called V-50. This was Econ 101 on free market steroids, an invigoratingly muscular black-and-white world where Adam Smith is good, Karl Marx bad; individualism is good, collectivism bad; free economies are good, mixed economies are bad. The course was popular in Orange County, California (labeled by our neighbors in L.A. County as the “Orange Curtain”), and the time was right with Ronald Reagan as President and conservatives on the ascendant. Where Rand advocated for limited government, Galambos proffered a theory in which everything in society would be privatized until government simply falls into disuse and disappears. Galambos defined freedom as “the societal condition that exists when every individual has full (i.e. 100%) control over his own property,” and a free society as one where “anyone may do anything that he pleases — with no exceptions — so long as his actions affect only his own property; he may do nothing which affects the property of another without obtaining consent of its owner.” Galambos identified three types of property: primordial (one’s life), primary (one’s thoughts and ideas), and secondary (derivatives of primordial and primary property, such as the utilization of land and material goods). Thus, Galambos defined capitalism as “that societal structure whose mechanism is capable of protecting all forms of private property completely.” To realize a truly free society, then, we have merely “to discover the proper means of creating a capitalist society.” In this free society, we are all capitalists.6

Galambos had a massive ego that propelled him to a successful career as a private lecturer, but led him to such ego-inflating pronouncements as his classification of all sciences into physical, biological, and his own “volitional sciences.” His towering intellect took him to great heights of interdisciplinary creativity, but often left him and his students tangled up in contradictions, as when we all had to sign a contract promising that we would not disclose his ideas to anyone, while we were also inveigled to solicit others to enroll. (“You’ve got to take this great course.” “What’s it about?” “I can’t tell you.”) And he had a remarkable ability to lecture for hours without notes in an entertainingly colloquial style, but when two hours stretched into three, and three hours dragged into four, his audiences were never left wanting for more. Most problematic, however, was any hope of translating theory into practice, which is where the rubber meets the road for any economic or political principle. Property definitions are all well and good, but what happens when we cannot agree on property rights infringements? The answer was inevitably something like this: “in a truly free society all such disputes will be peacefully resolved through private arbitration.” Sounds good in theory, but turning theory into practice is never as easy as it sounds in the theory stage.

Nevertheless, I stuck it out to the end, learning more in that one course than I learned in dozens of college courses, absorbing the principles and attempting to apply them in both the academic and business worlds, which I straddled for many years. Marino and I (and our cycling partner Lon Haldeman) turned our cycling passion into a business by founding Race Across America, Inc., with corporate sponsors and a contract from ABC Sports, as well as the nonprofit sanctioning body, Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association. Several appearances on Wide World of Sports gave me the additional recognition and confidence to open Shermer Cycles, a bicycle shop in Arcadia, California. Meanwhile, I expanded my teaching duties by creating new courses in evolutionary theory and the history of ideas at Glendale College.7

Galambos had a protégé named Jay Stuart Snelson, whom I met shortly after taking V-50. Snelson taught courses at the Free Enterprise Institute, but after a falling out with Galambos (a common occurrence in Galambos’ social sphere that also plagued Ayn Rand), Snelson founded his own Institute for Human Progress. To distance himself from Galambos, Snelson’s theory of a free market society was built on the shoulders of what is known as the Austrian School of Economics, most notably the work of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. Mises’ most important work was Human Action, and Snelson’s course was self-consciously built upon it, as gleaned from its title, Principles of Human Action. Snelson demonstrated through a series of scientific principles and historical examples that free market capitalism is unquestionably the most effective means of “optimizing peace, prosperity, and freedom.” As Snelson explained, outlining the countless and varied governmental actions that attenuate freedom: “Freedom exists where the individual’s discretion to choose is not confiscated by interventionism. The free market exists where people have the unrestricted freedom to buy and sell.” Although thieves, thugs, muggers, and murderers confiscate our freedoms, congressmen, senators, governors, and presidents restrict our freedoms on a scale orders of magnitude greater than all private criminals combined. And they do so, Snelson showed, with the best of intentions, because they believe that the “confiscation of the people’s freedom to choose will achieve the greatest satisfaction for the greatest number.” With such good intentions, and the political power to enforce them, states have intervened in business, education, transportation, communications, health services, environmental protection, crime prevention, free trade overseas, and countless other areas.

How these services could all be successfully privatized was the primary thrust of Snelson’s work. He believed that the social system that optimizes peace, prosperity, and freedom is one “where anyone at any time can choose to produce or provide any product or service, hire any employee, choose any production, distribution, or sales site, and offer to sell products or services at any price.” The only allowable restrictions are from the market itself. So employed, systematically throughout the world, a free market society would, as a plaque posted at the Panama Canal (that also served as the Institute’s motto) proclaims, Aperire Terram Gentibus, “to open the world to all people.”

These were heady words for a heady time in my life before formal commitments to career and family were congealed. For several years I taught Snelson’s principles course, along with my own courses on the history of science and the history of war. I also developed a monthly discussion group called the “Lunar Society” — after the famous 18th-century Lunar Society of Birmingham — centered on books such as Human Action. As a social scientist in search of a research project, I accepted Ludwig von Mises’ challenge: “One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature.” We were going to build a new science, and out of that science we would build a new society. I even penned a “Declaration of Freedom” and a speech entitled “I have a Dream II.” What could be grander?!

Well, as Yogi Berra once said: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” I soon discovered that Berra’s principle applies in spades to the economic sphere. We live in a world rather different from that envisioned by my visionary mentors, so I turned my attention to the writings of economists from the Austrian School, and their protégés at the University of Chicago, who were decidedly becoming more mainstream in the 1980s as the country began a systematic shift toward the right.

In 1987 I decided that if I wanted to make an impact on the world through ideas I was going to have to give up my competitive cycling career and complete my graduate studies. I switched fields from psychology to the history of science, and in 1991 I graduated from Claremont Graduate School with a Ph.D., the union card and entrée into academe and professional science. I began teaching at Occidental College, a prestigious four-year liberal arts college in Los Angeles, where I discovered that 1960’s-style liberalism was still thriving. As a young faculty member without tenure, I kept my libertarian mouth shut, and on the weekends joined Jay Snelson in teaching seminars on free market economics at his Institute.

Through Snelson’s institute, and the ideas proffered by the Austrian and Chicago schools, I found a scientific foundation for my economic and political preferences. The founders of the Austrian and Chicago schools of economics penned a number of books and essays whose ideas burned into my brain a clear understanding of right and wrong human action in the sphere of economics. One especially influential essay on my thinking was the wickedly raffish The Petition of the Candlemakers, by Frédéric Bastiat, in which the French economist and social commentator satirizes special interest groups, in this case candlemakers, who petition the government for special favors:

We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light, that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price…. This rival … is none other than the sun…. We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull’s-eyes, deadlights and blinds; in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures.

Bastiat also taught me the difference between what is seen and what is not seen when governments intervene in the marketplace. A public-works bridge, for example, is seen by all and appreciated by its users; what is not seen are all the products that would have been produced by the monies that were taxed out of private hands in order to finance the public project. It is not just that individual liberties are violated whenever governments interfere with freedom of choice in the economic realm, but that, in fact, the net result is a loss not just for the individuals, but for the collective for which the government action was originally intended.

I read Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and The Road to Serfdom, I absorbed Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, an exceptional summary of free market economics, and I found Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose to be one of the clearest expositions of economic theory ever penned, and his PBS documentary series by the same name — introduced by the most muscular libertarian in history, Arnold Schwarzenegger — was so powerful that I purchased the series on video and watched the episodes over and over. And first among equals in the giants of libertarian thought who most shaped my thinking was Ludwig von Mises, the spiritus rector of the modern libertarian movement, most notably his magisterial work Human Action.8 Mises’ story is as instructive as it is inspirational. Mises was born in 1881 within the then powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire, and studied law and economics at the University of Vienna under Friedrich von Wieser and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, both followers of Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian School of Economics. After serving as an artillery officer on the Russian front in World War I, Mises earned international recognition for his first major book, Socialism, where he spelled out the problems with “economic calculation” in a planned socialist economy. In capitalism, prices are determined from below by individuals freely exchanging in the marketplace and are in constant flux; in socialism, prices are determined from above by government fiat and are slow to change. In fact, Mises demonstrated that socialist economies depend on capitalist economies to determine what prices should be assigned. And they do so cumbersomely.9

In March, 1938, Hitler marched into Vienna, and Mises promptly marched out to the United States, where he began his long and lonely struggle against economic and political tyranny, a lone advocate of freedom in an increasingly socialistic society. The problem, Mises argued, is that interventionism leads to more interventionism. If you can intervene to protect individuals from dangerous drugs, for example, what about dangerous ideas? The following passage resonated with me because his analogue from the physical to the ideological is so effective in conveying the central message of freedom and liberty:

Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous and habit forming drugs. But once a principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music?10

At the end of almost 900 pages of mind-opening economic revelations, Mises concludes Human Action triumphantly:

The truth is that capitalism has not only multiplied population figures but at the same time improved the people’s standard of living in an unprecedented way. Neither economic thinking nor historical experience suggest that any other social system could be as beneficial to the masses as capitalism. The results speak for themselves. The market economy needs no apologists and propagandists. It can apply to itself the words of Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St. Paul’s: Si monumentum requires, circumspice. [“If you seek his monument, look around.”]11

Although capitalism may not need apologists and propagandists, it does need a scientific foundation. In this sense, then, my entire career has been building toward this project, and my tenth book, The Mind of the Market, lays down a scientific foundation for capitalism through three new sciences: behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and evolutionary economics. It is my goal now to continuing construction on the libertarian edifice, and perhaps one day even attempt to translate theory into practice through politics … libertarian politics of course.

Endnotes

  1. ^ After the Bible and Atlas Shrugged were The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Book of Mormon, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, Passages by Gail Sheehy, and When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner.
  2. ^ Rand, Ayn. 1957. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, p. 1016.
  3. ^ In my 1997 book, Why People Believe Weird Things, I devoted a chapter to the cult-like following that developed around Rand and her philosophy (“The Unlikeliest Cult in History” I called it), in an attempt to show that extremism of any kind, even the sort that the eschews cultish behavior, can become irrational. I cited the description of Rand’s inner circle by Nathaniel Branden, Rand’s chosen intellectual heir, where he listed the central tenets to which followers were to adhere, including: “Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived. Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world. Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter in any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral, or appropriate to man’s life on earth. No one can be a good Objectivist who does not admire what Ayn Rand admires and condemn what Ayn Rand condemns. No one can be a fully consistent individualist who disagrees with Ayn Rand on any fundamental issue.” (Branden, Nathaniel. 1989. Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 255-256.) Many of the characteristics of a cult, in fact, seemed to fit what the followers of Objectivism believed, most notably veneration of the leader, belief in the inerrancy and omniscience of the leader, and commitment to the absolute truth and absolute morality as defined by the belief system.
  4. ^ My religious conversion and deconversion are recounted in Shermer, Michael. 2000. How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God. New York: Henry Holt/Times Books.
  5. ^ Shermer, Michael. 1978. Choice in Rats as a Function of Reinforcer Intensity and Quality. “A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of California State University, Fullerton, in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts in Psychology.” I was testing the “matching law,” which predicts that organisms will apportion behaviors in direct relation to payoffs; in our experiment, for example, a 16 percent sucrose reinforcement (sugar water) on the left bar should produce twice as many bar presses as the 8 percent sucrose reinforcement on the right bar. It almost did, requiring a slight modification to the matching law equation. I had a hard time seeing how I was going to change the world doing this kind of science.
  6. ^ Galambos never published his long-promised book in his lifetime, so my summary of his theory comes from my own extensive notes from the V-50 class, and a series of three-by-five leaflets he printed called “Thrust for Freedom,” numbered sequentially and presenting the definitions quoted here. In 1999, Galambos’ estate issued Vol. 1 of Sic Itur Ad Astra (The Way to the Stars), a 942-page tome published by The Universal Scientific Publications Company, Inc. Galambos’ dream was to be a space entrepreneur and fly customers to the moon. In his logic, in order to realize this dream he believed that space exploration had to be privatized, which meant that society itself, in its entirety, would have to be privatized.
  7. ^ I recount my cycling experiences and the founding of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association and the Race Across America in: Shermer, Michael. 1985. Sport Cycling. Chicago: Contemporary Books; and in Shermer, Michael. 1989. Race Across America: the Agonies and Glories of the World’s Longest and Cruelest Bicycle Race. Waco, TX: WRS Publishing.
  8. ^ Bastiat, Frédéric. 1995. “The Petition of the Candlemakes” and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen,” in Selected Essays on Political Economy. George B. de Huszar, ed. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education.

    Hayek, F. A. 1944. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Hayek, F. A. 1960. The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Hazlitt, Henry. 1946 (1979). Economics in One Lesson. New York: Harper and Brothers.

    Friedman, Milton. 1980. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt.

    Mises, Ludwig von. 1949 (1966). Human Action, 3rd ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
  9. ^ Mises, Ludwig von. 1981. Socialism. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics. See also: Rothbard, Murray. 1980. The Essential Ludwig von Mises. Auburn, AL: The Ludwig von Mises Institute of Auburn University.
  10. ^ Ibid., p. 860.
  11. ^ Ibid., p. 854.

Recommended Reading

739 Responses to “How I Became a Libertarian”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Hebrew, Greek, and Arameic are alive and well, thank you though in contemporary form – of course, they *are* living languages after all; ever read the text of Ross Perot’s copy of the Magna Carta (or any of the early extant copies) – it hardly resembles contemporary English, does it?

    Hmm … Ayn Rand was a philosopher? Aaaahahahahahaha! Sorry, but Ayn Rand is one of very few people whom I rank lower than Thomas Aquinas; I would characterize her writing as “painful lunatic ravings” – speak no more of the devil, it is a memory I would dearly love to suppress. I have always marveled that such people as Aquinas and Rand have developed such a devout following though; I recall many so-called philosophers from my university days proclaiming how Aquinas, Augustine, Aristotle, or whoever was the “greatest philosopher ever”; I quickly learned to associate people who made such claims with the phrase “biggest moron ever”.

    • Jeremy says:

      I think this video fits in nicely with this article…

      Somalia: Libertarian Paradise (VIDEO)
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/06/somalia-libertarian-parad_n_197763.html

      Seriously, perfect example of what happens to a 100% free market society with no government.

      • Scott Theisen says:

        You have no idea about Somalia. I went to school with Andy Cobb, and he is smart and funny, but he doesn’t have any idea about Somalia either.

        Somalia has been screwed with by our government for decades. Warlords have been funded by the CIA, now manifesting itself as Islamic militant groups; which coincidentally perfectly suits the current political sentiment.

        Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. George Washington.

      • John says:

        Nice Job, Mr. Shermer. The science and evidence of economics is too often discounted.

        I have thoroughly enjoyed your book, “The Mind of the Market”, and encourage anyone who would like to do more reading on the subject to read it.

        I will look forward to your future postings expounding the virtues of capitalism and free markets over the far less attractive alternatives.

      • Fredrik says:

        Jeremy:

        When you thin about government and anarchy you have to think of it in a scale from 1-10 (bad to good)

        In the majority of countries in the world the government ranks somewhere on the lover end of the scale. take a look at some of Somalias neighbours: Kenya, Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan etc. Most of these countries have horrific government’s that wages wars and exploits its people.

        In most of these cases Somalia has done better in most arias (growth, health, infrastructure etc) compared to most of its neighbours.

        So in many cases Anarchy is a better alternative than a government. A somalia Anarchy (at least before 2007/08 or whenever the last attempt to force an government on them occurred) is most likely better then a Congo style government. Somalia might score 4 when Congo score 1.

        We have no way of knowing if a Western country that might have a government that score 7 or 8 wold do worce than a Anarchy society. Because we have never seen a anarchy society in a modern western society.

        We do know that a western Anarchy society would most likely be completely different to a Somalia style anarchy. The reason for this is that we already have all the institutions that is needed for a fully working society. The only thing that need to change is of these institutions is financed.

      • Ralph says:

        Libertarians are in fact driving democratic change in Somalia, so the attempts to conflate crazy religious dictators there with Libertarianism are really sad.

        See http://www.LibertarianInternational.org and page back a bit for stories on Libs there.

      • Conza88 says:

        Seriously, your ignorance is profound.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtGkTRnocZI

      • Inquisitor says:

        I hate to be vulgar, but it really is sad how many ignorant assholes there are out there like you. You are part of the problem.

      • Fredrik says:

        Please include the name of the person you are replying to, I would guess that you commented Conza88 comment. But sins you made no argument or reference to his or anyone ells comment it is hard to know.

    • NerveDoc says:

      Shermer: “Although capitalism may not need apologists and propagandists, it does need a scientific foundation.”

      The “scientific foundation” of capitalism (an amusing idea) is simple: the psychology of greed.

      “Free market” capitalism is a myth. It does nothing but open the way for the powerful and wealthy to exploit the poor.

      As John Kenneth Galbraith said: “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”

      I’m really disappointed in Shermer as a skeptic. He’s a “true believer.”

      • NerveDoc says:

        If I may add another thought:
        I don’t think one can be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal at the same time.
        As to conservatism, John Kenneth Galbraith has a suitable quotation:
        “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

      • Evan Dagger says:

        Absolutely correct!
        Michael-Hudson.net describes the foolish errors libertarians make with concepts like the “Free Market”… Historically, the term “free market” meant to be free from the rentier class, the unnecessary economic overhead of a class that didn’t really produce anything (in fact, they extracted wealth from communities). Today we see these finance capitalists in the FIRE sector, literally ruining the economy and syphoning wealth out of society– and done all the while unwittingly complicit libertarians argue for “free markets”.

        Libertarians focus narrowly on the injustices found in the concentration of power in governments, but they fail to recognize that same injustice in the wealthy and elite who have just as much coercive (political) power. The libertarian ethos of protecting person, property and liberty against force makes them blind to the injustices that arise from manipulations which aren’t technically physical force, but just as coercive and just as unethical. Things seen and unseen, indeed!

        Libertarians who apply their values to the abuses of finance capitalism become democratic socialists.

      • Jim says:

        “I don’t think one can be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal at the same time.”

        That’s the trouble with real people, they’re contrary, or not, depending on your point of view and theirs. The first duty of any political theorist is to recognise humanity for what it is. The problem is, humanity sort of defies description in ‘scientific’ terms, which makes the quest for a scientific political/economic philosophy is somewhat quixotic. Thank goodness for then for hubris and the irony bypass, or no ideology of note would even get off the ground.

      • Peter says:

        I don’t think one can be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal at the same time.

        On the contrary, I don’t think you can really not be. First, have a proper understanding of the terms: “fiscal conservative” means to believe in the same things (freedom, i.e.) as “socially liberal” — it’s really a false (“right-left”) way of looking at things: the true “left-right divide” is between freedom (liberalism, in the old sense) and authoritarianism. The “social liberal” and the “fiscal conservative” are both on the “freedom” end of the scale. It’s the (modern) “liberals” and “conservatives” who are inconsistent.

      • Inquisitor says:

        Translation: I have no clue what I am talking about so I will slur capitalism and ignorantly repeat the assertions of intellectual bankrupt apologists for statism such as Galbraith. The scientific justification for opposition to capitalism is simple: the psychology of envy, ignorance and stupidity.

    • Inquisitor says:

      Yes, she was. Deal with it.

  2. David jones says:

    I’m taken with Nozick’s views on holdings, the disruptive power of liberty in any attempt to justify or maintain any patterned distribution and his critique of Rawls’s view of entitlement. On the other hand, Nozick doesn’t address the contingency of historic entitlements although I believe he later modified his views about taxation.

    I second MadScientist’s view of Ayn Rand. If I ever saw a cult, that’s one – and Shermer should recognise the hallmarks of one when he sees them.

  3. Deen says:

    After reading this glorifying review of libertarianism, I’m somewhat left wondering: where does the skepticism come in?

  4. Ranson says:

    I second MadScientist’s view of Ayn Rand. If I ever saw a cult, that’s one – and Shermer should recognise the hallmarks of one when he sees them.

    You read the footnote, right?

  5. Max says:

    Soviet propaganda rubbed off on Ayn Rand’s writing style.

  6. lol

    See footnote 3

  7. Seth Manapio says:

    I second MadScientist’s view of Ayn Rand. If I ever saw a cult, that’s one – and Shermer should recognise the hallmarks of one when he sees them.

    —————

    Dude, you’re confused. Ayn Rand was a philosopher. Objectivism would be the cult, and more specifically, a small subset of objectivist groups are cultish.

    But of course, that sort of rational thought doesn’t seem to be part of the repetoire of a certain sort of liberal when faced with even moderately libertarian ideas. It’s almost like you’re more interested in attacking some bogeyman than in thinking about actual ideas.

  8. Seth Manapio says:

    After reading this glorifying review of libertarianism, I’m somewhat left wondering: where does the skepticism come in?

    ———–

    In the scientific, rather than romantic view of economics, as explaine in the last paragraph.

  9. Deen says:

    Seth Manapio: well, that paragraph read to me like “we have the ideology, now let’s find some science to support it”. Isn’t that doing science in reverse?

    • Seth Manapio says:

      IT isn’t Shermers fault it read like that to you. First off, capitalism isn’t an ideology, it’s a methodology. Second, you’re assuming that Shermer would not accept contrary evidence not because he says so or implies so, but because of your own bias. Your attitude reminds me of the way that religious people insist that atheism is a “faith”.

      • Deen says:

        Well, Shermer wrote it, whose fault else would it be? Libertarianism definitely is an ideology, even if you could argue that capitalism isn’t. I’m not assuming anything about Shermer’s abilities to assess evidence of any sort, I am just amazed how that last paragraph sounded. Maybe he just phrased it unfortunately, but I can’t read it in any way other than that it expresses Shermer’s desire to find the science that can support libertarianism.

        And what would you know of my “bias” and my “attitude” anyway? Maybe you could guess from my comments that I’m not a free-market fundamentalist, but that’s about it. If you want to hurl insults back and forth, well, you sound like you’re projecting.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        It’s your fault that Shermer’s statement reads the way it does to you. This is because what you decided that he wrote is different than what he actually wrote. And the spin that you put on his statement reveals your bias. And your attitude now, of being severely affronted by a very mild rebuke, reminds me even more of faith based thinkers complaining about how the skeptic has “offended” them.

      • Deen says:

        It’s equally likely that your bias leads you to read things into my comments that aren’t there, like some supposed “bias” or “attitude”. At the very least I know exactly where your bias lies, since you’ve quite explicitly stated your support for libertarianism. You, on the other hand, know nothing about my political opinions other than that I’m skeptical about libertarianism. It almost sounds like you think I’m biased simply by not being libertarian.

        And who says I’m “severely affronted”? I thought my response wasn’t that harsh either. I’m just mildly annoyed at the pretense of you telling me what my biases, attitudes and assumptions are. Project much?

        I also can’t help but notice that you haven’t been able to tell me how I should have read that last paragraph instead. Attacking supposed “biases” and “attitudes” instead of substance is also very remnant of ideologues and faith thinkers, as you should be aware. This makes your characterization of me as some sort of “faith thinker” even more ironic. I think I’m going to stop wasting my annoyance on you and just be amused instead.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I also can’t help but notice that you haven’t been able to tell me how I should have read that last paragraph instead.

        Well, I would read it as written. He says that capitalism needs a scientific foundation, that is, that capitalism is not valid unless it has one.

        And when did I state my support for libertarianism?

    • MadScientist says:

      Not quite. In branches of science where direct observation is difficult to obtain in cases (like geology) people come up with an explanation which is consistent with what can be observed and as new techniques develop they can then be applied to old claims to see if the claims are still consistent with newly uncovered evidence. So the difference here is that libertarianism comes with a set of claims which I don’t see as being consistent with reality (unless you pick just the bits of reality which support your ideology) whereas in sciences like geology the claims made are based on reality.

      I don’t believe a market can be left entirely unregulated; I for one would aim for a monopoly so I could screw everyone else. There must be some government intervention to protect the public (after all, mail fraud is just another business, isn’t it?) but I’m one of those people who advocate minimal interference simply because the government cannot run successful businesses so they have no right to tell businesses how they should be run.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I’m one of those people who advocate minimal interference simply because the government cannot run successful businesses so they have no right to tell businesses how they should be run.

        —————

        How does that logically follow?

        Analogy: No manager can pitch a successful ballgame, therefore they have no right to decide what pitches to call.

        See. Doesn’t make sense.

        What claim of libertarianism is not consistent with reality?

      • Nicole S. says:

        Given the exact type of mail fraud people would likely be protected under a libertarian philosophy. Anything that involved a breech on contract is entirely punishable, as violating a contract violates a person’s freedom to her property.

        People often forget too that capitalism is in many ways a big democratic system. If people don’t want to face purchasing only from a monopoly, they should support the competitors of the company that may become a monopoly and possibly accept higher prices.

        One debate that I would like to see more of is how externalities (like carbon emissions, for example) should be handled in a libertarian framework. Pollution damages everyone’s property, so my inclination would be that the polluter should be made to pay damages to everyone effected equivalent to the costs of the damage. I have met very few libertarians who agree with me about this, but I do think it follows from their central ideals.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I think that it follows as well. It seems to me that most “free market” advocates on the right want to pretend that there are no externalities to be dealt with… as if pollution has no negative effects on other people’s property.

        But of course, if the regulations pretend that pollution is free of cost, that’s just another kind of government subsidy.

      • Lysistrata says:

        Please check the definition of monopoly: exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices. Where should I seek out competition in a market controlled by a monopoly?

      • Ty says:

        Give me one example of a monopoly that was not created by government and I’ll agree with you.

      • 1bandsaw says:

        “punishable” by whom? “made to pay” by whom? If the ideal libertarian system is no government as Shermer clearly advocates, who is to punish wrong or even to decide what is wrong?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        According to some, private bonding companies would be the method of such enforcement. However, like all ideals, this is probably not attainable, so, the government.

      • Rafe says:

        You may Aim for a monopoly, but that doesn’t mean you will acquire one. While you are aiming for some degree of market dominance so are other entrepreneurs. This will create a bidding war. Your self-interest will be tamed by market forces.

        Additionally the government may actually be the source of “ALL” monopolies in an economy as “Rent seeking” activity is the result of “SELF INTEREST” also. It is in my best interest to bid for uncompensated assets the government puts on teh table. It’s in my best interest to lobby for regulation or even taxation to prevent newer competition from entering the market and making me compete. Once i have market dominance or am at the top fo the hill the government helps keep those that attempt to ascend off. Even when that may not be the governments intentions

    • Mike says:

      It’s not science at all Seth. It sounds like the questioning and gathering of evidence is over.

      MS: “It is my goal now to continuing construction on the libertarian edifice, and perhaps one day even attempt to translate theory into practice through politics … libertarian politics of course.”

      • Seth Manapio says:

        It’s not science at all Seth. It sounds like the questioning and gathering of evidence is over.

        Writing up results is also part of science, Mike.

  10. I’m so glad you wrote this. I used to subscribe to the skepchick blog but there was a thread started “is it possible to be a Libertarian and skeptic?”. The implicit assumption got to me and I cancelled the feed (I’m sure they felt the pain).

    At any rate, I’m a Libertarian, I’m a skeptic and I’m here. All of the skeptics in my small circle are Libertarians as well. Thanks for writing this again.

    • Sabio says:

      I agree with Demian. I even add a touch of Buddhism to increase my “nuttiness”. There is room for lots of us in the Skeptic world, though it is disappointing that many Skeptics feel otherwise.

    • Kathy C. says:

      I too am a Who in Whoville, in other words, a skeptic, a libertarian, an atheist, and also a homeschooler (that is my nutty addition). I love this post and really appreciate Mr. Shermer writing it. I actually don’t know how to be a skeptic without being a libertarian :o). When you view the world as starting with a bottom up approach as opposed to top down, they seem to go hand in hand. I’m always surprised when they don’t.

      • Kathy C. says:

        Actually, I should say I’m surprised when others don’t see that they go hand in hand (I haven’t had all my coffee this morning).

    • Not Another Libertarian Sales Pitch says:

      “Also, Libertarianism is attractive to IT geeks, Phsysics/Math majors, and many other fields that are inhabited by people ”

      Yes, keep yourself in an echo chamber. The world of contradictions is far too frightening outside of it. In my time spent around Libertarians, this seems to be the common response to critique.

      Many Libertarians end up isolating themselves because they soon realize that most people think they’re nuts.

  11. Jim says:

    The thing that always puzzles me about Michael’s piece and about libertarianism generally–and that is possibly its fatal flaw–is that every libertarian I have read talks about only two players: the individual and government. Haven’t you ever heard of corporations? In the libertarian analysis, there is no such thing as large concentrations of wealth.

    Frankly, I don’t see the difference between libertarianism and the theology that Shermer rejected in his youth. Libertarianism, like theology, is based on purely logical (not realistic, but analytically consistent) extrapolations from a very limited set of unquestioned assumptions. There is no empiricism there at all. Libertarians live in a world of Platonic idealism that has few if any points of intersection with the real world.

    • J.F.Soti says:

      Here is some realism for you. In the real world the corporation and government extort money from each other thereby creating extra costs for individuals. It would be more efficient to cut down on government being that it creates nothing.

      • MadScientist says:

        Hehe – I’ve often said that, so government uhm … ‘employees’ don’t get along well with me. I say most government employees are parasites because they are unproductive and do not make any contributions to society; in many cases the ‘services’ which they provide are highly contrived and only neccessary to support some silly laws. I often tease Australians about their big government: “Soon,” I say “everyone will be employed by the government and the economy will be based on bureaucracy; maybe Australia can make a little money exporting some of that bureaucracy and create a global trade in filling forms.” However, I see that as bad practices which really are not an essential part of capitalism (if anything it is detrimental to capitalism); I do not see it as a reason for the existence of libertarianism.

      • Soldier says:

        Separating the politics from the Iraq war, 4,284 government employees are dead 31,230 have been wounded. Countless government employees have died in the past so that you have the freedom to be a skeptic and outspoken. I guess their sacrifice created nothing. Peace, tranquility and security are nothing?

        I guess creating a body of laws so that commerce can operate, patents and contracts can be enforced is nothing which (when not gamed) creates a level playing field so that anyone with an entrepreneurial idea can compete. The international highway is nothing? The internet courtesy of DARPA is nothing? I could go on endlessly.

      • J.F.Soti says:

        Like I said government “creates” nothing, it provides services. The last time I saw my congressman building a road was never. Services that it should provide are security, i.e. military, police, fire etc., and the common- and contractual-law court system. Most other things can be handled privately. I am not going to get into the details here, there are volumes written about that, look them up for yourselves.

      • MadScientist says:

        You’re missing my point that *most* are parasites in an economic sense. You are implying that I claim that no good comes of government. I’d just like to state that people in government who die in the line of duty are not necessarily any damned good either.

      • Soldier says:

        J.F.Soti says: Most other things can be handled privately.

        How do you claim that with a straight face in light of the $11.5 Trillion bailout of the banking system?

        MadScientist says: *most* are parasites in an economic sense.

        Just saying it doesn’t make it so. Prove it. You believe in science don’t you? So back up this statement with science not your opinion. Aren’t all those bankers and CEO’s who ran their company into the ground parasites in an economic sense?

        MadScientist also stupidly says: I’d just like to state that people in government who die in the line of duty are not necessarily any damned good either.

        I won’t waste my time on this one.

      • Raul says:

        “Separating the politics from the Iraq war, 4,284 government employees are dead 31,230 have been wounded. Countless government employees have died in the past so that you have the freedom to be a skeptic and outspoken. I guess their sacrifice created nothing. Peace, tranquility and security are nothing?”

        Just how did invading Iraq make us more secure? Was it securing all those WMD’s Saddam had? Did we make Iraq a less appealing place for terrorists to operate?

        “I guess creating a body of laws so that commerce can operate, patents and contracts can be enforced is nothing which (when not gamed) creates a level playing field so that anyone with an entrepreneurial idea can compete. The international highway is nothing? The internet courtesy of DARPA is nothing? I could go on endlessly.”

        Common law was developed without any government intervention. Common law was developed at a time when the King of England didn’t want to be bothered with petty differences between commoners.

        Do you honestly believe that highways and the internet would not have been created without government?

      • JB says:

        *It would be more efficient to cut down on government being that it creates nothing.*

        People who use government services without acknowlegment often say that.

      • J.F.Soti says:

        The more services we accept from the government, the more enslaved we become to the government!
        Been there, done that, don’t want that to happen in the US, but unfortunately that is were we are heading.

  12. Anonymous Coward says:

    I already noticed this in an interview Shermer gave some time ago, but when talking about libertarianism all skepticism goes out of the window for him. I’m sure that if Shermer were to read an article like this about any other subject he would be tearing it apart.
    As for me, I consider economics an experimental science, and dogmatic economic views (like libertarianism, communism, capitalism, and so on) are by definition not compatible with that, and denying the value of experiment is incompatible with being a skeptic.

    • I have Michael Shermer on tape giving the lie to the unskeptical view you ascribe to him. He is clearly an advocate of social institutions to create and maintain a workable marketplace economy, of the social safety net, and of the adaptation of the society to changing conditions. He also has some choice words for the kind of libertarians that a number of people in this thread are using as straw men for the whole argument. The interview can be found at this link here, or on iTunes in the “Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour” feed.

      -Dan Sawyer

    • kabol says:

      i’d say your name says it all.

    • Peter says:

      Coward: how skeptical are you about the existence of gravity, I wonder?

  13. Joel says:

    Thanks for writing this. It’s getting forwarded to the (virulently-anti-libertarian) atheists list I’m on at work.

  14. gor says:

    Interesting read though im constantly annoyed by the many everchanging definitions of the word liberal

  15. John Powell says:

    So, what have recent events taught you about the relative merits of free markets versus mixed markets?

    • Mover says:

      May I help?

      Recent events reveal that when the power given to government by the people is used for selfish purposes, i.e., attaining and maintaining political office (e.g,. Sen. Arlen Specter), that it will intrude on free market capitalism in such a way as to skew all the market forces, the market will respond poorly.

      The perpetrators of the skewing are now using the economic “crisis” for more self promotion, more skewing of the markets and more government dependence. No doubt the original intent of the entire episode.

      And remember, it’s all Bush’s fault.

      • Shahar Lubin says:

        Wait a minute, isn’t Specter’s switch just a good example of the inherent “capitalist” character of democracy. Isn’t following the wishes of the populace what we demand of our representatives. Specter followed his supporters(300,000~ republicans switched parties in Pennsylvania in the last year) after they switched and the “brand” wasn’t consistent with his view any more.

      • Scott Theisen says:

        Shahar, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Specter is a corporatist crony, a parasite on the now corrupted proto-fascist American system. He isn’t following any wishes of the populace. What a joke. He is there to maintain that pension and pass laws for his wealthy pals.

        You are right that Pennsylvanians are rejecting the GOP. They should. We all should reject those fops. One exception: Dr. Paul.

        We don’t have a “free market” we have a mostly free market. You can’t have a free market when you have a central bank and a political structure which intervenes so pervasively into private affairs.

      • Shahar Lubin says:

        Poisoning the well, check. Ad hominoms, check.
        What do all your words actually means in this context?
        Hmm, the “now corrupted proto-fascist”… So the proto fascist system was better before it became corrupt?

      • Scott Theisen says:

        Shahar…I’m sorry you can’t read past my hastily typed, grammatical error of excluding a comma.

        “now corrupted, proto-fascist”…does that work better for you?

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Well, they’ve taught me that corporate syndicalism as an economic structure has some deep flaws, and that the mixed market, in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, is deeply flawed.

      The whole economic crisis is best understood as a gigantic pump and dump scheme, perpetrated in part by private industry and in part by the government, I.E., a mixed market phenomomena.

      • walldodger1969 says:

        With FM & FM , I think it was “GREED” of the CEOs over the years, that brought them down… They were able to help people buy homes , that they normally couldn’t …through the “free capitalistic” banks.

      • Eirik says:

        Can you explain to me why the Scandinavian contries (Denmark, Sweden and Norway) get consistently high scores year after year by the OECD? They are all mixed markets , with fairly high tax levels, but at the same time they score high on e.g. productivity, health care and so on.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        They are all mixed markets , with fairly high tax levels, but at the same time they score high on e.g. productivity, health care and so on.

        And unemployment, and suicide rates, and depression.

        Let’s start here: These are export economies. They rely on America to exist. Essentially, we pay for their defense and their health care.

    • James says:

      It actually taught me that government intervention in markets is extremely flawed. The idea that owning a home is a right, not a privilege is a very large contributor to the current situation. And that idea was fostered by both Democrats and Republicans.

      • James says:

        Actually, I should word that better. Being able to own a home is a right. Actually doing so is not. You should only own a home if you are actually capable of paying for it.

        The government manipulated the incentives in the market, and that lead to a massive segment of the population buying homes that they had no ability to maintain.

  16. CrookedTimber says:

    I find myself occupying the middle ground here, which appears in contrast to most postings thus far. I can fully appreciate the power of competition to drive innovation and more importantly the stifling failure of too much regulation on a complex system. However, I have never heard a satisfactory answer from free market ideologues as to how some situations would be handled by the market. Why would companies bother to impose on themselves costly measures to prevent waste when it is much easier to let it flow into the water ways even though it causes giant dead zones in vital habitat? Or use costly scrubbers to prevent air pollution? How would a privatized road system work?

    I also must admit that I gleaned many ideas that were new to me at the time from Atlas Shrugged. Socialism is appealing on its face and this book did drive home the hard won lessons of how badly planned economies fail and why. But, I also found much of the book to be cartoonishly childish. It was almost unreadable how all the captains of industry were not only businessmen but also handsome and when they started their new society apparently all expert craftsmen as well. How many industrialists could actually perform the labor “where the rubber meets the road”?

    I agree with Deen @ comment 9. It sounds as though Shermer is only seeking confirmatory evidence and not attempting to falsify his theory.

    • Nicole S. says:

      CrookedTimber, your arguments highlight to me the big flaws of the libertarian movement today. There are answers to these questions, but everyone gets too involved in their Atlas Shrugged beating to point them out.

      In regards to your pollution example, air and rivers would either be owned by another person, owned by the company, or owned collectively by society. If they are not owned by the company, the company would have to pay damages for destruction of property. This sounds like government interference, which it is, so libertarians often do not support things like carbon taxes, however, it follows pretty clearly.

      The road system is more complicated and something I myself am skeptical about the efficiency of, but it is not impossible to imagine a system where people pay (an annual fee for use in a given area, tolls when entering roads, etc) and all the land on which roads lie is owned or rented by the company offering the service.

      • CrookedTimber says:

        Nicole

        Thanks for the reply.

        “it is not impossible to imagine a system where people pay (an annual fee for use in a given area, tolls when entering roads, etc) and all the land on which roads lie is owned or rented by the company offering the service.”

        It is not impossible to imagine lots of things, however that doesn’t translate into reality. Often there are very limited places a road can be built due to topographic constraints (mountain ranges) and would be very easy to monopolize and abuse the power of being lone gate keeper.

        Also, you seem to think it is easy to trace the pollution back to it’s source so that the offending party can compensate the owner of the water/air. How in the hell do you see this happening? Without inspections of facilities and enforcement it would be nearly impossible to determine culpability after the fact. Another instance of the theory having no basis in reality.

        To be clear, there is much about the libertarian philosophy I very much agree with, but there are definite instances where it has major shortcomings.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Without inspections of facilities and enforcement it would be nearly impossible to determine culpability after the fact. Another instance of the theory having no basis in reality.

        Libertarian does not mean anarchist. You assume that there would be no inspections, licences, or regulations in a libertarian society, and that no one would be able to test water upstream… your objection is a bit of a strawman.

      • JB says:

        The issue is how to manage collective behavior. That’s where I have not seen convincing arguments for libertarian philosophy. Libertarianism requires a collective of some sort, be it government. Like socialism, it also seems to require moral uniformity. (Also, like Ayn Rand.) When people disagree without a collective framework it often devolves into a Hatfield/McCoy situation. Within a collective framework, the individual has more recourse.
        The water issue is not so open and shut. Consider ground water where the source of the pollution can be tens of miles away from the effect. Or the situation where the offender refuses to own up to responsibility– collective action is needed. Or consider the 1986 spill of phenolic compounds into the Rhine. There was a fire at the Sandoz plant and tons of toxic material was dumped into the Rhine. Yet, when the final count was measured there was far more dumped into the Rhine than came from the Sandoz plant. Each plant along the river had its own toxic material cache and dumped it in the river figuring Sandoz would get the blame. There was no way to trace the material back to the original sources.
        Government exists for two legitimate reasons: infrastructure (in spite of Shermer’s bridge example which I find to be spurious) and managing conflicts. That it does so imperfectly is no surprise since nothing is perfect. That people want to dump it for its imperfection surprises me.

      • 1bandsaw says:

        When “everything in society [is] privatized until government simply falls into disuse and disappears”, who will inspect? Who will licence? Who will regulate?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        When “everything in society [is] privatized until government simply falls into disuse and disappears”,

        At that point, a private organization such as ANSI. Prior to that point–that is, in any realistic scenario–the government.

    • Rafe says:

      Pollution is the result of a “tragedy of the commons” problem
      When the costs are SOCIALIZED, then it’s easy for me to abuse the asset because the marginal cost to me is offloaded on others.

  17. Beelzebud says:

    I really don’t see how pushing your political beliefs on people is skeptical thought. This seems to be the one area where you struggle and fail and being a skeptic. Politics and economics are not an exact science, and I really think it distracts from what this website was originally supposed to be about.

    http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/NoLibert.HTM

    • J.F.Soti says:

      Okay, so they are not exact sciences so we should run and hide under a rock or something and not discuss them?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Wow, there’s an “exact science” out there? What is this field with no open questions in it?

        I’m sorry, but political decisions should all be looked at skeptically, as should economic ones. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to talk about climate change, science standards, stem cell research, or anything that involved federal funding.

        We damn well should be concerned with how we relate to each other and the marketplace. Is it a good idea for the government to bail out large companies? How do we know? If we can’t even ask these questions, it makes a mockery of the whole movement.

    • James says:

      I only skimmed through that link, but my favorite:
      “Okay, now how are we going to keep track of who owns what frequency? Especially since radio waves reach across state lines?”

      Maybe through legal contracts? The same way anyone owns anything? It’s the same way someone’s not allowed to get in my car and drive it…

    • Peter says:

      Politics and economics are not an exact science

      Depending on precisely what you mean by “exact science”, yes, they are (it’s called “praxeology”). That you don’t want them to be, because it doesn’t fit in with your prejudices, is not relevant to whether or not they are, in fact.

  18. Openworld says:

    Many thanks for sharing your journey.

    Coming from the left, I’ve interested in the implications of enlarging Rand’s concept of the virtue of selfishness to include the notion of a (freely chosen) extended self.

    From a Randian perspective, the virtue of selfishness can explain acts of generosity — and even altruism — once an individual opts to widen his or her sphere of caring to include those who share the qualities of spirit that one wishes to see replicated.

    Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson have noted how “selfish genes” (and selfish memes) can prompt generous action by living beings whose scope of self-interest has been enlarged. Such actions help ensure the survival and reproductive success of genetically and memetically related others.

    The insights of sociobiology also may be the key to understanding why living beings who embody an extended sense of self take risks even to ensure the survival and reproductive success of those who are genetically or memetically unrelated.

    To understand these cases of “sacrifice”, I think it makes sense to see evolution as a triadic, rather dyadic, process of consilience. We may also be formed to ensure the reproductive success of meme-like qualities of spirit, or “lumines.”

    When sentient beings who have kindred qualities of spirit (lumines) interact, trust grows and the potential for cooperative endeavors increases across genetic and memetic boundaries. Moreover, a desire to ensure the survival and reproductive success of noble qualities of spirit also may account for actions of cross-species generosity and caring.

    This “selfish” desire by individuals with extended selves/souls to propagate meme-like qualities of spirit may explain remarkable actions of “unselfishness” on the part of Objectivists. Jimmy Wales, an Ayn Rand admirer, has launched Wikipedia as venue for giving and sharing. His actions are close to those foreseen by Marx in his vision of human production after the withering away of the state.

    I’ve posted some further thoughts on the extended self and emergence of generosity at http://is.gd/wmsP — comments and improvements will be most welcome!

    Mark Frazier
    Openworld.com and EntrepreneurialSchools.com
    @openworld (twitter)

    • Roger Ellis says:

      Mark Frazier,

      I second your telling Shermer “Thanks for sharing your journey”!

      I’m new to this massive missive of replies but yours resonated with
      my appreciation of Michael’s friendly yet direct “reasoning together”.

      When Dinesh D’Souza (“What’s So Great About Christianity”) was invited to debate Michael at a Cal Tech Skeptics event, we had the pastor and members of our Presbyterian church in the audience and all enjoyed.

  19. John Ham says:

    I’m a bit surprised that the passage from Mises that Mr. Shermer finds so resonant is such a prime example of the “slippery slope” fallacy.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      This is not an example of the slippery slope fallacy. The passage from Mises simply states that there is no difference in principle between banning opium and banning cigarettes, not that one inevitably leads to another.

      • MadScientist says:

        I agree with John Ham; after reading it I thought “this is just another religious ‘slippery slope’ claim.” It really is; that banning everything else will follow from allowing government to ban a single thing is deliberately implied in that misleading statement from Mises. If you look at the arguments of contemporary religious idealogues their statements are exactly of the form of Mises’ statement. Rather than state “If A then B”, weasel tactics are used and the statement becomes “If A, then what will prevent B?”

      • Seth Manapio says:

        You may agree, but that means that you are both wrong. You are reading an “implication” into the statement, which you admit, and then applying your interpretation and added information to the original statement, then calling “Slippery Slope.” Then, having added your interpretation to the equantion and tarred Mises with your own statement, you have the gall to claim that HE is a weasel?

        Bull. Mises is correct. If you can ban opium, you can in principle ban tobacco. Is this a false statement? Instead of pretending it’s a fallacy that it isn’t, why don’t you address some actual flaw in his reasoning?

      • Jason says:

        Ok, yes, in principle you can ban tobacco. So? The conclusion is not that you MUST ban tobacco. Government makes choices about what to ban based on relative and dynamic considerations of harm, not absolute principles. It does not follow that because government CAN intervene in anything, that it must or absolutely will, or will do so to the most extreme degree.

        Governments are founded on principles, but do the actual work of governing based on pragmatism. Libertarianism does not fail on the level of principle, it fails on the level of pragmatism.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Government makes choices about what to ban based on relative and dynamic considerations of harm, not absolute principles.

        I’m skeptical of this claim. It seems to me that the goverment bans substances based on the desires of politically well connected people and social pressure, regardless of the enormous harm that the ban will cause.

        If you look at it skeptically, the drug war is a race war. Libertarian principles see this as a basic violation of civil rights. You don’t. Fine.

