Friday, November 7, 2008

Are all libertarians dishonest?

Megan is dumb. But before you can re-know that, here's some background between the Rauchway-Tabarrok debate:

Yesterday, Eric Rauchway called the WSJ a liar for saying this (among other things):

"As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed."

This isn't true for two reasons. 1) The one-in-five statistic uses unemployment data that doesn't includ relief workers. 2) Unemployment dropped from 32-38, so using the word 'remained' is a flat out lie.

Alex Tabarrok then wrote in response:

"Historian Eric Rauchway says this is a lie [the above quote about pump priming and unemployment], a lie spread by conservatives to besmirch the sainted FDR. Nonsense. In 1938 the unemployment rate was 19.1%, i.e. almost one out of five workers was unemployed, this is from the official Bureau of Census/Bureau of Labor Statistics data series for the 1930s. You can find the series in Historical Statistics of the United States here (big PDF) or a graph from Rauchway here. Rauchway knows this but wants to measure unemployment using an alternative series which shows a lower unemployment rate in 1938 (12.5%). Nothing wrong with that but there's no reason to call people who use the official series liars."

Now, even if the use of the WSJ's & Tabarrok's unemployment stasticis is defensible, the WSJ was still lying by saying that unemployment "remained" at one-fifth. This is obvious to all, so Rauchway's rebuttal contains a cogent defense of why the stastics he uses are better. He writes:

"The problem is, Tabarrok quotes the old, bicentennial edition of HSUS. And in that edition, you find Lebergott’s unemployment data, which was assembled before Michael Darby, Robert Margo, and David Weir’s work."

Megan see's all this, and Tabarrok's obvious stupidity and dishonesty, and writes:

"Alex Tabarrok takes Eric Rauchway to the woodshed and spanks him so hard my butt hurts. As a general rule, it is a bad idea to title an exceptionally misleading and/or ignorant post "Stop lying". "

Eric Rauchway, Ph.d., minted historian, scholar of the great depression whose works have been published by the Oxford University Press, was called "ignorant" by Megan McArdle, dumbass.

She really doesn't even bother to have a pretense of intellectual honesty or seriousness.


bulbul said...

I've been through something very similar couple of times in my field of, um, expertise and here's my impression: no, they're not dishonest. They're a combination of all of the following:
a) Arrogant. They are the elite, they know everything. I honestly expect to meet Yetti before I meet a conservative/libertarian who will admit to me that there is stuff they just don't know.
b) Ignorant. In my experience, most libertarians are lawyers, economists or something other having to do with math and numbers. Their education involves learning stuff by heart and reference books they can rely on and trust 100%. Once they make their first foray into the world of humanities, it becomes apparent they cannot handle the most basic task studying humanities (especially history) requires - compare, contrast and evaluate sources of information. In other words: they believe the first thing they've read and pick their further reading based on that.
c) Follow the reader mentality. For all the talk about left-wing icons, I have never ever ever fucking EVER met a liberal/progressive who worshipped one of the liberal intelectual icons (strange, none comes to minds right now...) the way libertarians/conservatives worship Hayek, Strauss, the Chicago Boys or even Huntington and Zakaria. Same goes for their favorite media outlets. If Hayek said it, it must be true. If, WSJ publishes it, it must be true.

Clem said...

Bulbul, that's as cogent a summary as one could ask for. However, I would aver that there is most definitely a Chomsky cult.

Sprizouse said...

I'll add to BulBul's statement and try to quantify the current conservative fascination with Libertarianism.

Libertarianism as a philosophy helps wingnuts tout a pro-business agenda as an absolute necessity for human freedom. But Libertarian philosophy about Capitalism's ability to deliver freedom isn't what earned the doctrine its popularity.

Instead it owes its popularity and visibility to the obvious charms it holds for the wealthy and powerful. Libertarianism validates and flatters the successful, which says more about the emotional make up of the successful Libertarian, than it does about Libertarianism itself.

In addition to flattering the successful, Libertarianism also rationalizes Libertarian convictions about taxation and regulation. But once again, that rationalization gives insight into the successful person's mentality. For instance, Libertarians believe taxation is theft simply because they don't like to pay taxes. They believe regulation is enslaving because they find regulation aggravating and meddlesome.

Libertarianism isn't a movement that bubbled up from the masses, spread by some sort of grassroots belief in the doctrine. Instead it's a movement that attracted all its disciples from the top down.

And the top, being wealthy and powerful enough to fund Libertarian ideas, are the only ones pushing the philosophy. This shows why Libertarian followers are so willing to lie and distort the truth.

When BulBul says Libertarians aren't liars he's probably right in the conventional sense, meaning Libertarians don't consciously know they're lying. Their subconscious buries the truth because to confront the truth about their philosophy would mean they have to confront their own arrogance and ignorance, and admit their success owes a debt to many factors beyond their own intelligence and hard work (this isn't an easy thing to do, by the way, since it's human nature to believe individual success is 99% contingent on individual ability and individual drive... but that's another comment for another time).

In the end, Libertarians lie, distort the truth, or cling to their arrogance and ignorance not because they believe in Libertarianism's ability to save the world from oppression, but mostly because they're defending their own fragile egos.

Understanding why Libertarianism is attractive to certain people puts Libertarian acolytes' emotional constitutions on display for the rest of the world to see (ahem, Ms. McArdle, Mr. Tabarrok).

The insecurities of the Libertarian stand in stark contrast to the Warren Buffetts of the world who admit their success is more the result of timing and luck rather than innate ability and intelligence. Buffett's own understanding that his success and resultant concentration of wealth are a major hindrance, rather than a boon, to a nationwide meritocracy should completely explode Libertarian doctrine (just as the failed Libertarian experiments in South Africa and Saipan that resulted in extreme income disparities and abject poverty for most, should have rendered the movement obsolete many years ago).

But as long as there remain insecure people like Megan, who need to be reassured their success and social standing are the result of an innate superiority over the rest of us, then Libertarianism will never truly die.

Anonymous said...

And now Paul Krugman has posted on his blog saying in effect, Rauchway is The Man. Too, too perfect. I blame Obama.

blivet said...

I would very much like to see one real-world example of the benefits unfettered greed is supposed to bring us. When asked for examples to support her assertions, Ayn Rand and her inner circle had the habit of citing incidents in Atlas Shrugged instead of actual events. That tells you all you need to know about the validity of her philosophy, as far as I'm concerned.

bulbul said...

you're right about Chomsky, I guess apostles of his political teachings are as numerous as those who subscribe to his linguistic bullshit.

just to clarify: I was refering to libertarians' relationship to science, research, facts and reality in general, but I wholeheartedly second your expansion of that point. I am also adopting "flattery of the successful" as my official definition of libertarianism. Thanks :)