"Tags:: " #libertarian #[[COVID-19]] #politics #[[role of government]] #[[state capacity]]
[[Brink Lindsey]] discusses libertarianism in the context of [[COVID-19]]. While there was significant government failure in handling the crisis, Lindsey suggests that what we need is greater government capacity, not to cut government services. According to him, this is the only solution Libertarians have regarding government. They offer valuable points on the limits of government, but they do not provide insights on how to improve the quality of government.
On March 3, in response to reports that some Republican lawmakers favored free testing and treatments for [[COVID-19]], [[Derek Thompson]] of [[The Atlantic]] tweeted, “There are no [[libertarians]] in a pandemic.” The witticism bounced all over social media during the ensuing days and weeks – and with good reason, since the jab hit its target squarely on the nose.
When public safety is threatened, whether by war or disease, our dependence on [[Government]] becomes immediately and viscerally obvious.
In the first place, the fact that certain kinds of government action are necessary under the extraordinary conditions of a public health emergency – a fact freely acknowledged by many libertarians and partisans of small government – does not mean that expansive government across the board is a good idea in normal times. Further, in the emergency now upon us, overweening government has contributed significantly to the scale of the pandemic here in the United States. Effective responses to the outbreak have been badly hampered by inadequate supplies of test kits and equipment, and primary responsibility for this failure rests with the Food and Drug Administration and its heavy-handed regulatory approach. A key blunder was the decision in early February to allow only the [[CDC]] to produce and conduct tests; problems with the CDC’s initial test then led to weeks of disastrous delay. #[[FDA]]
Meanwhile, responding to the crisis has necessitated a string of regulatory waivers at the federal and state levels – to allow doctors and nurses to work out of state, to facilitate telemedicine, to expand the scope of work that non-M.D. health professionals can do, to allow restaurants and bars to sell alcohol to takeout customers, and more. The relevant rules have been put aside temporarily as obviously dysfunctional now – but perhaps that means at least some of them are dysfunctional, if less obviously, all the time? #[[regulation]] #[[deregulation]]
But if the pandemic has shown that a critical stance toward government is always needed in formulating and evaluating policy, it has demonstrated even more forcefully the limitations and shortcomings of libertarians’ exclusive focus on government excess. The gravest failures in the government response to the pandemic were sins of omission, not commission – not unnecessary and ill-advised interference with the private sector, but the inability to accomplish tasks for which only government is suited. Yes, at the outset of the crisis the [[FDA]] was disastrously over-restrictive in permitting labs to develop their own tests for the virus, but it is flatly risible to suggest that everything would have worked out fine if only government had gotten out of the way.
While the economic collapse was doubtless aggravated at the margins by forced business closures and stay-at-home orders, those interventions largely codified the public’s spontaneous response to the uncontrolled outbreak of a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease. It’s quite simply impossible to run a modern economy at anything near its potential level of output when people are afraid that going to work or going shopping might kill them or their loved ones.
[[Government excess]], in other words, was not the fundamental problem. On the contrary, a large and activist government was all that stood between us and mass privation and suffering on a mind-boggling scale. Only government can mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic – in the same way it responds to other shocks that lead to other, less drastic slumps – by acting as insurer of last resort, using its taxing, spending, borrowing, and money-creating powers to sustain household spending and keep businesses afloat until resumption of something approaching normal economic activity is possible.
In the current double crisis, what has been lacking is not restraints on government power. What has been lacking – shockingly, shamefully, tragically lacking – is the capacity to exercise government power effectively. #[[state capacity]]
As to how to close America’s deficit in [[state capacity]], a question with millions of lives in the balance, [[libertarianism]] has nothing to say. The libertarian project is devoted exclusively to stopping government from doing things it ought not to do; its only advice about how to improve government is “less.” When it comes to making government strong enough and capable enough to do the things it needs to do, libertarianism is silent.
As I’ve already argued, none of this means that libertarians are wrong about everything, or that [[libertarian]] ideas are worthless. But it does mean that skepticism about government, standing alone, is an insufficient foundation for good governance. The insights of libertarian thought – suspicion of centralized power, alertness to how even the best-intended government measures can still go horribly wrong, recognition of the enormous fertility of the marketplace’s decentralized, trial-and-error experimentation – are genuine and abiding. But they are not sufficient.
I say this as someone who discovered [[libertarian]] ideas in the 1970s. Back then, the intellectual orthodoxy tilted heavily in favor of top-down, technocratic management of economic life. [[Paul Samuelson]]’s bestselling [[economics]] textbook was still predicting that the [[Soviet Union]] would soon overtake us in [[GDP]].
The intellectual turn against markets had derived enormous momentum from events. The catastrophic collapse of the [[Great Depression]] had seriously discredited [[capitalism]], while the energetic experimentation of the [[New Deal]] showcased government activism favorably. Belief in the benevolence and effectiveness of American government, and the crucial importance of collective action for collective welfare, gained further strength from the experience of [[World War II]]. And the glittering economic performance of the postwar decades under the [[Big Government]]-[[Big Business]]-[[Big Labor]] triumvirate seemed to confirm that government management and economies of scale had permanently displaced upstart [[entrepreneurship]] and [[creative destruction]] as the primary engines of [[progress]].