        You agree in principle that we can ban tobacco. What about books? Why not?

        Fine.

  20. jdcllns says:

    Great story! To bad most self proclaimed skeptics think that skepticism simply means the rejection of Sunday School religion. They are always more than willing unleash their righteous indignation on religion, yet fail to recognize their own “faith” in “the state”.

    “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”
    — P.J. O’Rourke

    • Max says:

      Skeptics can be elitist. When they look at all the irrationality around them, they conclude that people must be saved from themselves.

  21. Anthony O'Neal says:

    I stopped being a libertarian after I read The Fountainhead. Ayn’s philosophy was too cold for me, and I was left disturbed by it.

    These days I call myself a liberal, even though my economic beliefs are rather moderate. In Europe, where the definition of “liberal” resembles (a far more moderate) libertarian, they’d call me a “social liberal”. While I’m a huge believe in free trade I see the benefits of things like universal healthcare and don’t consider them a drag on the economy.

    • Nicole S. says:

      Have you ever lived somewhere with universal health care? I spent a day in an Italian hospital with a friend who had broken her leg. She wasn’t given painkillers, the doctors who have to deal with no competition laughed at her pain and even called other doctors in to the room because they thought it was so funny, and the doctor changed his description of what was broken four times while I was there. My sister had a bladder infection and had to wait a month to see a doctor (in America they tell you to go to the emergency room immediately when you have the symptoms she had), at which point she had to take the same tests four times because the hospital kept no records.

      The French system, which I hear is a bit better, gave my aunt her new breasts and regularly gives her suitcases full of prescription drugs to bring back to America. No waste, right?

      • JB says:

        Does your aunt think it’s a waste?

        Bad doctors are bad doctors wherever they are found. I’ve been in similar situations as you described in Italy right here in the USA. And we sure don’t have universal health care.

        I’ve also been treated in Canada. No waiting and no problems.

      • Rob says:

        If you see problem’s with other countries systems, then why not improve upon them? I grow weary of selfish people who have insurance out the ying yang saying that human health is wasteful or that there are issues in other countries. It must be easy to ruminate on the benefits of food for the poor when your belly is fat. In an economy where hundreds of thousands of jobs can be lost because of the greed of a few banks, insurance companies, and investment firms, anyone who is against socialized medicine is just plain self centered. How about universal health plan for all and a tax break for people who don’t use it so that they can pay out of pocket to special doctors who meet your special standards?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        In an economy where hundreds of thousands of jobs can be lost because of the greed of a few banks, insurance companies, and investment firms, anyone who is against socialized medicine is just plain self centered.

        Or, and just try this out: they might just think that socialized medicine can’t accomplish the stated goal of getting quality health care to poor people.

      • Eirik says:

        I would suggest you read “The Undercover Economist”. Especially the chapter on health care. According to Tim Harford (the author) the US system is wasteful. Being Norwegian myself, I know how a good health system works. We’ve got one :-)

  22. Chris says:

    I look forward to your continued work on the subject of libertarianism Michael. I have read both your book, The Mind of the Market, and Ayn Rands Atlas Shrugged. I would not consider myself a libertarian, in fact I am not really sure what title my political/economic leanings would fall under. It is a subject that I am still investigating. Books like Atlas Shrugged are interesting because they provide the hypothetical basis for libertarianism, but lack any real world application since they are merely a work of fiction. I find books like yours much more valuable in terms of my own learning on the subject. Economics and politics needs more science and skepticism I will be glad to read more of Mr. Shermer’s work when he publishes it.

  23. Paul F says:

    Libertarianism aside (ill defined as it is), I’m going to have to chime in with the “Randianism is a cult” crowd.

    It doesn’t work as an economic model, demonstrably so. There is real-world evidence of various economic models and to ignore the failure of one’s preferred philosophy does not speak of logic, but rather indoctrination.

    • MadScientist says:

      I think you mean “Rayndianism”; “Randi” is the guy behind this site: http://www.randi.org

    • Seth Manapio says:

      When did this demonstration take place, and where?

      • Paul F says:

        Seth, It was demonstrated here. Alan Greenspan is a Rayndist (thanks MadScientist, that is an excellent catch and entirely my fault)
        and his economic theory contributed strongly to our current woes. Please feel free to google “Greenspan Testimony Rand” (without the quotes) for evidence. You may not agree with the points, but it is the basis of my assertion.

        I think this YouTube clip does kind of make a point though. In a humorous way.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QDv4sYwjO0&e

      • Seth Manapio says:

        rayndist? Where does the “y” come from? It’s Ayn Rand, not Ann Raynd. The name of the philosophy is “Objectivism.”

        Since Ayn Rand had nothing whatsoever to say about interest rates, I’m not sure where you’re coming from here.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        And wait a minute… Greenspan’s job was to centrally control the economy. So how can his failure demonstrate the failure of an economic model that argues against central control of an economy? Doesn’t make sense.

  24. Brian M says:

    I understand where libertarians come from. I really do. The problem I have is this idea that its “free market, and our freedoms”, versus “mixed market, and no freedom”. It is partially the old “slippery slope” argument. If we teach evolution, then people will start throwing feces like monkeys.

    The one factor that solves any of these issues off “too far”, is a little thing you may not have heard of. Its something I like to call “Democracy”. If you don’t like it, you vote it out. If you don’t like a law, you vote it away. Sadly, america is a 2 party system, so no really new ideas come into play. You really need several parties to get a good mix of ideas.

    Ultimately, I don’t see the government in the same way you do. You see it (and correct me if I am wrong), as an oppressive force. You give up your freedom so it keeps you warm and cozy. I see the government as a servant to the people, fueled by democracy. Lets face it, if it wasn’t for the government, the poor people in the country would quickly die of poverty. The government regulates that so everyone stands a fair chance. Without that mix, you end up having wealthy land owners holding more clout by just being who they are, with the majority of people living under the oppression of their barons.

    I think you should look up “modern anarchy”. They seem to be touting the same ideas as you. The free market can control all, and disputes are handed through unenforceable arbitration.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      “Lets face it, if it wasn’t for the government, the poor people in the country would quickly die of poverty.”

      —————-

      Really? Where’s your evidence to support that assertion? Where’s your evidence to support any of your assertions?

      • Brian M says:

        Pretty much any african country.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Pretty much any african country.

        But all african countries have governments. Are these governments preventing starvation or something?

      • Mike says:

        Poor people would quickly die?! based on what evidence? man you guys are so ill informed economically that it’s not funny. Have any of you looked into say Friedmans work or read ‘Wealth of Nations’. Understand that the governmnent actually keeps people unemployed via well-meaning tools such as the minimum wage. (Because it means that even if someone wished to work for 10c under that wage and the employer was happy to employ them on it, they cant). Regulation to help the poor almost always ends up hurting them instead.

      • Eirik says:

        How about giving us good examples of a working libertarian society? You sound just like the communist when faced with the fact that communism has failed everywhere it has been tried. Their reply: “Oh, that’s not true communism”.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        How about giving us good examples of a working libertarian society?

        The United States (considered horribly depressed with less than 10% unemployment).

        The US is actually more libertarian than the libertarians let on. We have strong property rights, a history of strong individual rights, and a history of civil liberties… liberties which are written into our constitution.

        Libertarians tend to see only the statist side of the US and not the fact that we have a robust economic system and a powerful, frequently rights-centered judiciary.

      • Nykos says:

        Hong Kong is the closest thing to a libertarian society on Earth. Interestingly enough, also one of the richest – despite an incredibly small land area, a big neighbor that only recently began to emerge out of abject poverty of a socialist command economy.

    • Nicole S. says:

      Democracy does not make oppression impossible. Hitler was voted in to power, and while many of his worst offenses were hidden from the public, it is certainly silly to think that democracy protects every member of a society. This is why in America we have the bill of rights, to ensure that the minority is protected from the tyranny of the majority. Libertarians believe that the rights outlined in the bill of rights are not enough, and that we should further expand the rights that are considered inviolable despite the will of the majority.

      And being a libertarian does not imply that you think we should watch people die. If humanity is willing to vote to send billions of dollars in aid overseas to help people, and to vote to support social programs, doesn’t it follow that if this role was removed from the government many people would still devote much of their money to helping these causes? The argument is not that it is bad for people to have health care or food or shelter, it is that the government should not be the responsible party and people should not be coerced in to doing what is morally right.

      • Brian M says:

        Let me give you an example of a system that is not run by the government, and has failed utterly.

        The american health care system.

        The argument against socialized medicine is that “I don’t want to pay for their health care”, or “its their fault they didn’t plan for it”. Sorry, but you cannot get out of poverty without some breaks. You mess up once on an attempt to rise from the ghetto, and unless you have a hand, you are left in the ghetto. Think of the single mother, raising 2 kids working a dead end job. If she loses that job, her family starves. Prove to me that philanthropy alone is enough to feed the starving anywhere. You assume people are willing to be nice to others, when they really are not.

      • J.F.Soti says:

        Please get a clue before you write something. The American health care system is a convoluted mess of government intervention from both the federal and state level. Even the amount of doctors that attend med school each year is artificially controlled and kept low. Please read “The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care” by David Gratzer a Canadian doctor by the way.

        Funny how the amount of single mothers skyrocketed since Lyndon Johnson’s great society, which practically destroyed the black family. In 1900 the illegitimacy rate for blacks was 20%, now it is near 70%. Ruining people’s lives with government kindness!

        Most people can create their own breaks with persistence.

      • Brian M says:

        Its mostly a corporate clusterf*$ck. The government regulations don’t hinder it, they are a poor patch job that tries to help the problems. Remember, every health care system that is better then the USA’s, is government run and mostly socialist.

      • DogBreath says:

        The American healthcare system is largely a government manipulated system. It just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Its a mess that folks try to pretend is a free market system.

    • Peter says:

      Democracy? One the three evil forms of government, as identified by Aristotle? Something to which the Founding Fathers were strongly opposed?

      The free market can control all, and disputes are handed through unenforceable arbitration.

      Why unenforceable??

      • Brian M says:

        Who enforces them? A vigilante group? How long until they realize they can control people with force instead of enforcing arbitration? How long until mafia rule?

      • Peter says:

        No, not a vigilante group…what kind of dispute do you have in mind? There doesn’t have to be a single solution to all disputes. BTW, what you call “mafia rule” is exactly what “government rule” is…how can you support statism with a straight face?

  25. This from Shermer I look forward to:

    “(I’m presuming that the vast majority of readers of Skeptic, eSkeptic, and Skepticblog are liberals, which itself is a troubling bias in our readership that I’ll address another time).”

    • Sabio says:

      Are you also a fellow liberterian skeptic? I will take a look at your site and try to figure that out !

  26. Liz D says:

    I am sorry that you never had conversation with another great liberatarian, Murray Rothbard.

  27. Beelzebud says:

    “And do remember that we libertarians are social liberals just like you (I’m presuming that the vast majority of readers of Skeptic, eSkeptic, and Skepticblog are liberals, which itself is a troubling bias in our readership that I’ll address another time). In the meantime… ”

    When the right wing has spent the better part of 2 decades preaching anti-intellectualism on a myriad of scientific and social issues, it’s no surprise that the intellectuals have abandoned them. In turn it’s also no surprise that skeptically minded people seem to not be followers of their anti-intellectual movement.

    • Libertarians, right wingers, conservatives, skeptics, and intellectuals are all overlapping magisteria. Perhaps you’d do well to learn the distinctions so as not to be stuck with what ‘seems’ to be.

  28. I first became a critical thinker, then a libertarian. After applying logical principles to economics and social issues, I kept being lead to the libertarian philisophical/political model. I feel like I’m in good company.

  29. Maseca says:

    Too often, Libertarianism is conflated with Ayn Rand’s philosophies. I consider myself to be a libertarian, yet have never ready Ayn Rand, and do not subscribe to Objectivism in any way.

    As a social liberal and fiscal conservative (call that libertarian if you will), I often feel excluded from the majority of the skeptic community. In fact I’ve experienced out and out disdain and ostracism from many liberal skeptics (something evidenced by some comments here). It’s refreshing to hear that I’m NOT the only libertarian skeptic out there. Thanks Michael.

    • prm101 says:

      That’s interesting. I often feel excluded from the skeptical community b/c of a perception that you have to be a libertarian to really play. I therefore avoid commenting (this would be an exception), going to meetups like skeptic’s in the pub, etc.

    • Peter says:

      Note that Ayn Rand hated libertarians, and would never call herself one. Many modern “Objectivists” do call themselves libertarians (but they’re not, really…)

  30. Maseca says:

    … have never READ Ayn Rand…

    Damned typos.

  31. Amy Larimer says:

    Libertarianism is a morally bankrupt philosophy. Without regulation of capitalism, there would be no 40 hour workweek, health insurance, retirement benefits, environmental regulations, child labor laws. I guess you libertarians want children to work in the mines because without those laws, corporations would do that. They have before, in case you have forgotten your history. Life in the late 19th, early 20th centuries was HELL for workers and the environment was a cesspool, all the fault of capitalism run amok. Corporations even now abuse workers and disregard the laws.

    Incidentally government is US. We the people are in charge. If we do not like it we can change it, but corporations, like people, cannot be allowed to do whatever the hell they want. They certainly do not have anyone’s best interests at heart (other than pure profit).

    Libertarianism is basically the philosophy that say “fuck y’all, I’ve got mine”. So throw poor people (who are actually poor because the economic and educational playing fields are most definitely not level), old people, non-white people under the bus. And never mind about clean water, clean air, safe neighborhoods. I prefer liberalism because it tries to level the playing field and because it doesn’t pit neighbor against neighbor in some survival of the fittest bullshit. We need a little more community and a lot less selfishness these days.

    Incidentally I have read Ayn Rand and, frankly, those are some of the worst-written books I have ever read.

    • Talia says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that “the government is US”. Government is a structure that groups of individuals build in order to have a more organized society. Although corporations have enourmous influence on government, without government, corporations would rule entirely. Look to banana belt countries as an example of how America might look without checks and balances in place.

      • Nicole S. says:

        Corporations are not evil monsters that rise out of the ether, they are started by human beings to provide services to other human beings who would like those services. It is always so strange to me when people talk about corporations like they are separate from people.

        And as for the government being ‘us,’ it certainly is not. The government is people who have been chosen by majority groups of given areas to represent them. They are not the people who elected them, though they may choose to try to make those people happy, and they have no responsibility at all to those who did not elect them. Bush made this abundantly clear in acting like he had a mandate despite very small margins on both elections. Was Bush you? He certainly wasn’t me.

      • Rob says:

        Started by human beings, but answerable to stock holders and boards of directors who care only for the bottom line. Profit and higher stock prices. They have done and continue to take inconceivably amoral and dangers actions for human ebings and the environment and a government is the only representative of the people large enough to keep them in line.

      • Talia says:

        True, both governments and corporations are made of people (and of course all corporations are not evil. Corporations are no more good or evil than any person, generally), but a corporation by definition has to make money for its stockholders. That is priority one. Governments are supposed to serve the people (not that they always do, but at least there is that intention; for example, the Constitution of the United States).

    • Nicole S. says:

      Wow. Libertarianism is an argument about government, that is all. Many libertarians I know think social protections and safety nets are wonderful, but should be provided by private sector institutions. I am currently living in Ghana, which is too poor to have any form of large government intervention. Here, people simply help each other of their own free will. Is your view of humanity so poor as to believe that if the government did not take care of our every need people would start dying left and right?

      And again, to assume that workers would fall prey to evil corporations is to forget that people choose to work and we now have mechanisms, such as worker’s unions, that protect workers without government intervention. You say yourself that the government regulations are not always effective, so why assume they are the best method for control? Imagine this instead: You sit down with a prospective employer and tell him that you would like a 40 hour work week, health care, retirement benefits, etc. If he refuses, you tell him that you will take your skills elsewhere. Firms know they need good talent and motivated, loyal employees, so they pay their employees decent wages and benefits to stay competitive. The government then has a role in enforcing the contract should a breech occur.

      And libertarian philosophy believes that the government does have a role in protecting the rights of people. That is, in fact, the government’s only role. These rights include your rights to your property and safety, so the government would still enforce safety on the streets. Many libertarians also believe that children are not yet able to make fully informed and rational decisions, and therefore are subject to some protections from the government. It depends on exactly who you talk to.

      In short, libertarian philosophy is only morally bankrupt if you assume that humanity is too selfish to care for each other without being forced to do so by the government. Maybe Objectivist-flavor libertarianism has this characteristic, but Shermer points to this as what drew him away from Objectivism, and many libertarians feel the same. Personally, I have some faith in humanity.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        In short, libertarian philosophy is only morally bankrupt if you assume that humanity is too selfish to care for each other without being forced to do so by the government.

        THAT’S what is bugging me about a lot of the anti-libertarian sentiment. If you replace “government” with “god”, you get exactly what people say about god!

        Without God, we’d all be (evil stuff).

        Without GOVERNMENT, we’d all be (evil stuff).

        Same thing.

      • DogBreath says:

        A big Amen to Brother Seth!

      • Dale H. says:

        “…we now have mechanisms, such as worker’s unions, that protect workers without government intervention.”

        I’m surprised you said this. One of the biggest things that turns me off of most Libertarians is their dislike (in some cases hatred) of unions. Of course unions aren’t perfect, they can have all the same problems that governments do, but I think they can provide a balance of power between corporations and workers. (When I was in college I worked at a department store, and the orientation literature claimed they didn’t have a union because the management preferred to deal “one on one” with their associates. Yeah, one multimillion-dollar corporation vs. a poor slob.)

        Maybe I have the wrong impression of Libertarians, is there a “party line” regarding unions? It’s overwhelmingly “union bad” with Republicans and “union good” with Democrats, but I’m starting to see that Libertarians by nature have more individualized ideas.

      • DogBreath says:

        In the USA unions are awarded a monopoly by the government. That is the source of libertarian objections.

      • Peter says:

        I’m surprised you said this. One of the biggest things that turns me off of most Libertarians is their dislike (in some cases hatred) of unions.

        It’s not hatred of unions. It’s hatred of special privilege to infringe on the property rights of others. The same reason libertarians don’t like governments, in fact! Governments give unions these special privileges; under libertarian government, there would be no such privileges, and unions would be fine (but wouldn’t likely continue to exist; like government, they exist solely because of the grant of privilege)

      • Peter says:

        Wow. Libertarianism is an argument about government, that is all.

        Actually, no; libertarianism is an argument about law.

    • kabol says:

      Libertarianism is basically the philosophy that say “fuck y’all, I’ve got mine”.

      that’s it. i’m a convert.

  32. David Jones says:

    Libertarianism is basically the philosophy that say “fuck y’all, I’ve got mine”. So throw poor people (who are actually poor because the economic and educational playing fields are most definitely not level), old people, non-white people under the bus

    No, not at all. It does say that I own myself, have a right to the products of my labour, and you don’t have a right to take my property from me by force; and any attempt to produce a predetermined pattern of wealth distribution that fits with your notions of social justice will fail unless you deprive people of very significant liberties.

    Nothing to stop you giving all you money away, if that’s what you want.

    Incidentally, on the subject of poverty, people are far wealthier today than even in the recent past because of capitalism.

    • Deen says:

      It’s difficult to attribute the increase in wealth just to capitalism. It’s not like there hasn’t been any government involvement between the recent past and now, regulating the economy, or investing in scientific research. There’s no way to tell if things would be better or worse if there hadn’t been a reasonably fair and efficient government around. Not to mention any of the other possible confounding factors.

      • “It’s not like there hasn’t been any government involvement between the recent past and now, regulating the economy, or investing in scientific research.”

        And where do you suppose government gets that money?

      • Deen says:

        “And where do you suppose government gets that money?”
        Taxes?

        I don’t really know where you mean to go with that question. Where or how the government gets its money doesn’t change the fact that no western country has been 100% capitalist in recent history. It’s hard to argue that the overall increase in wealth should be considered a success of capitalism rather than as the success of a mixed model.

      • David jones says:

        It’s hard to argue that the overall increase in wealth should be considered a success of capitalism rather than as the success of a mixed model

        Not really. I think you’re confusing ‘capitalism’ with ‘absolutely no intervention to fix market failures or deal with externalities’.

      • Peter says:

        There’s no way to tell if things would be better or worse if there hadn’t been a reasonably fair and efficient government around.

        Yes there is. Look up “praxeology”

  33. There are a few topics that I’ve never had a libertarian explain to me:

    1) Where would the infrastructure come from? Who builds the roads? Who builds the internet? If corporations build the roads then they get control over who can use the roads. Will every road become a toll road?

    2) How is corporate waste and excess different from government waste and excess if corporations possess all of the power?

    3) How do you prevent corporations from polluting the environment? How do you prevent them from abusing their employees? Both of these things would be in their self-interest in the short term.

    4) Who provides the social safety net? Who provides for people that are unable to work? Would unemployment insurance be a thing of the past?

    Thank you.

    • Another one I forgot:

      5) How would a libertarian system provide for a base level of eductation for everyone in society? Will people who can’t afford to send their children to private school be able to opt out of education all together or will scholarships be afforded to them?

      • I. E. Zawils says:

        Well, Libertarians? Answer the man. I can’t imagine why there’s such a deafening silence.

      • Prometheus says:

        You gotta chuckle at all the vitriolic comments. C’mon people! Let’s have a constructive dialog!

        I think of myself as a soft-libertarian, it helps me from getting too defensive and leaves the door open for my mind to be changed.

        One of the principles of libertarianism that is most misunderstood is the distinction between government and society. Libertarians think of government as the use of force, because laws are eventually enforced by people with guns. Society is seen as individuals cooperating towards their common goals. Suspend disbelief for a moment and put yourself in that mindset. No really, just for a moment.

        1. “Who will build the roads” Always the first question, because it’s the hardest to answer. My best guess: Everyone. If you want people to shop at the brand new Wal-mart you built, you’re going to make sure that they can get there. Communities might make road maintenance part of a contract you sign to live there. I image it would be more like a bottom up process like evolution, or synapse connections in your brain. Instead of top down directed by the government. Would it be a more efficient system? I don’t know. I would love to run the experiment though.

        2. Not much difference. But for-profit businesses have to maintain some sort of customer satisfaction at all times. Whereas elected officials only face the votes every couple years. More of an incentive I guess.

        3. Something similar to class-action lawsuits for the environment. Financial incentive not to pollute your
        neighbors property. If they abuse their employees no one would work for them, or they could unionize.

        4. Charities, churches, family, communes or any other aspect of civil society. Plenty of examples in history of people banding together voluntarily for their common good. Unemployment insurance could be a business. Sign a contract, pay a monthly fee, and if you lose your job they cover your costs until you get back on your feet.

        5. The “What about the children!” question is another hard one for me for emotional reasons. But I think parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s education. Charities, churches, and civil
        society is the answer here again I guess. Without government schools there would be greater demand for private schools, and that would cause greater completion and lower prices. Parents could band together and share home schooling responsibilities.

        Just speculation here. I would love to run the experiment and see the results.

      • Max says:

        “Isn’t that what government is?”

        Yeah, except the only way to change your membership is to immigrate.

      • MadScientist says:

        I don’t even see any vitriol; I just see plain old questions which deserve a substantial response. The history of education varies in different places, for example in ancient Greece and in England (say, 800 or more years ago) education was all private; in England the “public” schools are in fact privately owned and are called ‘public’ because they were open to the public – at least the public who had large bags of money. In all the developed nations I have visited, education is largely the responsibility of the state although the state controlled educational systems perhaps only came about 400 years ago (don’t take my word for it; I didn’t research the subject).

        In some countries (many of which are still bass ackwards) you only had private tutorials until fairly recently when perhaps a foreign imperial force instituted a public education system. So for some nations any significant education started out as public while in some places such as England it definitely started out private. If you look at contemporary failed or struggling states it is the private educational institutions which are prized since corruption and incompetence have made public education systems worthless; however, many of those private institutions do not provide as good an education as public institutions elsewhere.

        With the mix of both good and bad public and private educational institutions, I would like to see the libertarian argument on how absolute privatization will improve the educational system. Personally I think it’s just a lot of thoughtless whining brought about by observed problems with the current system but with no reality-based solution.

      • Nicole S. says:

        To 5: You may be interested in reading Bruce Ackerman, who argues that people earn their ‘liberal’ (the term he uses, in a sense that is no longer consistent with popular use in America but means something like libertarian + equality of initial endowments) rights by being rational agents capable of choice. In order to fully develop the rights and responsibilities to care for themselves and make their own choices, they must receive an education that allows for this. Thus, in protecting people’s rights the government is responsible for providing a ‘liberal education.’ His argument, despite the fact that he is not really a libertarian, I think can potentially be used by libertarians as well to allow for universal very basic education.

        With regards to Ackerman, I am not claiming he is a libertarian– he also argues that people have rights to equal portions of the Earth’s natural resources and that the right to have children should be restricted so that future generations are do not receive any less than current generations. Personally, I would place myself somewhere between his school of thought and the classical libertarian school, despite the fact that it isn’t as neat and clean logically that way.

      • Jack says:

        “How would a libertarian system provide for a base level of eductation for everyone in society?”

        Is this a joke? How does every person get a base level of food in society? Or a base level of clothes?

        Just let people do whatever they want, and they’ll be just fine.

        Education, like any other service, is best distributed in the market. Abolish all public education, and you’ll see kids actually getting education.

      • 1. Private companies. Not every road would be a toll road because it would be too costly to maintain it, or it would deter people from using the road. To read on this subject see Street Smart:
        http://www.independent.org/publications/books/book_summary.asp?bookID=64

        2. Why would companies possess all the power? If they have to compete against each other there would be no possibility for them to exert any power other than pleasing the customer.

        3. Same as (2): competition would hinder firms from exploiting their employees since they are free to work for other firms.

        4. Mutual aid groups and charities, mainly. For this, see this article by David Beito or his book:
        http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=28

        5. See Jack’s reply. And listen to this podcast on private education around the world and how it beats state education in every way:
        http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=6015

    • Seth Manapio says:

      I’m going to tackle only #3, and only the pollution part.

      Basically, what we have now is a situation in which government agencies are responsible for preventing pollution by large, wealthy corporations. Leaving aside the fact that this agency is itself the largest polluter in North America, what is wrong with this situation?

      The most glaring thing that comes to mind is that in order to get permission to pollute a watershed, the corporation has to pay the government, not the affected downstream parties. And once they obtain that permission, the affected parties must attempt to top their offer to the government in either votes, outrage, or cash in order to prevent that pollution. Then, they have to actually demonstrate harm of some sort in order to receive any compensation or prevent the pollution.

      The current social model doesn’t really recognize the right of the downstream parties to determine the what happens to their property. Further, the government that decides the case has a pre-existing position of giving permission to the polluter.

      The libertarian model sees these property rights as being central to the issue, not peripheral. It becomes the responsibility of the upstream party to obtain permission from the downstream party to alter the water supply. In this model, the government becomes an arbiter of a dispute (should one arise) in which the injured party only has to show that the pollutants exist and originated in the polluting party, rather than demonstrating the harm.

      • tmac57 says:

        Suppose the ‘upstream party’ is some mega-corporation, and decides that they don’t want to bother with informing ‘downstream parties’ that they want to dump hazardous waste into their water supply? How would you expect individuals or even a group of affected parties to go up against a corporation with extremely deep pockets. They could easily bury their opponents. This even happens under our current system, I can’t imagine what would happen without current protections.
        This all sounds like ‘pie in the sky’.

      • Peter says:

        “Your ideal situation is much worse than what we have now because such-and-such could happen exactly the same as it does now” doesn’t strike me as much of an argument.

      • tmac57 says:

        Your reply did not address the question posed, and your “exactly the same as it does now” comment is not what I was implying. I believe that the situation would be substantially worse than under the current imperfect system.

      • Peter says:

        But you believe it would be worse because you think people would be able to do the same things they can already do. (Of course, people wouldn’t just sit by and let Upstream Polluters, Inc., pollute their water, but the “current protections” you claim help them here are actually the opposite: the government licenses pollution and actively prevents the people downstream doing anything about it)

    • Nicole S. says:

      To 2: Corporations you make the choice to support with your money. If you don’t want their services, or you are morally opposed to their waste and excess, you buy elsewhere. The government forces you at pain of jail time, further fines and harassment to be a part of its waste and excess. That is a BIG difference.

      • CrookedTimber says:

        But how does the public know who the offenders are without inspections? I’m guessing the corporations are not going to broadcast their wasteful practices and are certainly not going to allow inspections of their property.

        You seem to assume that the public is hyper-rational and will always choose what is in their best interest. A myth destroyed by behavioral economics and neuro economics as outlined in The Mind of the Market.

      • Peter says:

        Not allowing inspections would be a piece of information you could use in your decision-making. And not all inspections are necessarily voluntary, anyway: if you suspect someone of dumping hazardous materials, you can look for evidence yourself (or hire someone else to, etc.), and publicize the results. Are you claiming that never happens today? Why do you insist on perfection before you’re willing to reconsider something you (presumably) admit isn’t perfect?

        As for your second paragraph: you seem to assume that some other entity is capable of knowing and choosing what is in the public’s best interest better than they do. Why? How?

  34. freakuency13 says:

    My first comment is really a question, and this is out of genuine curiosity: What are libertarian solutions to solving problems of genuine social injustice? People may take much of the equality we have achieved over the last couple hundred years for granted, but there has been no “natural” social or cultural evolution to the point where we are at now. Yes it has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears by many ordinary committed folks who refused to accept the “it’ll work itself out eventually” line, but it has also required much legal and legislative action (or “judicial activism” if you will) to make it concrete, from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act. Many of these laws, amendments and rulings have necessitated government intrusion into the market in order to enforce them via sanctions.

    Again this is not intended as a back-handed criticism, I am actually quite sympathetic to a left-libertarian political philosophy.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      In the context you present, your question is confusing. The development of capitalism coincides with the elimination of slavery, and the rise of libertarianism in particular is a phenomena of the last three hundred years, the years that have seen the most progress towards social equality and the largest decreases in violent crime and death.

      You need an example of a specific injustice that libertarianism does not address.

      • freakuency13 says:

        The development of Capitalism coinciding with the elimination of slavery would be a correlation, not cause/effect. As far as the progress toward social equality, could this not just as well be a result (at least partially) of liberalism (as in Liberal Democracy), not libertarianism? If Nicole’s reply below is an accurate summation of libertarianism, I don’t see how it could have been a factor. We would have to assume that people and institutions of oppression (the government included) somehow evolved to be more rational and tolerant, volunteering to sacrifice some of their power and privilege for the greater good. Though this has happened, I would submit that this has been an effect, not the cause. History shows that change has happened b/c a lot of pissed off people took collective action—and not always in a rational manner and often met with a great deal of violence–to demand that the rights enumerated (and un-enumerated) in the constitution apply to them. Laws and judicial rulings followed to enforce these expanded liberties. Cultural acceptance caught up later. Libertarians sometimes seem to have this process reversed.

        As far as one recent example, what do Libertarians think of the Family and Medical Leave Act, or what would be their solution to the underlying problem?

        Again I am sympathetic to some Libertarian ideas, especially as it regards genuine free markets in goods and services, as nicely covered in a recent CATO debate.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        The development of Capitalism coinciding with the elimination of slavery would be a correlation, not cause/effect.

        I would say that is an open question. If it’s correlation, it’s interesting that BOTH correlate with the rise of libertarian ideas.

        Libertarians actually did get pissed off and fight oppression at times. Famous examples include the American Revolution. You know, “give me liberty or give me death?” That’s a libertarian talkin’, there.

        Family and Medical Leave Act… what is the underlying injustice being addressed, and why is it an injustice?

      • freakuency13 says:

        Not sure I would call the founding fathers or revolutionaries “Libertarian” in the sense we use the term today–any more than I would call them Liberals in the modern sense. However If we were to make some loose analogies, from my understanding of history, men like Sam Adams or Patrick Henry could be considered the Libertarians of their day (so it is interesting you should quote him). Hamilton and Madison were closer to a Liberal point of view. This is well reflected in the framing of the Constitution. Henry was highly opposed to the creation of a central government, while Madison in many ways could be considered not only the architect of the Constitution but of the U.S. Government as well. So sure I guess they all could be considered “libertarians” in a very broad sense, from which both contemporary (Americanized) versions of Liberalism and Libertarians descend. My main issue with a lot of contemporary Libertarianism is the often focus too much attention on the tyrannical tendencies of the government, and neglect equal or worse potential tyrannies from other factions — organized religion, Corporations, and even the Military (though fortunately we in America are used to it being under “civilian” control). In other words I guess what I oppose most (echoing Madison) are “monopolies of power” in whatever form it may take.

        As far the Family and Medical Leave Act, that admittedly is a weak example of an “injustice” compared to racial/sex discrimination of the past. The point was merely to show the the government can have a positive “referee” type role to play even in a free market. It’s just one case where the interests of the private Corporate entity clashes directly with those of their workers.Business Lobbies were very opposed to the Act– and understandably so from their point of view. Overall it was a good strike for freedom of the individual–freedom from fear if nothing else (as in women who need an extended prior of time off to care for their new born child w/o fear of being permanently replaced and losing their livelihood)

    • Nicole S. says:

      Libertarian philosophy protects above all else the rights of human beings. If the world had been libertarian slavery would NEVER have been possible (except if you ask those like Robert Nozick, who believe that people have the right to sell themselves in to slavery, but still that is a special case). No person could ever enslave another against his will. The government is certainly allowed to interfere in the market to end rights violations.

      One thing the libertarian philosophy does allow is for people to be racist an awful on their own property. So, if I were a bigot and wanted blacks to drink from separate water fountains in the restaurant I owned, I would be entitled to do that. Libertarianism just asks for different solutions. People simply stay away from the property of people whose requirements they find immoral or impossible to accept. This may seem to be bad at first blush, but it seems to me much nicer that we let people do what they want with their own things as long as they don’t harm anyone else. Lynchings, etc. would of course be regulated, but only in that they are violent crimes that infringe on the person’t right to their body.

      • freakuency13 says:

        How far does this emphasis on individual self determination go? I’m thinking of Dr. Novella’s recent post on his site regarding a child who died b/c his homeopath loving parents neglected real medical treatment. What should the role of the state be if any in punishing these parents? An obvious answer might be that the parents violated the child’s right to live and be healthy, but the state would have to violate their property to come arrest them. And how does this relate to your hypothetical restaurant run by a racist owner? This is admittedly an inexact analogy b/c the customers life is not at stake, just his appetite. Then again what about a hypothetical private hospital run by a racist owner? We are left debating how far the prerogative of the state goes, which is the age old question I guess.

  35. Wylielea says:

    I’m not Libertarian – but a few very sharp friends are. I found Shermer’s story of how he came to be an L to be interesting and I was surprised to read so many comments blasting him.

    I’d like to hear more from Shermer on how his personaly or Libertarian economic ideas have held up or changed in the current crisis. For example, when large entities such as AIG fail, potentially wiping out the reitirement savings of an entire generation, is that acceptable consequences in a totally free market?

    • MadScientist says:

      Wiping out the retirement savings of an entire generation is absolutely acceptable in a capitalist system. Businesses come and go and people need to move on and make their money doing something different; in the case of retirement savings, consider them a failed long-term investment. What a lot of people miss out is in planning what to do when things go wrong. I think the libertarian approach is to shrug and say “hey, that’s your problem” – you fix it, but, you know, it’ll work out, whereas a more sensible government would intervene. Let’s get one thing straight here – even in a libertarian society, capitalism will dominate; in fact, libertarianism shuns communism (state controlling means of production). I often find it difficult to distinguish between libertarian and anarchist; I’m sure entire books can be written about why libertarian ideas will not work in many cases and I’m not talking about theory here but practical business considerations which businesses have to face every day.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      What’s the alternative? Because frankly, I don’t see the “bailout” of AIG exactly helping.

      A “totally free market” is also a poorly defined idea… it isn’t clear that your question has any meaning in a “totally free market” because an entity like AIG might or might not be possible in that market. In our mixed market it is, but that’s not a totally free market.

      • Wylielea says:

        I wasn’t thinking of bailouts (and I agree with your statement about them).

        I’ve heard it said that free markets, in theory, work because they are Darwinian – that which works, survives. Free market lack-of-regulation allows AIG to pursue practices that bring huge near term gains. Employees of AIG benefit from large compensations. But eventually AIG fails because their practices were too high risk to allow long term survival. Although AIG, the corporation fails, the people who managed it go on, rich and employed elsewhere to continue such practices (or whatever new ones they can come up with).

        The cost of these practices (although delayed)is huge losses to millions of investors. I guess if this continues investors no longer invest – they just put it under their mattress. Or maybe they shout loudly that they want regulation of these large financial institutions to prevent such rekless practices. Maybe that is the Darwinian reaction.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I guess if this continues investors no longer invest – they just put it under their mattress.

        Or maybe they just put their money in companies that didn’t fail. Over time, the companies that don’t fail will have all the investment.

        It isn’t clear that sans government help, these executives would keep getting employed. And it also isn’t obvious that corporations, publicly held ones, should exist at all… that isn’t a free market structure, exactly.

      • Eirik says:

        “Or maybe they just put their money in companies that didn’t fail. Over time, the companies that don’t fail will have all the investment.”

        How do you know that a priori? AIG didn’t seem to fail for a very long time. Nor did Enron. Have you got a libertarian crystal ball, perhaps?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I never made the claim that I would know in advance what companies will fail. I said that, over time, the more stable companies will end up with more investment. So, no, I don’t have a crystal ball, nor do I need one.

      • JB says:

        “Free markets” require a huge investment of time and energy to remain free. The people who participate in the market are smart people. Like our ancestors out there in the veldt, they figured out cooperation was the way to master it and squeezing out the competition by fair or foul means was the way to keep it. If you leave a market free of regulation and consequences you get swindles and robber barons– because they have tremendous advantages. Cooperation and ruthlessness are the Darwinian solution.

        To keep the free market free means changing rules of competition. Which brings us back to handling systems collectively. Which brings us back to regulation and intervention.

        Being a citizen in a state means trading some freedoms and monies to create the environment to protect and manage your property. It is a compromise between the ideal and the real. Paying usage fees for citizenship (i.e., “taxes”) is no different than paying tolls on a bridge we collectively built.

        Sorry. I’ve been around too long to be an idealist. If somebody comes up with a realist philosophy, I’m all ears.

      • DogBreath says:

        Sorry, AIG was regulated. As is often the case, regulation is gamed by folks way more clever than regulators.

    • White Rabbit says:

      I’m in agreement here. I’m not a libertarian and I have a gut feeling it wouldn’t work for much the same reasons as #33.

      However I accept that I may have an intuitive bias here and so am open to argument on the point.

      Thanks for sharing your story

      ^_^
      W R

    • Peter says:

      For example, when large entities such as AIG fail, potentially wiping out the reitirement savings of an entire generation, is that acceptable consequences in a totally free market?

      The question doesn’t apply: it’s not the consequence of a free market. Companies will fail from time to time, and yes, that should be allowed to happen; but “the retirement savings of an entire generation” (or even a single individual) will never be entirely invested in one failing company — large-scale shifts over the entire economy don’t just occur for no reason; they’re invariably the result of interference with the market. So in a free market, the question would just never come up.

    • Jason Gordon says:

      If “an entire generation” had access to a sound currency, i.e., not depreciated by FED inflation, then the need to risk it in the market would be less pressing. As it stands now, the inescapable race to outpace inflationary pressure on savings is an entirely government created phenomenon.

  36. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    From my less-than-expert view of economics, one troubling thing comes to mind. Free markets may evolve in a type of natural selection process. This may be a net positive thing for world economies in the long run. However, we as individuals live in one given country. If competition from another country causes our local economies to suffer, the individual cannot just go off and join the winning team. Within one’s own country, it is hard enough to move from an economically depressed area into a thriving area. The individual is in a closed system. The economics in a global economy is not.

    • MadScientist says:

      That is a very simple consequence of a free market, but a free market is better than, say, a protectionist market. Protectionism was the big thing for the communist states and this resulted in virtually no innovation in some industries for decades. In non-communist states, Australia was fiercely protective of local industries until the 1980s; the result was catastrophic – high prices and inferior products which could not be sold to a global market (and partly the reason why Australia is still an exporter primarily of raw goods).

      In some economic views that situation will ‘correct’ itself – either the foreign nation has increasing costs and standards of living which level it with your nation or else your nation has to drop standards of living to be able to compete with the foreign nation – either way this is seen as a great equalizing factor and largely positive (though the people who lost their jobs would probably not agree).

    • David jones says:

      However, we as individuals live in one given country. If competition from another country causes our local economies to suffer, the individual cannot just go off and join the winning team

      Ricardo, comparative advantage. We’ll all do what we’re best at. Unless you think the Chinese will make all the motor cars but not wish to sell them to the US because nobody here will have a job to pay for them.

  37. Dwatney says:

    Thanks for sharing! As a Libertarian, too, I’ve felt rather alone reading skeptic blogs which so rarely are skeptical of big government (big, liberal government, that is).

    • Anthony O'Neal says:

      And why can’t we be skeptical of capitalist fanaticism? Even if a libertarian is logically defeated, they will still fall back on the argument that “so?…..it doesn’t matter, government STILL doesn’t have the RIGHT”. And why doesn’t society have the right? It is the same kind of argument religious people use. If they are logically defeated by an atheist, they will still say that Jesus exists no matter what.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Well, Anthony, by definition of “right” society does not actually have any rights. Only individuals do. So your logic depends on changing the meaning of words.

        Further, you can be skeptical. But it isn’t skeptical to assume that you know what the reaction of all libertarians will be to an argument that you haven’t actually presented. And since you clearly don’t understand the essential vocabulary that such an argument would be presented in, it is unlikely that you actually have presented such an argument at any point in the past, so this is doubly hypothetical.

        It seems to me that you are more interested in poisoning the well with lousy comparisons than you are in exploring what libertarian ideas actually are and what actual libertarians may or may not say.

      • John P says:

        Seth – At least according to the Webster’s dictionary on my bookshelf, and the web dictionaries I just checked, rights are not the sole possession of individuals. Governments, societies and other collectives are also listed in their examples. Unless there is some special definition I am not aware of, that would mean that Anthony is not changing the meaning of words, as they are used in the world.

        John

      • Nicole S. says:

        Most people here will agree that government does not have the right to enslave people, to discriminate, and many other things based on rational arguments. A libertarian believes that government does not have the right to coerce money out of people, and this too is based on rational argument. Why would rights not be a valid argument? It is the core of the libertarian argument that the government does not have the right to do most of what it does today, the economic claims are just supporting evidence.

      • 1bandsaw says:

        So if “government does not have the right to coerce money out of people”, then how does government exist at all? What distinguishes this from anarchy?

      • Simon says:

        Who said it *has* to exist? Why is it a given? Perhaps society could never work without a government, perhaps it could. Perhaps it could for a bit but government would come back.

        Murder is not good and it would be impossible to eradicate completely but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to stop. The same goes for theft, and thus government (of course government also murders – those unnecessary wars they wage.)

  38. prm101 says:

    Thanks for the post. It’s an interesting read. I’m not a libertarian (though I call myself socially liberal/fiscally conservative generally). I’m very interested in the overlap btw libertarianism and skepticism and look forward to more.

    Also interested in your future post re: the liberal bias in the skeptical community.

    • Anthony O'Neal says:

      The big difference between a libertarian, and a social liberal/fiscal moderate or fiscal conservative, is that a libertarian places a HUGE emphasis on the fiscal conservative part.

  39. Max says:

    Anti-libertarian arguments often resemble Creationist arguments from ignorance. “I can’t imagine how this could be done without top-down design, therefore it must be intelligently designed.”

    • Stefan Bourrier says:

      That’s odd because I find that Libertarian arguments are much more like Creation arguments. They both provide no substantial proof for their claims and when they are called on that they both argue a position of privilege suggesting that you just don’t understand it.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Actually, libertarians provide plenty of substantiation for their claims. Let’s start with a simple claim: A planned economy cannot work.

        Empirically, we can see in the failure of planned economies like the USSR that planned economies are bad economies.

        From studying complex adaptive systems and algorithms, we can see why this is so: the planner cannot predict the interactions in the system and so is bound to fail… not in the trivial sense that there will be failed companies and periods of relatively high unemployment, but fail in the sense that there will be constant shortages of basic goods and services and chronic, extreme underemployment.

        Second Claim: Bottom up solutions are usually more appropriate for complex adaptive systems.

        Well, duh? Ant algorithms for traffic, evolution, metabolism, termite mound temperature regulation, bottom up solutions are everywhere in complex systems, top down solutions are scarce and often damaging.

        And so on.

      • JRB says:

        The fact that 100%-planned economies do not work is NOT proof that a libertarian style 100%-market economy would work.

        You want proof that mixed economies do work? Every single modern western democratic nation is a mixed economy.

        Empirically, those countries that put the most emphasis on combining a competitive free-market system with a ‘top-down’ government controlled social safety net (e.g. Iceland, Norway, Canada) generally have the highest Human Development Index scores. The HDI being a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide (and while the HDI has its shortcomings, I would say it is a much better way to measure the overall effects of economic policy on people’s standards of living than staring at an ant hill).

      • Seth Manapio says:

        and while the HDI has its shortcomings, I would say it is a much better way to measure the overall effects of economic policy on people’s standards of living than staring at an ant hill).

        That is quite a naive and somewhat provincial view of science. For example, the economies that you are referring to benefit greatly from their relationship with the US economy. To pick just one thing, we allow them to exist with neglible military budgets, by providing for their defense out of our own pockets.

        Without “staring at anthills”, we don’t have the science to study those kinds of relationships.

      • Simon says:

        Working? One word rebuttal: demographics.

  40. Stefan Bourrier says:

    While I find it interesting to follow the discussion on libertarianism, I think something is being overlooked here. This is a skeptic blog and as such is really intended for discussion of issues related to skepticism. That’s not to say that certain issues surrounding politics are completely taboo but shouldn’t they be presented in more of a debunking or skeptical light than that which is being currently projected? I don’t see where skepticism comes into this particular entry either. At the end of it all it wraps up with the promotion of a book on the topic. That certainly seems libertarian, I guess, but I come here to read relevant information and not be suckered into some cheap and selfish promotion of political ideologies.

    It’s obvious that people of varying political philosophies and backgrounds make up the skeptics movement (although Shermer doesn’t assume that to be the case for some reason) and I think this constant Libertarianism crap on here is simply in the wrong spot. It’s the kind of content that belongs on the author’s personal blog. In this forum it comes across as being part of skepticism and is clearly not neutral. I, like many other skeptics, don’t cling to these ideologies and the last thing I want is for outside people to equate the skeptic movement as being libertarian. We all have our own political beliefs and we should be able to discuss them freely but let’s consider an appropriate venue.

