Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On Billionaire Libertarians

Lifted from the comment section of an EPJ post, Madmen at the Cato Conference:

This doesn't have much to add with what you wrote Robert, but it seems to me that the Libertarian Austrians need to try and do something Americans understand.
Make money. Lots of it.
When you got a $billion or 2, seems pretty easy to make your agenda known.
Trump would be laughed off the stage if he wasn't "worth" $7 billion or whatever he claims.
I'm just saying, it doesn't spread the message well, when a libertarian tells someone "I knew this was going to happen cause I'm a libertarian Austrian" while he is standing in the bread line with everyone else.
Granted, I know most of these rich folks got there from some sort of government backed monopoly.
I know there May be a couple,but it
just seems like we should have billionaire libertarians.
Why don't we?

  1. Phenomenal question, outstanding observation, and vitally important line of reasoning. I've had many similar thoughts. Shouldn't we be the undisputed masters of capitalism and wealth creation? Not just the smartest, but also the richest people in the room? Found our own business school that is world renowned and have multiple billionaires on our side since we alone actually understand economics? For Pete's sake.

    Sure, cronyism and government make innovation, efficiency, and competitiveness secondary considerations. If your business competitor is, through multiple chains of indirection, using a gun, your odds of beating him are low no matter how amazing you are at business.

    But even then, 98% of libertarians I've met are not very accomplished or talented at business. They make terrible investment decisions with their time and productive energies. Which baffles and troubles me to no end. Are libertarians just a bunch of whiners using excuses?

    Most of the successful business people in the mainstream economy have pretty decent business skills underlying their skill at cronyism. While it's the latter that's most responsible for making them successful, the fact libertarians don't even have the former is highly troubling.

    I think part of the problem is libertarian morality inhibits them from "doing what needs to be done" to succeed in a cronyist business environment. They may die with pristine hands, but they will die as paupers with no voice. I swear there must be a way to thread the needle and achieve the material success necessary to acquire the means and the public standing to advance the movement but not sacrifice the cause in the process as the Koch brothers seem to have done.

  2. Unfortunately, all the 'natural' libertarians I know, who are successful business people are just to busy to learn 'academic' libertarianism. Like most of the good guys in 'shrugged'.

  3. Communication of libertarian ideas is a different skill set from that of a businessman. Also, it is extremely difficult to become a wealthy businessman and maintain public advocacy of libertarian principles. (See the Koch brothers). You just have too many assets to protect. Not that it can't be done but it is extremely difficult. It would take a very unique character and not just any libertarian that becomes super rich.

    The same problem occurs in elitist academia. It is extremely difficult to stay hardcore libertarian in such an environment when all the rewards are skewed to moving away from hardcore libertarian positions. Again, it's not impossible, but a very extreme likelihood.

    Most libertarians coming out of elitist academia have been corrupted, as have libertarian billionaires. 

  4. @sonepatchworth

    It has nothing to do with "libertarian morality." There are plenty of ways to make money, lots of it, without violating the non aggression principle. Second, just because one understands the type of society that will best raise overall living standards and make most feel comfortable, doesn't mean such people will be great entrepreneurs. Again, it is a different skill set.

    There are many, many doctors that could explain, much better than, Michael Jordan, the muscles he used to jump to the rim when he played basketball for the Chicago Bulls, but not one of them could come close to jumping the way Jordan did. Understanding and implementing a skill set are two different things.


  1. Even the most genial, biggest tent Ron Paul-style libertarianism requires you to, in the words of Ayn Rand, "judge and prepare to be judged." As many on this site would probably agree, critiquing and rejecting the "Babylon System" in toto on a daily basis runs contra to the desire of most people to "go along to get along." Not to mention what strong, condemnatory political opinions will do to potential customers of any business. Personally, when I knew nothing about liberty, I made money hand over fist. Now that I try to live and order my business affairs along the most libertarian lines possible it's a much harder road. But I know you gotta be the change you want to see...