But by the 1970s, events had turned. [[Stagflation]], the combination of soaring prices and slumping output, was afflicting the country despite the fact that its very existence was a baffling mystery to the reigning practitioners of macroeconomic “fine-tuning.” In cruel mockery of the noble goals and soaring rhetoric of the “War on Poverty,” a major expansion of anti-poverty programs had been followed by waves of urban riots, a soaring crime rate, and the catastrophic breakdown of intact families among African-Americans. The auto and steel industries, pillars of the economy and only recently world leaders in efficiency and innovation, were buckling under the competitive challenge of imports from [[Europe]] and [[Japan]]. Gas lines and periodic rationing suggested a grim future of ever more tightly binding “limits to growth.”
Against this backdrop, the rising movement of libertarian thought and free-market economics represented a much-needed corrective.
[[Conor Friedersdorf]] interview with [[Tyler Cowen]] discussing failures of [[the regulatory state]], particularly in the context of [[COVID-19]]. They discuss what has gone wrong and some potential solutions.
“[[Our regulatory state is failing us]],” he has repeatedly warned on his blog, [[Marginal Revolution]]
He fleshed out his concerns and desired reforms in an interview conducted over email.
As for the South Korean government, once the coronavirus arrived in their country, the government sat down with the private sector, figured out what needed to be done, and started doing it right away, including very aggressive procurement of PPE and testing. I think there are at least three differences that partly account for this difference in response. First, the South Korean state has very recent experience building lots of quality infrastructure. Second, SARS was a very real risk in South Korea, which boosted their readiness and also response capabilities. Third, South Koreans are used to the idea of [[existential risk]], given their history and neighbors, and they do not regard themselves as invulnerable. #[[South Korea]]
I do not view the administrative state as extra-constitutional. That said, it has become far too inflexible, and not sufficiently focused on [[outcomes]] #[[state capacity]]
Friedersdorf: If you could change one thing about the culture of America’s [[Bureaucracy]], what would it be?
Cowen: [[regulation]] should be more goal-oriented, and less prescriptive in terms of the details. It should be easier to exercise judgment to meet particular worthy ends, rather than being hamstrung by restrictions and details. Regulation should recognize that emergency situations will come along when very fast action will be needed. Our current regulatory state is not built around those ideas, and its culture is accordingly complacent, and compliance- and process-oriented rather than success-oriented. These days, the American public sector just isn’t very good at getting things done.
Cowen: So much needs to be done. First, we need far more data on the scope of regulation, what it does and doesn’t do, and its costs.
Cowen: [[Statnews.com]] is a very good source for covering [[the regulatory state]] during [[COVID-19]].
Friedersdorf: [[Libertarians]] and small-government [[conservatives]] are highly skeptical of [[the regulatory state]]. What do they get wrong?
Cowen: Very often, the alternative to [[regulation]] is ex post facto reliance on the courts and juries to redress wrongs. Of course, the judiciary and its components are further instruments of governments, and they have their own flaws. There is no particular reason, from, say, a [[libertarian]] point of view, to expect such miracles from the courts. Very often, I would rather take my chances with the [[regulators]].
Also, let’s not forget the cases where the regulators are flat-out right. Take herbal medicines, penis enlargers, or [[vaccines]]. In those cases, the [[regulators]] are essentially correct, and there is a substantial segment of the population that is flat-out wrong on those issues, and sometimes they are wrong in dangerous ways.
Overview: [[Balaji Srinivasan]] looks at [[pseudonymity]], why have a pseudonymous economy, how might it work, and how could we build it.
[[pseudonymity]] is not [[anonymity]]. pseudonymity is not giving your real name, but you maintain it over time and develop a reputation on it. It provides [[accountability]], but it’s also a shield against character assassination. #[[To Ankify]]
[[pseudonymity]] is a continuum, not binary. They are widely used today, including by people high up in government.
4:00 The big next step is not just pseudononymous communication, but pseudonomyous transaction.
Drivers of increased use of pseudonyms: technological support, employment law (don’t want to be discriminated against), social media mobs.
5:30Pseudonymity provides not just freedom of speech, but freedom after speech. Opponents have to attack your idea, they can’t attack you.
Negative press is an attack on your social network.
Your bank account is your stored wealth, your real name is your stored reputation. Only you can debit your bank account, but anyone can debit your reputation.
9:20A possibility is separating your earning, speaking, and real names. Use your real name on official forums like social security numbers. When speaking use a pseudonym. To earn (this is the new part) – earn under a pseudonym, with a professional identity and you speak about things relevant to that identity.
You might have many different speaking names, many different earning names.
10:20 **We can already move wealth to a pseudonym, can we move reputation too? **Right now, you can only have 100% of followers and write under your existing name, or 0% of followers starting completely fresh with a new pseudonym. #Ideas #[[startup ideas]]
What if we transfer attestations rather than everything (i.e. the entire list of followers)? For example, build a new pseudonym platform that confirms that you’re verified (blue check) but nothing else. You can have multiple attestations (e.g. followed by @jack).
17:00 But how do you ensure people will follow? [[Balaji Srinivasan]] calls this “[[autofollow]]”. People would be on a network like this to follow pseudonymous accounts – they will autofollow anyone with over 100k followers, anyone followed by @jack, etc. You then automatically get followers.
An application like this would essentially allow you to move along a reputation-anonymity continuum, trading off a small amount of anonymity for higher reputation.