    I think there’s an even larger issue that should be considered by skeptics. As the skeptic movement is growing by leaps and bounds some of the key figureheads are nearing retirement. Unfortunately that only leaves a few key representatives. One of them is Michael Shermer, who by all other rights is an awesome choice. However, this libertarian exhibitionism makes me think twice about whether I’d want to be represented in such a manner. Skepticism should be non-partisan and free of ideologies that don’t stand up to skepticism. If Mr. Shermer wants to further his political views then he should politely do it separately from Skepticism. In a sense he represents us all when in the public light. Is that the kind of image we want? It’s definitely not what I want.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Right. We certainly don’t want to have skeptics take positions on government policy, social issues, taxation, or economics. Why, that would imply that critical thinking has a place in politics, and that would just be wrong.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      I mean, let’s look at what you said, Stefan. You said that “I, like many other skeptics, don’t cling to these ideologies” which is exactly the attitude that Dr. Shermer was addressing when he wrote that “readers seem to think that there are two Michael Shermers: Mr. Rational Skeptic and Mr. Kooky Libertarian”.

      You are dismissing out of hand the possibility that people might, after careful consideration and a great deal of critical analysis, conclude that many essential elements of libertarian economic and political thought have merit.

      To you, libertarianism is an “ideology”, and therefore Dr. Shermer must be an ideologue. But that doesn’t follow: someone can conclude that the FAIR tax is preferable to the progressive income tax, or even that government social welfare programs are ill advised, without being an idealogue.

      Yet, skeptics who hold these types of viewpoints are routinely treated with scorn, as if they had missed something elementary and obvious, and choosing to cling to some worn, unfashionable ideology instead of, I suppose, clinging to the preferred ideology.

      Critical thinking on these issues is practically taboo, and it is very rare for any critique of a libertarian idea to question the doctrines of statism.

      • John P says:

        Just personal opinion –

        If you want to start a conversation where the goal is to address the available evidence, including prevailing assumptions from different groups for some political point with the intent of exposing sloppy thinking or unsupported assumptions with clear arguments based on real evidence that does not ignore facts that contradict what you hold to be true – that is a skeptical discussion and appropriate for a skeptics site.

        If you want to say – my side is right and you folks just don’t understand – that is political demagogary, and not appropriate.

        Of what I have read so far, some of the discussion has been appropriate, but much of it has not. (I am not pointing to anyone in specific with this comment. It is in reply to a post by Seth, but that does not imply that I blame him for the inappropriate posts.)

  41. GG says:

    Came here to chime in – and Stefan Bourrier has already said it. Well done!

    Dr Shermer. If you want to write about Libertarianism? Use your site at michaelshermer.com. Want to have debates about it? Head to an official site for Libertarians or a political site where it can be nutted out.

    This is skepticblog. Let’s just focus on what is core business for skeptics. Not your political beliefs. Because, for a start, your audience overseas is getting pretty jacked-off with all this irrelevant content that doesn’t contribute anything to promoting skepticism and is clearly creating more of a distance between us all.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Let’s just focus on what is core business for skeptics.

      ———-

      Right. Because hey, when world market value drops by half in six months, we sure don’t want to think about economic theory. That’s just way off topic. And you know, as the U.S. debates various health care proposals, we should be really careful, as skeptics, to stay out of that discussion. No rational thinking allowed in THAT little topic!

      No, let’s stick to our “core business”.

      I’m so sick of that line I could write a long winded blog post about it.

      http://sethmanapio.blogspot.com/2009/04/you-can-go-there-alone-then.html

    • David jones says:

      This is skepticblog. Let’s just focus on what is core business for skeptics

      Fine. Stop posting comments.

      • DogBreath says:

        “Fine. Stop posting comments.”

        Sorry David, that would be a responsible libertarian response. Can’t have that, can we? :-)

  42. Without taking sides, this: “I found a scientific foundation for my economic and political preferences” and this: “Although capitalism may not need apologists and propagandists, it does need a scientific foundation” seem backwards and resonate with (justified) criticism that is made on a regular basis about proponents of ID on this very blog: starting from the conclusion one wishes to reach and then cherry-picking the “evidence” for it.

    • MadScientist says:

      I agree; it certainly looks that way with what has been presented. Personally I don’t think that libertarianism has anything to do with developments in market psychology research and so on. If anything, I suspect such research will help inform governments on how to regulate the markets to manage catastrophes better — although it is nice to think that market collapses can be avoided altogether, I don’t believe that anyone has such a ‘solution’ which permits businesses to get on with their jobs of innovating while avoiding the worst consequences of risks taken. I want minimal government regulation, but history has always shown that some people will play a destructive game and government must interfere to try to prevent bad practices from becoming widespread and causing more societal as well as fiscal problems.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Personally I don’t think that libertarianism has anything to do with developments in market psychology research and so on.

        ————–

        In what sense? How are you using libertarianism here? If you mean that libertarianism gains no support from research into market psychology, the behavior of crowds, the behavior of individuals, and the nature of systems, you’re just plain wrong, and I mean wrong in the “there are no transitional species” sense of the word wrong.

      • John P says:

        Since you are laying claim to substantial empirical evidence, please expand and provide it. I suggest you pitch it at a general audience level, though I am familiar with much of the research in complex systems, biologically inspired algorithms and network theory from college classes I have taught. (Earlier you claimed support for your conclusions from some of this, so I would like to see your argument to see if I find it plausible.)

        John

  43. Chris says:

    You know, I have a few serious gripes with Libertarian philosophy. I don’t want to go into an extended rant, but there’s definitely something wrong with simply refusing to take into account how we might choose to privilege rights other than simply the unfettered right to private property.

    I could easily see a variety of cases where the ‘legal’ exercise of someone’s private property, beyond the realm of government control, would unjustly restrain the rights of someone else. I mean, the only way around it is to insist on the primacy of property rights, but if you’re looking to Objectivist metaphysics for justification, you have to deal with the many criticisms levelled against it. It simply doesn’t hold together. I don’t feel that it really makes sense as a philosophy.

    And as a science, it seems to make a lot of statements about how we’d all be better off with free-market capitalism: money would be better spent, people would enjoy better lives, etc. But I see no evidence for these claims besides elaborate ‘what if’ scenarios. Where is the data?

    A statement like

    A public-works bridge, for example, is seen by all and appreciated by its users; what is not seen are all the products that would have been produced by the monies that were taxed out of private hands in order to finance the public project.

    seems to sum up what is wrong with these concepts. We are supposed to judge money misspent because hypothetically someone else might have done something better with it?

    The responses here to people voicing their genuine scepticism about libertarian economics seem to constantly ask “Where’s your evidence?” Where’s our evidence that libertarian economics are unrealistic? I seem to remember the burden of proof being on someone putting forward a new idea to prove that it is true, not on everyone else to prove that an untested idea is false.

    And then accusations are thrown around that all detractors are simply ‘liberals’ who ‘hate libertarian ideals.’ What is wrong with the healthy exercise of scepticism? Why is this met suddenly from self-identified sceptics with non sequiturs, fallacious remarks and ad hominem attacks. Is it backwards day already?

    • Seth Manapio says:

      The responses here to people voicing their genuine scepticism about libertarian economics seem to constantly ask “Where’s your evidence?” Where’s our evidence that libertarian economics are unrealistic?

      If you check again, the question “where’s your evidence” does not come in response to “genuine skepticism” about libertarian economics. It comes in response to direct assertions about libertarianism, economics, or social systems. For example, “Paul F” said

      It doesn’t work as an economic model, demonstrably so.

      and I simply asked Where and when this demonstration had taken place. He is not showing “skepticism”, he is claiming specific knowledge. Similarly, “Brian F” said

      Lets face it, if it wasn’t for the government, the poor people in the country would quickly die of poverty.

      This is another positive assertion, and it is appropriate to ask why he makes this assertion, and whether he can defend it.

      Somewhat skeptically, “Mad Scientist” says that

      libertarianism comes with a set of claims which I don’t see as being consistent with reality

      In this case, it is entirely appropriate to ask what claims he is referring to, and in what way he thinks that they are not consistent with reality. Otherwise, his skepticism cannot possibly be addressed and therefore cannot be viewed as genuine.

      Iason Ouabache shows genuine skepticism with his five questions: questions which were answered, without being asked “Where’s your evidence.” at all. Similarly, other skeptics with questions about the current economic collapse have been answered directly.

      The second accusation that you are making, that the libertarians aren’t backing themselves up with any evidence, is answered here.

      So no, Chris, it is not backwards day. The healthy exercise of skepticism has not been met with with non-sequitors, fallacious remarks, or ad hominem attacks… at least not from the libertarians.

      By the way, the phrase that you quoted ‘hate libertarian ideals’? Occurs exactly once in this document… when you “quote” it.

      • Chris says:

        But of course, that sort of rational thought doesn’t seem to be part of the repetoire of a certain sort of liberal when faced with even moderately libertarian ideas. It’s almost like you’re more interested in attacking some bogeyman than in thinking about actual ideas.

        Someone has a short memory.

        And no, in your comment about ‘evidence,’ you cite one example for your categorical claim that it is impossible for a planned economy to function. But this is fallacious: one failure, even several failures do not make the entire thing impossible. It looks very much like you’re picking out examples to prove your point. Your second comment is just vague. Bottom up solutions may be better for many problems, there is only anecdotal evidence that they are better for this set of problems. Citing several positive examples of other, different cases where bottom up solutions are successful does not establish your claim. This is also fallacious.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        And no, in your comment about ‘evidence,’ you cite one example for your categorical claim that it is impossible for a planned economy to function.

        Actually, I cite an example of one failing to function and then an entire area of study that explains why this was bound to happen. So, no, I did not use ONLY one example, and you are misrepresenting what I said.

        My second comment is a bit vague: it is a statement about complex adaptive systems and how they function. It is not true that these are “different cases” exactly. They are cases in the same problem space that are isomorphic to the economy.

        What I’m saying in the second comment is this: there are classes of system that share many traits. They are called “complex adaptive systems”. Top Down solutions to large organizational efforts in all of these systems are impractical and ineffective for a variety of reasons. The economy is one such system.

      • Chris says:

        You don’t cite an area of study per se. You claim the planner in a managed economy cannot predict the outcomes of all their actions. I mean, that’s correct, but is it necessary to predict all outcomes, even minor ones?

        The missing piece here is your failure to establish the necessity of such a system failing empirically. Your last point is not logically connected to your previous one.

        The claim that there is an isomorphism between systems modelling an ant colony and the economy is dubious at best (are you sure you don’t just mean they are analogous? An isomorphism is a very strong relation), but I’d rather not get hung up on details. You claim to have a model, but you still haven’t addressed the problem that this model is not empirically verified.

        The only evidence you seem to present is previous examples, but this is the post hoc fallacy. The strength of a scientific proposition is on the prediction of future events. What proportion of economies based around the theory (which were not around previous to simply be mined for relevant information) have measured up to the expected results and how strongly? I don’t see statistical evidence that your assertions are correct. It is not enough to have a model: it has to measure a real phenomenon.

      • John P says:

        Seth,

        If you are going to talk in terms of complex adaptive systems, then you have to be careful in how you talk about them. Some systems respond poorly to centralized/top down control, that is true. However, this is far from the only class of complex adaptive systems. There are self-organizing systems that can be centrally controlled very effectively. There are systems close to critical points in effective phase transitions where diffuse localized control fails miserably. There are systems that respond best to mixed approaches. And there are many systems that are not well classified.

        If you want to use complex adaptive systems as an argument for libertarian policies in a skeptically acceptable way, you need to provide evidence for what class economies would belong to. This is why I am interested in your details, because I have never seen anyone provide a convincing argument for what the categorization should be.

        Also remember that things like ant colony algorithms are impressively fiddly beasts. It is easy to write an ant colony algorithm that gets a reasonable approximation of a well suited problem eventually. It is much harder to write one that is efficient. See the writings of M. Dorigo (usually credited as the founder of ant colony algorithms) for comparisons between the performance of AC algorithms and other solution methods (including some that are centrally organized and controlled) on a few different problems that are much simpler than the economy.

        John

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Someone has a short memory.

        Who? Because what I said was that the phrase “hate libertarian ideals” first occurs when you “quoted it”. And your blockquote of me doesn’t contain that phrase at all… it doesn’t even contain the word “ideal” or the word “hate”.

        Look, I’m all about honest discussion… but the keyword here is honest.

      • Chris says:

        I was paraphrasing.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Oh! you were “paraphrasing”!

        In quotation marks.

        And of course, what you said and what I said have different meanings… but sure, I have a “short memory”.

        Give me a break.

    • Peter says:

      I seem to remember the burden of proof being on someone putting forward a new idea to prove that it is true, not on everyone else to prove that an untested idea is false.

      But the one putting forward the positive assertion is you (assuming you’re taking the “we need a government” position), therefore the burden of proof is on you.

  44. Seth Manapio says:

    I could easily see a variety of cases where the ‘legal’ exercise of someone’s private property, beyond the realm of government control, would unjustly restrain the rights of someone else.

    Really? Can you please describe such a case?

    • Chris says:

      Man, you are a troll, but I’ll bite.

      Like many people, I don’t own the space I live in. I rent it. I’m a student, and I don’t have a lot of money, particularly.

      Without a radical restructuring of the way work is done, our society is going to continue to require people to fill lower tier jobs like waiter or cashier which do not pay well, and as long as people are in school, which is expensive (even despite government grants), we are going to have people who are already devoting a significant amount of time to studies, and cannot also do full time work.

      My point is, we’re going to have to deal with people who are not wealthy enough to own their own homes. Currently, the government protects my home, even though it is someone else’s property. I can’t be forcibly evicted without cause. This is important, because while this place may not belong to me, it is my home.

      If it were not for government regulations on how the owner of this building must behave towards it, the result could be disastrous. People could simply be thrown out on a whim; owners could refuse to fix problems or simply leave people without utilities. Most people cannot afford to move constantly, and if you do not have wealth, you may not have the clout to insist that landlords sign tenancy contracts which account for all your needs.

      I can’t tell you for certain this scenario would happen, but it certainly isn’t unlikely (after all, this sort of thing used to happen before tenants’ rights were in place). The point is we don’t know. We could imagine frightful abuses of power resulting from unconstrained property rights. We could also imagine the invisible hand of the market creating a perfect society populated by unicorns and rainbows. The entire thing is speculation at this point.

      Pretending that you know a free market economy would engender a bright and shiny future is nothing more than the willful suspension of disbelief. It’s being grossly unrealistic on purpose — ignoring negative possibilities or simply dismissing them with hand-waving about how rights which could be compromised (such as the right to housing and food, which I think everyone ought to have) just don’t matter.

      That’s what I’m saying. I’m not saying that I know everything would be awful. I’m saying that I’m sceptical that everything would be wonderful because I haven’t seen any evidence pointing to that fact. We can sit here and speculate all day, but if you want me to accept a certain interpretation of the facts you are going to have to put up some evidence or go home.

      That’s what scepticism means.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        If it were not for government regulations on how the owner of this building must behave towards it, the result could be disastrous.

        So, basically, your example is that if the owner of the building were allowed to violate his contracts with the tenants with no punishment, thus violating your property rights as spelled out in the lease, it would be an example of him simply exercising his property rights?

        No. Sorry, but that example won’t fly.

        I’m not sure that libertarianism means what you think it means. You seem to think that it means that there can be no regulations of any kind on transactions, and I don’t really see it that way.

      • Chris says:

        Please point out where I said the owner would violate their contract.

        My point, in fact, was that if owners decided to act in their best interests and require tenants to sign contracts which heavily privileged the choices of said owners, what would you do?

        I understand the idea that the you’d just go live somewhere else, perhaps, with a better contract, except that when you have no money, you have restricted mobility, and you may not have the ability to search endlessly for housing which adequately protects your needs.

        I’m bringing this up as an example because this sort of thing used to actually happen before we had a standard tenancy agreement. Now apartment owners are legally obligated to include a consistent set of tenants’ rights in contracts.

        I mean, you clearly barely read my example. You missed the entire point and you chose instead to pick out a claim I never even made. The idle speculation about possible disaster scenarios was intended to point out our uncertainty, not to make a factual claim about what would ‘definitely happen.’

        No one ever seems to be able to provide evidence that this proposed economic system actually results in everyone being better off. I still just see a lot of hand waving. Please show your work.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Please point out where I said the owner would violate their contract.

        Well, you rent. The rental agreement contains many clauses that dictate what the landlord may do. If the landlord threw people out “on a whim” he would be in violation of a contract he has signed with them. So, the bit where you said that he could throw people out on a whim, or refuse to repair things, is the part where he would be violating his lease with them.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        My point, in fact, was that if owners decided to act in their best interests and require tenants to sign contracts which heavily privileged the choices of said owners, what would you do?

        Ah… so this would be a second example, divorced completely from your actual building!

        Okay. Well, in your second example, I’m not sure what right it is that you think is being violated here. If I own a building, why do you have a right to rent from me at terms I am unwilling to rent to you at?

      • Chris says:

        Look, I’m not here to endlessly debate hypothetical scenarios with you (“hold on, you said the landlord was wearing a brown belt. Now you’re telling me he’s wearing black shoes?”). The entire point, which you keep evading, is that you have no more evidence than cherry-picked examples and vague stories. I can make up stories as well. We can all make up stories. It doesn’t make us predictors of the future.

        Why not subject your stories about the outcomes of libertarian economics to the same criticism? The fact that you are willing to pick apart a hypothetical scenario intended as an illustration while putting forward the success of a system which is untested and unverified just indicates that you are suspending your disbelief in this area.

        We just can’t have this debate unless you can take it down a notch, and perhaps be willing to examine your own ideas with the scepticism you are reserving for everyone else’s.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Look, I’m not here to endlessly debate hypothetical scenarios with you (”hold on, you said the landlord was wearing a brown belt. Now you’re telling me he’s wearing black shoes?”).

        Actually, originally you were talking about your landlord one who has signed a contract with you. Then you had a second question about a hypothetical landlord who insists on a different contract. I then asked a question “If I own a building, why do you have a right to rent from me at terms I am unwilling to rent to you at?” which asks for clarification of your point.

        You are avoiding that question.

        Furthermore, I did provide evidence about planned versus unplanned economies, which you dismissed by misrepresenting what I said.

        Are you going to answer my question or not?

  45. I’m another reader who finds Dr.Shermer’s posts on libertarianism to be rather bereft of skeptical value. It’s a bizarre quirk that the skeptical movement, mainly in America, features such a significant proportion of libertarians and the fact remains that skepticism and libertarianism by no means go hand in hand.

    I’d suggest that anyone who wanted to explore the relationship read Dr.Shermer’s posts on skeptical topics and then read his posts on libertarian topics. To me there is a clear difference in the quality and in the degree to which unbiased critical examination rather than ideologically motivated criticism is apparent.

    And Seth, I would also add that your replies have also done quite a bit to convince me that libertarianism is another dubious movement which attracts devoted and defensive adherents. Your dismissive replies to almost every negative comment or opinion reflects a comment section trend that I’ve only noticed to be common amongst devoted adherents of woo or pseudoscience.

    The fact is Dr. Shermer may think his libertarianism is one in the same as his skepticism but it seems a fair portion of skeptics disagree. Dismiss that if that’s your inclination but it won’t make it any less true.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      And Seth, I would also add that your replies have also done quite a bit to convince me that libertarianism is another dubious movement which attracts devoted and defensive adherents.

      You are dismissing libertarianism based on the fact that I’m currently procrastinating and fighting off a migraine… and you think you’re the one being skeptical?

      I’m not even a libertarian, precisely. Certainly not a fanatical one. I’m a market agnostic… I don’t think we know very much about economic systems, certainly not enough to attempt to control them, but that isn’t “libertarianism”.

      But the fact is that I have yet to see a substantive post that argues by any means other than assertion that Dr. Shermer is not being sketpical about his economic views. I feel pretty justified in dismissing people who add their own views to his and then attribute those views to him, and I expect that in most other areas, you would agree.

  46. crista jerimiason says:

    is that so?
    really.
    doubtful.
    did you lift this from lenny bruce?
    the only thing missing is the punchline, “screw the Irish.

  47. I have to admit I kind of glazed over every time I hit the phrase ‘free market’ as if such a thing exists.

  48. I was going to mount more of a counterargument, but I think I’m just going to bail, instead.

    Good bye, everyone! Good luck!

  49. epicurus says:

    I’m skeptical of libertarianism but I like von Mises’ proposal to study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature. How does a physicist study nature? He identifies a natural phenomenon like planetary motion then gathers empirical observations then formulates theories to explain the observations. The theory that best fit the observations is deemed provisionally correct. It seems to me this is not the way libertarians conduct their economic study. They start with a theory (libertarianism) then look for evidence in the real world to prove their theory. If you do it this way, you will definitely find the “evidences.”

    If you really want to imitate how physicists study nature, start with real world economic problems like poverty then gather empirical observations then formulate theories to explain the problem. The theory that best fit the observations is deemed provisionally correct. Different problems may require different theories. So we cannot say that a ‘wholesale’ theory like libertarianism can answer all economic problems. The set of theories derived from this scientific method may be a mix of different political ideologies. The bottom line is we are not trying to prove a particular theory. We are trying to solve real world economic problems. A word of caution though, people are unlike atoms. People are more unpredictable and harder to put in theoretical boxes.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      The set of theories derived from this scientific method may be a mix of different political ideologies.

      Or perhaps the set of theories would be pleasing in some ways and displeasing in others to a mix of different political ideologies, without itself being a political ideology of any kind.

      The thing is, though, that even saying that poverty is a problem that has to be solved is already an investment of political ideology.

      Now, if you wanted to answer the question “Why are there large disparities in wealth”, that’s a different thing entirely.

    • Peter says:

      epicurus: you ought to go and read some Mises. (Epistemological Problems of Economics, perhaps) He explains precisely why this particular method is not valid for economics (as it’s not for mathematics: you don’t look for observations to provide evidence that 2+2=4)

  50. William Patrick Haines says:

    In early days of Geology you had two feuding schools of thought the Neptunest and Plutoest . Turns out that putting all your eggs in one basket and ignoring the all valid points on the other side is just as prescientific as the early days geology . Government is inefficent because it’s foundation is based on three principals of bureaucracy lawyers , the military and psychology /psychiarty .Big business is inefficient because it resembles the Emperor in the Emperor’s new clothes in that he is surrounded by con men who are as dishoest as they are incompotent .
    Small business actually has real world expertise and actualy stooped and did work.American business lacks imgination and inovation because these people have no real world expeierence or no skills what soever . The people running IBM are not progamers techs or egineers .The inovation from the computer field came from corporate outsiders like steve jobs and bill gates .Like wise there is corporate stagnation instead of inovation in aeronautics because the corporate overloads have no first hand expeiernce .Bells labs invented the Transistor but it took the Japanese to put it to work via small battery operated radios .
    Also constantly extolling the virtues of unrestained capitialism is little more than being a Reinfield/flunky /bootlicking prositute for the corporate overeloads a return to feudalism yes master even though you had the Great Depression Enron the Savings and Loan debacle the Current Banking scandal and Gloabailion which puts Americans out of work and expoilts foreign workers at slave like conditions and amounts to corporate imperialism/colonalism and awesomely obcene corporate monoplies .
    Then when the corporate world fails they want the tax payers to bail them out socialize the risk but capitaiize the profits. Last but louseyest donot forget long stand corporate parnterships like the military industry complex the prision industry like privatized prisons . Also corporate contracts that create the corporate monsters could not exist with out the government enforcing the measures of the contract .

  51. Michael says:

    I expected less extremism from readers of the Skepticblog. It is amazing to see how people are frightened by different perspectives.

    • Scott says:

      It’s amazing to see how some can pretend capitalism isn’t extremist.

      • Peter says:

        It’s been truly said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”

  52. Nicole S. says:

    Being highly libertarian-leaning myself, I found this to be a deeply troubling description of his intellectual progression to libertarianism. I think the libertarian movement suffers deeply from the fact that it seems to be something you either ‘get’ or you don’t. For those who get it, once they have read any argument it seems so self evident that they can’t comprehend how others wouldn’t be convinced upon hearing the same arguments in the same way. Many of my otherwise very intelligent and skeptical libertarian friends tend to do the same thing when asked to give an argument for libertarian ideals– you get a summary of books and assertions that the claims are incontrovertible.

    I really hope some day a larger portion of libertarians will learn to think in more nuanced and intelligent ways about their philosophy.

  53. MikeR says:

    Let me preface by saying I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Shermer as it relates to his views on skepticism. I will also apologize for not being able to read through this entire dissertation, because it was, well, mind numbingly dull.
    To my understanding, being a libertarian is a lot like living in a fantasy world. Just one observation: what with the global economic collapse we now find ourselves in, due in no small part to the hysterical screaming of the far right loonies, and their single minded call for deregulation, much of which they managed to accomplish, if you can call the complete bankruptcies of entire countries, an accomplishment, how has that “free market” mentality served us so far? Without a framework of regulation, we would have 15 hour work days, 7 day work schedules, child labor, no minimum wage, no safety laws etc. Without regulation of economic institutions, we have unbridled greed and a world wide depression.
    It would be great if everyone agreed to play nice, but that is not going to happen.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      what with the global economic collapse we now find ourselves in

      Which is partially due to the existence of government backed and chartered mortgage companies, and partially due to fraud, and is a product not of the “free market” but of a mixed market and behavior that should be criminal in any market. There were regulations, like mark-to-market, that actually made the situation worse and it is in all ways far, far more complex than your analysis would suggest.

      Being a libertarian may be a lot like living in a fantasy world, but the idea that you have constructed, that the global economic collapse is result of free market capitalism at work, is actually a fantasy.

      • Scott says:

        McClatchey newspapers did a story on this myth, that somehow Fanny and Freddy caused all these bad loans, or government “forced” lenders to loan to bad risk borrowers.

        85% of all subprime loans were made by private lenders, with no incentive from government. Fanny and Freddy were slow to enter the subprime market because they recognized the risk. They were the ones who called them “subprime” in the first place. The free market forced them into the business of subprime lending just to compete.

        In true lemming fashion, the free market led the way over the cliff.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        McClatchey newspapers did a story on this myth, that somehow Fanny and Freddy caused all these bad loans, or government “forced” lenders to loan to bad risk borrowers.

        Strawman.

        I never said that the government forced anybody to do anything. And I never said that Fanny and Freddy caused all these bad loans. I’m aware of the existence of Credit Default Swaps (which were a major culprit here as well) and other derivatives.

        However, the idea that FM/FM were forced into a toxic market in order to compete is just as laughable as the idea that the government forced private banks to make bad loans.

        However, the market was already mixed to start with, involving many players, some of whom were government entities, some of whom were large corporations, some of whom were criminal. This was not a failure of the free market because it didn’t occur in a free market.

    • Barbarossa says:

      “Without regulation of economic institutions, we have unbridled greed and a world wide depression.” Without regulation, huh? Oh, I get ya, you mean GODVERNMENT regulation. Well, guess what, there’s an alternative: it’s called FREE-MARKET regulation. And there’s nothing “fantasy world” about libertarianism; if anything, it’s the ridiculous, unrealistic social engineering and utopian ideals of socialism that are “fantasy world.” And here in the real world, where I reside (you’re welcome anytime), it takes merely half a brain to realize that we don’t have a free market, not even close, so how can something that doesn’t exist receive all the blame for what’s happened? I’ll tell you what does exist, though: the socialist deity Godvernment. And it’s been there every step of the way in this crisis, first causing it, and then exacerbating it. The Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, implicit and explicit government guarantees, coercive housing legislation, the SEC, and on and on, are all “free market,” right? Give me a break. And you talk about “greed.” Self-interest is not greed in the same way that self-confidence is not arrogance. Isn’t it greedy to expect to be paid to do a job? Or is that merely self-interest? And are you not providing a service in exchange for payment? Do not both you and your employer gain from the arrangement? Or do only the “evil capitalists” gain, as if your employer forces you at gunpoint to work for them at your current wage, as if capitalism, as if economic exchange itself, were a one-way street. And have you ever asked for a raise? Isn’t that greedy of you? Have you ever applied for a job and asked for a wage rate above what they were willing to offer? How was that employer any more greedy than you in offering a smaller wage than you were willing to accept? If anything, wouldn’t that make you the greedy party? And as far as “15 hour work days” and “7 day work schedules” and “child labor laws” and “minimum wage laws”…Well, that’s all hogwash. Forty-hour, five-day workweeks and children not having to work are the RESULT of the developments of capitalism, not manna-like Godvernment regulation that saved us from capitalism’s clutches. Legislation of the kind merely recognizes this fact, AFTER the fact. People worked more than forty hours a week, because they had to. Children had jobs, because they had to. It is thanks to capitalism that there is no longer the NECESSITY for these things, at least, not on the scale that once existed, since many people still do work more than forty hours and some poor families would benefit if their children worked. Think of it this way: 4000 years ago, shouldn’t the whole world have instituted child labor laws and forty hour work weeks? Then the world would have entered paradise all that long ago! But of course that’s stupid, because people HAD to work longer than forty hours a week, and in many cases children HAD to work so that those very children and their families could survive, because they did not have the wealth that could have afforded them more leisure time. Leisure time has only been possible because of the labor-saving effects of capitalism and technological progress. Oh, and minimum-wage laws are bad for a variety of reasons. First, if we had no minimum wage laws, no one would be FORCED to accept, say, $2 an hour, and it seems ridiculous to think that tons of jobs would suddenly pay less than the minimum wage rate. Minimum wage laws cause unemployment among the very groups that these laws purport to help and also cause increased prices for goods and services, creating a double whammy for the poor. Godvernment monetary and fiscal policy and various other regulations also hurt the poor by causing inflation (which is NOT the result of the free market or capitalism), continually eroding the purchasing power of these low wage earners; in other words, the government is actually hurting the very people it claims to help. (Oh, and this is demonstrated fact, the government lies about inflation and employment statistics, to the effect that real figures for these areas are anywhere from two to three times what is officially stated.) And let’s face it, if you have to work 70 hours a week to get by, that’s life. If you only have to work 30 hours a week to get by, well, that’s life too. Our entitlement culture, long promoted by government, has entirely skewed our values and our very perception (if not conception) of reality. Life is not fair. Life is hard. Life is about work and doing your best to improve your lot; if you don’t, you starve. But everyone has the opportunity to work hard, improve themselves, and save, and in doing so they can climb the wage ladder and accumulate capital for themselves and one day themselves become employers by starting their own business–in other words, become capitalists. Wage earners are no less capitalists than business owners. Wage earners profit from their time and labor. Oh, but I forgot, profit is evil and “greedy.”

      • Barbarossa says:

        OH MY GOD, I FIGURED IT OUT! EUREKA! HEAVEN ON EARTH! LET’S MANDATE THAT THE MINIMUM WAGE BE $100,000 PER ANNUM, AND NOW NO ONE WILL BE POOR! WE’LL ALL BE RICH! YAY!!!!!!

  54. Bill Morgan says:

    I agree with Michael Shermer on most issues, but find it interesting that he does not believe in government cover-ups. He accepts what our government says about 9/11, JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, etc. at face value and suspends scientific inquiry in this area. Could he have an Intelligence Agency connection? Makes me wonder.

    • Ihle says:

      (I hope this is a troll.)

      I will assume that you are serious and point out how completely wrong you are.

      1. Shermer does not say that he does not believe in government coverups.
      2. He always want`s scientific inquiry into these subjects, the fact is just that the scientific inquiry shows that there probably is no government coverup in these cases.
      3. A point could be made about government coverups in general. If the government were covering up a event as big as for example 9/11 an incredible amount of people would have to be involved. I is then likely that some of these people would have “come out”, thats what makes these large conspiracys unlikely.

      • Bill Morgan says:

        I have spent 20 years researching government cover-ups. The only way the twin towers and Bldg. 7 could come down at free fall speed is with controlled demolition. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Shermer still says it was burning jet fuel that melted steel beams. Not scientifically possible for this to happen. I stand by my statement.

  55. Sabio says:

    I am another “nutty” Libertarian Skeptic. Just giving a shout out there. This post has helped me to find like-minded folks.
    Shermer said, “there is just one Michael Shermer”.
    I contend that we have many selves and that no one is consistent. When Shermer wears his Skeptic hat, he pulls together different aspects of himself than when he does his libertarian hat. And I contend that each of us, no matter which hat we wear, are peppered with superstitious and faulty thinking — we are human, after all.

    • kabol says:

      [blockquote]And I contend that each of us, no matter which hat we wear, are peppered with superstitious and faulty thinking — we are human, after all.[/blockquote]

      sez me – best comment in this entire “atlas shrugged”-sized comment section.

  56. tspillman says:

    Interesting…

    First, I, too, am a Libertarian. However, unlike you, I am NOT a liberal. I have no idea if the majority of Libertarians are liberals, or not. One thing I’ve learned is that there are many, many varieties of Libertarians. Likewise, there are many varieties of liberals and I’ve found that none of them fit my own thoughts and beliefs. I just cannot place that much trust in large governments. Likewise, it seems to me, that liberals are always prescribing what sort of things people should be doing or what they should be doing with their money. I am not into elitism.

    I, too, have looked into the Austrian and Chicago schools of economics. One of my favorite authors is Thomas Sowell. He is currently in California as a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. I’ve also heard one of his associates discuss his own Libertarian beliefs: Milton Friedman.

    I just finished another of Sowell’s books which I would not hesitate to recommend, particularly to a liberal: “Economic Facts and Fallacies”. See:

    http://tinyurl.com/cb859z

    I’ve met a number of interesting people who have influenced me and my thinking. Here are two: H. Ross Perot and W. Edwards Deming. I was approached by Perot in November, 1966 and he offered me a job. I spent approximately the next thirty years working for the company he founded, EDS. EDS offered me all sorts of opportunities and I found Ross and interesting and challenging guy to work for. Dr. Deming was my thesis adviser for my Masters degree. At the time, he and I were at the Stern Graduate School of Business at NYU.

    Later, after my retirement, I thought that I should attempt to pass on a little of what I had learned. I was offered a position as adjunct professor at a small teaching school in Austin, TX. We had moved to Austin after my retirement. A year or two later, I was offered a contract faculty appointment with the rank of Assistant professor. I was not on a tenure track, but at my age, tenure meant little to me.

    I taught two or three courses a semester until I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in December, 1999. I found it quite difficult to teach while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapies. For what it’s worth, I’ve been disease free since 2004.

    The dean of the School of Management has called me to see if I was interested in teaching some more courses,, but I’ve found my interests keep me quite busy satisfied. Besides, I’m now 78, not that age prevents me from teaching, but it is a convenient excuse.

    I’ll look forward to the next issue of eSkeptic, even though there are a number of points were you and I don’t agree. The points of disagreement are seldom about being skeptic, but usually on more political questions like “Climate Change”, but that’s another discussion…

    Tom

    Thomas Spillman
    Asst. Professor (retired)
    MBA program
    School of Management
    St. Edward’s University
    Austin, TX

    • Sabio says:

      Thanx for the post ! Do you have a blog we can follow?

      • Robert Daniels says:

        This is your self serving definition of liberal.
        I prefer F.Forrester Church’s,”A liberal is someone who is open minded,open hearted and open handed.”
        It follows that a conservative is narrow minded.hard hearted and cheap.

      • Barbarossa says:

        Hmm, that’s funny, ’cause studies show that conservatives are more charitable than liberals, and if “liberals” are so open-hearted and open-handed, why do they advocate the forced confiscation of other people’s money to give to the poor (surely that sets a good example and opens hearts), instead of simply encouraging people to be generous of their own free will? And I don’t see anything “open-minded” about the unthinking faith that liberals have in Big Brother Godvernment or their reflex skepticism toward libertarianism–which is not conservatism, by the way, but I understand that you’re too “open-minded” to think past the false left-right paradigm.

      • Barbarossa says:

        Oh, and your definition of “conservative,” as well as your definition of “liberal,” are also self-serving. Hypocrisy is a liberal’s best friend. Here’s another liberal motto for you: “Socialism: it’s great, until you run out of other people’s money.”

      • Barbarossa says:

        Liberals: open-hearted enough to lecture you self-righteously on dubious moral causes and open-handed enough to pickpocket you in the process.

  57. Ken says:

    As a skeptic, with a leaning toward libertarian ideologies, I found the blog entry by Mr. Shermer both educating and entertaining. I have found new reading material, with this blog! I wish him well in his work to “to translate theory into practice through politics”.

    I just don’t know if this is the place for the discussion of this. I believe it is important to to keep “skepticblog” apolitical.

    If a new site was created to discuss libertarian ideologies by Shermer I would be very interested.

    • Sabio says:

      Agreed, I think it is important for Skeptics to stay focused on mission. But indeed, sometimes I find that due to our political philosophy, atheists fight theists unnecessarily (re: my post on divide and conquer).
      But having a “Libertarian Skeptics” site with several authors would be very nice — e-mail me if you’d like to join, we could get one up and running soon: Gmail account: SabioLantz

  58. Larry O says:

    Ah, what a read and I thought he said he was a librarian. Now I know why Michael says something about somethings. Keep writing, I keep looking/reading/thinking.

  59. Robert Daniels says:

    Will the libertarian utopia use currency?
    If so,who will issue it?

    • Nicole S. says:

      Usually the answer is that gold or some other non-fiat would be used. Either the government could mint coins, or private companies that had earned public trust could take on that role (as the Liberty Dollar and a few others that currently exist in America).

    • Nicole S. says:

      As a libertarian-learning skeptic, I am quite disappointed by this post. Libertarians tend to think that their arguments are so self-evident that they require no further discussion, just restatement. It gets very tiring very quickly, and sometimes makes me embarrassed to call myself a libertarian.

      I really would have liked to see something that showed more of an internal struggle rather than a string of positive book and lecture reviews. I personally got my libertarian views through a long back and forth, a process that I am still in the midst of.

      I was started down the path by reading John Locke, but as soon as I had begun to seriously question my political ideology I read everything from Marx to Nozick. I eventually settled on a view that the default position should always be that people are allowed to do what they please, as long as they don’t harm others. Any interference in people’s matters should have a very strong justification that outweighs the good of people’s freedom of choice. Beyond that, I have settled on little else, and doubt I ever will.

      A big question for me is how we determine what legitimate property is, which determines what is protected and for whom. Does theft that happened generations ago confer legitimacy upon the current property distributions? Most libertarians seem to assume that property, however it happens to be distributed at the current moment, is just and shouldn’t be tampered with, but that seems entirely arbitrary to me. And where do property rights come from in the first place? John Locke assumed that there was ‘as much and as good’ of all resources, so it would not matter if some were taken as property. That is not the world we live in today.

      So yeah, I am disappointed. It is possible that his actual intellectual progression was more skeptical, but this did not give me any of the insight I was hoping for, and was more of the same story we have all heard so many times.

  60. John M. says:

    Shermer moved from one fundamental nonsense (Christianity) to another fundemental nonsense (free market [sic] economics).Von Mises and Ayn Rand, give me a break! Michael – nonsense is nonsense. (Isn’t it interesting – both are of the same cast). Michael, you grew out of fundamental religion – you can also do the same with free market libertarism by using critical reason.

  61. Scott says:

    Michael, this piece has only strengthened the argument that there are TWO Michael Shermers.

    The glaring inequalities that are fostered and exploited by free market capitalism are not only unethical and immoral, but are guaranteed to bring about the system’s own downfall, as we have seen recently. How does libertarianism deal with racism? Sexism? Discrimination of any kind? The unequal distribution of natural resources around the globe? The typical libertarian answer is “Those aren’t economic considerations.”

    But they ARE. You can’t separate economics from politics or from social & human issues! A libertarian society allows the exploitation of third world nations or of disadvantaged populations in your own country. It allows women to be paid 75% of what a man is paid for the same job, because that is what the market will bear. A libertarian society allows no redress against employers who exploit their workers.

    Capitalism redistributes wealth upward. It increases inequality, which leads to social unrest and the eventual breakdown of society. It is self-destructive if left unregulated. You cannot treat people like objects without them eventually fighting back.

    The myth of “free choice” in a libertarian society is the biggest lie you keep pushing. It is the big lie pushed by the corporate media, contrary to your assertion that “capitalism may not need apologists and propagandists”. We’re surrounded by propagandists for capitalism!Let’s conduct a little thought experiment, shall we? Let’s imagine:

    A new technology becomes available that is expected to be quite popular, something that lots of people will want. 10 companies spring up, in laudable entreprenurial fashion, each manufacturing their own version of the product. Wow, oodles of choice. Within a few years the 10 companies become stratified based on their performance in the “free” market: 3 companies have very popular products with good quality and brand recognition. 4 are middle-of-the-road, with modest success. 3 are not doing well, plagued by quality issues or poor management. Shortly thereafter, the more successful 3 companies begin to buy up or muscle out the smaller players, eliminating competition, consolidating markets. Soon we’re left with 5 companies and a saturated market. In an effort to continue to please shareholders and generate short-term profits and “growth” (the holiest of holies), the companies are forced to seek higher prices and lower cost, cut budgets for research and development and fight environmental controls (too long term), and seek partnerships with their rivals. Soon we have just two companies, but they’re selling 4 different “brands” of the product (just the same device reskinned). In the end, a poor economy (you decide what caused it) forces the last two companies to merge to survive.

    There’s your free choice.

    Libertarian theory is nothing but a bunch of myths that ignore the crushing power of corporations, ignore the fact that human societies cannot prosper and flourish without laws that we all obey equally, with structures in place to enforce them, and ignores the fact that capitalism is just the redistribution of wealth upward. It rewards only short-term thinking and treats people like cattle.

    Unless you live in a world of unlimited resources (in engineering terms an “infinite source”) where our actions have no negative effect on our world or eachother (an “infinite sink”) libertarianism cannot work.

    Take your blinders off.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Unless you live in a world of unlimited resources (in engineering terms an “infinite source”) where our actions have no negative effect on our world or eachother (an “infinite sink”) libertarianism cannot work.

      This is simply not true. Free market economics does not require the existence of corporations, or deny the possibility of compensation for damages. You’re arguing against a caricature.

    • Simon says:

      You basically just don’t understand how markets operate. In your thought “experiment” you don’t entertain the possibility of either new companies or existing companies competing with the ones your complaining about. You also don’t entertain the possibility of even newer technology coming along.

      Walter Block is pretty good on discrimination, but obviously you won’t have the time to entertain ideas that you don’t like…
      http://mises.org/media.aspx?action=author&ID=443

      The government is what gives corporations power, if there is a source of power (government) successful corporations will lobby it. Sorry, but you’re a useful idiot for multinational corporations.

  62. John M says:

    Nevertheless, capitalism is still a vile, nasty affair, allowing one person to eat while another starves. Freedom to amass while others suffer. Law of the jungle. As Abraham Lincoln pointed out, the sheep’s definition of liberty, i.e., the right to live, is far different from that of the wolf’s, i.e., the right to eat.

    First thing we should do is eliminate money and property ownership.

    • Dax says:

      First thing we should do is eliminate money and property ownership.

      That would be called “legalizing theft”.
      There’s a reason we have property… and that is because some people put more effort into bettering their life and surroundings, then other do. Remarks like this is exactly why I said I’m skeptical of both sides in the capitalism-socialism (i.e. communism repackaged and rebranded) debate.

      • Scott says:

        And some people ruthlessly capitalize on the advantages they have that they had no part in earning. Particularly here in America, it is very popular to believe that you occupy your place in society due to your own hard work, or lack thereof.

        That’s a load of @#$%^. A huge myth.

        We are each only responsible for a tiny fraction of our advantages. Our lives are entirely dependent on the millions around us and the billions who have come before us. Without all the scientists, engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, babysitters, garbage collectors, cooks, maids, politicials, community activists and everyone else, you’d just be starving in the wilderness.

        The extremist individualism on which libertarianism is based is just another one of its collosal myths.

      • Scott Theisen says:

        Scott…

        What you are describing/criticizing is called peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial transactions. We do depend on the wonderful and varied individual talents of others to help us in our deficiencies. In economics we call it the division of labor. It is great. I have talents you do not. You have talents I do not.

        We can with liberty, exchange ideas, time and talents to our mutual satisfaction. That is fantastic. It is why you are here today.

        Humanity has succeeded in spite of the oppressive laws, and legalized theft of big government. We have done it everyday by making hundreds of choices about what is best for ourselves. In doing so, we make opportunities for others.

    • David jones says:

      First thing we should do is eliminate money and property ownership

      Do I have rights over myself?

      If I make something – a pot, say, from clay – do I own it?

      Or will you be abolishing that?

  63. Robert Daniels says:

    I expected silence about the currency question.

    • Robert Daniels says:

      Perhaps the little old currency maker in his hut on the edge of the forest?

      • Scott Theisen says:

        Robert Daniels…

        Please.

        Currency is an invention of human efficiency. It is not a government creation, though it has been taken over by government. Money (currency) serves as a facilitator. If you read anything about the world or history, you would have seen that currency has appeared in many forms all over the planet.

        Money does not need to be centrally regulated. Barter systems can use currency. Value is in us. It is not in a Central Bank or Federally regulated program decided by a bureaucrat who does not understand profit and loss.

        Think beyond your limited experience.

  64. Dax says:

    Funny how Shermer mentions ‘behavioral economics’, especially since this burgeoning field of science has revealed us many flaws in a uncontrolled free market: people are inherently irrational and unpredictable, also in economic matters. We tend to value things by price, not by actual “worth”, and have a hard time making value judgements and rational decisions. Without the required rationality, free market only create restricted markets. Companies will abuse our psychology to do this and they already have been doing this, for instance, by artificially increasing prices to make a product seem to be worth more than it actually is.

    Without controlling bodies, this is the least of our worries (current credit crisis, anyone? Or did we forget about all the environmental and public health damage companies have caused in the name of profit?).

    For me, Dan Ariely’s book on behavioral economics Predictably Irrational was quite an eye opener. This book made me less a free market libertarian. Now I’m just skeptical of both sides. True capitalism could only work if we actually grew some compassion and become only greedy for knowledge, instead of greedy for money or power.

  65. Jeannette Hope says:

    Wow. I think I come from another planet. In Australia (at least Sydney University) in the 1960s, I thought libertarianism just meant free sex.

    This is all fascinating stuff, but my sceptical mind wonders whether there’s an underlying cultural influence here – could Michael’s intriguing essay and many of the comments be written by anyone other than Americans? And was this kind of bias why so many Americans including Ben Bernancki (!) not see the crash coming, while it was pretty obvious to the rest of us? (For a fascinating other example: catch up with the analysis of how the over-exposure of Iceland can be related to Icelandic culture and society – can’t remember publication, but google should find it).

    Indeed as an Australian, I’ve just come up against a situation that demonstrated the depth of the ‘non-libertarian’ (sensu Shermer, not Sydney Uni.!) cultural attitudes I have imbibed. Australia has a public health system. It’s not perfect by any means, but you know there’s a safety net – if you’re really sick, you’ll be treated in hospital regardless of whether you are insured or whether you’ve got any money. I guess we see this as basic to our community – helping people when they really need it, regardless of circumstances.

