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Against Paranoia – Again

Matthew O’Keeffe warns libertarians to be mindful of the company they keep

Antoine Clarke wrote a piece last week called Against Paranoia which got me thinking. In it he lamented:

“the tendency among Libertarians to worry obsessively about every infringement by the state, to link up instances of state oppression, and to deduce from this either that there is a vast campaign to destroy freedom, or that we’re powerless to combat the tide of enslavement. This makes us seem obsessive, paranoid and miserable company, except to others of a similar emotional condition”.

I had similar misgivings about the attendance of a leading conspiracy theorist at the recent Libertarian Alliance conference. Why do we keep such company?

Consider some of the good things in life: the English language, the Common Law, money, the market economy, etc. As libertarians, we appreciate all too well that none of these things were invented by any one well-meaning academic, lawyer, banker or economist. On the contrary, all of these things have arisen by way of a spontaneous order.

Conversely, consider some of the bad things: poverty, for example. I believe that the welfare state manufactures poverty for a variety of reasons to do with incentives, moral hazard, taxation, misallocation of resources, the general inefficiency of the state machinery etc. etc.. What I do not believe is that there is a group of sinister statists somewhere conspiring on how best to impoverish our inner cities.

The point is that, as libertarians, we should appreciate the law of unintended consequences. Where our enemies see a world full of evil capitalists, Zionists, or whoever, we should have a view of the world which is more adult than is. And, because we appreciate unintended consequences, we should see a world full of irony – leaving us with a world view which is also humorous rather than sour. Let’s leave the paranoia and misery to the statists.

Matthew O’Keeffe

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5 comments to Against Paranoia – Again

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t Napoleon Bonaparte once say “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence”?

  • The state prevents the free flow of information in an economic context. Therefore, unintended consequences develop as actors are unable to make decisions based on price combined with other factors that they may wish to take into account.

  • A_t

    I know this isn’t really the main point of the article, but when you say “I believe that the welfare state manufactures poverty for a variety of reasons to do with incentives, moral hazard, taxation, misallocation of resources, the general inefficiency of the state machinery etc. etc”

    how do you explain the poverty in the UK (or elsewhere) prior to the creation of the welfare system (indeed because of which the system was set up) I appreciate your anti-statist stance, & I can see that it’s consistant & respect that, but I utterly fail to see how any kind of free market system with no safety net would eradicate poverty.

  • Brian

    The question of whether lefties are villains or fools is an ancient one. I think they are a combination of both, with a lot of free-floating guilt mixed in. But the unintended consequences angle is an important one to keep in mind; I’ve yet to meet one who was familiar with such workaday libertarian concepts as Moral Hazard or Adverse Selection. Shooting in the dark, they are.

  • A_t

    OK… When you encounter these lefties, do you enlighten them as to your ‘workaday’ concepts, or just sit there feeling superior because, from your perspective, they haven’t got a clue?

    These concepts, whilst perhaps current within the rarified circles you move in, are hardly workaday in any mainstream context. I’m sure there are left wing political & economic theories & terms of which you know nothing. Does this mean that dialogue between you & one who knows of them is futile?

    The reason they haven’t got a clue is that these are not mainstream concepts within the sphere of political debate. If they become discussed, then lefties will be familiar with them. If you think they’re so important, and particularly if you think knowledge of these theories might change people’s minds, perhaps you should be enlightening folk about them, rather than just sitting there feeling smart.

    Apologies if that sounds caustic, or if you’re doing lots to spread your particular gospel; your post just sounded way smug, & i’ve drunk a lot of coffee.