Episode 68

#68 - Libertarianism IV: Political Issues (w/ Bruce Nielson)


May 30th, 2024

1 hr 50 mins 16 secs

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About this Episode

The final part in a series which has polarized the nation. We tackle -- alongside Bruce Nielson as always -- the remaining part of Scott's FAQ: Political Issues. Can the government get anything right? Has Scott strawmanned the libertarian argument in this section? Is libertarianism an economic theory, a political theory, a metaphysical theory, or a branch of physics? And what do Milton and Ludwig have to say about all this? Warning: we get a little meta with this one...

We discuss

  • Is the government effective at doing anything?
  • What's the use of thinking counterfactually?
  • Is it just market failures all the way down?
  • Three kinds of anarcho-capitalists
  • The economic calculation problem
  • Is an economic theory necessarily political?
  • What to make of the claim that austrian economics is like physics
  • But wait, isn't it also metaphysics?



The Argument: Government can’t do anything right. Its forays into every field are tinged in failure. Whether it’s trying to create contradictory “state owned businesses”, funding pet projects that end up over budget and useless, or creating burdensome and ridiculous “consumer protection” rules, its heavy-handed actions are always detrimental and usually embarrassing.
The Counterargument: Government sometimes, though by no means always, does things right, and some of its institutions and programs are justifiably considered models of efficiency and human ingenuity. There are various reasons why people are less likely to notice these.
- Scott's FAQ

7.1.1: Okay, fine. But that’s a special case where, given an infinite budget, they were able to accomplish something that private industry had no incentive to try. And to their credit, they did pull it off, but do you have any examples of government succeeding at anything more practical?

Eradicating smallpox and polio globally, and cholera and malaria from their endemic areas in the US. Inventing the computer, mouse, digital camera, and email. Building the information superhighway and the regular superhighway. Delivering clean, practically-free water and cheap on-the-grid electricity across an entire continent. Forcing integration and leading the struggle for civil rights. Setting up the Global Positioning System. Ensuring accurate disaster forecasts for hurricanes, volcanoes, and tidal waves. Zero life-savings-destroying bank runs in eighty years. Inventing nuclear power and the game theory necessary to avoid destroying the world with it.


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