    I’m currently in the Philippines, where my son has been in hospital. The Philippines has inherited the American system – no money, no medicine. My son nearly died here because the hospital refused to give him a blood transfusion until someone paid – at 8pm on a Saturday night – no banks open, credit card over phone fax or email from Australia not accepted. With the help of the Australian consulate system, we managed to get some money through just in time. However I am asking poeple here: what do poor people here do? The answer, with a shrug, they die. All the capitalist theory above is one thing, but in practice I think I’d rather stick to our ‘socialised’ medical system.

    • Nicole S. says:

      In America I believe a hospital is required to treat you for an emergency.

      I have dealt with socialized medicine living in Europe, and cultural bias or not, Italians all tell you that the best treatment is a plane ticket to America. I have met a woman who has to wait two years for breast cancer treatment, at which point it was likely too late to save her life despite the early detection two years before. I have met a man who lived for six month with a bladder infection and was bedridden because of the severe pain. Maybe Italy’s system is just really, really bad… but really, I am afraid of socialized medicine.

      • Jeannette Hope says:

        Neither of your examples should happen in Australia. But there are long waiting lists for what is called ‘elective’ surgery and treatment – ie not death-threatening diseases like cancer. You can get quicker treatment in fancier hospitals if you have insurance, or lots of money. However it’s pretty flexible; you can switch between the public and private systems. No system is (can ever be?) perfect, but I prefer one based on an attempt at community-based fairness and inclusiveness, rather than the extreme capitalist model.

      • SpaniardInAmerica says:

        Sorry, where does the “extreme capitalism model” work? Not in America. Remember Medicaid/Medicare, HMOs and many other federal programas… In 1960 private spending rate was 80% of overall, and the share of GDP was 5%. Now the public spending rate is 50%, the share of GDP rockets to 20% and the dissatisfaction index is incomparably higher.

        America has corporate healthcare, managed by heavily subsidized big private corporations, NOT market and community-oriented healthcare like it was some decades ago. There is no market since people don´t compare prices anymore; since 80% of health expenditures are paid by third party payers (government and private corporations) not by consumers and service providers.

        Look at the monster created by price control:
        http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/02/28/business/0301-sbn-webHEALTH.gif

  66. B M-H says:

    For all it’s pseudo-scientific trappings, I still find it difficult think of the core values, policies, and ethics of libertarianism as anything other than anarchy deflated just enough to protect the economic interests and selfish morality of over-privileged cry babies.

    Perhaps someone here could explain the difference?

    • Nicole S. says:

      The difference between libertarian and anarchist ideas is that libertarianism maintains the state to protect people’s person and property.

      Libertarians believe that people can choose to take care of other people or not. I think, as many libertarians do, that many people would still choose to care for others without the government coercing them. Further more, in a libertarian framework I could make choices myself about what the best way to do that is, instead of watching my money be squandered on things that I think are useless or even harmful.

      Say, for example, that I think that something very morally important is distributing condoms in Africa and providing sex education to cut down on birth rates and AIDS infections. Now, imagine that the government instead takes all the money I could afford to donate to this cause and spends it on abstinence education, which I believe does more harm than good. Or what if I am happy to pay for children to be educated about evolution, but am not pleased with my money being taken to further indoctrinate children about ‘intelligent design.’ Is this my selfish, over privileged cry-baby morality?

      • B M-H says:

        So the state protects whose property and person exactly?

        In exchange for eliminating the state’s misuse of your tax money, you’d reduce the state to a mall rent-a-cop with the sole purpose of protecting your economic position.

        There are less self-indulgent ways to impose rational spending on the government, but considering the ideology behind libertarianism – and the redefinition of social and cultural relationships into purely economic ones – I think the “big brother wastes my money” bit is nothing but a blind.

        Yes, this is, by definition, selfish, over-privileged, cry baby morality. I looked up all those terms in Websters, and they all ended with ‘see also Libertarian’.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        So the state protects whose property and person exactly?

        Everyone’s. And libertarianism does not redefine social relationships into economic ones… where did you get that idea?

      • B M-H says:

        Gee, I don’t know… maybe by following a foundational libertarian premise – that all forms of social funding: health, arts, infrastructure, etc. should be abolished – to its natural conclusion.

        As for protecting everyone’s property and person: you’re simply out of touch with reality.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        As for protecting everyone’s property and person: you’re simply out of touch with reality.

        No… you’re out of touch with what libertarianism proposes. You’ve apparently decided that the late nineteenth century was a libertarian utopia, which is just ignorant.

        And your first comment… let me see… so abolishing funding (an economic transaction) for certain things reduces my friendships (a social relationship) to an economic one by…

        magic? Fairly dust? Phlogiston? What?

      • B M-H says:

        …substituting interpersonal dependancy for collective responsibility?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        That doesn’t seem to effect my social relationships. Maybe you are just unclear on what a social relationship is.

      • Peter says:

        The difference between libertarian and anarchist ideas is that libertarianism maintains the state to protect people’s person and property.

        Nonsense. Pace Mises, all the best libertarians are, in fact, anarchist. Rothbard, Hoppe, Block, etc., etc. The “difference” is simply that B M-H (and quite likely Nicole S, too) has a wrong definition of “anarchy”

  67. Scott says:

    You hit the nail on the head.

  68. William Patrick Haines says:

    To confuse social Darwinism with actual scientific Darwism is like confusing sincere sane clergy with the actions of fanatical self rightous sadistic zealots who commited atrocities like the inquisition, the crusade, holy wars .witch hunts etc.Scientific Darwinism deals with the fitness of a species so would not a species that neglects it’s own like the philsophy of Libertarism dooom it’s self to extinction.
    it is amazing how conservatives have now connected Empathy with communism . Imagine the uproar if liberals dared to call conservatives autistic and social pathic for their lack of empathy and over all apathy when it comes to any sympathy or assistance to the economicly disadvantaged .
    Any society that defines itself as civilized must protect it’s citizenry from the ravages of unrestrained capitalism . The workers the consumer and enviroment need and deserve protection from the corrosive effects of unrestrained capitalism .Since civialized society is constructed upon the idea of interdependance you need a reasonable safety net. Objects are disposable people are not.
    It is amazing how Libertarians act like government has a monoply on tyranny . It is also amazing how many anti goverment conservatives actualy want government to restrict the actions of unions and lawyers to thwart the anti social and abusive
    activities/ tyrannical bullying of their employees by corporations.
    As far as Libetarian’s idealistic zealotry , idealism was disprovened by Galeio in that a theory has to match observed reality in order to be considered valid. To quote the late great Carl Sagan “extra ordinary claims require extra ordinary evidence “.Libertarian theology has demonstrated itself to be a great
    determent to society . While there might be educated folks that define themselves as libertarians Carl Sagan also stated being briliant is no gaurantee against being dead wrong . It is also noted while not all conservatives are stupid most stupid people tend to be conservative.

    • Nicole S. says:

      “It is also noted while not all conservatives are stupid most stupid people tend to be conservative.”

      You should use spell check and make sure what you are saying is intelligible before you end a post with things like that. Really, saying things like that is silly anyway, as it is totally irrelevant to anything except being argumentative. Being stupid is no guarantee against being dead right. So let’s talk about the ideas.

    • Peter says:

      It is also noted while not all conservatives are stupid most stupid people tend to be conservative.

      Assuming that’s true…what does it have to do with libertarians, again?

  69. Harold Liles says:

    About that public-works bridge…

    Don’t you sometimes still just need a bridge?

    It seems simplistic to me to claim a net loss for the collective for which the bridge was built – due to the unseen products that would have been produced with those monies that were taxed out of private hands.

    Why not go further and show that the bridge itself creates additional commerce by allowing wider shipment of goods, and access by consumers to more choices of merchants, and jobs for the construction, etc.? Is this still a net loss for the collective? How could you measure it?

    • Nicole S. says:

      That comment used some hidden economics to back the argument. In any instance of taxation and subsequent government expenditure there is what is called “dead weight loss” of overall welfare due to the price distortion on the market. It can be measured in theory on graphs (google dead weight loss and you can get a quick lesson). The argument for government spending should then be that there is a market failure and the government spending covers something that would not be provided by the private sector, or that some injustice is being corrected through the government expenditure.

      • Harold Liles says:

        I think bridges might fall into that category. Do they not? And isn’t our capitlist system better off for having a reliable infrastructure in place for which to do commerce?

        I can see the point about dead weight loss, and price distortion, but I also don’t assume that a private-sector bridge would be constructed any more efficiently at any lower cost. I bet they would hire some of the same private-sector construction companies to build it.

        I am neither a civil engineer nor an economist, but I do pay taxes and tolls.

      • Peter says:

        I think bridges might fall into that category. Do they not?

        No, they don’t; nothing does. There’s no such thing as “market failure”, viewed objectively.

        And isn’t our capitlist system better off for having a reliable infrastructure in place for which to do commerce?

        You’re assuming that no infrastructure would exist without government to build it. That’s a false assumption.

        I can see the point about dead weight loss, and price distortion, but I also don’t assume that a private-sector bridge would be constructed any more efficiently at any lower cost. I bet they would hire some of the same private-sector construction companies to build it.

        But they wouldn’t build it in the first place if it wasn’t worthwhile (barring error — and if they made too many errors, they’d be out of business) Government has no rational way to calculate the value of the bridge, and can just keep making errors since they don’t pay the price.

  70. Todd says:

    Most of the anti-libertarian comments here are arguing very effectively against positions libertarians don’t take. You will find no party in the American political system MORE committed to the idea of equal treatment under the law. We, as Libertarians, are not calling for no laws or no government. We are calling for limited government that treats each person as an equal individual with the same rights, and not as a member of a group – be it a gay one, a straight one, a black one, a white one, a religious one, a poor one, a rich one, and so on. While corporations have undoubtedly done pernicious things, they have – almost without exeption – used the government (especially a centrally managed one) as a vehicle to accomplish them. And, in the end, only the government can legally use force to make you do anything, whether its to pay taxes, surrender your property to a corporation, or effect social change through coercion. The record of human history is absolutely clear: the entity most likely to harm the very people it claims to protect is the government. In future arguments against libertarianism, please attempt to learn its actual tenets, and please don’t disregard the blood-soaked history of tyranny that every government – even so-called free ones – share with one another.

    • Nicole S. says:

      I feel like this is true in general when you tell people you are a libertarian. No one really seems to understand, they just have some idea of devil Ayn Rand running around killing poor people with no government to stop her. Libertarian philosophy is about complete and total equality (even for the rich!) and personal responsibility, not about destroying anyone.

      I am a libertarian living in Ghana working on international development. I think there is nothing more important in the world for people to work towards than allowing people access to basic necessities in life. I personally will spend my entire life working towards this goal. However, I absolutely don’t think that people should be forced to do this. I think they have the right to be apathetic– I just have enough faith in humanity to think that most people wouldn’t. And honestly, I think that is justified– people are willing to vote for higher taxes in order to create programs, why wouldn’t they be willing to donate their money freely? But really, it is an insult to everything I do with my life to say that libertarians are heartless.

    • B M-H says:

      Every ideological movement that ever has existed has claimed to be “committed to the idea of equal treatment under the law”. Conservatives, Liberals, Communists, Anarchists, Fascists, and Libertarians share that wonderful and noble ideal.

      But the means by which this ‘equality’ is to achieved; how ‘equality’ is defined; the economic, social, and cultural interests that stand to benefit by the particular form of ‘equality’ being promoted; and the moral standards and goals put forward by each particular vision of ‘equality’… those are all quite different.

      It’s rational to recognize that libertarian ‘equality’ is not an absolute and that it won’t affect everyone in the same general way. I think most serious libertarians understand the real motives and potential outcomes of their ideology – and if you consider them positive, that’s your right.

      But presenting libertarianism as a form of universal equality is nothing less than misleading propaganda.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Every ideological movement that ever has existed has claimed to be “committed to the idea of equal treatment under the law”.

        That isn’t true at all. It doesn’t even have the patina of truth. The very idea of equal treatment under the law is relatively new and far from universal. It certainly isn’t part of islamic idealism, for example.

        For a skeptic, you sure do use a lot of scare quotes. You also don’t define your terms very well. And you seem to be unaware of even the most basic facts about the area you are commenting on.

        No wonder you don’t like it when people talk politics in skeptical circles… you can’t keep up!

      • B M-H says:

        Actually, no:

        The ideal of equality under the law is one of The Absolute Cornerstone of Islamic tradition. You’re speaking from pure ignorance.

        As I said: the concept means different things to different people, depending what they’re trying to achieve and their understanding of what an ideal society looks like. And, really: equal treatment under the law is a new idea? That’s news to me… please tell me more!

        Are my terms not defined well? Your substitution of personal attacks for argument certainly is. What exactly is the content of your reply?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        The ideal of equality under the law is one of The Absolute Cornerstone of Islamic tradition. You’re speaking from pure ignorance.

        Except for women and non-muslims.

        I’m not so much speaking from pure ignorance as I am from superior understanding.

  71. August says:

    i enjoy these comment sections. often then add more depth than the sometimes ironically biased and unskeptical articles that they follow. I particularly find the comments that reprimand the critics of libertarianism as virulent or religiously minded amusing.

    I do not particularly hold to anti-libertarianism, i haven’t even read exhaustively on the principles, but whenever i do attempt to, or whenever libertarianists expound and state their libertarian principles, i find myself thinking it must be a joke because they are genuinely ironic; more specifically, i mean to say that i stare in awe at how “unthoughtful” these principles are in considering all the variables in the market place, and how unrealistic they perceive the world.

    Just to be clear, i’m not anything at this particular point apart from skeptical on people’s motivations every time they open their mouths. The phrases i prefer are fairness and justice which seems to go against the grain of conventional economic philosophy or utilitarian fundamentals, whatever you want to call it (most philosophy is very weak when it comes to pragmatism). An so to reiterate, when i read the views and beliefs of libertarianism, mostly unbiased (except for the attitude of fairness and justice that i admire), i find myself thinking the people who think/write libertarianism must be trying to make me laugh or else trying to pull a con on me. i suspect its the latter.

  72. wil says:

    “For all it’s pseudo-scientific trappings, I still find it difficult think of the core values, policies, and ethics of libertarianism as anything other than anarchy deflated just enough to protect the economic interests and selfish morality of over-privileged cry babies.

    Perhaps someone here could explain the difference?”

    Libertarianism isn’t anarchy, it is minarchy, which I guess one could call “deflated anarchy”, but not while sounding intelligent. And why would a group of individuals who want to make their living on their own with no help from a governmental institution be “over-privileged”? This is confusing.

    One problem I’ve found with getting my friends to accept Libertarianism (or at least take it seriously) is that they equate capitalism with corporate greed, individual selfishness, and the like. Many of them are socialists; I have found there is a strong correlation between self-proclaimed “socialists” and humanists. In other words, many socialists are socialists because they think that that economic system leads to the best situation for the most people. This of course is not true; based on historical evidence, the more free-market capitalistic a society is, the more money and goods more people have (which means more people have more shelter, food, clothes, etc). When faced with this empirical observation, how do socialists (and other leftists) reconcile it with their beliefs?

    • B M-H says:

      Maybe because they recognize both the simple-minded logic of such a statement and the selfish morality of the the ideology it’s grounded in?

    • Harold Liles says:

      ” In other words, many socialists are socialists because they think that that economic system leads to the best situation for the most people. This of course is not true; based on historical evidence, the more free-market capitalistic a society is, the more money and goods more people have (which means more people have more shelter, food, clothes, etc).”

      I see this kind of claim a lot that the free market society gave us everything like some amazing gift tree. But I don’t always see such pure causality. Certainly some of our shelter/food/standard of living progress is due to scientific advances we’ve made in the last century and not just due to our economic structure. And scientific advnaces are often funded by government grants for research in cooperation with private enterpirse and academic institutions. Isn’t this type of government spending viewed as unneccessary by Libertarians?

      I don’t see corporations as the devil. After all I do work for one very large corp. But I wouldn’t want corporations without regulations any more than I want a government without checks and balances.

      • Simon says:

        Did the car, the telephone etc need a government grant?

        I reckon you’ve fallen for the broken window fallacy, we can see the stuff NASA has done but we can’t see what the private economy would have made with that money. Sure you might argue this the other way around, but what we do know is that money would have been allocated by everyone, not in Washington by some bureaucrats. (So it would have probably been allocated more efficiently and thus benefiting more people.)

        (I don’t usually bother arguing against NASA, it’s small change compared with the whole budget – that, and the ignorant might think I’m anti-science.)

        Also, why do people put faith into government policing itself (checks and balances) but not corporations. I reckon corporations can’t police themselves, so government definitely can’t police themselves. Government does a lousy job of policing them too.

    • Peter says:

      Libertarianism isn’t anarchy

      True libertarianism is definitely anarchist.

  73. John says:

    The problem with Libertarianism is that most of its followers practice and preach it as a sacred inviolate cult, and not a framework within which to approach problems. They believe that the markets must be absolutely free at all times and at all costs. The problem, of course, is that pure, unfettered capitalism is a recipe for disaster as much as and perhaps moreso than pure, unfettered communism. The markets, as any even mild student of history knows, are quite happy to abuse society for profit. To a completely unregulated market, there is no such thing as humanity, there are only currencies walking about, being transported by inconvenient flesh-things that impede the flow of currency. The market has a very long, very well-documented history of exploiting people in the most grieviously unethical manner in order to increase gains.

    And unfortunately, most Libertarians are really just Conservatives that realize they will never get their message across if they continue to preach economic liberty and social oppression. They harp on the free market message and all but ignore the social freedom half of their belief system.

    • Peter says:

      The problem, of course, is that pure, unfettered capitalism is a recipe for disaster

      When you say “of course”, you mean…what, exactly? “In my opinion as someone who has no idea what he’s blathering about”? That’s not what “of course” means.

      The markets, as any even mild student of history knows, are quite happy to abuse society for profit. To a completely unregulated market, there is no such thing as humanity, there are only currencies walking about, being transported by inconvenient flesh-things that impede the flow of currency.

      That statement is far more true of governments than markets. Which has been responsible for 300-million-odd innocent deaths in the last century alone, markets or governments? Quick, buzz in when you think you know the answer.

      • Jason Gordon says:

        “If goods don’t cross borders, troops will.” ~ Frederic Bastiat

        Libertarianism — rather than war profiteers — prefers peace profiteers.

  74. Bill M says:

    I consider myself a skeptic if for no other reason than the fact that my first reaction to new things is to apply a measured dose of critical thinking. In reading this piece and the rather impressive onslaught of well-read responders, I realized that by the time I got to the end, I couldn’t mentally get past one of Shermer’s first statements:
    “And do remember that we libertarians are social liberals just like you (I’m presuming that the vast majority of readers of Skeptic, eSkeptic, and Skepticblog are liberals…)”.

    Really? Aside from the notion that labels and generalizations are typically where most of these discussions tend to digress to and break down, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything further due to that statement. I find there to be a great deal of incompatibility with ‘social liberalism’ and small government. I am a fiscal conservative and by extension a proponent of strict social personal responsibility. The individual should not impose a burden on the state or others through poor decision making. Social liberalism to me is antithetical to a pragmatic and evidence-based society.

  75. TryLogic says:

    What a refreshing article by one of the world’s great critical thinkers–Michael Shermer.

    I have always held conservative political views about restricting the control of government intervention in our lives. If you have dreams and cherish individual rights and freedom, it seems to me that it is a no brainier. I have also spent as much or more time working for charitable causes than any of my liberal friends [for all of you that will put me on the "heartless list.]” Over the years I have distanced my self from Republicans because of their poor judgment about religion and social realities.

    I was fortunate enough to see Michael Shermer debate with religious leaders on TV and was introduced to the idea and power of skeptical thinking. It has been a great adventure to become part of a critical and scientific based group of people….even life changing!

    I went to my first TAM meeting and was overwhelmed by the critical thinking expressed on so many subjects, even though the person I sat next to was a Marxist/Socialist that expressed bitter hatred for America and freedom.

    My wife and I enjoyed the great meeting, but left with one main thing on our mind. There was an overwhelming air of leftist/liberal love in the audience and we felt immensely out of place. ……Except Penn and Teller did help lighten things up for us.

    For years I have admired the lifetime of research on war and government created by a great critical thinker and social scientist..R.J. Rummel. He is one of the most referenced authors on the subject and as a skeptic identifies himself as a Freedomist.

    Shermer’s thoughts and statements are well thought out and based on overwhelming facts and evidence from his own research. I don’t understand why many skeptical thinkers are so quick to right him off, when they [more than anyone] know him for his logic and reason.

    Most skeptics see the Utopia of religion and almighty God has a fantasy created by men with lack of any evidence. I ask….why a true skeptic can’t see that Utopias of Almighty Government created by men always fail and will continue to do so….and this is backed by overwhelming evidence and data.

    Could it be that liberal minds and religious minds are just alike….they deny history and fact while creating their own “truths” in order to believe in their Utopias?

    Shermer’s points need to be taken seriously.

    Our forefathers came here to escape theocracies and oppressive governments……we are still plagued by both…and nothing is black or white!

    TryUsingLogic

    • B M-H says:

      A) “The person I sat next to was a Marxist/Socialist that expressed bitter hatred for America and freedom.”

      B) “I ask…why a true skeptic can’t see that Utopias of Almighty Government created by men always fail and will continue to do so…”

      C) “Could it be that liberal minds and religious minds are just alike….they deny history and fact while creating their own “truths” in order to believe in their Utopias?”

      D) “Nothing is black or white!”

      QUIZ: Which of these statements contradicts the others?

  76. Wilberbeest says:

    I’m glad to see this issue raised, all pink and naked. Kudos to Dr. Shermer for bringing it up as its own blog entry.

    In a recent Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, Daniel Loxton talked critically about the Libertarianism phenomena in the skeptical movement. It’s worth checking out to get a birds eye view on the thing (or his at least).

    http://www.theskepticsguide.org/archive/podcastinfo.aspx?mid=1&pid=194

    His point of view if I remember correctly: Libertarianism is primarily an American thing. It is far better represented in the organized ‘skeptical movement’ than in the population as a whole. It has perhaps turned the movement into more of a ‘denialist’ movement than a scientific movement, trailing behind even the news media on some issues (climate change being one), while the news media itself mostly trails behind the science. Ultimately the skeptical movement should be apolitical. I think that sums it up more or less.

    There’s a thread on their forum where Loxton has some back and forth with the forum posters about this:

    http://skepchick.org/skepticsguide/index.php/topic,19443.0.htmll

  77. SwedeMpls says:

    The fanatical anti-regulationism Shermer exhibits in The Mind of the Market needs some rational (a term I prefer to “skeptical” or “critical” because of the connotations those terms have to the general public) analysis. For example, in TMOTM, Shermer derides antitrust laws, using the example of the Microsoft antitrust case. I’ll assume for sake of argument that Shermer’s right, and that the MS case had the wrong outcome. Shermer uses a classic rhetorical technique of taking a single arguable failure in implementation of a whole series of (admittedly complex) policies to argue that the policies are wrong and that the objectives behind them are not appropriate to government.

    The fact is, in the absence of competition regulation, “free market” participants will engage in market-distorting activities if they can advance their self-interests by doing so. Look at the “trusts” or cartels of late 19th Century America which gave rise to the Sherman Antitrust Act in the first place.

    I work a lot with trade associations that have a role in self-regulation of professions. I commonly have to advise those clients away from policies calculated to make entry into those industries and innovation away from current industry practices difficult. This is not the government, but groups of peers in these industries. Without the threat of laws that protect competition, these groups would engage in the kind of self-regulation that used to keep married women from being able to practice real estate (because the men doing real estate thought married women should be taking care of their families, and they didn’t want the additional competition).

    My problem with TMOTM and Shermer’s views on regulation: Shermer launches a tirade against a form of regulation that he appears not to understand; worse, he does not even make the effort to offer rational arguments for his views. The tirade appears to be motivated by his faith in libertarian values. That’s not rational (or skeptical).

    I’ll continue reading Shermer, because I think he offers insights in lots of areas. But I intend to subject his pronouncements on all topics to the same rational analysis – his views on competition policy lack sufficient foundation.

    Cheers!
    -Brian

  78. Chuck Glenn says:

    As a fellow Skeptic, Atheist and Libertarian, I can certainly attest to the fact that those labels are in no way mutually exclusive. They seem to be an application of the same broad patterns to the fields of Science, Philosophy, and Politics (both fiscal and social), respectively. In all pursuits, the patterns of free thought, open discussion, individual sovereignty, and unimpeded experimentation should be favored to those of dogma, collectivism, and central authority. We as a society will continued to be propelled forward by the latter, and retarded by the former.

    I’ve always been a huge fan, Dr. Shermer. Congrats on coming out of the closet politically.

    • B M-H says:

      I’ve never been much of a fan of Dr. Shermer.

      Particularly for the reason that he and his fellow libertarians insist on hijacking the rational skeptical movement with their nonsense ideology.

      Exactly as he’s done by posting this rubbish in a forum that’s supposedly devoted to skeptical issues.

      • kabol says:

        you mean you aren’t skeptical of libertarianism?

        i found shermer’s article quite interesting (even if i do not consider myself the-L-word-that-so-many-skeptics-find-so-disagreeable.)

        do you suppose shermer is “hijacking the rational skeptical movement” (i didn’t know there was one!) when he makes appearances at woo-conventions and religious “scholarly” gatherings?

        do you suppose that he is just on some nefarious mission to push his libertarian economics on the woo-folk?

        oh dear!

  79. tlav says:

    “Now I expected silence about the currency question.”
    – Robert Daniels

    Money is not a tangible item. Anyone can create money in any political system and currency will take the forms of whatever is valued in that society, whether it is deeds, beads, government issued paper, or a mixture of currencies. So the question does not represent a problem with Libertarianism.

    With all the posts of the evils of government and/or corporations, it must be remembered that these are the same in essence. Both are essentially entities represented by pieces of paper and exercised by individuals or groups of individuals. It is often odd to find the solution presented to protect against corporate monopolies is to use a government monopoly. Remember that virtually anyone, at least in the U.S., can create a corporation and become a C.E.O. for far less than they spend on cable television. The argument against monopolies often ends with the merger of corporations, leaving the citizens no freedom of choice. Yet many factors are left out of this argument. Ingenuity is one of the biggest competitors of monopolies. An example is the monopoly that the U.S. government has on mail. Despite being a protected monopoly, they are suffering from the increased use of emails.

    The question of who will build the roads is a circular logic fallacy. If the government had left it to private industry, there is no reason to believe there would be roads. Ingenuity and resources may have been diverted from car and tire making to building hovercrafts or other technologies that we can only imagine. Just because we are not able to envision the results, doesn’t mean they would have been worse than what we have now.

    One of the best ways to understand libertarianism is to look at the internet. Imagine the internet controlled entirely by governments. To obtain a domain, one would have to spends months or years petitioning government for the privilege. The individual would then have to pay taxes and fees for their use of the government run internet and the government would be responsible for protecting the individuals using the internet from those who would do ‘evil’ things. Users of the internet would need to acquire some form of electronic passport from their respective government before browsing international sites. Access to the internet would be limited to mostly to those who can best utilize their connections within the government, which leads to heavy corruption.

    Now imagine a free market style internet where technology and innovation abound and the good and evil freely browse the entire world together without restriction. Now asks the same questions, who will protect users from the ‘evil’ ones? In a free market system, where there is a strong need or desire, someone will step in to provide that value. The ‘evil’ ones try to steal our credit card and social security numbers, yet there are an endless stream of companies offering their services to protect us and numerous sites reviewing these companies to help us choose the best ones. Innovation is an express train instead of the old coal burning train of a government run internet. Access is much broader due to economies of scale allowing even some of the poorest to be able to utilize the technology. And when someone has a dispute, they go to another entity for mediation and resolution, without having to resort to government guns and strong arm tactics.

    And when it comes to answering questions, I have yet to hear a clear definition of the term ‘fair’ so often used in disagreement with libertarians, despite having asked in other venues.

  80. This blog entry displays evidence of the most serious damage that religion does to human thought processes, and Shermer’s background in evangelical Christianity is showing through, in his failure to repair the damage: that problem is subtle, unconscious compartmentalization. In this blog entry, Mr. Shermer is displaying it in spades, in how it has led to his libertarianism.

    The principal (but not the only) reason that libertarian economics don’t work in the real world is the very same reason why we are currently facing the worst international economic crisis in three generations: those who have the gold, make the rules, and they make the rules to benefit themselves, *even if at the expense of the commonweal*. This is far more than just a cute aphorism, it is a law of economics that seriously impedes the optimal functioning of unregulated markets, and it is the basis of virtually everything that Karl Marx wrote about in Das Kapital. That it is a flaw so serious, that it almost completely negates the utility of the libertarian economic ideal, and libertarian capitalists ignore this reality at the peril of negating the usefulness of their theories. And Shermer, like most libertarians, has compartmentalized it away as if it somehow doesn’t matter. But it is a flaw so serious and so obvious that even Adam Smith himself recognized it; in his “Wealth of Nations,” he mentions corporations only a few times, and each time warns of the danger they pose; he suggests, and rightly so, that a “free market” can function optimally only when no single market player has enough economic power to influence the pricing in the market. That is a reality that all those libertarians who worship free markets these days, especially the corporate libertarians of the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, with which Shermer so eagerly consorts, conveniently ignore. The more intellectually rigorous among them doubtless know better, but they are willing to exploit Shermer’s and others’ compartmentalizations in order to use otherwise solid intellectuals to promote economic theories that benefit themselves and their colleagues, at the expense of the common good as if the commonweal doesn’t matter.

    Shermer would do well to take up the study of history. Most of the libertarian economic theories are not new, but have been tried on occasion throughout history, and have failed and been rejected (and forgotten at least temporarily) as a result. And, about every third generation or so, a new group of young turk intellectuals thinks that they have discovered something new (Ayn Rand is just a single example).

    In fact, even in recent history there are examples of this cyclic experimentation with economic libertarianism; most of the more significant reforms in Chile that were implemented by Shermer’s hero, Milton Friedman (who had been given a blank check for economic reform by Pinochet, who had the guns to make sure they were implemented), were summarily reversed after Pinochet booted out the Chicago Boys, because the policies were causing such intense economic misery that people were becoming willing to brave Pinochet’s bullets to put a stop to them. And that is just the latest example – many more can be cited from other economic collapses, dating as far back as the 16th century in Spain, or 18th century Holland, where the newspaper accounts of those times read just like the propaganda coming today out of the American Enterprise Institute. It would all sound very familiar.

    Mr. Shermer, go read your economic history. And quit compartmentalizing off the harsh realities that it points out. And consider in your theorizing, with an open mind, the problems with capitalism that Marx pointed out a century and a half ago. Simply compartmentalizing your way out of those dilemmas as if these problems don’t exist will not lead to a sound economic theory; if you fail to do so, all that will result from your life’s work is a fabulously elegant and elaborate work of fiction.

  81. J. Gravelle says:

    Looking back upon history’s oppressors (slave owners, crusaders, prohibitionists, et al) most of us “tsk tsk” our ancestors’ blindness to their atrocious usurpation of their fellow man’s fundamental human right to life and liberty.

    But relatively few human beings seem capable of applying that same historic perspective on man’s MODERN oppression (in the guise of “the state”, or *shudder* “the greater common good”) wherein you and I are routinely forced to work on behalf of the welfare of others.

    Those who DO recognize today’s collectivist schemes for the atrocities they are, more often than not, turn out to be Libertarians…

    J. Gravelle
    Author: Homeless to Homeowner – the Birth of a Libertarian

    • Scott says:

      “man’s MODERN oppression (in the guise of “the state”, or *shudder* “the greater common good”) wherein you and I are routinely forced to work on behalf of the welfare of others.

      I had no idea “community” was oppression.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        I’d have applauded your candor if you’d dared to use the root word instead of its more palatable derivative. But I’m happy to interject it FOR you:

        I will respect your right to live in a “commune”, if you’ll likewise honor my desire NOT to. So long as neither of us insists upon the conditional expatriation of the other, there’s no reason we can’t be harmonious neighbors.

        The problem though, is that too many collectivists feel justified in coercing folks like me into subservience, simply because they have me Democratically outnumbered.

        Toward my original point, THAT mindset is nearly always seen as horrific in historical hindsight. And those of us with the perspective to recognize the malevolent underpinnings of today’s governmental do-gooderism are, in my experience, usually Libertarians.

        It comes as no surprise that Dr. Shermer counts himself among us.

        What IS fascinating is how many skeptics who would bristle at the notion that “without God we’d kill and rape one another” are herein purporting that “without Government we’d starve the poor” without ever recognizing the ironic corollary to both fallacious arguments…

        -jjg

      • Scott says:

        Okay, I get it, you want to take your toys and go home. But while we’re using kindergarten arguments, how about these:

        If Libertarians are opposed to government spending, why don’t they stop using public roads, public mail, police protection and the criminal justice system, fire departments, etc. etc.

        News flash: we live in a world populated by 7 billion people. We can’t all sit in a corner and sulk.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        “If Libertarians are opposed to government spending, why don’t they stop using public roads, public mail, police protection and the criminal justice system, fire departments, etc. etc.”

        1) I live on a private road, whose maintenance, upkeep, and repair are paid for by the people who live adjacent to it and derive the greatest benefit from it. We do not send goons to other municipalities to collect the funds for its upkeep. You are welcome to come drive on it, free of charge. (Conversely, our tax dollars built an INTERSTATE highway on the ISLAND of Hawaii. Which is more preposterous notion?);

        2) I’ve stopped using the public mail long ago;

        3) The police example is a good argument, albeit for MY side of the debate, since private security policing is routinely hired necessary in areas where public (read: “government”) policing fails to protect; and

        4) If your garage falls down, you are responsible for the expenses that ensue. But if it burns down, the financial burden becomes mine? Ben Franklin’s fire department model was a good one. It’s a shame we’ve strayed so far from his original vision.

        But I suppose I could say that about quite a FEW of our country’s founders…

        -jjg

      • B M-H says:

        “I will respect your right to live in a “commune”, if you’ll likewise honor my desire NOT to. So long as neither of us insists upon the conditional expatriation of the other, there’s no reason we can’t be harmonious neighbors.”

        Of course this is only logical if that expatriation is rather unconditional, isn’t it? An umbrella state covering both modes of existence isn’t practicable and wouldn’t be effective.

        But of course there have been innumerable experiments on a range of “commune-ist” (since you insist on the easy derogative) organizations of government. The extreme examples failed, but there are numerous examples of moderately-socialist governments succeeding to a surprising degree in creating an excellent standard of living while balancing economics with social and cultural values. And I would suggest that this has been achieved without impinging on what a rational person would consider liberty both in terms of freedom of expression and economic freedom.

        I think you’ll disagree with me on what “a rational person would consider…” and, in that case I do hope libertarians find a way to make the experiment. But first, they’d have to “collectivize” as libertarians in order to establish their “collective” control over a territory and come to a “collective” definition of their legal structure.

        After which, I suggest, the only libertarians left standing will be the ones who achieved the greatest influence over the “collectivization” process.

        The rest will probably have converted to communism and will be attempting to annex their own territory.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        “I say we stop following the pack! Who’s with me?” is always good for a chuckle when us Libertarian whack-jobs get together and conspire to not force you to do things our way.

        Equally comical is the fact that a lone protester’s whiny justification for collectivism can often be distilled into “What about ME?”.

        But the mindset that insists we’d need to exercise collective control over an area to infuse it Libertarianism is an inversion, and perhaps a PER-version of this reality: freedom is the antithesis of coercion and force, not the byproduct.

        To think otherwise is to consider North Koreans the free-est people on Earth…

        -jjg

      • “Ben Franklin’s fire department model was a good one. It’s a shame we’ve strayed so far from his original vision.”

        Speaking of Ben Franklin:

        I’m often reminded me of Franklin’s sensible response to those who make property-rights arguments against taxation (“Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People’s Money out of their Pockets”):

        All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Of course this is only logical if that expatriation is rather unconditional, isn’t it? An umbrella state covering both modes of existence isn’t practicable and wouldn’t be effective.

        Well, it happens in the united states. Some people live in collectivist groups, others start google. So I think maybe you haven’t really thought that statement through.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        It’s understandable why my friend Mr. Loxton saw fit to omit the key portion of the qualifying precedent paragraph to the quote taken from Benjamin Franklin’s note to Robert Morris, to whit:

        …out of their Pockets, [EMPH_MINE] tho’ only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted.[/EMPH_MINE] They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors’ Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell’d to pay by some Law.

        Article 1, Section 8 spells out the expenditures Franklin and his compatriots agreed upon; expenses for which THIS Libertarian would cut his apportioned check with little bemoanment.

        If you’re proposing we make the strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution the detente for our compromise, then we’re done arguing.

        I’m there, dude…

        -jjg

      • Nope, I just like how he puts it (“He that does not like civil Society…let him retire and live among Savages”), and I think he got the breakdown right: after basic survival needs are met, there is no obvious reason why “property rights” should be thought of as absolute (or even almost absolute).

        It’s an ethical first principle that libertarians see as self-evident, but that’s a kind of leap of faith. This isn’t unique to libertarianism; all ethical systems require some such leap (“what matters is liberty / life / the common good / maximizing utility / the categorical imperative”). Still, the libertarian elevation of property is a subjective, philosophical decision about ethics.

        It’s worth noting that the western world generally views “property” as a more complicated matter for societies to hash out through balances of various ethical goods: important, but hardly the whole ball game.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        I propose to you sir, that today’s savages aren’t the super-rural dwellers of Mr. Franklin’s day, but rather the urbanite products of the welfare-state policies purporting to help PREVENT the very squalor that they cause.

        If only somebody were willing to apply the scientific method to quantify and contrast the products of collective versus individual politics–

        Oh yeah. Somebody IS. Thanks, Dr. Shermer…

        -jjg

      • Peter says:

        “The state” is not the same thing as “community”. Far from it, the two are polar opposites. Community comes out of uncoerced interaction….the less state there is, the more community, and vice versa.

  82. There, everyone’s in agreement now.

  83. John says:

    Picking up on tlav’s metaphor of the modern Internet as a free market, one must point out the severe problems with the modern Internet. It’s nice to couch it away in easy-to-digest examples of evil entities out to steal identities and noble companies rising to stop them, but it’s an oversimplification that doesn’t apply the proper terminology.

    The analog of this in the ‘real’ world is that companies must exist whose sole function, their only product, is one that explicitely attacks and negates the functions and products of other companies. In short, the market can only maintain some semblance of proper functioning (a poor semblance at that) if there are companies that are openly engaged in war with each other, if some entities exist that have no purpose other than to ensure other entities cannot propagate their products in the market.

    And these ‘good’ entities? Relative to the totality of the internet user base, their customer bases are tiny. People simply are not willing to expend an infinite amount of resources to pay these companies to help them fight the ‘evil’ entities. In fact, the most successful of these products that prevent the harm caused by rogue entities are ones that cannot exist in an actual market — free, open-source software for antivirus and the like.

    There cannot be a company that functions in the ‘real’ world that makes and distributes a product or service absolutely free of charge. It only works in the software world because a developer can, in their free time, work on a piece of software that can then be copied perfectly and infinitely to be distributed to the masses at essentially no cost. This is not the case with any other realm of production. One cannot produce a physical device — say a device to counter the latest door lock defeating device on the market — infinitely and at no cost.

    And let alone the fact that the internet is far from an objectivist utopia. The only individuals that do not pay a heavy price for engaging in it — a toll of malware, stolen identities, fraud and the like — are those that are uncannily savvy at it and are constantly on guard, always vigilant for the veritable minefield of abusive entities all around.

    It is not an existence that the average person can maintain for every facet of their economic life at all times.

  84. You say: “It is not just that individual liberties are violated whenever governments interfere with freedom of choice in the economic realm, but that, in fact, the net result is a loss not just for the individuals, but for the collective for which the government action was originally intended. ”

    But there’s no proof of that. It’s ideology, pure and simple. And, in fact, it’s more to my taste to believe that there’s a net gain. When gov’t runs Social Security, for example, or helps to send kids to college, or protects the environment, we all benefit in ways that Libertarians/Objectivists either don’t understand or don’t value.

    There are many other problems with Objectivism, not the least of which is they appear to value property rights over human rights (my right to use my land as I see fit over your right to have clean air to breathe etc), and they have no mechanism for dealing with situations where two or more people’s property rights conflict with one person’s property rights. For example, you want to build a coal mine on your land, the ten people who own land all around yours want to preserve it as a National Park. In the real world, this happens all the time, and we have ways of resolving these conflicts. My Libertarian/Objectivist friends have no answer to this conflict except to trample on the rights of the ten because of the adamant one.

    That’s just one of the many reason I gave up Objectivism after high school.

    • Peter says:

      But there’s no proof of that.

      Sure there is. Or rather, it’s possible, I suppose, that government action may achieve a result which is not a net loss, but it would be impossible to ever know it. Most of the time, it clearly is a net loss. Assume the government has some information on which to base a decision about whether or not to fund a particular project which says it’s a good idea (or a bad one; reverse the sense of the argument): now they could just make that information publicly available, and leave people free to decide for themselves whether or not to pay for it. In which case, one of two things can happen: either enough people sign up to get it done, or they don’t. In the former case, the result is the same as if the government funded by their usual (coercive) means. In the latter case, the very fact that people didn’t choose to fund it tells you that they have other priorities, and prefer the other outcome. If government funds it via taxation, and the people truly value it, the result is the same as if they voluntarily funded it. If government funds it via taxation and the people don’t value it (as highly as other uses for that money), the result is a net loss to society. (And the latter will be the expected outcome virtually 100% of the time)

  85. Scott says:

    How would a Libertarian society exist and function outside of an already existing, functioning, mixed-market society? It seems to me that Libertarians can only exist parasitically within a larger stable environment.

    If a Mayflower full of Libertarians landed on the shore of an Undiscovered Country, chock full of natural resources but already peopled by a scattering of low technology natives who felt a certain ownership of the land, how would the Libertarians survive? How would they develop a flourishing, prosperous Libertarian society?

    My answer is, they couldn’t. What’s yours?

    • Robin Collins says:

      I think you are onto some of the key questions. See mine below.
      You ask about liberatarians arriving in a world pre-owned and wondering what they should do.

      I ask about why we should assume that ownership is legitimate in the first place.

      I am not sure that there is any justification for the concept of owning the earth aside from the use of force to enforce that idea. Private property comes out of the idea that we have some inherent right to own the earth. Says who?

      “Use it”? “Borrow it?” Maybe. Own it? I don’t see that at all. Someone could in theory “own” the entire earth by buying it up piece by piece. How could that be justified?

  86. Luke B. Vogel says:

    Dear Dr. Shermer

    Michael, I’ve put many of these pieces together over the 15 years I’ve been reading your work, though this is the most detail I’ve seen on your Libertarian views.

    I can honestly say I’m heart broken. I remember you once saying something about your views shifting slightly after working on your book, The Science of Good and Evil, and you had mentioned that you recognized a safety net was needed because some people fall through the cracks. It seemed you had a grasp on the problem of greed – these ideas made sense coming from you considering your work in that book (it was also a time you were really letting on about your Libertarian views – it started to sound like a rational Libertarianism). But, of course, none of that is mentioned above, no hint you absorbed anything from that experience, except that you recognize the evidence on cooperation, altruism etc.

    And the worst part!? Well, the last sentence. What does it really mean? That the charges others have lodged over the years about your pushing people to the middle is true, that this was all so you could go into politics and attempt to change the world a little more in your direction. Holy crap Michael, is that what its been about, to counter Paul Kurtz somehow within the movement (just kidding – but.. er.. no, j/k). I may be joking, but it seems a real possibility by your wording that you have worked toward a specific goal and you are trying to use the old trick of propping up your ideals through using science and the skeptical movement to legitimize them for little other purpose than a preset goal.

    I don’t know Michael, I don’t know what to think any more. The last couple years have been hard. I think Dawkins has and is making large mistakes (in claims and attitude) and he’s taken in some of his colleagues to join along (it’s a problem because of the size of the target and the attention garnered to all of us). I have a feeling there’s a couple reasons for some of what I’ve seen the past few years (1) he’s “arm twisting” by using his position of authority and respect, especially with Dennet, and recognized Harris had used his arguments in many cases and he wanted to finally move forward in his goal (much like it seems you’re doing) and (2) he wants to get the last word in on certain arguments. Even though he stopped being a practicing scientist decades ago, he’s still pissed-off Gould left him what he was hating, and disliked Gould for brandishing a deadly sword near the end of his life (no, not noma, that’s the scapegoat – though by the claims of “cowardice” guess who looks “brave”). I also think there were others that started to tickle the idea to push, especially Brockman at Edge and some other social elites who like to elevate their ideas by legitimizing them with science(ist), there was a few others at the ready which I’m sure you noticed. Good pickings and nice advances – especially if there’s that all important preplanned goal. It makes me wonder about some of your comments, especially with regards to Coyne’s latest crazy claim that “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science”, I know that’s what you were responding to in some way and I know you recognize some of these ideas by Dawkins and Coyne are ridiculous and done with a goal in mind, to save the world from irrational religion. But, your comment showed up late, and you didn’t target the comment, even though you see what’s going on and so do others, you’re just playing it safe. Is it really about being skeptical of the skeptics? Or do you just desire to not rock hard enough to cause problems in an election with a vocal group of voters that would normally support you?

    It’s definitely been a long couple years as a skeptic (atheist/secular humanist) who is trying desperately to honest to the “cause”. In a way I almost feel you see that too. However, this blog post of yours only adds to my heart break and dismay. So to does the Center For Inquiry’s increasingly dogmatic manner of constantly now offering “affirmations” and “principles” that I guess are suggestions (that put together with your views maybe we could have two worlds of atheist and skeptics, the Libertarian one world ideal and the Liberal one world ideal.) All we need is three planets now (have to have the original to run the experiment that the planet won’t survive if religion does). You had mentioned that you worry that the skeptic’s could become dogmatic (seemed you were hinting that you recognized the trend also – jesus, just look at some of these comments for evidence), but are you really sure you’re up to the fight of stopping it from happening?

    Anyways, good luck.

    Sincerely,
    Luke

  87. Robin Collins says:

    Michael,
    I wish I had the time to read all of those other letters above to see if anyone else has pointed to the crux of the problem for libertarianism in the economic sphere (ie the logic of capitalism).

    I once had a discussion with a libertarian up here in Ottawa in the early 1990s and asked a simple question, the theme of which follows shortly.

    I think there are some good ideas within libertarian thought, particularly in the realm of freedom of expression, voluntary interaction in society, and so on. But when it comes to the economics of the thing (capitalism, that is, not the left-wing version, anarcho-libertarianism), I think there is a basic assumption that is problematic.

