Thursday, November 22, 2018

Trump v. Hillary and the Nirvana Standard

In his latest response, Rejoinder To Wenzel On Trump v. Hillary, I fear that Prof. Dominick Armentano continues to miss my main point.

As I stated in my rejoinder, Trump is a Disaster: A Rejoinder To Prof. Dominick Armentano, when I quoted from my commentary which I wrote just two days after Trump was elected:
Heading into the election, I felt that for strategic reasons Hillary Clinton was the best alternative for libertarians. Not because she is good on many issues, she is not, but because she would come with a ready-made opposition that would listen to libertarian arguments against her.
It would have been a great opportunity to reach out to Trump supporters and spread the libertarian message. That opportunity is now gone with the Trump victory. Trump supporters are rabid, they will likely follow him down almost any hell hole.
Thus Prof. Armentano is addressing a point I have never made when he writes,
The general flaw in your comments on my original article is that in your criticism of Trump, you are implicitly adopting what Harold Demsetz used to call the “nirvana standard”.  In antitrust theory, the nirvana standard is “perfect competition” and real world competition always falls short of that standard (and needs regulating according to critics). Your nirvana standard is pure liberty, and Trump is criticized because his SC nominees or tax cuts or rhetoric, falls far short of  liberty. No kidding. But that’s emphatically NOT the issue to be debated (just as whether markets are perfectly competitive or not is really irrelevant to any rational discussion of antitrust policy) The public policy issue to be debated, instead,  is whether Trump’s policies are worse, from a liberty perspective, than Clinton’s would have been or would be going forward had she been elected. Both Clinton and Trump stink but who stinks worse and would stink worse going forward?.
My argument from before the 2016 presidential election and since has consistently not been, as Prof. Armentano writes, "who stinks worse and would stink worse going forward?"

It has been that Trump is not significantly different enough to care whether he stinks a bit more or a bit less than Hillary, given that the greater danger is that, with Trump in office, the opportunities to advance the libertarian cause have shrunken markedly. First off because it appears that many libertarians have shut down their criticisms of Trump. Thus creating a huge gap in those that would be advancing a criticism of the state and the presidency.  A shut down that most certainly would not have occurred if Hillary was in office.

Second, that in Trump's rabid base followers, there would have been many that would have listened to libertarian attacks against Hillary that we have now lost the ears of, because in their minds the tariff blazing, pro-Fed interest rate manipulative Trump can do no wrong.

Finally, there simply is no question that the socialist movement has gained followers since the election of Trump. Indeed, the Democratic Socialists of America membership started to explode on the day after the election. It is now up threefold since the election. And, though, these numbers remain small. It must be understood that those joining the DSA are the hyperactive dealers in second-hand ideas.

I again note that the recently elected Congresswoman, socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has 1.3 million followers on Twitter. The comparable libertarian-leaning Congressman Justin Amash who has been in office since 2011, so has had much more time to pick up Twitter followers, has only 143,000 followers---almost just one-tenth the Ocasio-Cortez followers.

Prof. Armentano writes:
The ONLY issue which you must refute (somehow) is that these two choices, horrific as they were, are somehow worse, on balance, than the nominees from, say, a list drawn up by Clinton and Pelosi and Schumer. 
No. I don't in the sense that it is clear to me that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, as I  have already shown,  based on their earlier rulings as judges, on the important issues, will rule in favor of the deep state.

I really, under these conditions, would rather have Hillary in office so that my fellow libertarians can join me in a full out bashing of Hillary nominees rather than spend my time with a magnifying glass to determine, despite Kavanaugh's horrific positions on privacy and deep state collection of data and Gorsuch's horrific positions on the New Deal-type legislation and congressional engineered social experiments, if somehow they would be better than Hillary's choices. I want the bashing of the state spirit back not these technical counterfactual discussions.

Now, this does not mean, as Prof. Armentano states, that I would not support a candidate who was a  candidate who would move the ball in a serious manner in the direction of liberty. Once again, the nirvana standard does not apply to me. I understand and appreciate realpolitik.  I just don't see Trump in the big picture as advancing us toward liberty in a significant enough (if at all) manner to counter the loss of ears that would be now listening to libertarian positions and those who would be bashing the state and its authoritarian moves if Hillary would have won.

Trump, horrifically, has taken these people out of the game and that in my view is the greater loss. This is the big time, three-dimensional realpolitik thinking I am advancing. I am not playing recycled bottle bowling. 

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of

1 comment:

  1. I agree with RW: The two basic libertarian arguments, that "Government authority is illegitimate and immoral" and "Central-planning is impractical," simply do not resonate at all, ever, with the Lefty-Progressives---which is currently the disaffected group in the age of Trump, and the target audience for such arguments. On the other hand, at least the latter argument---"Central-planning is impractical"---resonates sometimes with conservatives/Republicans, which is who our target audience of disaffected, frustrated electorate would be, had Hillary won.