Bop: More Utopia Tennis

Roderick Long returns serve from my “Utopia Tennis” post. I think our disagreement is really nothing more or less than the fundamental disagreement between liberals and anarchists. This will emerge pretty clearly in my reply below. Here’s Rod:

I’ve never claimed, and do not think, that moderate reductions in state power are impossible. What I do think is that merely moderate reductions in state power are not an adequate solution to corporatism. After all, although the popular notion of the nineteenth-century U.S. as a laissez-faire free-for-all is a fantasy (even if we exclude, as we shouldn’t, legal restrictions on the economic activities of women and nonwhites), it’s still true that the interventionist policies that fueled corporatism in that era are by many measures significantly less extensive than those we have today.

To reiterate my earlier post, I argue for fairly large reductions in state power. I argue that this is quite realistic because large reductions have actually occurred in the recent past, and moderate reductions are ongoing in many places. I don’t know enough to question Rod’s history. My question is: “adequate solution to corporatism” relative to what? If nothing but anarchy or quasi-anarchy is going to count as “adequate,” then, yes, a Hayek-Buchanan generality amendment will be inadequate. But if something like anarchy is infeasible, as I believe it is, then it’s hardly an adequate solution either.    

Wilkinson further describes as “obviously false” my contention that “achieving benign outcomes via the state is a chimera”; for Wilkinson, “[m]any states evidently succeed in achieving relatively benign outcomes.” But I don’t see how this is supposed to be “evident”—unless the claim is just shorthand for the claim that “many states are evidentlycompatible with the existence of relatively benign outcomes,” which is certainly true. But if people who drink small doses of poison are healthier than those who drink large doses, that doesn’t make it “evident” that small doses of poison can achieve relatively benign outcomes. Any measure that shrinks the scope of voluntary cooperation by expanding the scope of compulsion thereby makes things both a bit less just and a bit less efficient.

I’m pretty sure Rod’s guilty of Tyler’s “libertarian vice” here. Rod doesn’t think some states are better than others? That some governments are more effectively limited than others? That people are more free in some places than in others? If he doesn’t think that this is evident, then all I can do is ask him to look again, because it’s true.

The poison metaphor suggests that any state action is like poison. But I think that some state action is like medicine. I think there is legitimate state coercion. When it’s just, it’s usually because it reduces compulsion and enhances efficiency relative to the relevant non-state baseline. And I deny that that baseline is Rod’s anarchist utopia. My claim in my prior post was that anarchy is an inferior means of reducing corporatism than is further limiting government because anarchy is not stable. In that context, it’s rather brazenly question-begging to characterize government action “compatible with relatively benign outcomes” as “poison.” 

Of course, my idea is to shrink the scope of compulsion by limiting illegitimate government action. Rod is coy, but seems to agree that this is possible. But he seems unhappy about it. The question was, What can be done about corporatism? I gave an answer: limit government. If he agrees that limiting state power is possible, which of course it is, then he’s pretty much lost the debate unless he can show that his alternative is actually more likely to successfully reduce corporatism. And that’s a heavy burden, because then he’d need to establish the feasibility of his happy anarchism. So I can see why he avoided actually addressing my original point about the feasibility of anarchism.    

Finally, Wilkinson is puzzled at my claim that (1) is less unstable than (2). “If (2) is unstable because people will demand state interference in the economy given a state,” he writes, “then (1) is unstable because people tend to demand states.”

But the crucial difference between (1) and (2), as I see it, is not that under (2) people demand more statism, but rather that under (2) people are able to socialize the costs of such demand.

This is just nonresponsive. My point was that you can’t get anything out of (1) — anarchy or near-anarchy — that you can’t get out of  (2) — keeping the state and limiting it — because there’s no plausible way to not have a state. The point is that (1) isn’t on the table as an alternative to (2). We’re going to have a state. So limiting it is the only game in town. I thought it was clear that this was the claim I was making, but I guess I made a hash of it. 

Anyway, I doubt we’re going to resolve the great anarchism v. liberalism debate soon. But why did a discussion originally about libertarianism and corporatism lead here? My best guess is that Rod thinks that the corporatism issue is a smart place to mount an argument for his favorite libertarian ideal theory, freed-market anarchism. So I can see why the idea that effectively limited government is the best realistically available solution to actually-existing corporatism would seem inconvenient. But I think it remains that effectively limited government is the best realistically available solution to actually-existing corporatism. So… bop.