    The premise appears to be that there is some inherent RIGHT to private property. Why is that so? Why should someone who resides on the earth have the right to OWN any part of the earth, to exploit it and thereby to derive benefit from it. One clear problem is that one could be sitting on a gold mine or a piece of shale. Does being born mean there is some automatic access to ownership of anything aside from one’s own body? I don’t see it, and I don’t understand the argument for it.

    One could support the right to live anywhere in the world (and libertarians will obviously agree here). But even moving from the shale to the gold mine, assuming that is possible (and it isn’t for the bulk of the world’s population in their lifetimes) does not obviously give one now the right to own the gold mine and all its profits — even after paying others to dig up the gold.

    All other aspects of capitalism are based on this principle (of private property derived from some process, either war, history, birthright, inheritance, or something similar). But there is no justification for that right to ownership that I can see aside from the rule of force and access to the equipment or agency that applies that force.

    I’d be interested in thoughts that explain this further.

    Robin

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Why should someone who resides on the earth have the right to OWN any part of the earth, to exploit it and thereby to derive benefit from it.

      Good question. It’s a tradition that underlies pretty much everything else in our society and predates our written history… but that isn’t a real answer, it’s just an explanation.

      • Peter says:

        Google for Hans Hoppe and “argumentation ethics” (and his book “On The Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property”)

  88. Spook says:

    So much said…I aesthetically admire the Liberty principal but have some big problems with Libertarianism from the science and the philosophy.

    First of all – I can not defend conflating “property” with “rights.” I’ve read all the arguments and I find them lacking. Shermer has tried to find an “ought” in an “is” as so many have failed to do. His lecture audio on this has been pretty reasonable.

    Most of the high end discussion in politics these days has concluded that some “good” things are incompatible. Liberty and justice have partial incompatibilities. Both of these can be hard to balance with sustainability (economically or environmentally).

    I conclude that libertarianism is unsustainable. Whether it’s more unsustainable than a mixed market is another question.

    I like mixed markets. I think seeking a system which illiminates the contradictions of the human condition is misguided.

  89. brad tittle says:

    I probably qualify as “conservative,” except the conservatives aren’t likely to really want me in their group. My conservatism takes the form of allowing the market to react as it will and to letting people fall flat on their face and allowing them to figure out how to stand up again. I might sneak a finger into a jean loop to provide a little help, but I am not going to let them know I helped them. If they think they did it by themselves they are likely to be more able next time to do it without my help.

    Helping one another does help society so long as the help isn’t expected. Feedback loops start when the help is mandated that cause the system to go awry and we end up with wellfare claimants who never get off.

    • Robin Collins says:

      Brad,

      I get your drift, but you need to go back one level.
      You assume that “standing up” on one’s own is self-evidently the road to success, but you are not clarifying what materials are used for that personal success? We have nothing but our hands and brains, but added value comes from the riches of the earth. What says you have a right to access those riches (aside from the rules of the country’s constitution) and to own the profits that accrue from them?

      R.

  90. Robin Collins says:

    Maybe another question to free market libertarians that would clarify the issue of private property is: What do think about the idea of a global commons? In other words — where everything is “owned” by everyone on the globe, or better put, NOTHING is owned by anyone on the planet, aside from what it takes to personally survive. Everything is borrowed and loaned from the global commons.

    I’m not suggesting that free marketeers like the idea of a global commons, but what is the intellectual argument against it, from the right libertarian point of view?

    If I were to say that there is no inherent right to own the earth by any individual or individuals, then is there a contrary argument that says there is no right that prevents ownership of the earth, for instance?

    “Rights” are determined by laws, assuming no religious edict here. Laws are defined by humans. Laws can be changed, so there cannot be any inherent rights to anything.

    • Peter says:

      Stupid idea. Who has permission to “borrow” anything from the global commons? Who do they have to ask? What if someone else wants to borrow it to? What about things which cannot be borrowed (the use of which will result in their destruction/modification)? Who determines what it takes to personally survive? And why would people want to live in this state of barely getting by (“just enough to survive”), even if there was an arbiter for the first question?

      If I were to say that there is no inherent right to own the earth by any individual or individuals,

      What does that even mean? If it’s not presently owned by someone else, and it’s useful to me, why should anyone care if I use it? And if I use it long-term way, why should some late-comer be able to take it away? That’s ownership, right there.

    • Peter says:

      “What if someone else wants to borrow it too

  91. TryUsingLogic says:

    Michael Shermer has written great articles about the need to discuss God and religion using an approach that does not drive off the audience that needs to rationally look at the facts and discuss the realities. Using the same courteous style he has stated why he is a Libertarian and why free markets make the most sense to him and gives an extensive list of references and reasons why he has come to that conclusion. Liberal’s should listen and discuss this with the respect he has shown.

    One thing I have learned from my exposure to critical thinkers……when it comes to Religions, the believers don’t really want to discuss God and the real world facts except on their terms….and when it comes to government, liberals don’t want to discuss oppressive government power and its destructive effects on mankind except on their terms.

    One thing alone should verify free markets…..since the beginning of life on Earth, the most advanced and exciting place ever developed for prosperity, freedom and wellbeing for all is The United States….even with its complex problems and blending of ideas. It was sought out and founded by men looking for indiviual freedom and minimal government! What has constantly changed since then…..more government and less freedom.

    As time goes on we lose more and more rights…and things are definitely not lookin better with the current regime.

    One of the best “cut to the chase” talks I have ever seen..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A

    If a liberal or religion can convince me with facts that socialism is good or God is great……I would listen up……with a skeptical mind!

    TryUsingLogic

    • B M-H says:

      “One thing alone should verify free markets…..since the beginning of life on Earth, the most advanced and exciting place ever developed for prosperity, freedom and wellbeing for all is The United States.”

      Travel much, do you? Read newspapers sometimes? Read the recently released ‘Torture Memos’ perhaps? Very ‘advanced’ and ‘exciting’!

      Yes, you’re right – a lot of things have changed in the United States since the wonderful ideals of the country’s founding. And your right in that people have to perpetually exert their right to control their government. I can see libertarianism as a reaction to the country’s current problems: but it’s a purely negative reaction based on untested and logically inviable hypothesis.

      Regardless of our political disagreement, I think we might degree on the precedence of dealing with genuine, immediate, and very tangible problems over constructing mental utopias – whether they’re socialist or libertarian?

  92. Howard says:

    Inside of every Hank Reardon is an Oren Boyle waiting for the time they too will be wealthy and powerful enough to use the government for their own, private protection against the very thing that made him or her wealthy and powerful in the first place … the free market.

    As Herbert Hoover said, “The only thing wrong with Capitalism is Capitalists.”

  93. TryUsingLogic says:

    I think it could be said…

    “The only thing wrong with Socialism is Socialists.”

    One other thing….I have been following Shermer’s writing and interviews for 5 years…..and during that time he has mentioned many times his free market stand and libertarianism……

    What’s the big deal?

    TryUsingLogic

    • B M-H says:

      This is a blog in which Shermer is one member of several. It’s devoted to skeptical issues, not personal politics.

      Shermer has used this forum to promote an ideological belief and he’s attempting to establish an correlation between skepticism and libertarianism by implying that the same rational process supports both.

      Many skeptics resent libertarians imposing their ideology on skepticism. Some of us find it funny, some of us find it annoying, some of us even find it a complete embarrassment.

      That’s the big deal.

      • kabol says:

        count me on Team NOT a Big Deal.

        maybe when you’re an actual contributing member of this website, BMH, you can make the rules regarding what the contributors may and may not contribute.

      • B M-H says:

        Oh – did my expression of opinion just repress your freedom of expression? Sorry about that.

      • kabol says:

        Oh – did my expression of opinion just repress your freedom of expression? Sorry about that.

        did i say that it did? i’m simply commenting on your tiresome penchant for stating what you think should and should not be discussed on this blog; ie obviously you think discussing politics/economics is a big NO-NO – especially if the opinions given differ from yours.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Many skeptics resent libertarians imposing their ideology on skepticism. Some of us find it funny, some of us find it annoying, some of us even find it a complete embarrassment.

        If it is in fact true that skeptical analysis leads to certain market conclusions, why should Shermer keep quiet about it? Why is that an “ideology” and not an economic theory?

        Because people like you don’t like his conclusions? Now that is an embarrassment.

  94. Jim Bechtel says:

    As founder of a local skeptics group I’m generally on Shermer’s side with most things, but be careful. Economics wasn’t called “the dismal science” for nothing. To me, a libertarian’s faith in the Invisible Hand is the same as a fundamentalist’s faith in the Invisible Friend; a superstition. I’ll limit myself to two points.

    1. Consider slave markets. There is nothing in the Invisible Hand of Supply & Demand, no morality inherent in capitalism, that forbids making profit from the buying and selling of human beings. The market’s only commandment is: Buy low, sell high. Therefore it is incomplete as a useful theory of human behavior. And the glut of material goods it produces is not necessarily a blessing, for the reasons MIT’s Sut Jhally analyzes: http://www.sutjhally.com/articles/advertisingattheed/

    2. Socialism. This is only a word, and a broad one at that, an umbrella term for various criticisms of capitalism. Consider Fabian socialism, that is, using the power of the vote to make the economic system more humane. Just as Western Europeans have shaken off religion, they have shaken off economic myths popular with Americans, and to many Swedes and English and Germans, “economic democracy” (“socialism” to Americans) not only makes sense but provides higher living standards and an all-round better civilization.
    For a full analysis of the defects of Libertarianism, see
    http://www.jimbechtel.com/Essays/libertarianism.html
    Meanwhile, a couple references:

    On the results of the European versus American approaches, see Do Social Welfare Policies Reduce Poverty? A Cross-National Assessment, by Lane Kenworthy, Luxembourg Income Studies Working paper No. 188, Sept 1998.

    Besides Sut Jhally, also check out primatologist Robert Sapolsky’s thoughts on material comfort versus happiness: http://www.eurekalert.org/bysubject/index.php?kw=16

    And see Stephen K. Sanderson‘s pioneering synthesis of evolutionary psychology and socioeconomics; The Evolution of Human Sociality.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      There is nothing in the Invisible Hand of Supply & Demand, no morality inherent in capitalism, that forbids making profit from the buying and selling of human beings.

      This is actually not true. The premise of libertarianism is that you own yourself, therefore, slavery is theft. In capitalism, theft is immoral.

      • Jim Bechtel says:

        Seth, think a little harder.
        The classic study of Brazilian culture is The Masters and the Slaves, by Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre (of Columbia and Stanford). Among other topics, Freyre points out that Roman Catholic Brazil preserved ancient Roman ideas, customs which ameliorated the practice of slavery –on Festival Days (Church “Holy Days“) they were free to work for themselves to save money to buy their freedom, for example, whereas the Protestants who settled North America subsumed slaves under the category of private property, and being good capitalists, held that the sacred rights of private property meant nobody could tell the slave owner what to do. In Brazil, moral considerations weakened capitalism, resulting in today’s multi-racial society. In America, economic considerations strengthened slavery, resulting in today’s racism and segregation.

        A libertarian once replied to me that slave traders, those Dutch and English Protestant sea captains, weren’t “real” capitalists, which would have dumbfounded their investors in the early stock exchanges in Amsterdam’s Beurs and London’s Threadneedle Street. This argument is akin to the one they make about the 1890s; the Robber Barons weren’t “real” capitalists -or even (Orwellian) that there never was any such thing as Robber Barons.

        Capitalism and religion both co-existed comfortably with slavery for centuries. I can’t resist quoting Nobelist Stephen Weinberg on this. After reviewing the history of secular abolitionism and the resistance from religion (especially from pious pro-slavery Southern Baptists), he commented “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil, but for good people to do evil –that takes religion.” (NYR 10/21/99).

        To me, it seems that capitalist slave markets must be for Libertarians what fossils are for Creationists: a huge embarrassment, with no way to explain them away, and devastating to their side. But in both cases you could waste the rest of your life trying to get through to the True Believers. Neither slave markets nor fossils matter if you “have faith.” And capitalism is, at heart, a religious faith.

        Capitalism’s big boost came out of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Calvinist merchants and traders convinced themselves that “wealth is God’s reward for virtue” (and if so then poverty is obviously His punishment for sin). Catholics, having their ….
        [for the rest, read the section on "Morality" in my essay, link previously provided]

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Seth, think a little harder.

        Okay. i thought a little harder. To repeat: the central tenet of libertarianism is that you own yourself, therefore, slavery is immoral. Which part of this are you having difficulty understanding?

      • Jim Bechtel says:

        Then Libertarianism has nothing to do with capitalism, does it? Unless you think you can ignore a couple centuries of what capitalists (including those in the slave trade) actually did, said, wrote and thought, and just substitute your own special definition (“central tenet”). I’ll repeat just one more time, read the whole essay, in three sections: the empirical evidence of history regarding economic systems, human nature (evolutionary psychology), and morality (claims of Libertarians versus reality).
        http://www.jimbechtel.com/Essays/libertarianism.html

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Then Libertarianism has nothing to do with capitalism, does it?

        No, then libertarianism is not wholly equivalent to capitalism. You can tell because we use two words and we use them differently.

  95. Beelzebud says:

    What I find lame about this post, is that you’re attempting to equate Libertarianism with critical thinking, being skeptical, and scientific thought, as if Libertarianism is the only logical conclusion to be made. What you’re doing here isn’t much different than a creationist trying to wrap their beliefs up in scientific sounding mumbo-jumbo.

    You’re a libertarian. Great. Step two is realizing that it’s a personal view that isn’t proven by rational thinking or science. Don’t expect all scientists, and rational people to jump on board, because politics isn’t an exact science, and the conclusions you’ve made can’t be proven like an equation.

    That’s why I find these types of posts a misuse of what I thought this site was supposed to be about. If you guys got a TV show, would you have episodes dedicated to furthering the cause Libertarians? How is that related to skepticism? FFS the Libertarian party had Richard Hoagland as a speaker during their convention in 2008, making the case for why NASA should be abolished…. Is that really a party that respects critical thinking and the scientific method.

    • kabol says:

      What I find lame about this post, is that you’re attempting to equate Libertarianism with critical thinking, being skeptical, and scientific thought, as if Libertarianism is the only logical conclusion to be made.

      i didn’t get that from shermer’s article at all. i took it as an attempt by shermer to explain and give some background about his own political conclusions which are obviously highly disagreeable to many others in the skeptical community.

      i certainly don’t understand the level of vitriol coming from the skeptics who are obviously so in-the-know about what these evidently real skeptics may and may not reach conclusions about when it comes to political “science”.

      is there a book on “what to be skeptical about?” or “how to be the best skeptic ever?” if so, i must run out and get it.

    • nexalacer says:

      “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” – Ayn Rand

      Michael Shermer claims to hold critical thinking and skepticism as his highest principles. While sticking to those principles, he came to agree with libertarian philosophy.

      The Libertarian party (note the big “L”… it’s a title, not philosophy) has hosted non-critical, non-skeptical thinkers.

      Your assumption that because the Libertarian party is irrational, libertarian philosophy must also be. That is your faulty premise.

      There are no contradictions in reality.

    • Peter says:

      … Libertarianism with critical thinking, being skeptical, and scientific thought, as if Libertarianism is the only logical conclusion to be made.

      Which is false because…err…you don’t like that conclusion? Unwarranted assumption. What if that is the only logical conclusion to be made?

  96. Sark says:

    I used to be a libertarian. Hell, I even met Ron Paul (twice!). But, as the past tense indicates, I no longer am. The reason was that all of Libertarian philosophy is based on a premise that is shaky, to say the least: namely, that we live in a meritocracy. In my mind, that is the ONLY way that libertarianism can be considered ‘fair’ or ‘just’. Otherwise it seems that you’re just punishing people for having been born into a poorer family than you. I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged (and don’t plan to, not even with my summer vacation), but I know the gist of it. Perhaps someone could correct me, but I’m guessing that Rand considered all the rich people who went on ‘strike’ to be successful because they were the “best and brightest”. To me that seems naive in the extreme. It’s much more likely that they simply had parents who were rich. The empirical information that really put the nail in the coffin for me was that social mobility is much higher in many ‘socialist’ (according to that intellectual titan Glenn Beck) countries than is it is the relatively libertarian US of A.
    To me, libertarianism seems like a fun thought experiment that can never be replicated in reality; rather like John Rawls whole ‘veil of ignorance’ idea. I will say unequivocally that IF I lived in a true meritocracy I would be a Libertarian. But I’m not hopeful that we ever will be rid of nepotism.

    • Robin Collins says:

      ok, for the sake of argument, if we all lived in an “even” and just society, would you then support libertarianism? I think your premise of meritocracy isn’t strong enough to justify libertarianism. Eventually there will be an accumulation of wealth based on ownership of the earth and there will be winners and losers; there will be inheritance, and there will be vast wealth held by the very few.

      When Bill Gates gives away his money, should we celebrate or should we say “it ain’t really yours to begin with”. Nobody can accumulate that wealth without the labours of others, and the raw materials buried in the earth.

      But I’m repeating myself now…

      • Sark says:

        I think that’s exactly what I said in my second to last sentence.

        I never said that an “even” society was just or even desirable. That’s what communists say. I’m not one.

        I said a meritocracy; a society where one’s success is determined solely (or at least almost solely) by one’s competence, not by one’s inherited wealth or connections.

        I’m in favor of disparities of wealth. Some people have more discipline, intelligence and competence than others. They should have a disparate portion of the wealth. Libertarians seem to assume this is how things work in the real world, when there’s very little evidence to suggest so. Would George Bush ever has come even close to the White House had his father not been a former president? To ask the question is to answer it.

      • Robin Collins says:

        ok, I misquoted you.

        but you’re clearer here and let me take you up on that:

        You are not against disparities (presumably under the assumption that success is determined by work, ambition, skill and … chance, right?)

        So if you are born on a field of gold, do you get to own that gold (why?), and then to profit from that advantage, to accumulate wealth, to purchase more wealth, and in theory come to control the larger economy (all of this appears linear in my example, but you get the drift). All else based on merit, there is still an advantage dependent on the “property” you accumulate day one (and how?)

        The wealth tangent that begins there is based on the assumption that there is some right to own the earth or its riches. Where does that ownership come from?

        R.

      • Robin Collins says:

        or are you saying that the accumulation of wealth is based on merit only, and everyone starts with the same zero accumulation?

        If you are saying that, then compare with the marxian axiom:

        From each according to his work, to each according to his need (needs being different). In other words compensation is not equal, but how should it be determined? By the market place? Or by “needs”, whatever they are?

        There isn’t necessarily a lot of distance in the two concepts, assuming there is not inherent right to property.

        …of course, then there is inheritance, which also conflicts with the concept of a merit only society.

        R

      • Sark says:

        I certainly wouldn’t try eliminate parents who are wealthier trying to help their children get an advantage. In addition to being ‘just’, an economic system shouldn’t try and go against basic human nature. By that same token I wouldn’t get rid of inheritance.
        A system where merit is the ONLY thing that determines success is clearly unachievable. However, I think we can make great steps in that direction. For me, the biggest thing is education. Rich kids will always get to go to the best schools, but I think poor children should get an equitable (not equal, thats impossible) education, so that they can compete with the rich kids.

        A sign to me that we are on the right track would be if the wealth of one’s family wasn’t the most accurate predictor of one ends up financially (as, I think you will find, is currently the case).

        As far as a ‘right’ to own property; all rights are socially constructed. However, to my knowledge, the only societies that did(do) not believe in ownership of the earth and its resources were(are) very primitive indeed (EX: American Indians). I don’t think its possible to have a modern civilization without ownership.

    • nexalacer says:

      Going with your assertion that we don’t live in a meritocracy, I’m not sure how you could logically support an institution that is defined by a monopoly on the “just” initiation of force, i.e the state.

      If people are willing to forgo one’s merits in the passing on of wealth and power and they are willing to advance their own social status through nepotism, then surely they would be attracted to the institution which holds the most potential for wealth and power, which is historically the state. As the state also holds the monopoly on “just” initiation of force, and nepotism is not a crime worthy of self-defensive violence, the people who are amoral enough to use the state for their own ends will also be amoral enough use the force of the state to continue their ability to achieve such ends. Since this is precisely what you fear, we cannot have a state.

      And of course, if your assertion is wrong, and we do live in a meritocracy, then there’s no need for a state by your own admission.

      Either way, your abandoning of your principles was made in error, I believe. For more info on a principled approach to libertarianism that would not allow for the nepotism that you fear, check out Stefan Molyneux’s podcasts at Freedomain Radio! I think you’ll enjoy them, even if you don’t agree with them!

  97. André Forget says:

    Alors que j’étais en pleine lecture du livre de Naomi Klein ”The Shock Doctrine The rise of disaster capitalism ” je tombe sur ce texte de Michael Shermer ”How I became a Libertarian”

    Je me retrouve dans la peau du témoin de la rencontre d’une masse infinie et et d’une force toute aussi infinie.

    Les héros de Naomi sont les démons de Michael et vice versa.

    Je dois avouer que je ne vois plus le libre marché comme je le voyais il n’y a pas très longtemps.

  98. TryUsingLogic says:

    I find it interesting that many skeptics here are trying to define what we should be skeptical about.

    B M-H says
    “Many skeptics resent libertarians imposing their ideology on skepticism. Some of us find it funny, some of us find it annoying, some of us even find it a complete embarrassment”

    I find it narrow and frightening that one would even suggest a controlled parameter of discussion topics.

    I don’t see Shermer threatening anyone with his views…he’s enjoying the freedoms we have by telling you about them. Everyone was screaming for him to explain himself…he did…the liberal’s are disappointed. His skeptical thinking has led him to reasonable conclusions based on his work…..other skeptics prefer the god of government for what ever reasons. What a great topic to discuss and research with a skeptic mind.

    Those who say there is no data and science to back up free markets and democracy should read more….
    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DP.BACKSIDE.V.16.PDF
    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DP.CHART.V19.PDF

    I think this fits into Shermers’s chapter–“Why very smart people believe weird things.”

    TryUsing

    • kabol says:

      I find it interesting that many skeptics here are trying to define what we should be skeptical about…
      I find it narrow and frightening that one would even suggest a controlled parameter of discussion topics…What a great topic to discuss and research with a skeptic mind.

      WELL SAID tryusing, and i couldn’t agree more.

    • B M-H says:

      You’re illuminating the reason many skeptics have a problem with this:

      What you see as “Shermer’s enjoying the freedoms we have by telling you about them”, others see as him imposing his politics into an inappropriate forum. If you follow the other authors on this blog, you’ll notice that none of them use this as a vehicle for expounding their political preferences. They all have political views, but they have the decency not to look for converts here.

      And, as for “everyone was screaming for him to explain himself”. Try “some people wanted to know what this has to to with skepticism” and “people were screaming for him to shut up about libertarianism’.

      Just look at the way this forum’s been converted to a purely political discussion on the merits and defects of libertarianism. It’s a pathetic cry for attention and validation.

      • kabol says:

        Just look at the way this forum’s been converted to a purely political discussion on the merits and defects of libertarianism. It’s a pathetic cry for attention and validation.

        that’s YOUR take on it. you and maybe one other person posting in these comments. everyone else seems to be able to discuss/debate the issue without having such a Huge Worry that shermer is going to convert the skeptical masses into libertarians. oh my!

        how many posts have YOU made, BMH, that contribute to this supposed “pathetic cry for attention and validation”, anyway?

      • B M-H says:

        It’s hard to resist: though I don’t like the forum being hijacked, mocking libertarians is serious hobby. I’m just torn between worlds here.

        But I suppose contempt for libertarians will always win out. And besides, the more of a mess this becomes, the more obvious the manipulative roll libertarians have adopted in skepticism will be.

        My main point is that Shermer’s attempting to validate his interjection of politics by implying that the rational process behind supporting libertarianism is equivalent to the rationality behind skepticism.

        I disagree with this on the grounds that libertarianism is a system of political, social, and economic theories directed toward non-objective goals. There’s no way to empirically establish that they are “correct”; instead they demand a personal belief that they will prove to be correct.

        There’s nothing wrong with holding such a belief (although I certainly don’t), but there’s something definitely wrong with pretending that it’s “scientific”.

        Care to comment on this subject?

      • kabol says:

        i guess they call it “political science” for a reason.

        i don’t disagree with you that political beliefs are not, by their very nature – being beliefs – scientific. just to be clear, is your whole argument here based on your opinion that “behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and evolutionary economics” are not sciences? cause that’s the only place in shermer’s entire article where i saw him even remotely attempt to connect politics with science, and even there – reading his last sentence, it seems to be in a self-deprecating manner — he’s obviously not some sinister libertarian Dr. Evil on a mission.

        so i DO disagree with your style of posting which seems to be attempting to paint shermer’s article as some sort of evil plot to convert those of us who aren’t in his political camp and/or aren’t taking a label just yet.

        shermer even states in the article that it’s GOOD to be skeptical of his politics, does he not?

      • B M-H says:

        Yes, I’m suggesting economic and political science are distinct in methodology and purpose. I think the distinction is a key one, so I’d like to turn the question back on you:

        Do you consider them equivalent?

        And no, I don’t think Shermer is engaged in an evil plot, just that he’s conflating ideas in a manner that’s not appropriate. I think we might’ve put our finger exactly on where we disagree here?

      • kabol says:

        Do you consider them equivalent?

        i believe that i just stated in no uncertain terms that i do not. then again, i don’t see where shermer, in the blog article, has stated that he is actually equating them either – if anything he appears to be on some educational journey to attempt to pin it down in some way.

        your assumption of his motives appears to be the basis for your finger-wagging “don’t-post-that!-it’s-not-really-something-a-skeptic-should-discuss!” soap-box sermons.

        if i’m wrong, please correct my perception of your tone.

      • B M-H says:

        You’re half right. My problem is with him presenting something non-scientific as scientific. It’s immoral, manipulative, and self-deluded. You can refer to my trouncing of you elsewhere for details.

      • kabol says:

        You’re half right. My problem is with him presenting something non-scientific as scientific.

        which he hasn’t done. i’m still waiting for your SPECIFIC quotes.

        It’s immoral, manipulative, and self-deluded. You can refer to my trouncing of you elsewhere for details.

        you’re very sure of yourself.

        sort of aztec warrior ends up…..

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Just look at the way this forum’s been converted to a purely political discussion on the merits and defects of libertarianism. It’s a pathetic cry for attention and validation.

        That’s not even remotely true. This forum is convering a lot of ground, and it isn’t purely political, its predominantly economic.

        It seems like you want to restrict skeptical analysis of the world to certain topics, topics that you approve of. Too damn bad. Skepticism can be applied to politics and economics and it should be. The idea that we should steer clear of topics that you don’t approve of is asinine.

      • B M-H says:

        Skepticism (of the nature promoted by this blog) is effective because it’s limited to empirically-grounded enquiry. Co-opting it to subjective topics works against the integrity of holding skeptical perspective at all.

        So, yes. You’re right about my attitue: 100%

      • kabol says:

        Co-opting it to subjective topics works against the integrity of holding skeptical perspective at all.

        please point out, and be specific, exactly where in shermer’s article he “co-opts” skepticism in the name of libertarianism.

        again, be specific – use quotes.

      • B M-H says:

        Is there another way to describe this exercise?

      • kabol says:

        Is there another way to describe this exercise?

        which “exercise”? mocking and being contemptuous of libertarians or mocking the anti-lib mockers?
        shermer’s blog entry?

        i’d categorize each, unscientifically so, as informational entertainment.

      • kabol says:

        i requested, oh so unmockingly – “again, be specific – use quotes.”

        BMH, you didn’t pick the right door.

        you are booted off of skeptic island.

        :)

      • B M-H says:

        I don’t think you’re on the voting committee, Kabol.

        Now here’s you quote:

        Although capitalism may not need apologists and propagandists, it does need a scientific foundation. In this sense, then, my entire career has been building toward this project, and my tenth book, The Mind of the Market, lays down a scientific foundation for capitalism through three new sciences: behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and evolutionary economics.

        In this concluding paragraph Shermer does the following:

        1) He presents *THREE NEW (self-invented) SCIENCES*.

        2) He equates these *NEW SCIENCES* with empirical science, thus establishing a connection between skepticism and his non-empirically-verifiable political theories.

        3) In the context of a skeptical forum, he pushes his new book about his *THREE NEW SCIENCES*. His book is clearly, by own his description, an expression of libertarian economic theory and ideology.

        I can’t think of a clearer example of co-opting skepticism in the name of libertarianism.

        Kabul: you are PWND. Stick that in your Libertarian-Trollpipe and smoke it.

      • B M-H says:

        After reading my reply to you in the following segment, I bet you wish there was a ‘delete’ option.

      • B M-H says:

        See below.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Damn, BMH… that is weak.

        Shermer did not invent evolutionary economics. The seminal work in the field was written almost thirty years ago, in 1982.

        He did not invent behavioral economics. The oldest paper in behavioral economics that is listed at wikipedia predates Michael Shermer’s birth by about a half century.

        He did not invent Neuroeconomics. The folks at the Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics at George Mason have been at it for several years without his help.

        Do you even bother to do cursory research before sounding off?

        So, basically, you’ve essentially revealed that you don’t think Michael Shermer is a skeptic because you are ignorant and almost shockingly incurious.

        Nice.

      • kabol says:

        I can’t think of a clearer example of co-opting skepticism in the name of libertarianism.

        i can – an exact quote. instead of your prejudicial and evidently so you think psychic “i know what he’s thinking” crap.

        Kabul: you are PWND. Stick that in your Libertarian-Trollpipe and smoke it.

        you don’t read very carefully. i’m not a libetarian.

        but i’ll keep your troll moves in mind when i’m in the presence of actual skeptics.

      • TryLogic says:

        Shermer’s latest book The Mind Of The Market is an expression of his findings based on evolutionary research and history.

        I suppose you think he should keep quite about it? It seems like more and more people see your view as naive or foolish.

        Our lives are possessed by religion and government….we should talk about ways to stay on the best path and every aspect of making that path better for all.

        I hope the skeptic’s tent gets bigger…not narrower!

        TryUsingLogic

      • B M-H says:

        Bigger, wider, smaller, narrower, I just hope it maintains a level of integrity.

      • TryLogic says:

        Does that mean?

        You alone can identify integrity..
        When it agrees with your view?

  99. Doug Danhoff says:

    I have read many negative views on your above article Micheal and as you may recall we have had our disagreements in the past, but I laud you your goals and your progress toward both.
    I do find it difficult to believe that you can ever reach your goals fighting one handed as you are.
    Your conversion -reconversion was obviously not as deeply held as you imply. I am a libertarian in the sense that less government involvment allows for higher standards of living and better advancement of the sciences…even when these are self surving.
    I also believe that this is something that man can not do without an understanding of their creator…createrof not only all of us , but of the minds we use to worm reason out of chaos. It is , in my mind the ultimate gift of God; that puzzle of life and the means to understand it all.
    I am a conservative (and I believe you have more conservative readers than you seem to think) in that tolerance has a lower value than doing what is right as each sees the light. Tolerance is indeed a vice when used by some to tolerate some of the very anti-social and unhuman views of the extremes in society.
    And I am an Evangelical in that I believe and have the assurance of my faith in my own life. Rejecting this part of the human experience is an obstruction not assitence in understanding the whole of humanity.
    I find it not at all difficult to maintain this balance, and feel that I am perhaps as complete a person as I possibly can be in this existence (not denying growth in each part of myself)

    Lastly, I am a skeptic because I see the uses man has made of those others less fortunate, less educated, and less able, all under guise of urgency, plying to false hopes and understanding, for dubious reasons.
    The enormous fraud of anthroprogenic global warming and the alarmists who push this philosophy/religion for purposes of self agrandizment come first to mind in our time.
    Thank you for this note of yours that allows us to understand you better.

  100. Jason says:

    Libertarianism misses the point of government entirely. Government does not take away freedom when it regulates, it preserves freedom when it regulates. But don’t argue with me, take it up with Jefferson:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    It’s this consent of the governed that allows regulation of the free market. I give consent to congress to regulate me, because I know that things like antitrust statutes, OSHA regulations, FDIC guarantees, and FDA approval requirements protect my pursuit of happiness, and in some cases my life. But wait, say the libertarians, many laws go to far, they are excessive and interfere too much in my affairs! Turns out ol’ Tom addressed that too:

    “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

    So guess what, if you feel the government is destructive to your pursuit of happiness, go ahead and alter it. Run for office, or write your representatives, or protest, or lobby… The government isn’t “them”, it’s “us.” If government is the problem, then we’re the problem. “We the people”, remember? If you don’t like it, work to change it. If you can’t convince enough people to make the changes you want, your idea isn’t good enough. There’s a free market for you, the free market of ideas about government!

    • David Jones says:

      That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it

      That was his excuse, pace Hobbes, for the revolution. Revolution’s a slightly excessive response at the moment.

  101. Goudeau says:

    The simple form is that all government is force. Libertarianism is the only ethical form of government because it is the only form that advocates as little force as possible. Libertarians advocate using as small a government as is possible and the result is as little intrusion as possible.

    If you don’t think government is force, try not paying for it. They will come with guns and get you.

    Any government form is forced ethics. The one that forces the least has to be the most preferred.

    Many of you are blaming Libertarian ideals for the cheating people have done. That is not part of the ideal or the philosophy. Some people will cheat every system they can because not everyone is ethical. At least with Libertarianism we start with the idea that you are free. What other system offers that?

    • tmac57 says:

      In my opinion the large scope of government that Libertarians dislike,arose incrementally by society trying to deal with the excesses (cheating,stealing,murder,fraud,lack of ethics,etc) that people tend to do when left to do whatever they want. That doesn’t mean that all laws and regulations are ultimately good, because there are often unintended consequences.That being said, it is naive to believe that simply paring down the complex set of laws and supporting governance to the bone,will free us all and make life so much better. You will see in short order that the unethical and criminal elements among us will quickly exploit society and make the Wall Street fiasco look like a kids party. They are already doing this on a smaller scale, but without the current checks in place we will be much easier prey.
      In short, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and don’t think that just because you are a fine, upstanding, ethical,rational,fair,rule-abiding person, that everyone else is.Empirically, they are not.

  102. Dan says:

    I enjoyed your blog post Michael. I found my way to libertarianism via much the same path that you took. I enjoyed your book, “Mind Of The Market”. I have also enjoyed Hayek and Mises. A votre sante!

  103. James says:

    Great post, Dr. Shermer. I think you should run for president on the Libertarian ticket in 2012 – with the economy collapsing, and the two parties clueless as to how to handle it, you might have a shot!

  104. Scott says:

    This has been very informative. In the original post, and in all the comments I have read, I have not found a single reason why Libertarianism would create a more just, equal, prosperous and democratic society for all to live in. I have read numerous criticisms and arguments for why it WOULDN’T do so, but no one has yet given me any reason to believe I should want a Libertarian society for my son to grow up in. Every supporter has just ranted against tyranny and oppression, but offered no concrete explanation of how Libertarianism delivers utopia. How would it actually work, in the nitty-gritty day-to-day world, not in some theory?

  105. kabol says:

    This has been very informative. In the original post, and in all the comments I have read, I have not found a single reason why Libertarianism would create a more just, equal, prosperous and democratic society for all to live in.

    perhaps that’s because presenting an actual treatise on why libertarianism is da bomb was NOT the purpose of the original article.

    i’m really sort of confused as to how so many obviously intelligent people have missed that very basic point. is it because, like religion, the passion for politics clouds perception and the ability to read something objectively?

    • Scott says:

      Granted, but how come no one can offer SOME support for the actual inner workings of it? I’m left with the impression that to be a Libertarian requires a faith conversion, which I am safe in assuming would NOT be Dr. Shermer’s intent on SKEPTICblog.

      • kabol says:

        again, showing support for the inner workings of libertarianism was *obviously* not the purpose of the article.

        if it were, BMH might have had a leg to stand on.

        :)

      • B M-H says:

        Wrong, Kabol. Given the context he’s published it in, that’s the only possible purpose of the article: equating libertarianism with skepticism. Why not just admit it and argue from a logical position for a change?

      • B M-H says:

        But I am glad to have made my points coherently enough for you to single me out as your antithesis, Kabol – thanks. I’ll wear my anti-libertarian badge with pride, believe me!

      • kabol says:

        Given the context he’s published it in, that’s the only possible purpose of the article: equating libertarianism with skepticism. Why not just admit it and argue from a logical position for a change?

        i haven’t read any of shermer’s books. i simply read this blog article. i find your agenda amusing.

        But I am glad to have made my points coherently enough for you to single me out as your antithesis, Kabol – thanks. I’ll wear my anti-libertarian badge with pride, believe me!

        (re: making points coherently) gosh, i always have a hard time reading. forgive me.

        you are not my antithesis.

        but it’s cute that you think so.

      • B M-H says:

        You’re out of ammo, Kabol. Reload.

      • kabol says:

        You’re out of ammo, Kabol. Reload.

        move the goal posts some more, BMH.

        i’ll always have more “ammo” against someone who thinks they have no weakness.

  106. Excellent. I appreciate Mr. Shermer’s time and effort in laying this out. Of course, the statists will cry and scream, but their inconsistencies will always show the flaws in believing in the false god of the state.

  107. Emily Rosa says:

    Great article Shermer!
    Lots of Love,
    Emily Rosa

    • B M-H says:

      Wow: here come the libertarian yes-men. Nothing to contribute but the sheer weight of their highly-individualistic agreement.

      I wonder if (maybe just perhaps) a link was just posted at the Cato Intitute?

      • kabol says:

        Nothing to contribute but the sheer weight of their highly-individualistic agreement.

        rut roh – careful there – you might just instigate even more debate and discussion about this apparently skeptically tabu topic of economics/politics!

        tsk tsk!

      • B M-H says:

        Oh c’mon, you know I’ve taken this hook.

  108. Steven Hendley says:

    Didn’t read through all the comments, so apologies are in order if I’m simply repeating some points already made. But what strikes me as worrisome in Shermer’s essay is the uncanny resemblence between his search for a scientific foundation for libertarianism and early to mid twentieth century communists searching for a scientific foundation for communism (or, more accurately, developing the work of the “master,” Marx). Though the latter effort certainly involved a use of reason, it was ultimately a rationalization for an ideology that was growing increasingly insensitive to historical evidence of the problems with communist economics. And though I suspect things aren’t quite that bad with Shermer, I think something similar is happening. We’re currently living through an economic crisis that anyone without an ideological axe to grind can see has been brought on, principally, by the excesses of increasingly unregulated forms of free market capitalism. Surely skepticism in our thinking about economics demands that we stop looking for scientific foundations (rationalizations) of our wonderfully simple ideas of economics, be they libertarian or communist, but begin recognizing that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to economics doesn’t work. Economic realities are too messy for that. We can recognize the value and efficiency of a free market in, say, sweaters and beers, while also recognizing that a free market in health care may not be advisable. Being rational with economics, being skeptical, requires a recognition of a more nuanced and complicated economic reality. And I see that no more in libertarianism and Shermer’s account of his own experiences with it than with the dogmatic Marxists (now probably extinct everywhere but, perhaps, North Korea) of the last century.

    • tlav says:

      You’ve overlooked a major difference between Shermer and the communists to which you refer. If Shermer holds to his skepticism and is practicing what he calls Darwin’s Dictum, then his position on libertarianism will be altered if that is what the science dictates. So, no need to worry.

  109. Al Lowi says:

    Thanks for your very informative autobiography. I was reminded of Jerome Tuccille’s libertarian history “It All Started With Ayn Rand.” Big difference between you and Tuccille: you credit Galambos with important insignts whereas Tuccille denounces him. I hope you will offer your piece to Dr. Walter Block at LewRockwell.com for inclusion in his libertarian autobio collection.

    At the end of your essay, you said “It is my goal now to continuing construction on the libertarian edifice, and perhaps one day even attempt to translate theory into practice through politics … libertarian politics of course.” This sudden embrace of politics belies a lack of understanding of the teachings of Galambos and Snelson. If there is any merit in what they taught, in which you profess well-considered acceptance, you must find the term “libertarian politics” an oxymoron on second thought. Otherwise, your skepticism is selective and your gullibility is ingrained.

    Alvin

    • kabol says:

      you obviously didn’t get the joke, and like many here probably read the entire article in a glowing red haze of anti-libertarian angst.

      • kabol says:

        by the by and fwiw, i don’t consider myself libertarian and will quite likely never manage to get through “atlas shrugged”.

        woe is me.

  110. Political and social science issues are certainly fodder for skeptical scrutiny, but productive discussion depends on the participators first agreeing on a common definition of terms.

    If one thing is obvious from even a cursory scan of these posts it is that there are multiple definitions in play for just about every term in play.

    If we are not careful, this discussion could turn into a free-for-all of recriminations, entrenchment, and expressions of mystery over how anyone could come to a conclusion different than one’s own.

    OK, too late.

    • kabol says:

      how dare you! you non-skeptically thinking psuedo skeptic! or maybe it’s overly critically thinking uber-skeptic…

      :)

  111. Juan Carlos says:

    In a nutshell, Shermer tells us that he read a bunch of books about libertarianism, took a bunch of classes on it and related to people with his same ideas. How is this rational? The basis of rational thought is the carefully comparison of opposing ideas. What Shermer tells us is that he has completely indoctrinated himself in an ideology. This is not rational, it is not science and, most of all, it is not being skeptical.

    I look forward to the day in which he will grow out of the libertarian ideology, just like he grew out of evangelical Christianity, to finally become a free thinker, free of the shackles of any ideology.

    • kabol says:

      can we get an amen and a hallelujah from the other anti-libs out there?

      How is this rational?

      yes, well – i’m sure your own educational background and formation of opinion was a highly “rational” undertaking.

      everyone isn’t born a skeptic, you know.

      good gawd, imagine lots of little baby carl sagans running amok! actually, that’s probably not such a bad idea…

      • Juan Carlos says:

        <>

        I grew up in Franco’s Spain, a dictatorship. I was indoctrinated by Opus Dei since age 7. When I was 15 I left Catholicism to become agnostic and a great lover of science. I became also a progressive, learning from both socialism and anarchism. I call this a rational exploration, and having the courage to break loose from an oppressive background.

        Nobody is born a skeptic. Skeptics make themselves.

        How about yourself?

    • kabol says:

      “free of the shackles of any ideology”

      now THAT’s the ticket. no opinions, no ideologies = no worries! if you got it, smoke it!

      JK – i don’t smoke.

    • Juan Carlos,

      I look forward to the day in which he will grow out of the libertarian ideology, just like he grew out of evangelical Christianity, to finally become a free thinker, free of the shackles of any ideology.

      To be “free of the shackles of any ideology” is itself to adapt an ideology that has been called many names in the past: (epistemological) skepticism, “critical philosphy” (Kant), positivism and so on.

  112. J. Gravelle says:

    Abbott: So, what’s your major?

    Costello: Political Science.

    Abbott: Well, which is it?

    ==========================

    To suggest that one cannot examine, form conjectures, predict, and test some of the tenets of a given political system is absurd.

    And to deny that Dr. Shermer is up to the task is naive.

    Our 1040s, 401ks, and the national debt are clear proof that governments (and the political machinations behind them) certainly CAN be quantified…

    -jjg

  113. I have assiduously avoided joining or engaging in any particular political party, theory, philosophy, or ideology. Here’s why:

    All of them are collections of people who eat babies and worship Satan. All of ‘em. No exceptions.

    Ask a liberal about those “right wingers”. Baby-eaters and Satan-worshippers every one, they’ll tell you.

    Ask a conservative about those “left wingers”. Baby-eaters and Satan-worshippers every one, they’ll tell you.

    Ask a libertarian about “socialists”. Baby-eaters and Satan-worshippers every one, they’ll tell you.

    Ask a Democrat about “Republicans”. Baby-eaters and Satan-worshippers every one, they’ll tell you.

    And so on and so on. The pattern holds, no matter who I ask, and no matter who I ask them about. Data that remains this consistent for the thirty years or more I’ve been collecting it cannot be ignored and the skeptical, scientific conclusion is clear:

    Any personal submission to any given political ideology is a descent into hellish irrationality. I shall eat babies no more forever!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.”
    – Mark Twain

    “The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.” – Mark Twain

  114. First the man takes the smoke.
    Then the smoke takes the smoke.
    Then the smoke takes the man.

    Get thee behind me, KABOL.

    • kabol says:

      Get thee behind me, KABOL.

      LOL! you recognized me as a somewhat dyslexic “demon” :)

  115. Max M says:

    WOW, 320 responces! TBs are coming out to fight in defense of the “God that failed”… :D

    • kabol says:

      TBs are coming out to fight in defense of the “God that failed”… :D

      talk about smoking it…

  116. Liam McDaid says:

    The fundamental flaw in Libertarianism(?) is that they place no value on their environment. Where and how you grew up is an excellent determiner of how you end up. To ignore instant creeping aristocracy is to ignore much, for who is so pure in their cause that they would make their children sacrifice for it?

    • “The fundamental flaw in Libertarianism(?) is that they place no value on their environment.”

      There is not one political philosophy that places ‘no value on their environment.’ To state that all libertarians hold no value in their environment is an admission of ignorance about libertarianism. And no, I’m not a libertarian.

      “Where and how you grew up is an excellent determiner of how you end up.”

      No it isn’t. People change. Constantly.

      “To ignore instant creeping aristocracy is to ignore much…”

      You strive for poesy and achieve an oxymoron. What, pray tell, is ‘instant creeping’?

      “…for who is so pure in their cause that they would make their children sacrifice for it?”

      Um, those who don’t realize their cause is in error and their children will pay for it? The road to hell from your neck of the woods must be unpaved….

      • Steve says:

        Though I’m sure some libertarians value the environment, the problem is that most articulations of libertarianism, as an economic and political philosophy, place value on only one thing: individual liberty. That certainly appears to be the case with Shermer’s libertarianism. That’s my major problem with libertariansim philosophically. It’s myopic and doesn’t recognize the plurality of things we value (and ought to value) such as individual liberty (of course), social justice, the environment, etc.

      • Individual liberty and enviornmental concerns are in no way mutually exclusive. Bear in mind, I’m not a libertarian, but I have educated myself on it, and argue only the logical aspect of the assertion that one cannot be a libertarian and value the environment. I know of no political philosophy of which that could be said.

      • Steve says:

        Fair enough. But you’d have to go outside your libertarianism in order to find a conceptual/philosophical basis for the value you place on the environment. And you’d have to deal with the conflicts that almost certainly would arise between your libertarian perspective and the non-libertarian perspective that leads you to value the environment. In the end, I can’t see how you could be a thorough going libertarian – valuing liberty above all else as libertarians do – and also act in some way to support the value of the environment.

  117. bigjohn756 says:

    Talking libertarianism to liberals is like talking evolution to right wing Christians; it interferes with their dogma. Even the supposedly scientific thinking PZ Myers became so upset with the challenge to his liberal mind lock that he banned all mention of Ayn Rand and libertarianism on his blog. Sounds a lot like Christians when you try talking to them about…well, just about anything scientific. Just stick your fingers in your ears and shout, la,la,la,la. Dogma is very difficult to discuss because like any faith based mind set it must be defended at any cost because its basis is so fragile.

