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What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

So asks this Reason post, discussing five types of libertarian identified by Tyler Cowen. The five types are:

  1. Cato-influenced;
  2. Rothbardian anarchism;
  3. Mises Institute nationalism;
  4. Jeff Friedman and Critical Review; and
  5. Hayek libertarianism.

“Cato-influenced” is defined as “orthodox” libertarianism, “defined by the troika of free markets, non-interventionism, and civil liberties.  It is based on individual rights but does not insist on anarchism.  A ruling principle is that libertarians should not endorse state interventions.” Of course, Mises Instituters tend to adhere to these principles (and to be Rothbardians, often anarchists; and not “nationalists”). As Wirkman Virkkala notes:

Cowen apparently desired to carry water in the culture war between George Mason economists and the scholars and enthusiasts associated with the Mises Institute. His characterization of a “Mises Institute Nationalism” borders on bizarre, though I see why he would make the attempt. The fact that so many of these folks are themselves anarchists means that whatever “nationalism” they promote must be a different sort. I took from this short description that Cowen doesn’t like Hans-Herman Hoppe. Yeah, thanks for sharing. This description of a strand of libertarianism is less coherent than the previous.

Look, I’m glad Cato is generally on our side. But the implication that Cato is “orthodox” libertarian, compared to the Mises Institute’s “nationalism” is guffaw-inducing. Of course, no group’s members have perfectly uniform views, but consider the following cases that seem to stray from the troika of basic libertarian principles of free markets, non-interventionism, and civil liberties, where various Catoites:

  • have opposed tax cuts (see also Re: Cato Opposes Tax Cuts (Again));
  • don’t want libertarians to advocate the aboliton of all medical licensing because people will think we are “moonbats”;
  • think we need inflation to counter irrational exuberance;
  • defend the Iraq war (not all of them, thank goodness);
  • praise socialist-welfarist John Rawls;
  • defend (archive) federal surveillance and the “Police America Act”;
  • prefer Hamilton to Jefferson;
  • are tepid in criticizing state-imposed intellectual property (and many of them support IP);
  • oppose free trade (drug reimportation) because it would undercut the state-granted anti-competitive patent monopoly privilege;1
  • support centralized federal supervision of states;
  • praisesensible gun regulations“;
  • sought $3.5M in DC taxpayers’ money for reimbursement for helping to foist a national rule on the entire country that redefines the natural right to bear arms as a limited State-conferred privilege, clearing the way for all manner of gun regulations;
  • flirt with the idea of carbon taxes;
  • support NAFTA’s managed trade system;
  • laud Ben Bernanke’s performance as Fed Chairman and distractingly focus on the importance of the “independence” of the Fed;
  • want to run the TSA (and see Bob Poole on the TSA);
  • opposed Ossetian independence from Russian in the name of “territorial integrity”;
  • consort with Russian dictators.
  • [Update] flirted with the universal basic income: “advocates of free markets and welfare reform should not dismiss the idea out of hand. The current welfare state is a clear failure. A universal basic income may or may not provide a better alternative, but it’s almost certain we will hear a great deal about in the next few years.”

It’s almost a compliment to be called a nationalist by someone who holds up this as the libertarian ideal.


Lew’s reply was:

re: What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

Posted by Lew Rockwell on July 9, 2009 03:00 PM

Stephan, these detailed taxonomies are just sand in the eyes. There are only two kinds of libertarian, much as some would like to obscure it: Rothbardian and non-Rothbardian. But even that can be a distraction in our everyday work. As Murray noted — minarchist or anarchist, constitutionalist or monarchist — there is really only one consideration: Do you hate the state?


Update: On Cato Unbound, an article arguing for military conscription.

And now we have them arguing for a minimum basic income.

  1. Drug Reimportation []

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