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Thoughts on Tyler Cowen’s “State Capacity Libertarianism”

Summary:
George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen has penned a brief manifesto for what he calls “State Capacity Libertarianism” on the Marginal Revolution blog. In it he makes the case for libertarians to embrace “state capacity” in certain limited cases. You can read his essay here. My initial responses, in no particular order, are as follows: 1. There is no political will or constituency for skillful technocratic state management of society. This is a pipe dream, once simply referred to as elusive “good government.” When do public choicers of all people give this up?2. There is no third way between state and market, regardless of technology or material development. Futurism is bunk; the question before us today is the same as

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George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen has penned a brief manifesto for what he calls “State Capacity Libertarianism” on the Marginal Revolution blog. In it he makes the case for libertarians to embrace “state capacity” in certain limited cases. You can read his essay here.

My initial responses, in no particular order, are as follows:

1. There is no political will or constituency for skillful technocratic state management of society. This is a pipe dream, once simply referred to as elusive “good government.” When do public choicers of all people give this up?
2. There is no third way between state and market, regardless of technology or material development. Futurism is bunk; the question before us today is the same as thirty, fifty, or one hundred years ago: who decides? Decentralization vs. centralization is the most important policy question.
3. Western states won’t give up their sclerotic regulatory, tax, central banking, and entitlement systems no matter how many flying cars or hyperloops we want. This reality will be a huge drag on science, infrastructure, medicine/health, and overall well-being.
4. The environmental movement will quash nuclear (especially after Fukushima), and the energy capacity vs. weight/cost issue will continue to plague electric cars/planes.
5. Left socialism, not libertarian futurism, is the rising tide across the West — and its constituency skews young. Adopting its pose, language, or ostensible goals won’t produce Singapore.
6. Climate change is not a problem or issue for anyone to solve.
7. The West can’t advance until it stops warring. War and peace won’t be solved technocratically, and true noninterventionism requires a painful rethinking of the hubris known as universalism. I thought technocrats believed in realpolitik?
8. Human happiness and prosperity depend on elements of civil society which libertarian futurists don’t like (faith, family, et al.). Hence the cheap jab at “Ron Paulism.”
9. We build “capacity” in society through profit, saving, and capital investment. Government makes this worse, not better, in each and every case.
10. Libertarianism simply means “private.” It is a non-state approach to organizing human society. It is not narrow or confining; in fact everything Cowen desires in an improved society can be advanced through private mechanisms.

Jeff Deist
Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. For many years he was an advisor to Ron Paul and a tax attorney specializing in mergers and acquisitions for private equity clients.

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