    • B M-H says:

      My tenth book, The Mind of the Market, lays down a scientific foundation for capitalism through THREE NEW SCIENCES: behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and evolutionary economics.

      -Michael Shermer

      THREE NEW SCIENCES!

      Michael Shermer’s invented THREE COMPLETELY NEW SCIENCES!

      How many new sciences are invented each year?
      How many in the past decade?
      How many in the past century?

      Surely we stand at the dawn of a new age of human discovery. The world will be shaken to it’s core and, trembling in awe, will be reshaped in the brilliant light of Michael Shermer’s THREE NEW SCIENCES.

      Transformed into Something new… Something Better… Something Libertarian.

      What a load of garbage.

      • DogBreath says:

        Man that Shermer must be a busy guy. Googling those “COMPLETELY” new scienceS that BMH is attributing to him shows:
        Behavioral Economics: 8,090,000 English pages
        Neuroecomics: 141,000 English pages
        Evolutionaly Economics: 495,000 English pages

        Its a shame BMH doesn’t understand English.

      • kabol says:

        THREE NEW SCIENCES!

        Michael Shermer’s invented THREE COMPLETELY NEW SCIENCES!

        you’re pretty late with this crowing, BMH – i already specifically asked you if this was the basis of your argument. i mentioned this part of shermer’s article verbatim. (remember? the only thing in shermer’s article that remotely attempted to connect ecopolitics and science??_\)

        you didn’t answer, and changed the subject.

        now you’re the biggest cawing bird in the field.

        wassup with that?

      • kabol says:

        why are you attempting to suggest that shermer claims to have “invented” any of these studies? you are reaching, again.

        BMH – i’m very new to this website and these people, and you strike me as someone who has a screw loose when it comes to shermer.

        call me psychic. call you psycho.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Michael Shermer’s invented THREE COMPLETELY NEW SCIENCES!

        Really! What are they? Because these three have been around a long, long time and are well established.

        Just to take an example, the 2002 Nobel Prize for economics went to two behavioral economists.

        You sir, are willfully ignorant and foolish.

  118. I currently support the position that Ayn Rand’s philosophical positions, and Ayn Rand herself, have been typically misunderstood. While I indeed recognize the cultish dynamics of some of her followers, I currently support the idea that the cult problem originated because of those members’ misunderstanding of Rand’s own positions. In terms of her non-fiction writings, I currently do not know of any evidence to support the idea that Ayn Rand encouraged cult like behavior and in fact she was openly hostile to such. I currently do not know of any evidence to support the idea that she thought she was the smartest person who had ever lived, though she would make no bones about the fact that she knew herself to be smart. I do not know of any evidence to support the idea that she thought her writings were the best mankind has ever had to offer, though she argued thoroughly why she felt her writings had merit and value. I do know that one of her “culties”, Leonard Peikoff, has addressed the problems that various members and outsiders of the clan experienced when interacting with Rand as her attempt to merely maintain ownership of her ideas, or more precisely to maintain ownership and fidelity of her intellectual property (I think it would have been appropriate and fitting were she to have attempted to trademark the name, “Objectivism”). Peikoff claims he is trying to maintain that fidelity in this wild, woolly world of free flowing information which, if that is what defines him as “cultish” then that is OK with him.

    In terms of Rand’s fiction, in particular “The Fountainhead”, “Anthem” and “Atlas Shrugged”, I too found her over-the-top caricatures and her improbable universe nearly unbearable. For me “Atlas” was the third book I read of the three. While I found the act of reading her fiction difficult because of my reaction to her writing style, I found the underlying ideas intriguing enough to motivate me to continue further. In the midst of reading “Atlas” however a thought occurred to me: did this difficult-to-read writing style serve a valuable purpose of its own? Was that particular style intentional? It occurred to me that Ayn Rand was indeed a professional philosopher and it occurred to me that philosophers throughout history have often used fiction to communicate their complex ideas. In writing their fiction the philosopher has often used rhetoric, metaphor, analogy and caricature to extents most authors who write to entertain would typically refrain from doing; the philosopher does this in order to teach as effectively as they know how. Once I realized this I also realized that Rand’s characters and plot lines had less relation to reality per se as they had to what reality ought to have been. In fact much of her non-fiction writing expands on the virtues of the “ought” as well as to the virtues of philosophy in general and how the abandoning of philosophy—the abandonment of “ought”—indeed is an anti-value (a bad value) to the individual and to society as a whole. Her fiction had been written to teach about the “ought” by using figures, actions and values that exist indeed in Rand’s perfect, imaginary world.

    When reading Rand, I suggest keeping the following in mind:

    • Read her non-fiction as well; her non-fiction style is generally straight forward

    • Read Peikoff’s follow-ups; he is clear and articulate as well

    • If you find yourself nodding in agreement too frequently, stop and ask yourself “What did I miss?”

    • If you find no disagreement in her philosophy then you have missed an important point because you have stopped thinking for yourself.

    • Though Rand excoriates “skepticism” keep in mind she is excoriating epistemological skepticism, which she ultimately equates with nihilism. I often wonder if she would have found the scientific skepticism of Kurtz, Randi, Shermer and the rest of The Gang more valuable to her. (Research and keep in mind the difference between the two approaches.)

    • Rand worked hard to develop what she felt was a complete and logically consistent philosophy of metaphysics (objective reality), epistemology (logic and reason), ethics (rational, not mindlessly wanton, self-interest), politics (individual rights and laissez faire capitalism), and even aesthetics. I suggest, when preparing to argue for or against Objectivism, endeavor to read at least some of her essays. Learn from her (and Peikoff) something about philosophy as a subject of study in of itself, the purpose and value of metaphysics and epistemology and her support of Aristotle over Plato and Kant (especially over Kant) since doing so will help you develop what will be, in my opinion, a stronger intellectual process by which you can formulate and express your arguments. (Rand, according to Peikoff, was a greater fan of the process of thinking than of specific thoughts in of themselves.)

    • Consider how scientific skepticism could benefit from Objectivism, and vice versa

    (Hey, give me a break—I had a lot of time to read on a recent flight to Hawaii and back!)

    • kabol says:

      In the midst of reading “Atlas” however a thought occurred to me: did this difficult-to-read writing style serve a valuable purpose of its own? Was that particular style intentional?

      YES! like shakespeare!

      i think you’re awesome. anyone who uses the words:

      -excoriates
      -epistemological
      -nihilism

      in one post…well, that just ROCKS!

      (er, i had to look up “excoriates.”)

      • kabol says:

        OH OH! and i left

        -ought

        from my previous list.

        it was my cornerstone. sigh.

      • Don’t thank me, thank Ayn Rand. I’m just borrowing her ideas and her words here!

        Agree with them or not, one may indeed find her non-fiction writing intellectually stimulating.

      • kabol says:

        Agree with them or not, one may indeed find her non-fiction writing intellectually stimulating.

        or headache-inducing.

        some of the peeps in y’all’s chess game of politics and economics might not fit your mold.

      • I assume that no “mold” (read: theory) fits what is (facts) absolutely. There will always be some subset of a population which will not fit a particular philosophical structure perfectly, the question is which philosophical structure optimizes most people’s well being? From a politics point of view is there any political system that, though not perfect, does the most good for the most people? What is “the good”? Can the good be defined a priori? Can a political system be designed such that its a priori principles ought to produce the desired optimization and should it be that system we implement to the best of our imperfect capabilities?

  119. Brian says:

    Shermer for President — 2012 Libertarian Ticket!

    • Brian says:

      Michael, I hope this post can find its way to you. I am a student of your work and agree with Jonathon Haidt that you are the most open minded person I “know”. While we haven’t met, I saw you speak live at the Libertarian event in Las Vegas in 2008.

      Anyway, while it was good to learn how you became a Libertarian, I would rather hear how you would apply your “Mind of the Market” to the current state of affairs ie government bailouts and takeovers. Please advise!

  120. I just ordered Michael Shermer’s book (“The Mind of the Market”) and am awaiting its delivery. I am hoping however that Shermer does not equate “is” with “ought” in his conclusions. (I will find out soon enough, of course.) Though recent studies are shedding light on the motivational dynamics of humans engaged in economic transaction, these studies by themselves do not indicate how we ought to behave in order to maximize economic efficiency, increase wealth, reduce poverty and improve the overall welfare of ourselves as well as the other members of our species.

  121. Lance says:

    Greetings fine Sir.
    You are not a skeptic, you are a Zetetic.
    Funny how the spell check underlines a word not oft used!

  122. Robert Neary says:

    Michael:
    Thank you for publishing this; it is something that I have been curious about you for some time now. I have not read “Atlas Shrugged” or “Mind of the Market” (they are on my reading list). But I have been curios about Libertarianism for some time now. A while back I took the “test” on the Libertarian web site, I believe it queried: “Are you a Libertarian”. I am very much a supporter of individual personal liberties; however the test results consistently returned that I was a “Liberal”. But that was not always so.

    My political affiliation evolved over time; I was once a staunch Reagan Republican during the first half of my career as a banker. I truly believed in less government and “trickle-down Economics”. I voted for Reagan; then observed with some incredulity that the “trickle” didn’t quite drip all the way down to my level – my first layoff experience soon followed.

    My second career (introduced to me by my second wife) was on the other end of the spectrum. I became a Welfare Case Worker; my wife was a case worker investigating child neglect and abuse. During my previous banking career, I had held strong opinions about the importance of self-determination, hard work, and success – people just needed to pull themselves up by their own boot-straps. Now, in government, I was confronted with a population who didn’t have boots.

    I will admit that my view is based primarily on my own personal anecdotal experience of dealing with people for whom “the market” does not exist in their world. Michael Shermer is a healthy, bright, active and educated success story, some of which could be attributed mainly to luck – however, that could all change should, one day, he is struck by a car while riding his bicycle and left severely disabled and unable to continue to do the things that provide a secure and comfortable income. These are the people I worked with; there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who every day experience their own personal “Katrina” disaster.

    Some of these people have disability income, but more commonly it is woefully inadequate to sustain people in the lifestyle and comfort to which they were accustomed. For most, the only remaining social safety net is government. It seems to me that I have not yet met a “poor” Libertarian.

    My point is that “The Market” is important to the extent that citizens have the ability to participate in it. The fact is, not all can. Privatizing child abuse investigation, casework and long-term therapy is no more practical than privatizing the criminal justice system. Even the “Faith Based Initiatives” put forth by the previous administration cannot deal with the huge scope of human service needs in this country anywhere close to the level that government must. In fact, many private social service organizations reject working with the most extremely difficult populations – government programs and support are their only remaining option.

    I believe that the Market can only exist within a larger “Community” and that some level of government is necessary to support those for whom the Market, through their fault or just plain fate, doesn’t work. To this end I am with Yogi Berra in my opinion. I love the theory, but I haven’t seen how it could truly work in practice.

    • TryLogic says:

      We live in a complex society where we are faced with many complex issues. People can be homeless and on the street for many reasons that are out of control of normal functioning society. I have dealt with homelessness and mental illness with members of my etended family. I have a nephew that experimented with hard drugs at a young age and became totally dysfunctional to society. His dad tried everything in the world to help him…supported him….encouraged him….and inspite of every poosible effort to save him he wanted to go to Seattle against his dad’s best judgment….he froze to death on a winter night on the streets and no one new who he was or who to tell he was dead. I have another nepwhew who lived in our town where is dad lived….everyone tried countless times to give him a reason to improve and better himself….it became obvious he had no ambition to do anything to better his life…his life was the streets and he wanted nothing else.

      You can blame the parents, you can blame drugs, you can blame misfortune, but you should not blame free markets and prosperity that is the driving force of this nation! If their mental condition was right their families would have done anything for them and have carried the sorrow of their condition every moment of every day. It is not fair to project the failures of the unfortuante upon the entire society.

      Recently in our paper there was the most touching article I have ever read about the value of America. It was about a woman and her family that came to America from Thailand after surviving the most horrible conditions of life one would ever confront. She came here with nothing….in time started a small restaurant business with savings she made working and now has 3 kids in college about to graduate. The story was about her and a neighbor standing up to gangs in her neighborhood and getting the neighborhood to come together and throw the gangs out. She said she did not come to America from past life to have gangs destroy the wonderful things her family had accomplished in America. She was living the dream of freedom and the pursuit of happiness…witout handouts or government help. Much, not all, of our homelessness is by choice….or lack of will. Talk about personal responsibility and freedom!

      Nothing is simple….I see kids from wealthy families that cannot function because they have never been forced to stand up and face challenges on their own. I see people with nothing at all stand up and be heroes.

      A free market democracy makes things better for all….but it can not solve all problems. The world is not and never will be perfect but there are paths that make more sense than others…freedom and democracy is better than any path man has tried because it promotes overall prosperity. Oppressive government kills prosperity….and prosperity is the only thing that can feed government!

      TryUsingLogic

  123. kabol says:

    B M-H says: without giving any actual proof. no quotes. notta one.

    I can’t think of a clearer example of co-opting skepticism in the name of libertarianism.

    Kabul: you are PWND. Stick that in your Libertarian-Trollpipe and smoke it.

    B M-H says:

    After reading my reply to you in the following segment, I bet you wish there was a ‘delete’ option.

    oh sure, i’m…..thinking you’re a tad odd.

  124. Alan Chapman says:

    Creationists and statists think very much alike. Both have obsequious, blind faith in mystical fantasies. Creationists worship an imaginary god. Statists worship an imaginary State. Creationists believe that their god hears their prayers. Statists believe that the State hears theirs. Creationists believe in a all-powerful being who can magically suspend the laws of physics. Statists believe in an all-powerful State which can magically suspend the laws of economics. Creationists employ the god of the gaps fallacy. Statists employ the government of the gaps fallacy. Both have victimhood and entitlement mentalites, and both behave like sheep.

  125. kabol says:

    i don’t believe in either. though i love the word “obsequious”

    words are just the shizzle!

    how ’bout that 12yr old who cracked the mayan code?

    sorry, i watch too much TV.

  126. epicurus says:

    @seth
    “… a mix of different political ideologies, without itself being a political ideology” Yes that’s what I meant. Poverty is not a political ideology. It is a social problem. The answer to the questions: whose problem is it? Who will solve it? How to solve it? is an ideology. Political ideologies like capitalism, socialism, libertarianism, are solutions looking for problems. That’s how philosophy works. Science doesn’t work that way.

    Politics is historically a branch of philosophy. That’s why political ideologies were developed by philosophers (Smith, Marx, Rand) using rational thinking and thought experiments. That’s why philosophical and ideological debates don’t get settled in the same manner scientific debates are settled. If we want to attain any progress in this subject, we have to move from philosophy to science. Forget ideologies and study real-world economic and political problems.

    • Politics cannot be determined by science alone since the concept of morality is also part and parcel of the equation of politics. Unfortunately, morality belongs to the realm of philosophy (and theophilosophy).

      I am truly sorry, but ideology and politics are eternal bunk mates.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Political ideologies like capitalism, socialism, libertarianism, are solutions looking for problems.

      Libertarianism is a political theory. Capitalism and socialism are market structures.

      Objectivism is an ideology.

      Libertarianism is a theory that answers the question: what is the best way to regulate human interactions? This may or may not be applicable to your goal of increasing the base standard of living.

      • Every political party ought to have an intellectual framework which binds it together and, from which, the platform actions they support are derived. Libertarianism (big “L”) ought to be as much of an ideology as any other. What you say, Libertarianism lacks a metaphysical approach? What you say, Libertarianism lacks an epistemological approach? What you say, Libertarianism lacks an ethical approach? Do you mean that these things are not present in Libertarianism, even if implicit? I say not. Does the Libertarian not declare that we cannot determine moral value through objective means, hence the only moral law is the law which seeks to preserve any moral system that may be applied between consenting adults (or even children)? If this is so, then what would be the intellectual genesis of such an assertion?

        Explicit or implicit, if Libertarianism claims to be a political party it must be part and parcel of an ideological system of thought. If not then how could the Libertarian Party ever know which political actions to support and which to condemn? By whim or roll of dice? Without the predictability of an ideological system of thought then how could the Libertarian Party hope to survive from generation to generation? How would a citizen know whether they ought to join Libertarian Party or not? Without an attendant ideology would a modern day Rip Van Winkle, waking up a hundred years into the future, recognize the Libertarian Party or even be able to distinguish it from any other party in existence at the time?

      • SicPreFix says:

        Seth (/me waves) said: Libertarianism is a theory that answers the question: what is the best way to regulate human interactions?

        Edit that to “Libertarianism is a theory that attempts to answer the question: what is the best way to regulate human interactions?” and you’ve got something. Not much, but something.

      • Peter says:

        But Libertarianism (big L) and libertarianism are not the same thing. The vast majority of libertarians are not Libertarians….and vice versa.

  127. Rich says:

    Taxation is force, economic control is force, government is force… I wonder how many times that will need to be repeated before skeptics see the gun in the room.

  128. J. Gravelle says:

    “Poverty is not a political ideology. It is a social problem. The answer to the questions: whose problem is it? Who will solve it? How to solve it?”

    That much of your reply is, for the most part, well stated.

    Firstly: poverty can be defined, whether as a pathogen, syndrome, social ill, or what have you.

    Secondly: cures, treatments, and preventative regimens can be proposed, developed, and experimented with in various test case scenarios.

    Finally: the results of such experimentation can be quantified, analyzed, evaluated, refined, and improved upon.

    If Dr. Shermer’s work leads to this sort of logical, science-based approach to the examination of the efficacy of the various prescribed political antidotes to poverty, social inequity, et al, then we should all applaud his effort.

    Those who fear how grotesque THEIR ideology might look under the microscope are understandably apprehensive about such a proposal.

    For me, the Libertarian solution is to ASK me for assistance, and respect my freedom to decide whether or not I’ll help. Every other political tactic involves some manner of putting a gun to my head and forcing my compliance.

    I don’t need the microscope to see how ugly THAT is.

    But I welcome it just the same…

    -jjg

  129. Beelzebud says:

    Alan Chapman, if you hate “statists” so much and hate government, perhaps you should think about moving to Somalia. It’s a Libertarian paradise.

    • kabol says:

      Beelzebud, practice your reading skills while your stroking other things — you CAN multi-task, right?

      check it:

      Both have victimhood and entitlement mentalites, and both behave like sheep.

    • nexalacer says:

      See, but then he’d just be surrounded by Creationists. There is no sane society in this world. We have to build one from the ground up. One that universally acknowledges that violence cannot ever solve social problems.

    • Max says:

      Yeah, they really respect property rights and rule of law over there.
      Libertarianism isn’t anarchy.

      • Peter says:

        Libertarianism is anarchy. What you meant to say is: anarchy isn’t anomy (no laws)

  130. Libertarian thought is currently the only truly rational and workable solution to the mire and fascade that is Washington, D.C.

    It starts with keeping our government ‘simple’
    http://blogtoamillion.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/simplicity-endangered/

    Sincerely,
    Matthew DiGeronimo

  131. Kenn says:

    How refreshing to know there are atheists who are not socialists.

  132. Jim says:

    Ah…perfect world. Trouble is, purist ideologies, when given a chance at practical expression, have a dastardly habit of creating extremes of privilege, many slaves and few masters, opulence for the few and misery for the masses, waste in the extreme and a whole lot of nasty effluent. America, for example, can be said to have succeeded as a substantially libertarian economy, but its collective wealth is not down to liberty alone, since the lives and enterprises of individual and corporate Americans have been constrained by political unity and the rule of law. Slavery might not exist in Ayn Rand’s vision of society, but once you allow individuals freedom unfettered by laws, a police force or, at the least, the psychological constraints of social convention, you risk finding yourself at one or other end of a whip or less secure in your life and liberty than otherwise. This can be demonstrated by just on one social fact, that the “right to bear arms” supports America’s position as the world’s number one personal homocide nation.

    It’s not really surprising that a former fundamentalist religionist should gravitate to a catechismic/fundamentalist political position. Nor is it surprising to find claims being made for the superiority on ‘scientific’ grounds for the libertarian ideal, noting that Marx got there first on communism’s behalf.

    The trouble is, the trick to people living together pretty happily and reasonably prosperous remains for now more a matter of art than science, and the various political philosophies appear suspiciously matched to the personality characteristics of their proponents (myself being no exception).

    I have no problem with proposing and arguing for ideal positions – in small ways and like any serious political activist I have made some efforts myself in that direction, but, to the prophets and apostles of libertarianism, socialism, anarchism, etc, who think they’ve cracked it, I say: not only we ain’t there yet, but ‘there’ will probably have changed beyond recognition before we even get close, and don’t expect this political skeptic to sacrifice on your favorite political guru’s altar any time soon.

    • In terms of homicide rates (per capita), see:

      http://www.data360.org/dsg.aspx?Data_Set_Group_Id=699

      The United States is in the “short tail” portion of the Pareto (the “80/20″) curve. Certainly we are high relative to other Western nations we would consider peers, but not by orders of magnitude.

    • As to your initial point however, I agree. Any particular political party however does need a comprehensive philosophical system by which it will operate, otherwise how can any member know which action to support and which to condemn? Without a comprehensive philosophical system to guide them how could a political party long survive inevitable group dynamics and pressures to diverge? Without a comprehensive philosophical system how would any person know they they ought to belong to said party?

      Ideology is fine, and even necessary, as long as there are multiple (even if only two) political parties to choose from and if association is left to the free will volition of the country’s citizens. Those who decry ideology in general as “evil” usually mean “any ideology other than mine is evil.”

  133. peterh says:

    pseudoscience !!!

  134. dfings says:

    I’m reminded of a old Krugman quote.

    A few weeks ago, a journalist devoted a substantial part of a profile of yours truly to my failure to pay due attention to the “Austrian theory” of the business cycle—a theory that I regard as being about as worthy of serious study as the phlogiston theory of fire.

    The reason the Austrian school is heterodox economics is because it is fundamentally analytical and opposed to empiricism. That approach seems to be the opposite of the one that skeptics want to promote.

    • nexalacer says:

      Austrian economics is opposed to empiricism as a tool of economic prediction, not empiricism per se. This comes from the basic epistemological foundation that says that for empiricism to be effective, you must be able to isolate all the variables in any given experiment. However, since economics is the study of human action, and human action is invariably subjective, we are left with the only rational conclusion that there are variables that cannot be isolated, we cannot use empiricism to create specific models for what will occur in the future.

      However, Austrian economic theories have been extremely successful at predicting what will happen in general. Google Peter Schiff, who has been predicting the current economic failure using Austrian economics for years. The reason for the success of Austrian economics if they reject empiricism as a predictive tool? It’s the study of praexeology, which is von Mises’ study of human action based on logical axioms.

      • Clive van der Spuy says:

        “….Peter Schiff, who has been predicting the current economic failure using Austrian economics for years…”

        Mmmm. And for years it did not happen. Predicting economic outcomes is akin to predicting the weather. It is a dismal science. Very poorly understood so it is folly to take any strong position on it. Let alone an ideological “pure” stance.

      • nexalacer says:

        Yes, he could not predict any specifics because it is not an empirical science. No one can predict specifics such as time and place in economics because it is the study of human action, which is not empirically predictable. However, it can predict generalities due to the fact that using praxeology, an economist can determine economic laws that are based in reality.

        The question to ask in response to Schiff’s predictions are did they happen as he said or was he just right about the fact that there would be a collapse. The question of whether or not there would be a collapse is 50/50. The accuracy of the causes of the collapse are not so easy to guess. He specifically pointed to the overinflated real-estate bubble for a long time, and attributed it to the previously overinflated tech-bubble, which of course was caused by the simple economic law that states that the more money you print, the more inflation will rise.

      • dfings says:

        The tech bubble and real estate bubble were caused by inflation? Where’s your evidence for this?

        The standard Austrian explanation implies that investors take action only on current conditions and not on rational expectations of the futures. Additionally, Austrian Business Cycle theory implies that investment should be inversely correlated with consumption, which is the opposite of observation.

        Regarding bubbles: they’ve happened throughout history. Identifying a bubble doesn’t make whatever view about their causes you hold true. It was pretty obvious to me that home prices were unsustainable in 2006 when others were telling me to buy real estate. That just takes seeing that prices are divorced from fundamentals.

        Trying to reason what humans will do from axioms is a doomed endeavor. Or should we abandon the study of psychology and try to reason how the mind works from first principles? You’re describing a philosophical exercise, not a scientific one. That’s guaranteed to produce logically consistent theories (if done right, and if all premises are explicitly enumerated), but not necessarily ones based in reality, because subtle flaws in the axioms create ripple effects through the rest of the conclusions. Science makes hypotheses, then looks to confirm them through data. The confirmed hypotheses are later formed into a theory.

        See, e.g., the work of Kahneman and Tversky for how experimental behavioral economics can be done right.

        The roots of the business cycle lie not in praxeology, but in psychology.

      • Peter says:

        dfings: you’re quoting nonsense that you don’t understand (neither does Quiggin). Everything you claim about Austrian economics above is false, as the smallest amount of reading into the subject would inform you.

    • nexalacer says:

      Oh, and as far as heterodox economics goes, Hayek’s Nobel prize in economics was based on Austrian economics. He predicted stagflation (simultaneous high inflation and high unemployment) long before it happened, while all of the empiricist economists were dumbfounded when it occurred because their models said it could never happen. Heterodox or not, the best theories are those that are the most successful at predicting future outcomes, period.

      • dfings says:

        Uh, no. One example of theorized stagflation before 1978 is Robert Lucas’ development of rational expectations theory (the Lucas-Islands model) in 1972. He won a Nobel prize for this in 1995. Under this model, if workers demand higher wages to counter inflation, that leads to higher prices, lower supply, lower total economic output, and higher unemployment.

      • nexalacer says:

        Okay, my mistake. I’ll restate that “all (but one) of the empiricist economists were dumbfounded when it occurred because their models said it could never happen.”

        Though, I suppose the influence of the Austrian school on the Chicago School, as clearly evidenced by Milton Friedman’s clearly Hayekian analysis of the price system, among other connections, had something to do with this.

        Regardless, it would appear that his model still fails to recognize that inflation is not equivalent to higher prices, but that higher prices are simply a symptom of inflation, which is the devaluing of money through an increase in its supply. Perhaps I misunderstood this point, maybe you could clarify this?

        As for evidence for the housing bubble being caused by increases in the money supply, here’s a link that provides an Austrian analysis with data supporting the a priori statements of the Austrian Business Cycle:

        http://mises.org/story/3252

        And of course the ABC theory can’t be observed today. There is no economy in the world that doesn’t inflate their currency through central banks, so we cannot observe that investment is inversely correlated with consumption. Due to fiat currency and the resulting inflation, there is no relationship between the amount of currency available for investment vs the amount available for currency because the supply of the currency is constantly increasing, destroying this relationship.

        And while hardcore Austrians don’t bother looking at data, I’ve seen other analyses like the one I posted above that do include data, and they invariably support the Austrian hypotheses… which would mean it’s science, right? I think if data-loving economists would look at the data that supports the hypotheses of Austrians, then they’d find it’s a proper theory in the scientific sense of the word, but due to and obsession with models and formulae they reject the hypotheses without second thought.

        And I’m not sure that psychology and praxeology are not intimately related…. not opposites as Caplan would have us assume. Similarly, anything concerned with behavior would not necessarily contradict Austrian economics, as one of its most seminal works is titled “Human Action,” which is synonymous with behavior.

  135. (1) Libertarianism is fine in theory if everyone has the same mental and physical capacities. In practice, it benefits the strong and intelligent. The physically and mentally disabled, not to mention the less good-looking and the socially inept, become second-classes citizens who are unable to thrive in a society where everyone looks after themselves. With no government to impose wheelchair-friendly public facilities, those with no mobility would rot and die at home. The rest of us may be able to participate in society, but those with lesser skills will always find themselves at the foot of the social and economic ladder. Hey – maybe there is a connection between darwinism and libertarianism after all…

    (2) Universal health care has its faults – but it’s cheaper and more effective than the private system. People live longer and pay less on average for health care in countries where it is a universal obligation and right.

    (3) Americans (I admit it, I’m not one) have this strange us-and-them attitude about government as if it is something divorced from them. But government is merely an extension of ourselves. I am government, even when it is run by a party I did not vote for, and government is me. There is not big government or small government – there is only good or bad government. If I reject government, then I reject the country and society which it represents – I have no right to its protection and no right to praise or reject its actions.

    • nexalacer says:

      Oy…. my head hurts… how did you ever become an atheist with a metaphysical mess that you have there? Ouch…. where do I begin??

    • TryLogic says:

      Many of the points you mention are simple truths of life….but the real emphasis here should be that a better government and its services have a need for democracy, freedom and capitalism to fund it and keep it functioning. The Chinese and other totalitarians use free markets and capitalism to fund their oppressive socialist agenda….because the process works!

      When business and free enterprise suffer everyone suffers….the symphony and all the charities in my area are failing badly because business is suffering from the demands piled on by more government manipulation. The car companies were in bad trouble becausue of unions and bad management….we have a fix for that….bankruptcy….now the government that no one would regulate on finance practices [even the “evil” Bush warned us} is managing them through…oh yeah…bankruptcy…..we should let the free market adjust its own problems and the government should do its job of backing off and letting freedom work.

      “Universal health care has its faults – but it’s cheaper and more effective than the private system.” …wow…Doesn’t anyone read about the overwhelming failures of healthcare in Canada and England [just for starters]…..our “private” system is faultering more and more because of government regulations..

      You are right…we are government….let’s keep us in line! We have every right to reject bad government by voting against it!

      How could a critical thinker arrive at— “more government good”—“more freedom bad”…..?

      TryUsingLogic

    • Libertarianism is not Anarchism.

      The Libertarian indeed supports government as a moral imperative, but wishes to severely limit the scope and strength of government as compared to their neighbors in the Democrat and Republican parties.

      • wow…Doesn’t anyone read about the overwhelming failures of healthcare in Canada…

        You won’t be surprised to hear that the US vs Canadian healthcare question has been looked at in detail. Bottom line: overall, health outcomes are a wash between Canadians and Americans with health insurance. (Average Canadians of course do much better than uninsured Americans.)

        And, yes, the Canadian system is far cheaper per capita: same results for less money.

        Mind you, the Canadian system is a mixed system (as is the American). A healthy dollop of market forces are included in the Canadian recipe.

        One last point that may not be clear to our American friends: the Canadian system is overwhelming popular. There are many intense arguments about many aspects of it, and people do complain about wait times (very similar to wait times in America for many procedures), but no politician can get elected on a platform of dismantling it.

      • Just because something is popular doesn’t make it moral, or even optimal.

        Was fascism moral, or even optimal?

        Indeed, “9 out of 10 dentists” can be wrong!

      • Beelzebud says:

        Are you really comparing public health care to fascism? Not the best way to make a point.

      • Max says:

        In the sense that they’re both popular, but that doesn’t make them moral or optimal. Why not?

      • Max says:

        Why not make this point, I mean.

      • “Same results for less money.” The Canadian system costs the taxpayer less (in the aggregate) because the low prices are extorted from the producers of medicines and instruments and from the professionals who devote their lives to their calling. Once the American system becomes more socialized (through extortion by the state), will the producers and professionals continue to make a reasonable enough living to justify their levels of effort and risk? (Keep in mind the scale of the American health system and what the effects will be upon the producers and professionals because of that scale.)

        One possible outcome of American health care socialization may be to increase the Do-It-Yourself health care market as a function of the recognition of profits that could be made off of direct consumer purchase of the supporting technologies. This will contrast to the lack of profit that will characterize the professional health care market.

      • The Canadian system costs the taxpayer less (in the aggregate) because the low prices are extorted from the producers of medicines and instruments and from the professionals who devote their lives to their calling.

        Well, look at it this way: the market will bear the current pricing. If Canada were paying too little, doctors (who are private) and pharmaceutical companies (also private) could always take their services and products elsewhere. (This in fact happens, though not enough to make our overall treatment outcomes any worse than the US.) Or, fewer students would turn their rational self-interest to medicine.

        Would you make the same objection if I and every other Canadian entered into a voluntary contract with a private insurer which then turned around and offered doctors and suppliers exactly what Canada currently pays (which is, again, what the market already accepts)?

      • Peter says:

        Libertarianism is not Anarchism.

        Tell that to the “father of libertarianism”, Dr. Murray N. Rothbard…

      • db0 says:

        Hah! Libertarianism and Anarchisim as political concepts existed many many years before Rothbards ramblings.

  136. Dedalus1953 says:

    There are far too many comments here for me to slog through them all, so let me ask one (neutral) question, then lighten the mood with a snarky joke.

    Someone here commented that Libertarianism was focused on the individual rather than the group. But, many Free Market Capitalists advocate treating Corporations as Individuals. Does Libertarianism share that view? If so, how does that jibe with the individualist principles?

    Now, to lighten the mood, someone once said, “Electing a Libertarian to any government position is a little like appointing a vegetarian to run your slaughterhouse.” (Which raises the question, exactly how does one go about establishing a Libertarian society?)

    • nexalacer says:

      Anyone who claims to be a free market capitalist and advocates treating government-chartered corporations as individuals has a serious contradiction on their hands. Anyone who makes the above claim while simultaneously claiming to be a Libertarian, is purely one on political grounds, hence the big “L” (i.e. the Libertarian political party). Philosophical libertarians (not necessarily free-will libertarians, a completely separate philosophical idea, though often political libertarians are also free-will libertarians) will often refer to Libertarians who claim the sovereignty of corporations as individuals as vulgar libertarians. I think they are regarded as equally statist as any democrat or republican.

    • nexalacer says:

      As for your second question, I think Stefan Molyneux is onto the best path to establishing a libertarian society, though unfortunately it will probably take many generations. It all begins with establishing consistent libertarian principles in your own personal relationships. You can find more on this at Freedomain Radio.

  137. Clive van der Spuy says:

    I am a libertarian socialist. I want as much freedom as possible in living my life but I do not mind paying my taxes to enable government to catch the poor, the dispossessed, or the plain unlucky.

    B.T.W. where do I register my company in a libertarian society?

  138. Wow – I will enjoy reading the 149 pages of comments…. and Michael I am truly biased as we all are in one form or another. My biases are somewhat oppoisite of what you would consider your typical reader. As a practicing “manager of other peoples money” I will add your book “The Mind of the Market” to my wish list.

  139. For you capitalist libertarians who bow down and worship the All High God of Property Rights as being the font of all other human rights, I pose to you the following problem. It is not just a theoretical construct; it is a very REAL problem that happens every day in the real world of Central America where I happen to live. It is such a serious problem that wars have been fought over it, and revolutions organized and put down because of it.

    A guy has an inherited piece of land, of, say, 20,000 acres, which has been handed down to him from prior generations. This guy has never even seen most of it; it is so big that in spite of his great wealth, he can’t even afford to put a fence around it all – indeed, most, being pristine jungle, he can’t even ride a horse into to check it out. The guy farms maybe 500 acres of it, and at most, no more than a thousand has ever been cleared and farmed since the Spanish king first issued the land grant five centuries ago.

    Meanwhile, in a village next to this hacienda, a penniless campesino, with his wife and four kids, have no means of support. He is handy, and willing and a hard worker, but there is no work in the village, and no money to start a business (assuming a viable business plan could even be devised in this cashless, dirt-poor highland farming village). He eyes this largely uncultivated piece of land next to the village and decides it is his only hope for feeding his family. So he goes out and squats on a distant, uncultivated, unfenced corner of the land, cuts down the trees and plants a couple of hectares of corn and beans.

    You can see where this is headed.

    The landowner gets wind of this, calls his buddies in the local constabulary (or, more often in the case of many Latin American countries, the local paramilitary death squad), and sends them out to “deal” with this squatter, his wife and four kids and make them an offer they can’t refuse…

    So my question to you libertarians is this: Does the right to life trump the right to property? Or the other way around?

    As I have said, this is a daily occurrence here in Latin America. This is not just a theoretical problem – I see it happening all the time.

    How do you solve this conundrum, Mr. Free-Market, Ultra-Privatized Libertarian Randroid?

    Inquiring minds (and all of Latin America) want to know… We’re waiting breathlessly for your brilliant, just and fair solution that preserves the right to life without taking someone’s property and giving it to someone else…

    • Max says:

      How about instead of squatting or stealing, the campesino offers to cultivate the landowner’s piece of land, and build a nice fence around it while he’s at it. How about the whole village puts their money together or takes out a loan to buy the land and cultivate it.

      • Max, obviously you do not live in Latin America.

        There are a whole series of problems with your suggestion.

        First, allowing someone, anyone, onto your land for the purpose of cultivation of your property on his own behalf creates all manner of legal issues that you cannot appreciate unless you live in one of the Napoleonic Code countries of Latin America. So there is a strong legal incentive for the land owner to not cooperate with such a scheme – doing so places him in a very vulnerable position legally.

        Second, the village is not going to either have the money or the collateral for a loan – many of these subsistence villages are just that – subsisting, not earning money or even participating in the money economy to any real extent. and the notion that they would be able to do as you suggest would sound ludicrous to them. Besides, why would they do that, if they are getting by, but this one family as suggested in the problem, are the only ones who are not? Why should the village work for the benefit of others? (Remember John Galt’s Oath.)

        Third, there are cultural issues at work here – a hacienda owner that participated in such a scheme as you propose would find himself in a great deal of trouble with other landowners who would fear that they would be subjected to pressure to participate in similar schemes if it were allowed to go forward. So the landowner himself could be subjected to a death-squad threat. And he is not going to risk it. One cannot appreciate the depth of class antagonism in rural Latin America unless one has experienced it.

      • Max says:

        Well if we start getting into the details of the legal system and culture, then tell us how fair and incorruptible the Latin American governments have been. Shall we start with Venezuela?

      • LTodd says:

        Read some Hernando de Soto. Bone up on the advantages of the “digital path” versus the “government path” for formalizing property rights in developing countries without emulating Western legal frameworks. “Trust hubs” and all that jazz.

    • The right of the individual to survive, and more importantly to exercise those decisions they have made for themselves that improve their chances for survival, are the most important moral obligations of the Objectivist system. The Libertarian Party exalts something similar, I am just uncertain of the details. This, of course, is also in line with the usual theocratic systems and “thou shalt not murder” type of commandments. For both the Objectivist and the Libertarian, the moral imperatives in the situation you described include ensuring that whatever solution is arranged, for all parties to have acted in good faith is to ensure that all parties must have entered into that solution of their own free will.

    • Peter says:

      You can see where this is headed.

      Only if I make the assumption you’re making on my behalf: that this title is somehow valid. Which is simple cluelessness on your part. Don’t argue about subjects you don’t understand. Educate yourself first.

      So my question to you libertarians is this: Does the right to life trump the right to property? Or the other way around?

      Do you mean: should a legitimate property owner be able to boot unwanted squatters off his land? Well, yes, of course. But the “land owner” in your example is not the legitimate owner of the land under libertarian legal theory. See, for example, The Ethics of Liberty (chapters ten and eleven)

    • Stewart Griffin says:

      In reply to 140:

      Many libertarians would argue that ownership of land comes from homesteading; mixing your labour with the land is what justifies ownership of the land.

      In your example only 1,000 acres have been worked: “since the Spanish king first issued the land grant five centuries ago.”

      Two things: 1) libertarians would not normally recognise the right of a king to grant land 2) clearly alot of the land has never been worked and hence no legitimate property right exists. In fact, according to libertarians your pauper, the farmer of un-worked land, would be the legitimate land owner (of the 500 acres he farmed).

      So, adopting a libertarian world view would be entirely consistent with removing 19,000 acres of the owners property from him. I doubt that will happen in whatever country you live in, but that can hardly be blamed on libertarians.

  140. Scott – Are you the owner of the land or the one who covets the land?

    • Neither.

      I own a small parcel sufficient for my personal needs (about 1.8 acres) which I fully cultivate, and have no desire whatever to own or control any more than that.

      I do offer employment on occasion to those in my village who need it, at such times as I also need the labor, and am adequately regarded by the village as a result.

  141. Robin Collins says:

    As Seth above notes, “to my knowledge, the only societies that did(do) not believe in ownership of the earth and its resources were(are) very primitive indeed (EX: American Indians)”.

    Even hoping for a large spoonful of meritocracy as he and others hope, I do not see any way of getting around the problem of private property in right libertarian thought.

    Private property and inheritance ultimately leads to a very uneven society in which wealth is disproportionately distributed, and therefore so is power.

    The earth’s riches get divided up and “owned” by a small minority, even if that minority is a different group from time to time (by war or other means.)

    A global commons makes sense, how it would be achieved is less clear, but there are some inroads.

    My point, however, is that right libertarianism is based on this problematic premise of private property (and I am not talking about your spoon and fork… I am talking about the earth’s resources).

    That is where the conversation needs to start, in my opinion, not how good or bad the free market can be relative to everything else. That is a practical discussion but it avoids the core problem.

    Robin

  142. J. Gravelle says:

    The cover story of the current issue of Skeptic magazine asks why people fall for Ponzi schemes.

    As the article currently reads, nearly all the participants in this forum would likely agree on the absurdity of these money-making pyramids based on simple logic and the fundamentals of exponential mathematics. The article delves into the mindset that makes people WANT to believe that sort of system works, despite its demonstrable failings.

    Now, change “Ponzi” to “Social Security”, let the article explore why people put similar blind faith in the collectivist folly of Big O’Brother, and give Shermer the byline, and the cries of “BLASPHEMER!” will become deafening as the faithful adherents of the Church of Governmentology come to realize that THEIR sacred political oxen are the ones being Gore-d [sic].

    Hippie-crits…

    -jjg

  143. spurge says:

    Social Security is not a ponzi scheme.

    One more in long list of unsubstantiated libertarian talking points blathered on this thread.

    My favorite of course is the accusation of “state worship” by anyone who dares ask hard questions of libertarian dogma.

    Classic denial and projection.

    • Max says:

      Projection? Are you implying that deep down libertarians worship the state?

      • spurge says:

        No, They worship their magical “free market”.

      • Max says:

        My favorite of course is the accusation of “free market worship” by anyone who dares ask hard questions of liberal dogma.

      • Not true. The Objectivist declares that laizzes faire capitalism is the most moral of economic systems. While admitting its imperfections, the Objectivist I believe might paraphrase Churchill by saying that laizzes faire capitalism is the most evil of all government-supported (rule of law) economic models, aside from all other models that have been tried from time to time.

    • J. Gravelle says:

      “Social Security is not a ponzi scheme.”

      That’s a concise retort, worthy, I suppose, of a a sharp “Is TOO” or “Nuh HUH” in reply. But I’m happy to elaborate in support of my position.

      Because, after all, I CAN.

      I’ve gone to the trouble of checking with a local prosecutor, and were I to recruit people into a group “retirement program” even REMOTELY modeled after the existing Socialist Insecurity system, I would run afoul of not only his office, but potentially the FTC, SEC, FBI, and other scary acronym-badged goons in Raybans.

      And I’d be charged under the same statutes that ensnare OTHER Ponzi/MLM/get-rich-quick hucksters.

      Perhaps, as I’m being hauled off in shackles, I can plead with the court: “The Social Security framework I copied isn’t a Ponzi scheme Your Honor! Just ask Spurge!”

      You’ve got my back, right?

      -jjg

      • spurge says:

        What more is needed when someone makes the baseless assertion that it is a ponzi scheme?

        Your supposed asking of a “local prosecutor” not withstanding.

        Not to mention the fact that you think I should take someone serious who uses the term “Socialist Insecurity system”?

      • J. Gravelle says:

        Well, I suppose that beats having you stick your thumbs in your ears and chant “Nyahahahahaha… I’m not lisssssteninnnng”.

        But not by much, it doesn’t.

        I’ve backed up my assertion(s). I suppose I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for you to back up yours…

        -jjg

        To further your aggravation
        read “A Pizza the Pie” at:
        http://www.dailyscoff.com/?p=9

      • spurge says:

        You have not backed up anything at all.

        All you have done is make a baseless assertion that Social Security is a ponzi scheme.

        Unless you think your your little anecdote about a prosecutor counts as some sort of objective evidence.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        Rather than actually GET prosecuted (which I’m sure wouldn’t satisfy you either) I’ll let the SS indict itself:

        https://www.socialsecurity.gov/history/idapayroll.html

        “Ida May Fuller”, they proudly trumpet, “worked for three years under the Social Security program. The accumulated taxes on her salary during those three years was a total of $24.75. Her initial monthly check was $22.54. During her lifetime she collected a total of $22,888.92 in Social Security benefits.”

        Actually, Ponzi’s average return was only 8:1. So if anything, comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme is unfair only so far as it besmirches the reputation of Charles Ponzi.

        I’d add that, since the program is distinctly modeled after Otto Bismarck’s Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill of 1889, and since its sustainability is a concern of BOTH sides of the political aisle, the label “Socialist Insecurity” is hardly out of place either.

        Skinny people don’t balk at being called fat. People react the strongest only when the label hits home which, I suspect, is what has gotten your трусы in a bunch…

        -jjg

  144. Adnihilo says:

    Ayn Rand lives on in the virtue of selfishness expounded by the right wing nuts and Social Darwinist of the American ‘Neo’ Libertarian party. She lives on today in the the selfishness, the greed and the pride that provides the driving force behind the American right wing where it lives supreme. Former Rand disciples hold key positions in the libertarian movement — even though Rand attacked libertarianism for refusing to accept the more technical aspects of her philosophy.

    How dreary the world be if there were no Ayn Rand to justify selfishness and vilify altruism. There would be no childlike faith and dogma from this external light shining on this childlike faith in Objectivism expounding its Virtues of Selfishness that fills the world around us. Ayn Rand is Jesus for the less religious American Libertarian movement – that is neither liberal nor libertarian.

    Like many a naive teenager, I too deeply felt Rand’s power to turn the heads of our bright, naive adolescent minds. As she seduced our young naive minds us with her message of triumphant self-fulfillment by a hard headed rationalist. I too naively reveled in Rand’s expression of man as a ‘noble’ creature as she does in Objectivism and her fiction until this naive view took a back seat to reality. A reality where the capitalist man found in her capitalist manifesto is not the least bit virtuous in reality or in fact. This Virtue of Selfishness Rand portrays in her fictional characters as noble creatures is just that – a fictional virtue unfound in reality.

    For it is the naive white teenaged offspring of a American capitalist suburbia that fell for her Objectivist philosophy – a crossword puzzle where every word is redefined to fit perfectly with some other word, that again is arbitrarily redefined to spaciously fit within her rational argument. It is a philosophical attempt to force reality into a mold dictated by a verbal formula with very little examination of fact,

    The unfounded assertions; the undefined terms; the trick definitions; the terms defined in terms of other mutually undefined (and indefinable) terms; the “bait and switch” or “expanding definition” technique in which definitions are made to expand and contract at whim; the false analogies; the appeals to philosophical authority in purely factual matters all rolled up in a philosophy of “reason” no less! Only childlike dependent minds and Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) personalities reading Randian philosophy would not find it folly as I do now in my less naïve years.

