The base premise of the austrian school of economics is free will and the capacity of an individual to know what it wants. Out of this main axiom through praxeology the doctrine concludes that the best system of human civilisation is to as much as possible protect the liberty and capacity for the individual to make as many choices as possible. Because logically left to its own devices the individual would make exactly these choices that would result in him achieving full self-actualization. Assuming he is not the only individual in the universe all interactions/transactions he would make with others would only happen if they were mutually beneficial. This is why libertarians dislike the state, in their minds it is bad for any institution not to have to abide by these rules and thus be able to force non-mutually beneficial transactions (taxes) as well as forcing constraints (laws and regulations) onto possible interactions thus limiting the individual in its capacity to achieve self-actualization.
Problems on the Horizon
In my view as an ex-austrian-libertarian the ideology faces two main categories of obstacles as well as a possible black swan event somewhere in the next 100 years. The first time I started to doubt the perfect validity of my austrian worldview was when I started to think about the purpose of the brain and the axioms of Libertarianism. As far as I see it the two axioms are as follows:
- The individual has free will.
- The individual is capable of deciding what it really wants on the short- medium- and long-term, if not it is at least more capable than any institution forced upon him.
Free will and the capacity to understand emotional states
Now these two axiom’s sounded reasonable enough to me, they were logical and seemed to apply to me aswell. However, my believe in these two axioms was dented first whilst thinking about my bad habit of procrastination. On my personal computer I have a handy program installed called ColdTurkey. It allows me to block myself from using certain programs/websites during specific parts of the day. This makes me less likely to get distracted and thus I’m able to be more productive. Thus making me happier in the long run. This of course seems like a perfectly reasonable solution. But while I was procrastinating during one of these “focus blocks” by thinking about why I used the program in the first place. I was forced to conclude either one or both of the axiom’s actually do not apply to me.
Before I start working on a task I usually consciously think: “I want to work on this task and do nothing other than make progress untill the task in question is completed. However, in reality I would usually find myself wasting some amount of time staring out of my window, playing a game of FreeCell or surfing the web. None of these activities helped me complete my original goal of finishing my linear algebra homework. This forced me to doubt the axioms in the following way.
Either I don’t have freewill, due to some force external to my conscious mind to stop working on my linear algebra homework and look out of my window. Alternatively, 30 minutes ago when I started my work and made a commitment to myself that I would not be distracted until I completed my work, I didn’t realise that it was crucial to my happiness that I spend some time looking at YouTube video’s in between exercise 12 and 13 only to regret the time lost afterwards.
How could I suddenly forget my medium-term goal of doing my homework and start working on some pointless short-term goals as pointlessly browsing the web? Apparently I am not really capable of deciding what I want in the short-, medium- to longterm or my conscious mind was somehow overpowered by the will to watch YouTube video’s. Either way, this behaviour forced me to install a program like ColdTurkey where, during a “moment of clarity”, I could prevent myself from making such regrettable decisions in the future.This surely seems innocent enough on the small-scale, but betrays a characteristic of the human mind that is probably not best served through libertarianism.
Before I better define the characteristic I have to preface tis by saying, that I am not schooled in evolutionary biology. But at the same time the level of depth of knowledge required for this argument is probably not an obstacle. With that out-of-the-way: what was the reason for the large increase in brain volume in Europeans and Asians? Probably, not to allow them to compete with each other playing chess or go. No, it was probably because it allowed them to: build better housing (so their babies would survive winter), work together more effectively when hunting and farm (so their babies had food) etc. The point being, the higher caloric cost of having to feed more brain was only acceptable to evolutionary pressure because it resulted in more babies being born or a larger percentage surviving up to their fertile window. If you are a materialist and believe the brain and the mind are one and the same that means two things:
- Your brain didn’t evolve to self-actualize. Rather, it evolved to spread your genes and those of your tribe as far and wide as possible.
- The context for that evolution, at least in Europe, was a largely proto-agrarian hunter gatherer society. Leaving our brains horribly maladapted to the technologically, culturally, economically and sociologically different world (modernity in short) we live in today.
Since it is definitely not proven that free will and an objective ability to think are well adapted traits to achieve the spreading of genes, you have to ask yourself:
- How many of my decisions are my limbic system choosing and my “rational” conscious mind rationalizing?
- Do I even know what actually will make me happy or self-actualized?
- Do external entities use these “lizard brain” tendencies in order to effectively use me for their own goals?
These questions lead to the larger question:
Is it possible that some entity like a: village elder, council of scientists, government or even AI algorithm could be able to restrict my personal liberty in a way that is in the long run beneficial to me?