  2. if you were an American billionaire, at what point during your acquisition of billions of dollars would you find time to stop, look around and think to yourself, "There's something off about the America economy. I can't quite figure it out, though. I'm going to stop raking in all this money for 2 years and read economic and political treatises instead."

    It's like asking why the football captain doesn't get good grades. He's too busy making time with the cheerleaders.

  3. Becoming a libertarian is like being thrown to far side of a mountain no one has climbed over. You tell people about it, they don't believe you. You tell them about all the great things on the other side of the mountain, but they're too scared. No one climbs over the mountain of their own volition because they're afraid of what's on the other side, and they see the social ostracizing of those who claim to have been to the other side.

  4. Being successful in business while following or even not following libertarian principles usually takes a greater skill & talent set than one person can have. For instance, take away either Woz or Jobs and there is no Apple Computer. Both skill sets were required and there wasn't one person with them. Gates bought DOS from someone else then used his skill set to make money from it. Again, two skill sets not in the same person.

    So basically there need to be two (or more) libertarians with complementary skill sets working in an industry that is still relatively free market and then one has to have a desire for public office, creating a foundation, etc. That last part is probably the biggest barrier, because what is at the core of libertarianism? Leaving people alone. People make these foundations, think tanks, and other NGOs usually because they want to build some sort of utopia by telling other people how to live, not for leaving them alone. So when they do, they usually aren't out there actively trying to get the right people elected. Those individuals who run for public office usually want power, libertarians run to dismantle power or teach or both. Rare for someone to put all that energy into something and take all that abuse for those reasons.

    So basically the question is, why aren't there any billionaire Ron Pauls? Because it's a series of very rare skills, desires, risk taking, and circumstances that all have to happen in and for the same person who sticks to libertarian principles all while human society does everything possible to discourage doing them that way. Rare compounding rare is unlikely.

  5. We suffer from a "success bias" in looking at the world and judging our relative performance. For every billionaire, there are hundreds of thousands of people who tried, and failed to make that that goal. They might be reasonably successful even while failing to become a billionaire. There aren't many billionaires, and the probability -- given the state of cronyism -- of one being libertarian is very small.

    While not wanting to spend the time here to relate the rather lengthy story, I came reasonably close to being worth at least tens of millions of dollars. However, my own lack of confidence in my abilities as a corporate leader combined with my feeling of egalitarianism of company ownership allowed me to lose control of the thing I'd created, and knowing it was over, I left the company. Our main competitor -- with lesser technology and less-talented engineers -- sold out for $128 million. Had I insisted on controlling interest in the company when we founded it, we'd have all been better off. I think even the other 2 main partners would now agree with that statement (I'm sure at least one would agree).

    The point of that tale is that there are way more ways to fail than to succeed (although there are many paths to success as well). You can't judge libertarianism on the lack of libertarian billionaires. There just aren't enough samples.

  6. I suspect it is difficult to make that kind of money and stay under the radar. I suspect it is difficult to stay under the radar and make that kind of money.

    I suspect that for extremely talented people making that kind of money is easy. I also suspect that for extremely talented people, many of the possibilities to make that kind of money require making a deal with the devil known as the state - directly or indirectly.

  7. Unknown, I certainly am not judging Libertarianism based on perceived wealth.
    BM, I suspect you are right.
    On a less extreme level, "we" should live the lives we preach, and I would think the wisdom of Austrian/Libertarianism should make us at least a little distinct from the crowd. That was my point of saying no one will listen to your ideas on economy if you are preaching in the bread line.
    Expressing Libertarian ideas in a convincing way is a talent for sure, and there are organizations that are making a huge difference in our world I suspect on a small budget,( Mises Institute, Ron Paul Institute,) but people also judge us on the way we live or are perceived to be in our daily lives.
    If all Libertarians were bankrupt and broke, not many folks would give us the time of day.
    Why do Americans listen to Trump? Yes, he is seen as anti-establishment, but really it's because he is rich.
    Maybe it is impossible to be a Libertarian and a billionaire.
    I was just curious if there were any, and if not, why not?

  8. I bought gold at $320; silver at 5, 6 and 7. No billionaire here, though.