    I realize today, like many “Ex Randians” now do, that the ‘power’ Rand had to turn our suburban teenage heads was in her rational talent in expounding the virtues of selfishness out of a complete disdain for altruism. “Randians” view the “Virtue of Selfishness” as the defining principle of collectivism.

    A ‘Randian’ Atheist does not make a Secular Humanist. Nor does a right wing Christian conservative expounding the Virtue of Selfishness find a Christian ideology within it, even though they encompass both so dearly as complimentary. Nor does the liberal, the progressive or the humanist embody altruistic characteristics from a lack of personal responsibility. Altruism is not based on individual needs for “handouts” as personified by the right winged.

    A ‘virtue’ is conformity to a standard of decency. It is a positive form of moral excellence and an admirable quality. Portraying selfishness a virtue is absurd. Through a “savoir faire” personal background involved with the greediest forms capitalism found in the casino business, this ‘virtue of selfishness’ never presented itself as it does in Rand’s stories or her Objectivism philosophy. All I saw was the opposite of any virtue towards ”moral excellence. The corporate religion is avarice where the manner of worship is making the almighty dollar at any cost at the expense of humanity.

    • Neither the Libertarian nor the Objectivist worship the almighty dollar at the cost of all else. Both exalt the dignity of human life over the right to own property and make a buck.

      • So in other words, in the case of the problem I posed in Comment #139, you would apparently side with the campesino.

        If so, would you then side with the laborers in the sweatshops of El Salvador to unionize, so they can force the sweatshop owner to pay them enough to keep their family alive?

        Or why not support a minimum wage law, so that ALL sweatshop laborers could earn a living wage?

        By siding with the right to life over the right to property, aren’t we then “sliding” down the “slippery slope” towards supporting organized labor and/or social safety nets to solve some of the problems of unregulated capitalism?

        Hmmm… Sounds like we’re getting dangerously close to “liberal” here…

      • Peter says:

        If so, would you then side with the laborers in the sweatshops of El Salvador to unionize, so they can force the sweatshop owner to pay them enough to keep their family alive?

        They have every right to “unionize”. What they don’t have the right to do is force the sweatshop owner to do anything. They can withhold their labor (individually, or as a group), but they can’t take over the premises, burn them down, or beat and kill other people who want to work there. Wages are low because productivity is low and there are plenty of other people who want the jobs, not because the sweatshop owner is an evil bastard … what they need is capital accumulation to improve productivity and wages; what you should be arguing for is (a) everyone to go out and buy the sweatship’s products, and (b) lower (or no) taxes, minimum wage, etc., that defeat the ability to build capital. What you (I’m assuming here) actually argue for is likely (a) boycotting the sweatshop’s products, and (b) higher taxes, minimum wage, etc. — exactly the things that maintain the situation you want to fix.

    • The Objectivist upholds a system rational self interest, as opposed to wanton self interest and certainly destructive self interest. Libertarians hold similar views, I believe.

      Again, Libertarianism is not Anarchism. The Libertarian upholds some morality and thus a set of ethics, but I am at this time unsure of that they are precisely.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I utterly understand the issue of “where the rubber meets the road” and why ideology ends up looking so much different when it meets reality.

      The real world is complicated and the process of governance in a nation as large and as prosperous and dynamic as the United States is very complicated indeed; gray areas abound. Philosophy and ideology are still important however as one needs a logical foundation upon which to base one’s theories of reality, ethics and politics. What you say, science by itself does away with the need for philosophy? Tell that to those who are stymied by the multiple “interpretations” of quantum mechanics:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics

      Can you say, “metaphysics”? Can you say, “epistemology”?

      If a political party fails to offer a coherent philosophical foundation, it will fail as a political party. The members of a philosophically incoherent political party will make up their own philosophical system in such an abhorrent vacuum, which of course will result in fracture and dissolution. Who could understand the platform of an incoherent political party? How would such a party distinguish itself from other parties and indeed distinguish itself from the sheer randomness of individual whim?

      Golly, this sounds like today’s Republican Party…

    • Adnihilo, growing up in the depressing Rust Belt town of Niagara Falls, I have witnessed the opposite. I swear, I lived “Atlas Shrugged” before I even knew the book existed hence that book (I kid you not) almost read like a documentary (sans the over-the-top writing style of the book itself). I and most everyone I grew up with lucked out and were able to “go Galt” on Niagara by simply moving away (completely out of New York State, actually). The Niagara exodus continues and is even an important talking point for local politicians. The city of my childhood remains one of the most politically corrupt and anti-intellectual cities I have ever witnessed in this country. Growing up in the 1970s, I was made acutely aware of the local culture’s historical penchant for communist and socialist ideology (and even anarchism) and in the end I witnessed where it got everyone. From a political point of view, I have been fighting Niagara Falls in my head ever since (don’t let this happen anywhere else).

      The Niagara Falls of the world will come and go in this imperfect life throughout all generations to come. What is important is that the industrious and the smart amongst us, those who truly make a difference, have a place to run to when future cities and cultures like Niagara Falls fall flat.

  145. I’d been hoping someone would notice that a social set of people – skeptics – have conducted their reviews of libertarianism, each to varying degrees of depth and understanding, and have come away with vastly different opinions on its efficacy as a political, social, and economic model.

    Does this not suggest that perhaps all are not applying the tools of skepticism in equal measure?

    Or does it suggest that libertarianism and other models are not conducive to to scientific skeptical scrutiny because of any or all the usual suspects: unfalsifiability, lack of commonly held definitions, confirmation bias, a priori rejection bias, lack of reliable measurements, etc., etc.?

    Where putative scientific skeptics consider the arguments and evidence for a given assertion and arrive at such profoundly differing conclusions, and in so many cases do so with profoundly emotive responses, one has to wonder if ‘skeptical scrutiny’ is at all what is occurring here.

    To my knowledge, a fully libertarian government or society has never been established, hence, it may only be judged on prospectives rather than any evidential review of actual performance. Models such as mixed market, free market, socialism, capitalism, totalitarianism, despotism, etc., have existed and do have records of performance to review.

    I really appreciate the very few posters who responded honestly – that they couldn’t draw a conclusion about the merits of libertarianism as compared and as opposed to the myriad other political, social, economic models. Having opinions about how it might perform is entirely different than being quite positive it would not work, or would work, or would constitute the devil here on Earth, or Heaven on Earth, or…. etc.

  146. Ron Myers says:

    The “economic calculation” argument has been debunked by many writers. Also, Schermer seems to have no knowledge of the many varieties of anarchism and its economic theories. Strange for one seeking libertarian views. Anarchism is much richer than the sterile libertarianism.

    It is like he is in one of his beloved bicycle races, which he believes to be a 20 mile race and so gets off his bike at 20 miles – but the race is really a 40 mile race. He doesn’t seem to notice that many of the questions which he takes to have been decided some time back are still open or upon further study and more data, conclusions have been updated.

    • Peter says:

      The “economic calculation” argument has been debunked by many writers

      Only in the sense that the writers in question basically say “nah, nah, isn’t true!”

  147. Jeff says:

    This cleares up a lot. When Shermer says “Libertarian” he means someone who believes in as limited government as possible – but not any more than is possible. Some people say “Libertarian” and means “anarchist” and clearly that isn’t what Shermer is advocating. Michael Shermer recognizes that:
    1) The private sector does things better than the government for most things
    2) If the government and the private sector can do a thing, than we should let the private sector do it
    3) This preference is a political one, and one that only governments have the power to enact.

    • John says:

      Unfortunately, even that reasonable viewpoint is seen as a “crazy libertarian” by most socialists. If it were the mainstream viewpoint, we would be much better off as a society.

  148. Max says:

    For some reason, people interpret “libertarian” to mean EXTREME social liberal and fiscal conservative. Where does that leave moderate libertarians?

    • Max says:

      For example, who supports antitrust laws, government regulations designed to increase competition?

      • TryLogic says:

        Good Point…
        We are all facing the challenge of compromise in a complex society. Hopefully we will find ways to avoid more government and more religion….what a task we have at hand!

        TryUsingLogic

      • Peter says:

        Non-libertarian libertarians? “Moderate libertarian” is a bit like being “moderately pregnant”. You either are, or you aren’t, and if you aren’t, you aren’t; there’s no “moderate” about it.

  149. Septeus7 says:

    Time for some introduce you all to a real skeptic and professional who has spent years proving that ideas like “market competition creates maximum efficiency” and other such crap to based on junk junk science and junk math. Check out http://www.debunkingeconomics.com/.

    And after you guys are done with the debunking all the “let it alone and don’t think” approaching to economic policy I’ll be happy to provide the real scientific approach to economics that is based on physical economics not trying reductionist models of so-called “human action and behavior modification manipulation” that inherently Fascist approaches to economics.

    For real scientific approach to economics just google “The Manual of Social Science” by Henry C. Carey who actually created the American Industrial policy that let us over take the British Empire only 10 years after a devastating civil war and inspired German, Japanese, French, and many more countries to industrialize and created the modern era.

    All first world economies without exception are not based “capitalism” or “socialism” but the American system of Political Economy/”National System” of the Mathew and Henry Carey, and Friedrich List.

    Why? Because it the only approached not based on statistics, and unproven apriori anti-science assumptions about the human behavior and trying to manipulate people but on actual physical science.

    Michael Shermer is an idiot who doesn’t know anything about physical science and his love of the apriori models of economics are about as sound as Aristotelian physics because in fact Libertainism is so-called Aristotelianism but with the ancient sensibilities about virtue and whatnot.

    I believe Kepler ended that debated a long time ago so arguing for “free market” is essentially economic geocentrism as they are from the same apriori approach to “science.”

    • Septeus7, though your rant doesn’t directly help prove your point, I am indeed motivated to read the content indicated by the links you provided.

      Of course all of this Objectivism versus Libertarian versus statism talk is almost moot. Why? Ayn Rand (as channeled through Leonard Peikoff these days) and your friendly Libertarian as well as most politicians have tended to ignore one important, overriding fact: global economic conditions today are better than they were last year, and certainly better than they were ten years ago. In other words, local problems aside, the hodgepodge system that has been evolving on this planet has been literally continuing to “work miracles.” In some respects, the choice of economic model (as long as there are several competing models on this planet) is merely an exercise in implementing change at the margins. What do we owe this to? Philosophy? Politics? Technology? What?

      • Well, OK, the global economy did contract in late 2008. This is a temporary situation and doesn’t negate the overall trend of the years since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

  150. JonA says:

    Libertarians rail against the government’s monopoly on violence. They’re big and can pick on you by taking money (taxes). How would the libertarian utopia be any different? Wouldn’t wealthy organizations or individuals just do the same thing? It wouldn’t be taxes though, it would be ‘insurance’ or ‘tribute’. See the mafia. At least with the government, the people have a say (even if it’s small) in how the ‘big thug’ operates.

    • In either case, the moral imperative of the type of supported government would be to make sure that mafias, gangs and other thugs are dealt with appropriately as they would infringe on each citizens’ rights to free will and property.

      JonA perhaps this debate can best be seen as an admission to the Great Tradeoffs of this world, but deciding which attributes are more important than others.

    • In the Objectivist case, what would be enforced through government would be 1) voluntary/contractual association with any entity that would collect your money and 2) the understanding that said entity would produce the goods and/or services they are contractually obligated to produce.

      • Badger3k says:

        You keep saying that like there is any meaning to it. If I have the forces to impose my wishes through fear, taking “tribute” to keep my operation going, I can impose any contracts that I wish. Those who didn’t would die. This is the type of situation we have now, with police, prosecutors, and government. Why would this change if we lost the government and police. Hell, for all intents and purposes, my men would be the police. Just not called that way – maybe “concerned citizen’s protection force” would work.

        It seems that a lot of Libertarian thinking relies upon human nature that is not evidenced in any society beyond some small hunter-gatherers (and even then, it’s not so clear cut IIRC from studies done). It’s wishful thinking akin to the Propertarian party of L Neil Smith’s fiction – nice in theory, not seen in reality. The only way for this to work would involve massive “reeducation” and indoctrination of every human being in the society.

      • SicPreFix says:

        Badger3k, I think you are right on the money here. Everything I’ve read about, by, and from Libertarians reflects precisely what you say. The philosophy seems to require a profoundly naive wishful thinking that is not reflected in any reality anywhere.

  151. By the way, neither the Objectivist (read Ayn Rand’s non-fiction work) or Libertarian eschew gift giving, charity or any form of “helping hands” as long as such is offered by individuals of their own rational free will. What both object to is charity by force, otherwise known as “taxation for the good of society” or the “welfare state” (not to equate the two, but outright theft is also charity by force).

  152. rustle says:

    Though not remotely as well read nor deeply dedicated to the subject as Dr. Shermer, from what reading I have done on their philosophy and from talking with them, I find libertarians to be unrealistically naive and idealistic. An absolute free-market economy depends on people being honorable and decent and honest without supervision or regulation or consequences beyond financial self enrichment. The disasters created by an unfettered banking industry, the influence of the energy industry on a many of history’s disastrous and costly foreign policy decisions, and the environmental and human rights abuses of corporations throughout history who were able to use their financial might to leverage their political power, have all put into perspective for me what libertarians are willing to put up with for noble principals.

  153. Jeff Smithpeters says:

    This whole thing begs a question. Is politics such a complex system that to take a position on a given course of action is to engage in an act of faith?

    • Barbarossa says:

      Good point, sort of. That’s absolutely true–except in the case of libertarianism. Because libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics are the only schools of thought that RECOGNIZE

      • Barbarossa says:

        the complexity of society and the economy and, in essence, deny that any single position should be taken regarding them. In other words, they leave the millions of agents in the economy (you and me) the FREEDOM to take multitudinous positions and make tailored decisions in response to countless changing circumstances. It’s the only way for such a huge complexity to function properly.

  154. Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth says:

    I agree with Jim, Brian, Amy and Jason. Our mixed economy works better than either laissez-faire capitalism or centralize systems. One should consult such as Paul Krugman, Mark Zandi, Robert Reich, Dean Baker, Mark Weisbrot and Peter Orszag to fathom modern economics- Aristotle’s Golden Mean and trial and error- rather than those ideologues of the left or the right.
    The regulated free market- no oxymoron- means regulations to protect us all- and the real free market to provide goods and services. Laissez-faire is not really for the free market as it allow monopolies and such to harm the market, limiting the freedom of most of us to use the market as we ought to. The laissez-faire is the road to serfdom then for most of us!
    We realistic capitalists therefore find Dr. Shermer at odds with reality, despite his usual skepticism. He should read those authors listed above.
    Sweden has a dynamic market economy with a safety net for all.The Swedish have freedom and prosperity. Google the Swedish Model and related items, please,

    • One could make the case that the problems with laizzes faire you mentioned have actually stemmed from the dynamic that occurs when capitalism and government have access to each other. What would be interesting is exploring what would happen, for instance, should this country declare a principle of complete separation of economics and state in much the same way we (profess to) separate church from state. If business longer had access to the addictive and destructive drug of government favor would the problems of the past have ever occurred?

    • There is a saying in systems engineering that goes something like,

      If you build a system that even a fool can use, then only a fool will use it.

      If you build a government to take care of most fools, then before you know it you will have a citizenry that will be comprised of mostly fools.

      The Libertarian and Objectivist first assume that humans are autonomous, intelligent and noble creatures capable of great things and that all others will be dealt with on an individual, case-by-case basis. What does your incentive system look like?

      • Badger3k says:

        When your philosophy relies on the denial of human nature (psychology, sociology, etc), and human history, it’s pretty much a failure.

  155. Stefan Bourrier says:

    Wow! It’s fantastic how much power this topic has and how most of the discussion comments are very well thought out. As far as I am aware Skeptic is a non-profit organization. Even if it is not I do believe people make donations on occasion. After a few days of reflection on the topic I am curious about something.

    When I purchase books/magazines or make donations, where does that money go? Does it go to support political ideologies because to me that seems pretty troubling. When Shermer says:

    [M]y entire career has been building toward this project… It is my goal now to continuing construction on the libertarian edifice, and perhaps one day even attempt to translate theory into practice through politics

    Is this in conjunction with the skeptic movement? Is it supported by the other individual authors of Skepticblog or associated organizations?

    I’m not interested in getting drawn into a “why libertarianism works or not” arugment. I just want to be aware of where my support goes. I think this is something that we should all know as consumers of Skeptic products/services.

    • David jones says:

      When I purchase books/magazines or make donations, where does that money go? Does it go to support political ideologies because to me that seems pretty troubling

      Heaven forbid that authors and publishers should be able to spend their income as they wished.

      • Stefan Bourrier says:

        I am speaking about purchases through Skeptic. At that point the authors have already been paid for their work and can do whatever they want with their money. I am referring to the money made on mark up when I buy it through the magazine or website.

  156. Sabio says:

    After a few months of blogging and seeing comments on this site, I decided to start a Libertarian Skeptics website.
    If you are interested, come visit. Posts soon to come.

  157. epicurus says:

    @scot
    I like dealing with real world problems more than philosophical and ideological debates. I understand your problem because I’m from Asia and we actually have laws here that protect the ‘right’ of squatters to occupy your land (if you can’t protect your land, too bad for you). I consider that an ethical problem, whether you value your right to property above the welfare of others. If you love yourself and your property that much, then kick the squatters out of your land (that usually means force). If you are altruistic, allow them to take your land. For me, if I had that much land, I’ll be altruistic but henceforth I will form a partnership with private corporation or government to protect my land in exchange for a piece of it. Does that make me a capitalist, a socialist or a libertarian? I don’t care as long as we solve the problem.

    • kabol says:

      I understand your problem because I’m from Asia and we actually have laws here that protect the ‘right’ of squatters to occupy your land

      all of the US is a squatter on someone else’s land, so i now (sort of) see your point about the m-16s and bulldozers.

      i’m thinking the native americans are wishing they’d have had some bulldozers and M-16s.

      well, now they have casinos.

      • Keep in mind much of our land was purchased from Indian tribes who claimed to have controlled said land at one time or another. To the extent that we have honored or dishonored various contracts here and there is an entirely different discussion for another day.

      • Badger3k says:

        Pretty much the entire world is a system of squattors. There aren’t too many areas where the same people have lived where their ancestors did since humans first moved into the region.

  158. rtm says:

    I’m sorry, but you lost me at “greed is good”, because no, it’s not. Unless you mean to suggest that “excessive” is good, and then where does it stop? Too much means just enough? Up is down? Desire, drive, ambition, all can be good, when not to excess. Greed is EXCESSIVE desire. You can look it up. You want to redefine it into some glorious force, good luck, I’m not buying. Greed sucks.

    • TryLogic says:

      We are what we are….and it’s not all bad…

      Everyone has the excessive desire to gain something in life. Greed drives most people to work hard to raise their standards and reach a place they fill comfortable with in society. You should not apply greed only to money. Most greed is tempered greatly by the comfort levels and enjoyment one gains by trying…therefore… excessive desire can be tempered and usually is by other human qualities. And of course there always will be the extremes.

      Is it greedy to want everyone to be free to have a chance in the game of life? Is it greedy when liberals want massive government to control our every move? Is it greedy when Kim Jung il confiscates all the freedoms and liberties of his people to live a lavish life style and starve them? Is it greedy when Amadenajhad wants to destroy everyone and the planet for his religious beliefs? Is it greedy for Bill Gates to make billions and then begins giving it away? Is it greedy to be homeless and use that place in life to rip off the welfare system? Is it greedy when unions won’t give in to save a company from failure? Is it greedy to say you will go to hell if you don’t believe and give money or your soul to a person’s chosen church and God?

      It is all greed and can be good or bad because of differing human behavior. If you oppress all “excessive desires’ we have to become better, there will be no or little new wonderful horizons in education, medicine, arts, science, and other things that make life worth living.

      Isn’t it interesting that the greatest strides man has made in history for raising people up in all areas has happened in the last several hundred years…..the period that coincides with the development of the first truly free society on Earth….America. The left will say it isn’t so…..

      When people say greed is good it is a driving force that is necessary for improving life. It’s like hunger….it’s better not to overeat!

      After what I have said I can see the left getting greedy with anger to punish me with less freedom!

      Freedom is a good thing…..not perfect….but tried and true!

      TryUsingLogic

    • tlav says:

      It would appear you misinterpreted his use of the term ‘greed’. Shermer seems to be referring to the liberal measurement where the accumulation of any money gained by providing goods and services to others wanting or needing those goods and services is greed. Since allocating these goods and services should be a function of the state, acquiring any profit is therefore greed since one would have more than the state dictates he or she needs.

      • TryLogic says:

        I’m not sure what you mean by misinterpreted….

        “rtm” refered to the dictionary meaning of greed aa “excessive desire.” Having heard Shermer and other respected authors and lecturers say that greed is good, I simply offered my observations and thoughts on the subject of “excessive desire” or “greed” in my reply….and why it could be positive or negative because of human nature. Excessive desire wins sports events, saves lives, creates inventions, and unfortuantely can also take away our freedoms……lackluster attempts almost always fail!

        TryUsingLogic

    • kabol says:

      Greed sucks

      suppose someone’s greed involves attention. this greedy person is very wealthy, due to their greed for money and power. the next step for the greedy person who has it all is to get attention.

      what better way to get attention than to take up a “cause”. the greedy for attention person decides to get lots of attention by raising money and awareness for saving starving children and people with aids.

      go ahead and smack-talk that greed.

      • tmac57 says:

        How about rapaciousness sucks?

      • kabol says:

        “rapaciousness” – seems to hold a different meaning than plain ole “greed”. much different.

      • tmac57 says:

        They are synonyms. It’s kind of like the elephant and the blind men.

      • kabol says:

        They are synonyms. It’s kind of like the elephant and the blind men.

        i get a different connotation. they may be listed as synonyms some place, but i wouldn’t use the two words interchangeably. would you?

        elephants and blind men aside.

  159. J. Gravelle says:

    In an alley, two muggers take half the cash from a third man’s wallet, and use the money to buy food for orphans.

    If you abhor the robbers’ methods despite their goal, welcome to Libertarianism.

    If you can intellectually justify their actions because:

    – 2/3rds of the people involved approved of the mugging;
    – a hungry child was fed; and
    – after all, the victim CHOSE to walk down that alley

    …then I applaud your staunch adherence to the principle of majority rule.

    Just, please, don’t insist that I subscribe to that same barbaric mindset…

    -jjg

  160. There is a saying in systems engineering that goes something like,

    If you build a system that even a fool can use, then only a fool will use it.

    If you build a government to take care of most fools, then before you know it you will have a citizenry that will be comprised of mostly fools.

    The Libertarian and Objectivist first assume that humans are autonomous, intelligent and noble creatures capable of great things and that all others will be dealt with on an individual, case-by-case basis. What does your incentive system look like?

    • Max says:

      “The Libertarian and Objectivist first assume that humans are autonomous, intelligent and noble creatures capable of great things”

      Even the ghost hunters and religious fanatics?

      • kabol says:

        “The Libertarian and Objectivist first assume that humans are autonomous, intelligent and noble creatures capable of great things”

        Even the ghost hunters and religious fanatics?

        LMAO!

        i was looking for a concise definition of “libertarian”.

        i couldn’t really find anything concise.

        the best i could come up with was: “Libertarians consider themselves neither conservative nor liberal; rather, they believe they represent a unique philosophy that is all their own.”

        so – they pick and choose from all “sides”, and consider themselves unique?

        no wonder everybody hates them and they should just go eat some worms.

      • Peter says:

        so – they pick and choose from all “sides”

        Not at all. The “sides” are liberty and authority. LIbertarians (and outright authoritarians, I suppose) pick a side. It’s everyone else who “picks and chooses from all sides”.

    • kabol says:

      If you build a government to take care of most fools, then before you know it you will have a citizenry that will be comprised of mostly fools.

      i’d say you’re stating the obvious with an attempt at trickery.

      i’d also ask, define: fool.

  161. kabol says:

    shermer, you and your can of worms…

  162. epicurus says:

    If I’ll die of hunger, I’ll mug you whether you’re a libertarian or not. Now if someone can give me food and employment, the world would be a better place for all of us. I know this from experience. Our family’s land has been overrun by over 300 squatter families. Ejecting them would be bloody (we use bulldozers and M-16s here). That’s why we are compelled to altruism. The philosophy of economics is of great interest to philosophers and academic economists. To most people, it doesn’t matter from what ideology the solution comes from as long as it’s a workable solution.

    Richard Feynman said the philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is useful to birds. Empiricism is a philosophy. Physiology is a science. Medicine is a practice. Likewise: ideology; economics; economic policy (to solve economic problems) We have to move from philosophy to science to practice. It’s hard to cure cancer by advocating empiricism. Physicians usually study the disease to discover a cure.

    • kabol says:

      If I’ll die of hunger, I’ll mug you whether you’re a libertarian or not.

      why not take your gun/knife and go mug a rabbit, squirrel, or opossum?

      Our family’s land has been overrun by over 300 squatter families. Ejecting them would be bloody (we use bulldozers and M-16s here). That’s why we are compelled to altruism.

      if bulldozers and M-16s are your way of moving people, i’m thinking where you live isn’t all that prone to altruism.

      The philosophy of economics is of great interest to philosophers and academic economists. To most people, it doesn’t matter from what ideology the solution comes from as long as it’s a workable solution.

      very, very, veeeeerrrrry true.

      Richard Feynman said the philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is useful to birds. Empiricism is a philosophy. Physiology is a science. Medicine is a practice. Likewise: ideology; economics; economic policy (to solve economic problems) We have to move from philosophy to science to practice. It’s hard to cure cancer by advocating empiricism. Physicians usually study the disease to discover a cure.

      excellent points and well put.

      i’m still kind of worried about the bulldozers and M-16s, though.

    • That is the wrong way to think about the problem of economics. Ultimately one needs a culture of trust in order to enable capitalism and one needs laws that encourages trust in order to ensure that capitalism functions as appropriate. Culture is a function of philosophy and indeed laws are completely defined by the underlying set of ethics (morality) of the culture that implements those laws. If a culture and its government are not defined by a philosophy then I tell you that, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, your neighbors will develop a philosophy to fill that abhorrent vacuum. The problem is that you may not like the resulting philosophy they choose to live by, and in fact may one day force you to live by.

      • “Philosophy” was just as important to Feynman as it is to any other scientist. In a response to someone else’s post in this discussion, I illustrated the importance of metaphysics to the quantum physicist by calling attention to the interpretations of quantum mechanics:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics

        Which to choose? The choice of metaphysical interpretation, between Copenhagen and deBroglie/Bohm for instance, indeed constrains the types of experiments one proposes and the types of evidence one accepts. In fact the constraints on the type of “evidence one accepts” is indeed an epistemological constraint. Bertrand Russel and Karl Popper are just as important to today’s physicist as Bohr and Einstein ever were. In fact prior to some of history’s recent philosophers, science as we now know it simply wasn’t possible.

        Feynman was not a god, and I propose he was simply wrong with regard to philosophy not being important. In my opinion it may be more correct to say that philosophy can, in most cases, be taken for granted by most scientists.

        That’s a big difference.

    • Note that you are compelled into altruism. That mob of 300 people have robbed your family blind, pure and simple. The lack of a proper philosophical structure has resulted in both a weak culture and a weak set of laws to protect you from this theft.

      You are living proof that philosophy is important when it comes to economics.

    • So, I must give your hypothetical citizen food and employment or they will mug me? Being compelled into altruism is theft by extortion. There is not one thing noble about that.

      Where are your citizen’s morals? Where is the law of your land to protect you from this extortion?

      • tmac57 says:

        Gee, if I could just get the rest of the world to think just as I do, then we would have Utopia!

      • There is a point that is being missed here: neither the Libertarian nor Objectivist believe that a Utopia is possible! The question is which form of government, as a necessary evil, is indeed the least evil of all forms known? What are the set of ethics that ought to drive such a government, as well as the culture of the country?

      • Peter says:

        I don’t suppose those of you who keep talking about “libertarian Utopia” have actually read Thomas More’s book? (Hint: Utopia is socialist)

  163. Dan Ryan says:

    I am always baffled at how people missinterpret what Ayn Rand said about charity. Look up her quotes and writings, and read them with a criticle eye. Yes, she came off as extreme, but given the social environment, of course she sounded that way. Maybe she meant to, out of desire to be heard, or because she was sick and tired of the inability of people to comprehend, or because of the epithets hurled at her, I don’t know, but THIS IS WHAT SHE SAID:

    If you CHOOSE to give to charity, the poor, the hungry, the beggar on the street, heck, even to the rich, THAT IS YOUR CHOICE, and there is nothing wrong with it. Also if you CHOOSE NOT TO GIVE, that also is your choice, and there is nothing wrong (immoral) with that.

    HOWEVER, if you FEEL COMPELLED TO GIVE (or actually ARE compelled to give!), then there is something wrong, something immoral in your thought process. You have been brainwashed by those who wish to use your feelings of guilt against you.

    Why is that so difficult to understand?

    Disclosure: Yes, I consider myself libertarian, but more anarchist leaning (anarcho-libertarian???), and no, I don’t vote, as I consider it immoral. I was raised strict catholic / republican, but I was “converted” by Randian associates. However, I never understood their slavish devotion to what I percieved as an oxymoronic “cult of the individual”, and never fully joined them. I, too, preach the writings of Ayn Rand, but warn of tempering them with the writings of Nathanial Branden (my son’s namesake). Ayn was so very right in so many ways, but also very angry, and left NO room for human emotion in her philosophy.

    Get over it.

    • That must have been difficult for her, being so ticked off so much of her life! I understand why, however, given her biography.

      I disagree that she left “NO room for human emotion in her philosophy.” In some of her non-fiction writings she addressed emotion as something required by the individual like food, water and sex, but she left NO room for emotion in her epistemology. Logic and reason were appropriate in that regard, and also in her ethics, but feelings were not something she considered useful in evaluating life’s decisions.

      Given what I know about the nature of my Polish relatives and my husband’s Austrian relatives, I chalk some of this up to the Russian culture she was brought up in. (The other side of my childhood family was Italian, who all wore their emotions on their sleeves. What a mix, I tell you! Indeed, growing up I considered the Italian culture more “corrupt” for indulging in their feelings for general decision making.)

    • Talia says:

      What is wrong with feeling compelled to give? Social pressure is natural and normal. Trying to escape social pressure is natural and normal also. Both are part of human evolution; neither is superior from an objective standpoint, but I think feeling compelled to be socially responsible is healthy for society. Being FORCED is another matter entirely.

  164. NMcC says:

    How fitting that this loopey drivel should be written on the 5th May – Karl Marx’s birth date.

    Where would one even start to expose the unfathomable ignorance on display here from Shermer.

    Here’s a taster – of the ignorance, at least. According to one of Shermer’s heroes, von Mises, ‘Socialist’ economics involves prices for commodities, that is, the rate at which they exchange, being regulated by the government. And he (Shermer and von Mises) derides Karl Marx for advocating such views. Strangely enough, however, here is Marx’s exact words in relation to this very subject:

    “Within the co-operative (Socialism) society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers DO NOT EXCHANGE their products”. (Critigue of the Gotha Programme).

    Only Shermer, the great ‘Skeptic’, could write an article glorifying capitalism (and denouncing ‘socialism’, though he doesn’t appear to even know the meaning of the term) a matter of weeks after the major governments of the world had to intervene with massive state financial underpinning to stop capitalism from collapsing – and not even mention the fact!

    Skeptic? My arse! You are just as full of propagandistic bullshit now on behalf of your contradictory economics as when you where an evangelist for religion.

  165. John Draeger says:

    Mr. Shermer should have sent his posts about economics to The Economist magazine and left his politics (libertarianism) out of Skepticblog altogether. Politics includes value judgements which cannot be made entirely by a scientific process, and should therefore be outside the realm of scientific skepticism. Enough said.

    • TryLogic says:

      As a skeptic Shermer has stated that his work and research has guided him to Libertarianism. Many of the responders want to expose his “unfathomable ignorance [165]” an make comments in support of their “infallable concepts on the unfaltering good of government.” When I first joined the Skeptics I got the impression that most skeptics were leftists because the first meetings I attended were pretty heavy on liberal political comment. I now have hope that it was only a misconception…..I am beginning to see that the left is just louder and more arrogant and quick to demean anyone that believes otherwise…..and thinks the rest of us should shut up!

      I hope good critical thinkers will not give in to being told what we should or should not discuss. It’s a very complex world and it’s nice to see skeptics discuss something very important to our future. My thanks to Shermer for starting this thought provoking event!

      TryUsingLogic

      • Mrhuh says:

        “The regulated free market- no oxymoron- means regulations to protect us all- and the real free market to provide goods and services. Laissez-faire is not really for the free market as it allow monopolies and such to harm the market, limiting the freedom of most of us to use the market as we ought to.”

        Regulations are what create monopolies. Look at Wal-Mart for example. They have a reputation for destroying small businesses and local communities, yet they themselves are big users of emminent domain as well as big supporters of minimum wage increases. Enron were big supporter of the Kyoto Protocol. John D. Rockefeller even once lobbied the state of Kansas to outlaw Tidewater in the State of Kansas (one of his biggest competitors who were stationed out of Kansas).

        “The ‘economic calculation’ argument has been debunked by many writers.”

        Denial is not debunking. The Berlin Wall collapsed. It happened.

        “My point, however, is that right libertarianism is based on this problematic premise of private property (and I am not talking about your spoon and fork… I am talking about the earth’s resources).”

        Most writers solved this long ago. They did through the homesteading premise, meaning that if you farmed a land, built a house there, put up a fence, or some other thing. This is why we consider the theft of lands from Native Americans to be “unjust”, because they had already homesteaded much of that land.

        “As Seth above notes, “to my knowledge, the only societies that did(do) not believe in ownership of the earth and its resources were(are) very primitive indeed (EX: American Indians)”.

        Primitive societies didn’t believe in the ownership of the earth because this was before much of the Agricultural Revolution (and certainly befor the Industrial Revolution as well). Many primitive tribes though did have ideas of personal property along with commerce between different tribes absence of war.

        “Our mixed economy works better than either laissez-faire capitalism or centralize systems.”

        Our mixed economy is on the verge of collapse.

        “Only Shermer, the great ‘Skeptic’, could write an article glorifying capitalism (and denouncing ’socialism’, though he doesn’t appear to even know the meaning of the term) a matter of weeks after the major governments of the world had to intervene with massive state financial underpinning to stop capitalism from collapsing – and not even mention the fact!”

        Capitalism wasn’t collapsing. Just a few businesses where had gotten too big for their own good. Do keep in mind that many students of the Austrian School of Economics such as Ron Paul, Peter Schiff, Thomas E. Woods, Jr., and David Gordon all predicted the current crises are have been huge enemies of all the bailouts and nationalizations.

        “Slavery has been outlawed because of man’s morality not by his inventions.”

        Inventions helped by increasing the standard of life and also allowing science to flourish (something that was only possible with the accumulation of capital), which helped people cast away many superstions of old, such as the belief that crops could become plentiful through human sacrifice.

  166. epicurus says:

    @kabol
    Unfortunately there aren’t any rabbits in the city only rats. Believe me you will get hurt if you don’t use bulldozers and M-16s. It’s you or them. Barbaric but true.

    @nicole
    Philosophy is important to scientists because they are also humans. But it is not very useful to their work as scientists. Physicists had made discoveries and inventions based on quantum mechanics without understanding or believing the different interpretations of quantum mechanics. Of course that doesn’t prevent philosophically-inclined scientists like Einstein and Bohr from philosophizing.

    Ethics is important to me as a person. Economics is supposed to be a science. It’s non-normative, it doesn’t make moral judgments. People do that. Is physics good or evil? Can we discover the cure to cancer by being moral or immoral?

    Perhaps our citizens’ morality is in their stomach. We actually have laws that protect the ‘right’ of squatters to occupy our land.

    @dan
    If giving to the poor is immoral, then I’m immoral because it is emotion not reason that compelled me to do so. How’s that for logic?

    To philosophers:
    Ideology ends where stomach begins. That’s why the hard-core Chinese communists killed millions in the name of communism and they are now capitalists except in name. When man and animal starve, they will feed by hook or by crook. That’s a law of nature. Nature’s food chain depends on killing others to survive. Since the beginning of civilization, man has been killing his fellowmen. Man’s history is full of wars and armed conflicts. But man is also good and intelligent. He doesn’t like this barbaric natural law so he has to invent his own moral law. The Founding Fathers declared the right to property after forcibly taking the land of Native Americans and driving them to remote settlements. They declared the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness after killing Native Americans and enslaving African Americans.

    Moral laws and political ideology are good for society. But don’t preach them like religion because they are not divine laws. As Seneca said “to mankind, mankind is holy.”

    • [I meant this comment to go here.]

      @epicurus
      Giving to the poor of your own free will is not, by any stretch of the imagination, immoral. It is immoral if someone forces you to give to the poor.

      Scientists will not accomplish much if they make up data, omit conflicting results or plagiarize someone else’s work. Scientists, like any other human being, make moral decisions every day of their lives. Since science is a human enterprise it must also be in part a moral enterprise if it is to function appropriately.

      If, to paraphrase Hobbs, primitive life was “nasty, brutish and short”, we can thank philosophy, morality, science and technology for incrementally moving us away from such lives over the millennium. One technology of grace is something we call, “economies.”

      I was watching Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” with my husband a few weeks ago. There is scene in the movie where captured slaves were being marched to the Big City. I was thinking to myself how inefficient slavery was. I thought to myself, “Golly, it would be so much easier if they just paid these guys to go along…” At that moment I realized what a blessing both the invention of money and the advent of the Industrial Revolution had been. (Yes, I know what this group was eventually brought to do, but never mind that—I hope you get the general idea anyway.)

  167. bj says:

    you yanks must buy a lot of LEGGO.

    • @epicurus
      Giving to the poor of your own free will is not, by any stretch of the imagination, immoral. It is immoral if someone forces you to give to the poor.

      Scientists will not accomplish much if they make up data, omit conflicting results or plagiarize someone else’s work. Scientists, like any other human being, make moral decisions every day of their lives. Since science is a human enterprise it must also be in part a moral enterprise if it is to function appropriately.

      If, to paraphrase Hobbs, primitive life was “nasty, brutish and short”, we can thank philosophy, morality, science and technology for incrementally moving us away from such lives over the millennium. One technology of grace is something we call, “economies.”

      I was watching Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” with my husband a few weeks ago. There is scene in the movie where captured slaves were being marched to the Big City. I was thinking to myself how inefficient slavery was. I thought to myself, “Golly, it would be so much easier if they just paid these guys to go along…” At that moment I realized what a blessing both the invention of money and the advent of the Industrial Revolution had been. (Yes, I know what this group was eventually brought to do, but never mind that—I hope you get the general idea anyway.)

    • “LEGGO”? I don’t get it.

  168. Michael says:

    This is just sad.

    Not a single response to Shermer has evinced even the most rudimentary understanding of libertarianism. If you are going to criticize an idea, at least endeavor to understand it first. All I have seen so far is a conflation of corporatism with libertarianism and a general confusion regarding basic terms and concepts.

    The closest thing to something approaching an argument was when someone invoked the authority of Karl Marx, as if the fallacy-laden [i]Das Kapital[/i] wasn’t thoroughly refuted nearly a century ago.

    Is this what passes for “skepticism” these days? The rehashed dogmas of “scientific” socialism?

    • NMcC says:

      Is that a fact! Well, since you think that no one but Shermer (and yourself) have the slightest idea of what ‘Libertarianism’ or ‘Skepticism’ involve, here’s a question for you (and the ridiculous Shermer): which historical figure’s self-proclaimed favourite motto was De omnibus dubitandum (doubt everything)?

      That’s right, it was that old authoritarian himself, Karl Marx.

      Could Shermer state the same thing?

      • Inquisitor says:

        Do you have a response or merely an arrogant, blithe dismissal of that which you don’t understand? Hint: it’s the latter. Saying ” doubt everything ” is just words. Putting it into practice, which you have not, except when it comes to logical statements, is not.

      • NMcC says:

        Sorry, Inquisitor, couldn’t make head nor tail of that. Could you get someone to put it into some kind of intelligible English? Thanks.

      • While the epistemological skeptic may indeed “doubt everything” the scientific skeptic does not. For instance, I do not doubt that quantum field theory is a very accurate description of reality at the level of measurement it was designed to describe.

        There is a big difference between saying that one cannot know anything for certain (epistemological skepticism) and saying that certainty is possible but must be earned (scientific skepticism).

  169. epicurus says:

    Nicole, allowing others to take our land is an act of free will. We can eject them and we have done that before (yes kabol, bulldozer & M-16)

    Of course scientists must be moral just like any human being. I’m referring to metaphysics, epistemology and philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics. This is what Richard Feynman called philosophy of science.

    It is people that make economics, science & technology good. We can use communism to impoverish people and nuclear weapons to end mankind.

    Money and the industrial revolution did not end slavery. Money has been around since 3,000 BC and the industrial revolution started in the 18th century. Believe it or not, we still have (illegal) slavery in some parts of the world. Slavery has been outlawed because of man’s morality not by his inventions.

    • @epicurus

      Nicole, allowing others to take our land is an act of free will. We can eject them and we have done that before (yes kabol, bulldozer & M-16)

      Passive/aggresive violence, that is someone forcing you to inflict force upon them (the protester’s violence), is still an act of violence. Your free will has been compromised by the squatters. Theft is theft.

      Personally I may allow squatting on such land were I an owner but only if I were allowed to have a free will choice in the matter. Come, ask me to stay, and I may indulge in charity (especially if you would caring for the land during your stay). Force me to accept your presence and I will fight you tooth and nail. I would allow those who asked kindly to stay, and force the uninvited out in front of everyone else’s eyes.

  170. Dietrich says:

    Is it too much to ask for the readers of this blog to actually, um you know, read about the Austrian school of thought before you make knee-jerk inflammatory comments?

  171. NMcC says:

    Post by me above: should be ‘critique’ not ‘critigue’ and ‘were’ not ‘where’. Trivial, I know, but annoying, too.

  172. TryLogic says:

    For the Utopian intellectual deniers—there is proof freedom is the answer….and overwhelming proof Karl Marx was wrong…there is clear scientific data for skeptics to discuss……

    From social scientist R.J. Rummel:
    “German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that the way to universal peace lay in creating republics, or what today we would call representative democracies.
    Note two things about this solution. First is that, where people have equal rights and freely participate in their governance, they will be unlikely to promote a war in which they or their loved ones might die and their property be destroyed. And second, where leaders are responsible to their people as voters, they will be unwilling to fight. Then when both leaders of two nations are so restrained, war between them should not occur. Full proof of this claim had to wait, however, until social scientists could develop research methods to document it. Thanks in part to the growth of new statistical models made possible by the advent of the computer, in the 1980s and 90s quantitative researchers proved Kant correct. By then they had collected data on all wars that had occurred over the last several
    centuries, and by applying various statistical analyses to these data, they established that there never (or virtually never) has been a war between well-established democracies. Moreover, through these techniques, they also proved that there was not a hidden factor accounting for this, such as a lack of common borders, or geographic distance between…..”

    “…..why freedom?
    Because it is every person’s right. And it is a moral good—
    it promotes wealth and prosperity, social justice,
    and nonviolence, and preserves human life.”

    “The power of freedom to end war, minimize violence within nations, and eradicate genocide and mass murder almost seems magical. It is as though we have a single-drug cure for cancer. Had I not actually done much of the research myself over more than forty years, I would have doubted all this. Yet, my work and that of other social scientists and scholars have proven it true.”
    The Blue Book of Freedom- R.J. Rummel

    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DP.BACKSIDE.V.16.PDF

    TryUsingLogic

  173. SpaniardInAmerica says:

    People, not all libertarians love Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman. Not even Von Mises, Rothbard and 100% reserve banking. Open your mind, read people like professor Antal Fekete too. Be skeptical!

    • Peter says:

      Fekete’s a “Real Bills” crank. Be very skeptical!

      • Peter says:

        (For those who don’t know, “Real Bills Doctrine” can be thought of being to economics what the “perpetual motion machine” is to physics)

  174. Goble says:

    Libertarianism is in no way a cult or religion. There are disagreements and vicious debates within. Though certain authors and professors are adored by some, none are adored by all. Every person on this Earth is guilty of unwarranted belief and unwarranted skepticism on an infinite number of subjects.

    Being an advocate of certain principles doesn’t undermine one’s ability to reason. Though it may cause them to error, it may also cause them to triumph. Trial and error. This is how every great invention in History came into being. Don’t believe it? Research it. No one gets it right the very first time.

    Many of the shortcomings pointed out by critics of capitalism are issues which only became a problem after peoples’ standards of living were high enough for them to worry about it. Politicians in a democracy do nothing without public sentiment, which is better felt and anticipated by private companies than by governments. Pollution, roads, protection, what is defined as property, monopoly… all of these things are marketable.

    Few took time to watch whales before their wages were increased and hours reduced. This happened under capitalism. Today, the wages increase slower than the value of money decreases. This is no raise at all.

  175. ChTr says:

    “In fact, in 1991 the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club surveyed readers about books that “made a difference” in their lives. Atlas Shrugged was rated second only to the Bible.”

    Yes. Because both book are filled with fable, written for ignorant masses.

    Honestly, I find the libertarian fixation from Mr Shermer pretty pathetic. I read his book “The Mind of the Market”. To me, he lost his credibility when he says that “if socialise medecine was effective, we would know it”. In fact, if he was not a total ignorant, he would know that the most efficient and fairest health systems in the world are not free market systems …

    Libertarian are not rational.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      http://www.cato.org/pubs/bp/bp101.pdf

      A more skeptical view……

      WHO’s Fooling Who?
      The World Health Organization’s Problematic
      Ranking of Health Care Systems
      by Glen Whitman

      The World Health Report 2000, prepared by the
      World Health Organization, presented performance
      rankings of 191 nations’ health care systems.
      These rankings have been widely cited in
      public debates about health care, particularly by
      those interested in reforming the U.S. health care
      system to resemble more closely those of other
      countries. Michael Moore, for instance, famously
      stated in his film SiCKO that the United States
      placed only 37th in the WHO report. CNN.com,
      in verifying Moore’s claim, noted that France and
      Canada both placed in the top 10.
      Those who cite the WHO rankings typically
      present them as an objective measure of the relative performance of national health care systems.
      They are not. The WHO rankings depend crucially
      on a number of underlying assumptions—
      some of them logically incoherent, some characterized by substantial uncertainty, and some rooted in ideological beliefs and values that not everyone shares. The analysts behind the WHO rankings express the hope that their framework “will lay the basis for a shift from ideological dis-course on health policy to a more empirical one.” Yet the WHO rankings themselves have a strong ideological component. They
      include factors that are arguably unrelated to
      actual health performance and some that
      could even improve in response to worse
      health performance. Even setting those concerns
      aside, the rankings are still highly sensitive
      to both measurement error and assumptions about the relative importance of the components. And finally, the WHO rankings reflect implicit value judgments and lifestyle preferences that differ among individuals and across countries. The WHO
      health care ranking system does not escape
      ideology. On the contrary, it advances ideological
      assumptions under the guise of objectivity.
      Those interested in objective measures
      of health system performance should look
      elsewhere.