And to that question for now I think I am forced to answer yes, yes it might very well be better for me that I am forced by law not to consume heroin. But then we enter onto a spectrum and I am increasingly less sure it is even beneficial for us to have free access to things like porn, or high-fructose corn syrup or a number of other “vices”. Perhaps you could even take it a step further and implement some kind of full fledged top down nudging system where even higher heights of human happiness could be achieved. This might sound highly authoritarian, and it is, but our averseness to authoritarianism comes forth from this fundamental believe in free will and individualism. I don’t yet know where I fall on this spectrum of liberty to guided self-actualization. But hopefully it did add a new lens through which you can consider the world. And through this lens Libertarianism seems suboptimal to me.
Efficient markets but what do they produce?
Now I am certainly convinced that free capitalist markets are those that produce the highest GDP for their country and purchasing power for their median-citizen. The industrial revolution is a good example of how explosive technological and economic growth can be when mercantilism makes place for sound capitalism. Now whilst I think our current economy is fundamentally broken this is not due to capitalism, but crony capitalism. ever since the second world war central banks and fiat money have corrupted the financial system to such a degree that one can barely blame capitalism for current: income inequality, debt levels, recessions and the coming potential fatal collapse of western governments and American supremacy. Libertarian critique on our current economical situation is mostly on point Chris Martenson’s crash course is a good vantage point for understanding that critique and a bit more.
However we do have to be honest with ourselves because purchasing power and GDP do not equal self-actualization. Having a large amount of purchasing power probably helps, but I very much doubt it is essential. Secondly the goal of a free market economy is really, that there is no central goal. The power lays in its decentralised nature such that it can quickly adapt to fill all possible requests off those with money to spend. While we as the human species do not yet have any such specified goals, there is no star trek like future possible when playing under these rules. Instead we will only go into space when it is profitable to do so.
Secondly, we have to ask ourselves if what we produce is actually of value. A good example of that is women’s purses and handbags. I very much doubt the labour, oil, and other resources that are used for handbag production could not be spent in some way that would be more beneficial to humans. Sometimes I wonder: “would we already have colonised mars if 50 years ago we decided to issued all women a sturdy canvas handbag and reallocated all handbag production, development and transportation facilities and monetary resources to ESA?” A similar argument could be made for probably more than 80% of consumer products. Most of what the free markets produce is not very necessary. We produce so much junk, and producing and buying junk is such a central part of our zeitgeist that a real counterculture formed that talks about “decluttering.” In short, this revolutionary concept of decluttering is just getting rid off and not buying junk.
And lastly, this freedom has great influence on third parties. Peak oil, peak phosphorus or climate change are examples of how the use of resources in the here and now affect third parties (grandchildren) in the future. These Third parties can’t sue their ancestors for using too much oil or artificial fertilizers. Even if they could, how could the case ever reach a settlement? In the same vein it is proven that a more free market approach to the use of antibiotics is partly to blame for the coming antibiotics crisis. Is the liberty of using antibiotics in any way you wish so long as you purchased them really worth an increased likelihood of more antibiotic resistance? Perhaps, but I’d have to see a very thorough risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. I want to research antibiotic resistance more in later blog posts but for now the economist has a good entry point article then there is commentary on whether this is market failure and libertarian counterarguments as well as commentary on possible solutions. This is of course only the surface of the problem.
The black, arab and mestizo swan
In order for a Libertarian state to exist the majority of citizens needs to at least for the most part agree with libertarian values and thus also be quite individualistic in nature. Otherwise they will just revolt/vote taxes and benefits into existence. These values seem not to be equally distributed over the races. If you were to go to a libertarian convention or look at people who voted for Ron Paul you would see mostly whites with a smattering of jews and Asians. You’ll see just about zero blacks, arabs or mestizos but surprise surprise exactly these populations are migrating to and outbreeding whites within western countries.
The counter argument would be that libertarian whites should just convince all these non-whites. Sadly, it seems that the libertarian nor republican party has had any success in convincing blacks to vote for them since they got the right to do so. Now what could be the reason for this lack of success? I think it could very well be a genetic problem. Libertarians tend to score high in conscientiousness and have relatively high IQ’s and a few more common attributes. These basic psychological features are required to understand and identify with the libertarian worldview. If you aren’t intelligent enough to understand the libertarian argument or not individualistic enough to care about property rights, then you can’t be convinced. And surprise, surprise… neither Arabs, Mestizos nor Blacks have average IQ’s north of those of Europeans and I’ll bet the same goes for most of the other required traits. Thus even if libertarianism is optimal, the clock is ticking and I doubt we’ll be on time.