Friday, January 11, 2019

Paul Krugman Smears Libertarianism

P. Krugman
Paul Krugman's latest column at The New York Times is titled Trump’s Big Libertarian Experiment.

He writes:

Donald Trump is, in effect, implementing at least part of the drastic reduction in government’s role his party has long claimed to favor. If the shutdown drags on for months — which seems quite possible — we’ll get a chance to see what America looks like without a number of public programs the right has long insisted we don’t need. Never mind the wall; think of what’s going on as a big, beautiful libertarian experiment.

Seriously, it’s striking how many of the payments the federal government is or soon will be failing to make are for things libertarians insist we shouldn’t have been spending taxpayer dollars on anyway.

For example, federal checks to farmers aren’t going out ­— but libertarian organizations like the Cato Institute have long denounced farm subsidies as just another form of crony capitalism.
Well, yeah the shutdown is a temporary shutdown of some government operations that should be shut down permanently.

There is more, and Krugman claims the Trump administration is seeking workarounds:
Businesspeople are furious that the Small Business Administration isn’t making loans — but libertarians want to see the whole agency abolished.

If the shutdown extends into March — which, again, seems entirely possible — money for food stamps will dry up. But Republicans have long been deeply hostile to the food stamp program. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has denounced the program for “making it excessively easy to be nonproductive.”

The shutdown has drastically curtailed work at the Food and Drug Administration, which among other things tries to prevent food contamination: Routine inspections of seafood, vegetables, fruits and other foods have stopped. But there’s a long conservative tradition, going back to Milton Friedman, that condemns the F.D.A.’s existence as an unwarranted interference in the free market.

Strange to say, however, neither the Trump administration nor its congressional allies are celebrating the actual or prospective termination of government services their ideology says shouldn’t exist. Instead, they’re engaged in frantic administrative and legal maneuvering in an attempt to mitigate those program cuts. 
But then he gets honest for a minute:
 O.K., we shouldn’t be completely cynical (cynical, yes, but not completely so). Even where there’s a government-free solution to a problem, you might worry that it would take time to set up. Maybe you believe that private companies could take over the F.D.A.’s role in keeping food safe, but such companies don’t exist now and can’t be conjured up in a matter of weeks. So even true libertarians wouldn’t necessarily celebrate a sudden government shutdown.
This is a point I made recently in another post, How Do We Get To a Free Society?: Libertarians Need to Think Deep, Not Shallow:
Suppose for a moment that government could be ended with a snap of the fingers and that therefore all government air traffic controller jobs are immediately ended with planes in the air. Is it at all reasonable to use Napster's argument in this situation: "People have repeatedly and stupidly trusted the US government before, and been burned. If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. There are lots of folks who take action assuming that the US government will be there for them, but I don't see that as a justification for continued air traffic control by the US government."

Of course, to argue this way is nuts.

Winding down a government that is as intertwined in society, as the US government is, should not mean an instant halt to all government activities. Should we advocate, for example, that all government employees including guards immediately walk away from nuclear missile posts?

Now, of course, many government agencies can be instantly shutdown such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Education. The minimum wage can be instantly abolished. The list goes on and on.

But instant shut-down of all activities that could result in deaths is nuts. To claim that allowing an adjustment period "could be abused to justify an endless presence" doesn't fit. "Let the planes crash, to halt potential abuse" is going to be a big non-starter.
Krugman then follows up in his essay with more truth by admitting that what Trump is doing is actually not libertarianism:
[T]he truth is that libertarian ideology isn’t a real force within the G.O.P.; it’s more of a cover story for the party’s actual agenda.

In the case of the party establishment, that agenda is about redistributing income up the scale, and in particular helping important donor interests. Republican politicians may invoke the rhetoric of free markets to justify cutting taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor, or removing environmental regulations that hurt polluters’ profits, but they don’t really care about free markets per se...Meanwhile, the philosophy of the party’s base is, in essence, big government for me but not for thee. Stick it to the bums on welfare, but don’t touch those farm subsidies. Tellingly, the centerpiece of the long G.O.P. jihad against Obamacare was the false claim that it would hurt Medicare.
But then Krugman closes with an implication that there is something wrong with shutting down some government services:
And if you have libertarian leanings yourself, you should ask whether you’re happy with what’s happening with government partially out of the picture. Knowing that the food you’re eating is now more likely than before to be contaminated, does that potential contamination smell to you like freedom?
The problem is that the government won't be out of the picture permanently. If it were, private sector solutions would emerge rapidly. There is no libertarian experiment going on and Krugman knows that and for him to imply otherwise is what really stinks.

If he can't take on real libertarianism. you know the problem is that real libertarianism is too consistent for him to take on without the errors in his socialist thinking being exposed.



  1. Conservatives should start making the point that furloughed government workers should not be paid retroactively for sitting home on their unproductive duffs. Anyone working without pay should receive back pay, but most of these people will be paid for what amounts to months of vacation.

    No one is stopping these folks from applying for productive jobs in the private sector. If they're such hot talents, it should be easy to find work in this booming job market.

    Instead, people like Hannity are going out of their way to insist that these people will be paid and should be paid. Turn this rhetoric around and you'll see the Democrats rush to fund Trump's wall. Influential conservative talking heads should start making the argument that these people should not be paid because it's not fair to taxpayers then the Dems will cave. I'd also like to see some low-level Congressman introduce the "Minimum Wage for Shutdown Back-Pay Act." All Federal employees regardless of pay grade will receive only the federal minimum wage for shutdown pay.

    1. I felt immediately more valuable when I left government work. It's good for the soul!

  2. Leaving aside the fact that the "shutdown" is only temporary, this is far from a libertarian experiment because, although some spending is being delayed, (a) taxes are still being sucked out of the private sector, and (b) regulations are still restricting free competition and private action.