      • ChTr says:

        Read your reply TryUsingLogic, and then go read the reply to evolution you can read on the Discovery Institute Website.

        You’ll see that they are not that different …

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        I’m not sure I am connecting the right dots to your reply……there were quite a few unrelated choices….???

        TryUsinglogic

      • Beelzebud says:

        Ah the Cato Institute. A Libertarian think tank, that adheres to their libertarian principles so much that they are a non-profit group.

      • Peter says:

        Do you know what “ad hominem” means? (Besides, Cato people are big-L Libertarians, but hardly little-l libertarians)

      • ChTr says:

        Is it as much as an ad hominem attack as if you say that because the WHO is not 100% pro-libertarian, then all that they say is wrong?

      • Peter says:

        If someone said they were wrong because they’re not libertarian, then yes…but nobody said that.

  176. SpaniardInAmerica says:

    The funny thing is that so many americans believe that US government is small compared to Canadian and European ones. First, top federal income tax rate and corporate tax rate in Canada are lower than in America. Second, US public spending as a share of GDP has increased from 30 to 40% in last 10 years and fastly approaches to 50%, while in most Europe it has decreased below 50 or 45%. Right now, in Europe, only the governments in Spain, UK, Ireland, Hungary, Ukraine and Baltic countries are running deficits comparable to american ones.

    The lovers of Welfare/Well-being State in Europe should take a glimpse of our collapsing birth rates. According to the European Union statistical office (Eurostat) the European Union faces a demographic calamity in next 50 years:

    1) Low birth rates and increasing number of survivors to high ages causes aging in all member states and eventually the loss of population.

    2) The population aged 65 and older will rise from 17% in 2008 to 30% in 2060. The elderly people will represent almost a third of population. An those aged 80, from 4,4% to 12,1% in the same period.

    3) From 2015 deaths will outnumber births, so natural increase will cease. Net immigration will be the only population growth factor. (In fact this prediction is quite optimistic. Deaths per 1.000 inhabitants outnumbered births in European Union in 2008 for the first time since WWII)

    4) From 2035 not even immigration will counterbalance the negative natural change, so population will also start to fall.

    5) The old age dependency ratio in Europe is projected to increase from 25% in 2008 to 53% in 2060. The old age dependency ratio is the population aged 65 and older divided by the working-age population. There are four working-age persons for every person aged 65 or more in 2008 (4 to 1) and there will be only two for each person aged 65 or more in 2060 (2 to 1). Population pyramids are progressing to inverted age structures.

    It looks reliable since european birth rates collapsed in 70s and have mostly not recovered.

    There are many European Union members that are already losing population: Germany (lowest birth rate), Austria, Italy, many ex-communist countries… Germany, where there were more births in 1944 and 1945 than in 2007, loses 150.000 people each year and 30% of women born in 1960 never had children. The only countries that aproach to a replacement level are Ireland and France. The case in France, thanks to massive immigration from former colonies (4 out of 10 newborn babies have at least one foreign parent).

    So public social security, healthcare, education… cost aprox 70% of annual budget in most european countries. The system is obviously financed with the wealth produced by working-age people. If the number of working-age people decreases the government will collect less money. If the number of elderly people increases the pressure on public pensions and healthcare will be bigger. Who will pay the system then? We face a society where 30% of people will be older than 65 and only 10% younger than 15.

    I would conclude that births are heavily discouraged in most Europe

  177. Sabio says:

    OK, I set up a Libertarian Skeptics website for all us nuts !
    Looking for contributors !!

  178. Lee Kelly says:

    Ouch!

    The level of economic literacy here in the comments is frightening.

  179. Jason Gordon says:

    To the hostile commenters, how is it skeptical apostasy to question the assertions of Statism, or Marxism, or Hobbes?

    Is the extent of your skepticism based upon ad hominem speculation into the authors motives?

    I recommend that naif “liberal” Statist apologists acquaint themselves with the works of Paul Goodman and Murray Rothbard — in that order.

  180. CarlD says:

    Did you hear V-201? It extends the theory from V-50 and adds Galambos’ idea for “building freedom” — hopefully before the prevailing social structures completely fail.

    I liked the Bastiat reference.

    Most people won’t get this but I think you may be up to the challenge.

    DEMOGRAPHIC PONZI SCHEME
    Rather than a financial Ponzi scheme a la Bernie Madoff, current policies assume that a new crop of wage earners will emerge to pay off debts from older generations. When does this collapse? When senior citizens drop out of the labor pool faster than new victims enter.

    – CarlD “TPaine2009″

  181. Bastiat79 says:

    “Without a framework of regulation, we would have 15 hour work days, 7 day work schedules, child labor, no minimum wage, no safety laws etc. Without regulation of economic institutions, we have unbridled greed and a world wide depression.”

    “Without regulation of capitalism, there would be no 40 hour workweek, health insurance, retirement benefits, environmental regulations, child labor laws.”

    And of course we cannot be allowed to be skeptic about these claims. After all, they are ideological viewpoints, not falsifiable claims of causality.

    Yeah right. Give me a break. The question should have been, from the beginning, how can you be a social liberal and a skeptic?

    Here is how skepticism necessarily leads to libertarianism:
    1. You realize that economics is a science, so that claims such as the above are either true or false, universally.
    2. You realize that the existence of competing schools of economic thought does NOT mean that economics is purely scientific make-up for various ideologies. What it means is that one of the schools must get it right and the others must get it wrong. The wrong ones remain propagandized because it serves some special interests, not because they have any validity from any viewpoint. Other wrong theories, such as 2+2=5, are forgotten because they serve no special interests.
    3. After reading several books on the competing theories (because you are a true skeptic), you realize that the Austrian school is probably the one that gets it right, because of its higher internal logical consistency and its better treatment of the epistemological problems of the discipline.
    4. You realize that government generally does more harm than good, as a purely logical conclusion from what economic science actually has to teach.
    5. You realize that the principle of non-agression, although ultimately a value choice, still has some universal validity worth embracing wholeheartedly. Police beating up harmless people is not nice (including tax evaders), especially since it does more harm than good (see point 4).
    6. You are now a libertarian (or even individualist anarchist) forever ejected from the fantasy land of social liberalism.

    • redshirt says:

      bastiat79… bingo! That’s how it’s working for me. Once you take the time to read through the books you find some clarity. I’m finding the Politically Incorrect Guides a very helpful series as well. I’m recognizing now that so much of the historical support for the way things have been done are almost pure fiction. ABCT is where it’s at for understanding the economy.

    • Bastiat79 says:

      and 7. You understand that economic science cannot predict anything with accuracy, and that the proper role of empiricism is not to verify “predictions” made after the fact, as just about any theory can be “proven” that way (too many variables).

      8. You get a little arrogant with your adversaries because of their abysmal economic illiteracy. But that apparent dogmatism does not mean you do not remain skeptical of the Austrian school.

    • Max says:

      If it turns out that unskilled laborers are most productive when they work 15 hour days, what’s to stop employers from requiring this? Massive labor unions? Would that be any better than government regulations?

      • Jack says:

        I don’t think you know anything about economics or incentives.

        In that situation, do you really think employers would be incentivized to require that? No, because they could attract better talent with shorter workdays. Plus, if every employer required that, then there would be a strong market signal for people to start there own business and become employers.

        The market always adjusts to equilibrium through “homeostasis”. Markets are inherently convergent.

      • Max says:

        I don’t think you know anything about reality.
        I said “unskilled laborers” for a reason. They’re not going to quit their job and start their own GM or WalMart. There’s a greater supply of laborers than there is demand for them, so the laborers are competing for jobs rather than employers competing for talented bolt screwers and grape pickers. Meanwhile, union members receive better pay and benefits than some of their bosses, so THAT’S their incentive.

      • Max says:

        Suppose it turns out that people who work 35-hour weeks, like in France, live longer, healthier, and happier. If laborers decide that they want to work 35-hour weeks, what should they do?

      • Bastiat79 says:

        They should sit with their boss and say “I want all hours above 35 per week to be paid double-time, otherwise I will go work some other place. In exchange, I will accept a wage cut of X cents per hour.” where X is sufficient to make an attractive deal. Of course, you have to understand that if people in the aggregate request to produce less, they also have to accept to consume less. (Nothing wrong with that.) Since very few people take “leave without pay” even when they have a choice empirically proves that what they actually prefer is working more/consuming more, not working less/consuming less. You cannot force people into happiness, even though you seem to think the French do.

        Your premise seems to be that structual mass unemployment is possible without the regulations that actually create it. That is what libertarians consider against “what economic science actually has to teach”. What you want is an unregulated labor market, precisely so that you avoid a situation where there is an artificial scarcity of employers. That will make the poor richer as they will gain bargaining power.

      • Jack says:

        Fixing the price and putting regulations on the supply of labor is fundamentally the same as fixing the price and putting regulations on the supply of food or clothing or computers or any good.

        If you fix price (via unions, minimum wage, etc.) you will get surpluses, inefficiencies, etc. If you regulate, you will do more harm than good though unintended consequences of deregulation – that is – the strongest regulation is provided by consumers acting in their self-interest in a free market. Any state-enforced regulations can only detract from that.

        In general, voluntary systems are sustainable, while involuntary systems are unsustainable. Good rule of thumb.

        I thought “skeptics” were supposed to have critical reasoning and not blind faith in the “government religion”?

    • ChTr says:

      9. And you realize that Ayn Rand and Hayek books are not peer-reviewed journal. And that even if these “visions” make sense, you sudently remember that you had the same feeling when you had read Karl Marx. And you suddently told yourself: “These philosophies are interesting, but maybe they are both a bit naive”.
      10. You realize that the dichotomy “either you’re a libertarian or you’re a socialist” is the logical falacy of the false dichotomy. And that maybe some element of the libertarian are good, and some are not.
      11. You realize that even if there is a lot of arshole in politics, that it’s pretty naive to think that they could be avoided. And that corruption problem in politics are slowly fading away through time (with the appearence of new controls to prevent this corruption).
      12. And you realize that the true rational way to approach a social problem is to looked at what is done in the world, see if the solution where conclusive, and then adapt this solution to your country. An sometime, these solutions are Libertarian-like, and that’s ok, and sometime, they are Social-like, and that’s also ok.

      • Peter says:

        And you realize that the true rational way to approach a social problem is to looked at what is done in the world, see if the solution where conclusive

        And how are you supposed to determine that??

      • Bastiat79 says:

        Exactly, you can you see if the solution is conclusive, since you CANNOT keep the other variables fixed?

        Peer-reviewing only guarantees that you repeat the mistakes prevalent in your discipline.

      • Barbarossa says:

        And you realize that Marx wasn’t peer-reviewed either. And then you realize that Hayek and Mises refuted Marx, while Marx simply blew hot air. And you realize that libertarianism and socialism are mutually exclusive BY DEFINITION, that they are two ends of a spectrum. And then you realize, after taking your head out of the sand (or perhaps your arse) that corruption in government isn’t fading with time BUT INCREASING ($2.3 trillion missing from the Pentagon the day before 9/11, the Iraq war we were lied into, BUSH, illegal wiretapping, the Patriot Act, Paulson’s three-page make-me-dictator-of-the-economy original bailout plan, the bailouts, Obama’s extension of Bush’s policies, etc., etc.), and that the best, really, only, way to limit government corruption and its effects on the country are by limiting the size and power of government. And your last point just doesn’t make much sense.

  182. Nechiseri says:

    Wow. So a smart man gives a detailed, persuasive, and long account of his intellectual discoveries in libertarian thought. On top of an expose of why he is dedicating some scientific insight into how the market economy functions…And the troll brigade of 18 year old freshman at state university and 30 year old losers with Bachelors degrees-but bitter that they’re still working at McDonalds, predictably freak out- avoid any real arguments and generally shit themselves on the internet. shocking

    • tmac57 says:

      Well, Nechiseri, while I did disagree with Dr Shermer on this post, I did so without reverting to ad hoc attacks, which is more than can be said for you my friend. And as for the lack of “real arguments”, I guess you need to re-read the 646 comments here and re-evaluate your assertion. You did read them all Nechiseri, didn’t you? Just because an argument doesn’t line up with your belief system, doesn’t mean they don’t have any validity. There have been many posts on here from thoughtful Libertarians, but you do not seem to be one of them.

  183. epicurus says:

    @nicole
    Everybody will kindly ask you to please allow them to stay. But if ask them to leave, they will not until you force them. Free will is always ‘compromised’ in the real world because everything we do have trade-offs. Ejecting people could lead to deaths. If I kill 1,500 people to regain my land, does that make me more moral or more evil? If Americans truly believe capitalism is good and communism is evil, did they commit an immoral act by withdrawing from Vietnam? Perhaps the moral act is to use more force to defeat the Vietcongs? These make for a good philosophical debate but we have to make a choice: lives or land? Ideology or more killings?

    A moral purist will insist on a ‘moral’ course of action at all cost. Sometimes the cost itself makes the action immoral. Some of the worst atrocities in history were done by people who believed they were doing good and intolerant of ‘immorality.’ Wars had been waged in the name of Christianity, Islam, communism, capitalism, divine rights of kings, racial superiority, etc. If only people would be as good as we like them to be, then we can exercise our free will without compromise or trade-off and everybody will be happy and we will be living in Utopia. That is my dream and the dream of all philosophers and all religions. Then we wake up.

    • @epicurus
      I understand your point. My intention was not to levy an indictment upon your moral choices and character as much as it was an intention to levy an indictment upon the moral character of your culture (the squatters and your enabling fellow citizens) and your government. In other words this state of affairs should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Given that it has you may have no moral choice but to allow the theft to occur. You are hence forced into making a moral choice that results in theft of your property, which is an egregious state of affairs indeed!

      If I were a moral squatter, I would bargain your permission to stay against work me and my family could do for you in return. Apparently these are not moral squatters.

  184. Max says:

    Capitalism will be in trouble when robots do all the work.
    You’d think it should be a utopia. Humans should just be able to relax and let the robots do everything. Hunger should be a thing of the past.
    Instead, the top 1% of people will own most of the robots, and the rest of the population will live in the third world. How else could it play out?

    • Max, you bring up a very interesting point about the future of capitalism. Trends seem to indicate a continual reduction of the cost of manufacturing anything at all. I doubt manufacturing costs will ever hit zero because energy will always cost money and occasional failure will always exist and levy its toll. Regardless, what happens when the costs of manufacturing any drug, medical device, food production capacity, food itself, entertainment technology or whatever, approaches zero?

      One of my favorite books is Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s book, “Player Piano”:

      http://www.amazon.com/Player-Piano-Kurt-Vonnegut/dp/0385333781

      In his world, all human jobs are being automated to the point where only PhDs have jobs. The problem is, even the PhDs are about to be phased out as redundant. What are humans to do?

      If Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity” idea has any validity,

      http://www.amazon.com/Singularity-Near-Humans-Transcend-Biology/dp/0143037889

      …then we have to wonder, what indeed does the future of capitalism look like? Add this to just about anything that Alvin and Heidi Toffler have written about the pressures of ad hoc-ism, time compression, (again) constant manufacturing cost reductions and we get…what?

      I wonder what will happen when we humans simply “burn out” with regards to the latest Invention of the Hour, burned out on access to any kind of entertainment one can imagine indulging in, burned out on the array of foods before us and so on. Scoff, you may, but I have noticed this behavior at the end of every economic bubble. “What was that bubble about?” people ask. “What were we buying?” People question their purchasing motivations, what is important in life, question the energies they spend chasing after…what? Humans do get burned out, emotionally, when it comes to the goods and services they consume. What will happen when we are faced with “all change, all the time” the likes of which we have only an inkling about today?

      What happens to capitalism, nay even freedom, in a society which has become numb to novelty?

    • LTodd says:

      The “top 1%” (I assume you mean “self-professed top 1%”) don’t even own most of the robots today. What could possibly change about that in the future unless government becomes totalitarian and its corporatist or collectivist form destroys catallactics and with it civilization?

      Indeed, look at a thing like the Roomba: inexpensive, does what it’s designed to do — all because of the market influences of consumer demand, not because of regulations or government oversight.

      • Max says:

        Sure, you could say that everyone will own a robot or two, and instead of going to work, they’ll just send their robots to work.

        But why would a large company deal with a thousand people and their robots, when it could just get a thousand robots straight from the manufacturer?

      • Peter says:

        Why would anyone care? If nothing costs anything, why would anyone want a job? They can spend their time doing what they want to do.

    • If 99% of the people can’t eat because an oligarchy owns all the robots, then I guess we’ll have to find ways to eat without robots. So?

  185. Nicole G says:

    Thank you for this great article! It’s hard to be 100% skeptical about ones own political beliefs, and I’m glad that you make that acknowledgment. I’m so disappointed when the more liberal skeptics constantly attack the “libertarian nutjob” straw man. (Although, to be fair, there are a lot of libertarian nutjobs out there!)

    I’d be a happy camper if our country’s political debates were held between libertarians and liberals. Both groups have a lot of good things to say about how “best” an economy can work. And we tend to agree on being socially liberal, so we work together there, too.

    I, too, was greatly influenced by “Atlas Shrugged.” The walls began to crack soon after, however, when I read Rand’s scathing criticisms of relativity and quantum mechanics. Because they did not agree with her philosophy, they had to be wrong. Yet as a physics major, I knew that the evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of both theories. So in the ends, her works became a good starting point for thinking about economics. And like you said, although libertarianism appears to me greatly in theory, I am troubled by its practice. So I guess, at the end of the day, I’m stuck somewhere on the more liberal side of libertarianism. And since it’s not an exact science, I enjoy the debate.

    As skeptics, at the end of the day, we do need to put aside our political differences when we aren’t talking about politics, in order to fight the rising tides of pseudoscience! And why can’t we be civil when we are having a political debate?

    • Nicole G says:

      Typing fail… “in the end” and “libertarianism appeals to me”…

    • Nicole, I too was a physics major (though now I am a practicing software architect and now entering the venture capital realm) and continue to maintain an active interest in physics and many other natural sciences.

      I did not understand Rand’s criticisms to be directed against quantum mechanics and relativity per se as much as they were criticisms of the metaphysical and epistemological conclusions that various people were drawing from those methods, in particular Kantian (non-objective) worldviews. I see this as no different from the kinds of criticisms a skeptic might levy today against any mystic who purports to use quantum mechanics to support a magical worldview of “oneness” or whatever.

      To your point however Rand’s writings must be met with a healthy dose of skepticism, otherwise I would say one would be missing one of her most important points to continue to think for thyself! Golly, I would consider not meeting her writing with skepticism to be a dishonor to her work! I too, regardless of my efforts in this discussion to characterize my understanding of Objectivism (someone had to), struggle every day to balance my experience with theory I have digested in order to continue to discover what “is” and to determine what “ought” to be. I try to be as honest in my approach as possible, as scientifically skeptical as possible (which means that I do reach actionable, though provisional conclusions with varying degrees of certainty) and as logically cohesive as I know how.

      In the end, I urge everyone reading this to think for themselves. No more. No less.

  186. Jules says:

    Great read Shermer!

    I’m very active in both the skeptic and Austro-libertarian communities. I go crazy with the fact that a percentage of us skeptics are economically clueless while at the same time too many of us libertarians lack critical reasoning skills when it comes to science/religion issues. The human brain is funny that way.

    So the efforts of people who apply skepticism evenly to science AND politcs/economics like yourself and P&T are so valuable.

    Thanks for sticking your neck out on this.

  187. Dan says:

    I think allot of libertarians would agree that the current system is not a total free market. Yet it works… Continued growth, endless shelves full of cr*p. Lots of Innovation and Scientific research etc. So why fix something that is not broken… you don’t offer a solution, it is already done… its better how? Why was it replaced after it reigned supreme in the 1800’s? The current system has just evolved naturally.

    • Peter says:

      Yeah, the current system is working really well, isn’t it!? Have you been hiding under a rock for the last year?

    • Jules says:

      Hi Dan,
      You need to understand that virtually the only people who warned ahead of time about our current economic crisis were OVERWHELMINGLY adherents of the Austrian theory of the business cycle (not the Objectivists or Chicago schoolers AND CERTAINLY NOT anyone in the political or economic mainstream). If mixed economies work than why are we facing our current crisis? If mixed economies work then why weren’t it’s advocates (which is mostly everyone)able to see this this crisis coming and offer a coherent solution now that it’s here?

      And you seem to not at all be aware of libertarian explanations of how and why the rule of government is for it to grow and become less and less effective over time. Robert Higgs’ work explains this “ratchet affect” perhaps better than any.

      In fact, I don’t fully understand the venom towards libertarianism that is displayed in these comments when it is clear many are not exactly well versed on the Austrian theory of the business cycle.

      • Dan says:

        Well some clear Keynesian’s like Krugman also predicted the current clusterf*k. Like I said why did this superior model not survive the 1800’s?

        Now I know libertarians solution to AIG was failure… and that the resulting mass economic panic and fear would have real consequences. And I don’t see how that would have been “Creative Destruction” more like Mass Destruction…

        It is not that the model has no merit, even Keynes acknowledged that the Great Depression would have passed in the long term, the problem is that in the long run you are dead. What is Libertarians solution to Depressions that may involve Mass Starvation and unemployment?

        Regarding Austrian business cycle theory, I believe there was some experiments conducted in labs were bubbles form even in perfect markets with perfect information, and their inevitable collapse and wealth destruction.
        So even you eliminate the main libertarian villain the central banks, you still will have bubbles (like there were pre-1900 without central banks, tulip-mania?) The only system that has been shown to work at least somewhat to address the business cycle is Keynesian.

        Regarding government, there was an interesting article by someone that argued that Paradoxically constitutional limited governments exercises far more power and influence in many more spheres (including economic) than suppressive and autocratic ones, they think it is because they are legitimate and democratic. So I can see why libertarians has a strong anarchistic bent, every type of government is incompatible with the purist form.

      • Peter says:

        What you fail to understand is that the “long term” you speak of when you say “the Great Depression would have passed in the long term” would have been perhaps a year or so…the Keynesian response extended to it decades.

      • “Libertarians solution to Depressions that may involve Mass Starvation and unemployment” is primarily to refrain from causing bubbles through inflation (as in the Roaring Twenties) or subsidies (as recently in housing and before that with FSLIC), and secondarily to refrain from preventing recovery by enforcing cartels (as in the NRA).

        At least one pre-1900 bubble was driven by acts of Congress fixing the price of silver in terms of gold (or vice equivalently versa). The libertarian answer to that is not hard to guess.

        This article says tulipmania is greatly exaggerated by myth.

  188. Todd says:

    Again, a frightening level of misinformation in the anti-libertarian comments here, which may ultimately be OUR fault. If these comments are any indication of the typical understanding of our movement, then our PR machine is BROKEN. So for clariy, let me say again, we do not support the ABSENCE of government. We support limits to it based on the rule of law, and in accordance with values set forth in our own constitution. While this discussion has been lively and enlightening, please stop pretending that libertarianism calls for anarchy or Wild West-style economic chaos. WHOEVER predicted our current economic meltdown (and libertarians at Cato and Reason.com most certainly did), we all must admit (if we are to stick to facts) that our financial system is HEAVILY regulated and that other, MORE regulated economies in Europe were in recession before our own meltdown (which was admittedly driven by wild housing speculation). The goofy comparisons to Somalia are absurdities, and don’t serve this debate at all.

    • Peter says:

      please stop pretending that libertarianism calls for anarchy

      Please stop pretending that it doesn’t. Pansy weak Kochtopus libertarianism be damned.

      or Wild West-style economic chaos

      The so-called “Wild West” wasn’t very wild…but also please stop pretending “anarchy” means “anomy”.

      • cputter says:

        I second Peter.

        “Libertarian” is a pretty wide ranging term, it can encompass far left socialists to far right capitalists. Though all of them are anti-state, anti-aggression and pro liberty.

        The smart ones among us are anarchists.

        Though we need to be pragmatic and start of as minarchists, the logical conclusion of any form of libertarian thinking is the abolition of the state.

        The best way I know is to let a thousand nations bloom…

        http://athousandnations.com/

      • Todd says:

        “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so”

        -Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

  189. Ed Hudgins says:

    I thought Michael’s piece on why he began a libertarian was excellent and I have the same evaluation of his book, “The Mind of the Market.”

    But I want to discuss two issues that arise from the comments on this thread.

    The first issue is that many of the characterizations of the Objectivist philosophy—yes, that’s what it is!—are mistaken. As director of advocacy for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C., I note that the approach of many critics of Objectivism is anything but rational, well-considered, fair, and skeptical in the best epistemological sense. Many critics approach this philosophy the same way closed-minded religious people approach our skeptical critique of their views: with emotion and invective rather than sound analysis.

    Michael Shermer has differences as well as agreements with Objectivism. But his criticisms are thoughtful and well-reasoned. I might disagree with them but we’re coming at the matter with the same methodology.

    I’ll also add that it is important to separate the philosophy from many of those who say they accept its insights as true. In the early days many adherents took a narrow-minded approach to the philosophy. That’s why Shermer, in “Why People Believe Weird Things,” called it the most unlikely cult of all.

    But The Atlas Society was founded in 1990 (then under the name of the Institute for Objectivist Studies) to take what our founder David Kelley called an open approach to Objectivism. You can read about this in his book “The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in Objectivism.”

    The second issue I want to raise concerns the need for skeptics to place high on their agendas the need to apply a rational approach to ethics and morality. Here’s what I mean.

    Today’s skeptics and freethinkers accept that there is an objective reality. Most reject both religious assertions based on faith that there is some higher realm, heaven or whatever, and the post-modernistic nonsense that everything we think, everything that goes through our minds is a matter of subjective interpretation or creation.

    Today’s skeptics and freethinkers accept that a certain process—reason, critical thinking, skeptical inquiry—can give us knowledge about objective reality. This is the approach we should take to any issue or inquiry.

    Today’s skeptics and freethinkers accept that in society with others individuals should be free to think, to pursue truth without restrictions imposed by governments or religions. And they generally favor most of what would be called social freedoms.

    But today’s skeptics and freethinkers don’t quite know what to do with morality and ethics.

    As I discuss in the introduction to my collection, “An Objectivist Secular Reader,” in the first half of the twentieth century most were moral collectivists. The good was generally identified as that which is in the interest of “society” (a kind of secular version of Christian altruism) or, perhaps, the greatest good for the greatest number. These moral premises implied socialist or even communist political regimes.

    Later in the century, thinkers like Paul Kurtz tried to mix a respect for the dignity and freedom of the individual with the perceived needs of society and with a social altruism, which implied the sorts of welfare states found in North America and Western Europe.

    But the ethical thinking underlying these forms of secularism still contained contradictions that can be seen writ large in the economic failures of the modern welfare state.

    Today the best secular thinkers are taking a welcomed serious look at ethics. Most notably in his books “How We Believe” and “The Science of Good and Evil”, Shermer looks at human moral capacities and sentiments from the perspective of human evolution. He asks, what can we say about ethics and judgments about moral behavior in light of these facts of reality?

    Attempts to approach ethics from a scientific and evolutionary perspective have yielded important insights but still have not adequately dealt with many ultimate questions, most notably how to go from the facts of reality to an objective ethical or moral standard, from an “is” to an “ought.”

    So here are the questions for skeptics and secularists: How should we think about ethics and morality? How can we take a reasoned and skeptical approach to these matters? By what standard should we judge whether an argument for a certain foundation for ethics is valid? Can we say anything about these topics other than “I feel, it is simply a personal prejudice, that the essence of morality is to help others or to follow one’s own rational self-interest or whatever”?

    Only by answering these moral questions can we answer questions about the proper nature and role of government.

    And let’s appreciate that a major reason why many individuals are reluctant to leave behind their religious beliefs is that they can see no other basis for morality.

    I argue that while debunking ESP, UFOs, faith-healing and the like has its place, the most important challenge today for secularists, skeptics, and humanists and every individual and the future of humanity is to establish a firm, rational and defensible foundation for ethics and morality. I see the Objectivist approach as providing that foundation. We secularists must bring to these matters the same sort of respect for the truth, honesty, reason, attention to evidence, and rigor that we bring to so many other questions. And I see the need for all skeptics and secularists who want to promote a truth-oriented culture to take up these issues and this approach.

    Edward Hudgins, Ph.D.
    The Atlas Society

    • Wylielea says:

      Ed – Good Post.
      I find Secular Humanism to be consistant with skepticism and to reflect my intuitive sense of morality and ethics. How does Objectivism compare to Secular Humanism?

  190. epicurus says:

    @nicole
    I see your point. The poor, the rich and the state must all act morally to create a moral society. The moral act for the poor is to work for the rich as payment to his land. The poor survives by fishing. If he works for free or gives his catch to the rich, he will starve to death. The moral act for the rich is not to tolerate theft of his land. He must eject the poor out of his land at the risk of injury and death. He cannot be altruistic because his free will has been compromised and that makes it immoral. The moral act for the state is not to intervene on behalf of the poor. It is immoral to help the poor at the expense of the rich. If the poor cannot feed themselves, let them die. This will solve the population problem. It makes sense. This is how nature will actually solve it. It only became complicated because of man-made moral law called altruism.

    • Peter says:

      In other words, you don’t see the point at all.

    • Yes, you missed my point. Let me say it again, given the conditions you live with your most moral decision is in fact to allow the squatters to squat. To improve the morality of the entire situation however will require an improvement in the moral character of your fellow citizen and your government (by extension, hopefully).

      My point is that we can hold moral ideals, but reality does indeed creep in and may dictate for us what our range of choices might actually be. In order to make the most moral choice possible given existing circumstances, one must have some idea of what one’s moral ideals are in the first place (this is often called a “moral compass”) so that one can maximize the morality of today’s choices. I am saying that, given your circumstances, you are doing the right thing by valuing life over property. Given my personal moral ideals however, I wish your range of options were wider. Perhaps one day conditions may improve around you so that the choices you and your neighbors make between “the Devil and the deep blue sea” can fade into history.

      My husband works as a maintenance hand in a local state owned park which is used very frequently for horse riding and equestrian competition. There are some people with no place to call home who live on premises either in recreational vehicles or in their own tents. The ranger in charge of the park tolerates these squatters because they earn their keep by helping to keep the park safe, clean and ready for use. Epicurus, a similar state of affairs might be a preferred under your circumstances, but I would guess that the culture of the squatters might such that they would simply laugh in your face should you suggest such a trade.

    • Just be aware, Epicurus, that the squatters and your government are being unfair to you.

  191. Tim says:

    I believe the U.S. government has operated an excellent economic system that is based on mixed economic policies–a unique combination of both public and private interests. On one hand, there is little that stops a person from starting their own business or moving up in the business ranks; yet, there are laws and provisions that are in place to ensure that this is done fairly and with the interest of stockholders and public in mind. These are the checks and balances of our society that emphasize a tendency for some individuals to take advantage of the system. Granted, the system is not perfect (considering the recent frauds committed on Wall Street and under the noses of the federal government), but the fact that these scandals are uncovered should provide evidence to the benefits of government intervention.

    Much of the recent oversight and regulation that is being renewed has been prompted by private companies that demand that the government protect them from fraud and manipulation that has been recently uncovered. So, this appears to illustrate the double-edged sword of government involvement: On one edge of the sword, apply regulation and oversight and stamp out the dirtbags that hide in the shadows of Wall Street; yet, on the other edge of the sword, apply to much control and regulation and productivity is stifled as the engine stalls from a lack of oxygen.

    Indeed, unbridled free market capitalism may appear to be the solution. After all, it seems logical to conclude that a hands-off approach by government would the best means to create the most efficient, effective, and fair economy. But, where exactly is the oversight to ensure that the rules of the game are being played fairly? What assurance do investors have regarding the security of their investments? What if the government could provide a particular service at a cheaper price or with the benefit of the entire public in mind? How can I be assured that I’ll have a safety net in place in the event that the free market cowers during an economic downturn?

    It seems that many complex questions arise when faced with the notion that our country consists of people from various cultural, political, socioeconomic backgrounds and interests.

    The answer: Mixed Economy.

    To conclude in a loose, laissez-faire economy exemplified by a libertarian philosophy or a tightly controlled government economy advocated by idealistic socialists simply points out two extremes representing two different sides of the political and economic spectrum. To take either side and reduce it down to a finite science is ridiculous. Economics remains a social science because of its holistic characteristics that involve politics, psychology, sociology, business, etc. This is not to suggest that capitalist economics remains to be misunderstood or cannot be tested and studied, but it does suggest that economics does not fall under the category of reductionism, and that answers to complex questions cannot be reduced to a single answer.

    Ultimately, it is our ability to compromise within a diverse population of individuals that has made our country so successful. This compromise, in terms of economics, can be more successfully achieved through a mixed economy, where groups of people must sit down at the same table and develop a concensus concerning an appropriate direction and/or course of action. In reality, our mixed economy is here to stay, as it remains an intertwined system of public and private entities that make critical decisions concerning our economy and the future of our country.

    • LTodd says:

      The most dangerous swindle of them all is the “third way.”

      • Tim says:

        The inability to negotiate and resolve conflicts due to an uncompromising, radical ideology is even more frighteningly dangerous.

  192. A mixed economy might be okay and all (perhaps temporarily), but we must internalize moral and ethical principles that help us determine how “mixed” we ought to be before we realize that we have waded into the dangerous waters of the type exemplified by the plight of Epicurus (see previous comments). Without a well defined morality and ethics for economics, how can the generations hence come to know how far they have strayed and whether or not the time has been reached to “roll back the clock” on any statism that may have developed on their watch? “Real life” is indeed a series of trade-offs, but generations hence ought to know what they are trading off when they make crucial decisions with regard to freedom of economy versus “freedom” from risk.

  193. epicurus says:

    @nicole
    I admire your idealism. As I said before, ideology ends where stomach begins. It is indeed ideal for all people to be moral. But they cannot be moral when they’re dead. They have to survive first before they can be moral. That’s the point I hope philosophers will see.

    The squatters here do plant crops in their backyards but we don’t demand they give it to us as rent for the land. They need that to feed their malnourished children more than we do. They are not evil. They are just trying to survive. That’s a law of nature that, in my view, is higher than man-made moral law. The simplistic ‘good’ and ‘evil’ of moral philosophy sometimes doesn’t work in the real world. By trying to be ‘good’ you end up creating more evil. History is full of that.

    Frankly I don’t feel the poor and government were unfair. If I were a moral philosopher, I would. The poor has more reasons to believe the world has been unfair to them (it’s not one’s fault to be born poor). They don’t have to philosophize to believe that. They just have to open their eyes. And I don’t blame government for trying to help the poor.

    One thing I don’t like about some philosophers is they seem so detached from the real world. They would rather indulge in their Utopia where good and evil are immutable ideas far above the moral and immoral acts that we see in our daily lives. They remind me of what Lancelot Hogben said of Plato, “His great achievement was to invent a religion that satisfies the emotional need of people who are out of harmony with their social environment, and who are just too intelligent and too individualistic to seek sanctuary in the cruder forms of animism.”

  194. Talia says:

    Michael Shermer, I have two point to make:

    1. There is some evidence that the happiest people are from countries which pay the most taxes and obtain the highest level of social services.

    2. Show me a large scale functionally successful libertarian system, and I will give it more consideration.

  195. We may note that gentibus means ‘to the peoples’, not ‘to the people’. That’s a good start, but the greater goal is aperire terras hominibus.

  196. Vichy says:

    I had no idea Schwarzenegger introduced ‘Free to Choose’. That’s hilarious, and awesome.

  197. John says:

    Libertarian cycle jersey here if you are interested: http://www.lpstuff.com/shop/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=607

  198. sduford says:

    Michael Shermer ceased to be a credible skeptic when he became a Libertarian. First of all, I think ideologies are for the intellectually lazy and they are not compatible with skepticism. Second is that so much of the libertarian ideology is complete non-sense, how can a supposedly intelligent and rational person believe in them? He changed as a reaction to Republicans craisness? Puuulleeeaaaase. A rational person doesn’t replace one crazy ideology with an even crazier one.

    When he wrote this blog post filled with non-sense: http://skepticblog.org/2008/12/09/regulation-schmegulation/

    is when I lost all respect for him as a skeptic and a rational person and I have let my subscription to Skeptic magazine lapse. If I can’t trust the editor, I can’t trust the magazine.

    • margaret oak says:

      I must say I agree with you sduford!
      He doesn’t even seem to know what core values libertarianism was founded on.

  199. Not Another Libertarian Sales Pitch says:

    I followed Libertarian discussions for over seven years. I know the personalities, history, and platform, inside and out. Michael Shermer is not providing a meaningful analysis of the movement to his readers, which I consider to be a strange approach for a self-professed skeptic to take. It causes me to suspect that he is merely trying to sell an ideology to his readers, under the guise of skepticism. In this way, uninformed skeptics who may may be looking for a reliable source of commentary on the issue, can easily be mislead.

    From my experience, the ideology of Libertarianism certainly functions on certain cult-like principles, and has finally seemed to worm its way into online skeptical groups. I don’t think readers of these discussion groups understand how easily they can be swayed by the echo chamber effect; particularly when they trust, and respect the commentators. Michael seems to have vastly overrated his knowledge on the issue, and that’s the troubling point.

    This isn’t surprising. As someone who was initially excited about the prospect of skeptical discussions on the Internet, I soon discovered that online skeptical communities were hardly cohesive in their stated goals, or well-versed in the principles of informal logic.

    Since that time, I have stood by and watched people who I once respected, and considered to be true, intellectual skeptics, suddenly morph into devout believers in shallow political theories, and engage in flippant social commentary. The sheer lack of skepticism of the Penn & Teller Bullshit! HBO series was the final straw for me.

    Recently, James Randi stated that drug addicts should be left to die, and learn “Darwin’s Lesson,” so that taxpayers can be left alone. Forget the fact that Randi doesn’t seem to fully understand modern evolutionary theory, or the views of Charles Darwin. No, Randi actually supported the idea of Social Darwinism, which is a core principle of Libertarian thought. I suspect that the new Skeptical/Libertarian alliance of Penn Jillet, Michael Shermer, and others within the skeptical community has had some influence on Randi, but who knows. It might simply be a a case of senility, which certainly doesn’t excuse his grave misrepresentation of evolutionary theory to his readers.

    I’ve witnessed Richard Dawkins come close to making career ending, James Watson-esque statements about people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he manages to make one of those statements before he dies. You’ve been warned.

    Even Michael Shermer’s naive, and over-sold understanding of Evolutionary Psychology should be questioned. It’s simply misguided. Michael seems to have replaced skepticism with intellectual trendiness that he then speaks glibly about to his readers. I don’t see how that kind of approach effectively promotes the idea of skepticism. I thought that was his goal. The forces at work in social issues cannot be tamed by mathematical rationale, nor does his commentary acknowledge the varying degree of concern that human beings have for one another.

    In regards to Libertarianism, Michael is merely promoting an unproven political ideology. He is free to believe what he wants, but his general explanation, which is just the same script I’ve heard parroted by newcomers to Libertarianism over the years, is hardly convincing. Considering Michael’s crude statements regarding how market forces reward people who deserve to be rewarded, the direction of his thinking is starting to become somewhat predictable. In other words, I see more ideology in Shermer’s writing these days, than I do determined skepticism.

    Coupled with his fascination with Evolutionary Psychology, and his Libertarian interests, I can no longer consider Michael a reliable source of skepticism. In fact, I am starting to see him as a potential liability. I do not consider myself a part of the skeptical community, but I do think some hard questions need to be asked about the evolution of Michael’s troubling chain of logic.

    When I look back on how Michael became a skeptic, and an Atheist, I see more of the same kind of thinking that he exhibited early on. And make no mistake, Michael used to believe in just about anything. In his book: “Why People Believe Weird Things,” Michael wondered what people of the future will think were his weird beliefs. I think we already have at least one example: Libertarianism. Also, Michael discussed his theory as to why smart people seem so susceptible to bullshit, and again, the irony seems lost on him. I am wondering what he has actually learned, and if the distance that has been created between that period of his thinking, is starting to make him sloppy.

    It’s one thing to state that you support certain Libertarian ideas, or goals, but it’s quite another thing to actually call yourself a Libertarian. The adoption of the title suggests that you support the entire platform of the Libertarian party, when you may only support certain aspects of the philosophy. This strategy makes Libertarianism seem more popular, and accommodating, which it hardly is on paper, or in action.

    All things considered, I have come to the conclusion that Michael Shermer is incredibly vulnerable to bullshit.

  200. Not Another Libertarian Sales Pitch says:

    Also, the responses by some Libertarians on here demonstrate yet another personality trait that many Libertarians often share: A loathing for compromise. Their idea of freedom is to remain unquestioned. After all, it’s freedom. It’s up for debate, right?

    As you can see a big part of the Libertarian sales pitch is in applying definitions to words, and concepts so arbitrarily that nuance becomes off limits. They only want their definitions, and concepts to be applicable, or else they lose control of the discussion.

    Nuance is not something that many Libertarians are good at. It frustrates them. It challenges them to come up with more creative ways to veil their “it’s not my problem” attitude that propels the movement.

    While they are in their own echo chambers, and their guards are down, you begin to see the darker personality traits that seem to guide many of them to the ideology. They tend to perceive almost any resistance toward the Libertarian as a kind of character flaw. You can almost see the smoke coming off of their fingers when they write about it.

    This is why I find these pale attempts by some Libertarians on here to sanitize their position to people who are only vaguely familiar with it, to be insincere. I know what the pitch is for people unfamiliar with the movement, and what the pitch is for people who stick around and push for more evidence. Trust me, they’re often very different attitudes.

    You will often hear Libertarians respond to such criticism by saying that all political groups have their wackos. The problem with this rationale is that it ignores the fact that Libertarianism, as a movement, is relatively small. So, these high numbers of questionable personalities, who are often at the forefront of the movement, have a significant impact on shaping the movement, and attracting, or deterring others from sticking around.

    While it is true that not all Libertarians came to Libertarianism through Ayn Rand, much of the thinking, and many of the personality types remain the same.

    The reason for this is obvious: The more vocal, unreasonable personalities run off the more reasonable members, and they are eventually left with a mostly fringe group. More importantly, the Libertarian platform is a rigid political philosophy based on the premise of non-aggression that Libertarians often use to demonize government taxation with. If they stray from this type of hyperbole, then their house of cards comes tumbling down. A lot of what Libertarians do to sell Libertarianism to other people (on the rare occasional that they feel motivated) is using cherry picked data to formulate absolutes about how governments perform, or how the average person should perceive the idea of freedom.

    You even have what are called “Paleo-libertarians” who tend to be the most rigid, and dogmatic of the bunch. They often label more moderate Libertarians as “Cosmo-Libertarians,” which is meant as a slur toward their more moderate ways. Again, any kind of moderation in the Libertarian movement is generally seen as ideological weakness, and those members are effectively marginalized.

    Incidentally, Ayn Rand loathed Libertarians for the same reason that many Libertarians loathe non-libertarians, or weak Libertarians.

    I my time with Libertarians, some of them have attempted to convince me of the most outrageous things. For instance, more than a few Libertarians have tried to convince me that the free market should have been allowed to end slavery at its own pace. The free market has to be held up as the only moral option in almost any instance. If not, then the statists have some wiggle room.

    Finally, I came to this essay years after I had stopped frequenting Libertarian sites. There are numerous sites dedicated to debunking Libertarianism, but I believe that Seth Finkelstein’s critique of Libertarianism is still the most accurate dissection of how Libertarians think, and brainwash susceptible members: http://www.sethf.com/essays/major/libstupid.php

    I find Libertarian attitudes, and their general response styles erily similar to those in the Chiropractic community.

    Incidentally, Ayn Rand loathed Libertarians for the same reason that many Libertarians loathe non-libertarians, or weak Libertarians. It’s one of the reasons why I consider Libertarianism to be more so a personality collective, than an actual determined political movement. Their disinterest in compromise makes them irrelevant as a political force.

    The more Libertarians talk, the more damage they do to their image. Thankfully, despite it’s deluded belief system, Libertarianism is, for the most part, self-limiting.

  201. Not Another Libertarian Sales Pitch says:

    Please excuse any formatting errors in the above text. I unintentionally hit the “submit,” button instead of the “preview” button.

    People often get bogged down in the minutiae that is Libertarian subterfuge that very little insight into the movement is gained. People usually think Libertarians are extreme, and should be ignored, or they bite, get in over their head when trying to debate the various historical, and economic claims made by them. I feel that it is important for people who have spent time around the movement to talk about their experiences.

    It’s not as if Michael Shermer is going to provide his readers with any kind of balanced understanding.

  202. BillHWaters says:

    Ahhhh, when scietists and politicians spew their politics, you already know that they will most definitely lean on that bias (whether they know it or not).

  203. BillHWaters says:

    Scientists* my apologies.

    And on another note, I personally feel that libertarianism is a joke. Yeah, it looks good on paper, but so does a lot of political ideologies. Although I do not consider myself a liberal either, http://world.std.com/~mhuben/liberal.html has some good refutations of libertarianism.

  204. Jonathan says:

    Excellent post Mr Shermer! I’ll be reading your book shortly. Greetings and good luck with all your projects!

  205. Lee Fairbanks says:

    I hear Somalia is a Libertarian Utopia.

  206. David Schumacher says:

    @Lee Fairbanks Pretty funny Lee, but you forget there is no corrosion in libertarianism. No fair using force.

    I have great respect for MS as I am a hard core atheist and libertarian. I expect the atheist position is solid as stated, but I have a few questions about the libertarian position.

    I have to confess that I didn’t read through all 700+ replies here so some of my questions may already have been addressed and for this I apologize.

    My questions are about the front end and the back end of a libertarian society, I think the middle of free trade and self-sufficiency is solid.

    On the front end, how are the natural resources to be rationed to the society and to be distributed? It seems that in most reasoning first come first rights is the way it is done. In addition, might makes right, the resources are taken by force. I’m not sure this is the most equitable or best way to approach this.

    On the other, the back side is pollution of the environment. The tragedy of commons leads me to think that all costs of production of goods must be included in the price. Don’t we have to clean up our own mess?

    If MS would answer, I would be very happy, but if any of you sharpy libertarians would take a stab at answering these question I would appreciated it.

    Thanks in advance;
    Dave

  207. Ralph says:

    Thanks for the article.

    For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://​www.Libertarian-Internation​al.org