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Radicals for Capitalism:

I'm very much looking forward to reading Brian Doherty's book, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement. The New York Sun reviews it here, and the New York Post, here. The Sun review is by Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic, one of of my favorite magazines. I didn't know Shermer was a libertarian, though I knew he was a former Objectivist.

I've known Brian since we attended an IHS seminar together in 1988. What, no comp review copy, Brian? Glenn Reynolds got one! Trivia note: Also attending that seminar was future Weekend Today Show anchor and Katie Couric sub Jodi Applegate, whom all the guys developed a crush on.

UPDATE: And the second most famous person attending that seminar was future Federal Election Commission Chairman Brad Smith.

A. Zarkov (mail):
I would not be surprised to see radicals for capitalism coming from the left some day. They will eventually realize (if they haven't already) that they can't run an economic system, and when they fail they have to take the heat, at least in a democracy, or someplace you can flee from. Much better to let the capitalists run things and then tax the hell out of them. This way the left has its cake and can it eat too. If the economy fails then you can blame the capitalists. If the economy roars along you take a big piece of it. Look at Hillary: "we want those oil profits." With high taxes the bureaucrats get to control a lot and live high on the hog. Remember you don't have to own something, just control it. A good example is Maurice Strong. He's rich, he's green and an avowed socialist.
2.11.2007 4:01pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I don't understand how libertarians (either with an upper or lower case "l") can be described as "radicals". The more proper description is reactionary. They want to return to a world where government interference in society is minimal. A wild west with the technology of the 21st (Glenn Reynolds is probably the most glaring example of this). That's why you guys like Sci Fi so much. They are basically westerns in space. Of course you're not willing to accept the consequences or logical conclusions of your government-free society--living like the Amish.
2.11.2007 4:08pm
liberty (mail) (www):
How does prosperity make you Amish?
2.11.2007 4:18pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
JF, how about actually reading the book before disputing its thesis?
2.11.2007 4:20pm
Nick H.:
I'm begining to think that I'm the only Libertarian alive who wants nothing to do with objectivism or any of Ayn Rand's hogwash.
2.11.2007 4:38pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

I'm begining to think that I'm the only Libertarian alive who wants nothing to do with objectivism or any of Ayn Rand's hogwash.


Maybe you've got it right - for her part, Ayn Rand wanted absolutely nothing to do with libertarians. What does this have to do with the reviewer of a book about libertarians being a former objectivist?
2.11.2007 4:44pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"They want to return to a world where government interference in society is minimal. A wild west with the technology of the 21st…"

The term "reactionary" applies even more to the socialists who would return us to a time of complete control of our lives by an all-pervasive government. The Incas provide a good example. From The Socialist Phenomenon (*) by Igor Shafarevich:


Not only work but the whole life of the citizenry was controlled by officials. Special inspectors continuously traveled about the country observing the inhabitants. To facilitate supervision, peasants, for instance, were obliged to keep their doors open during meals (the law prescribed the time of meals and restricted the menu). (56: p. 96, 57: p. 132) Other aspects of life were also strictly regimented.



There's really nothing modern about socialism, it's the ultimate reactionary economic and social philosophy.

(*) You don't have to buy the book, it's actually free at this link.
2.11.2007 4:47pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
"Reactionary" really makes no sense as a label. Neither does "progressive" for that matter, but there's now at least a discrete historical movement of big-P "Progressives."

Everyone "reacts" negatively to policies he opposes and positively to policies he supports. "Reactionary" as a label for a certain political group requires accepting that society is moving in some defined direction and the so-called "reactionaries" are dragging their feet.

I've yet to hear it in common usage where the meaning couldn't be reduced to "people who stubbornly refuse to agree that my ideas for new policies are good."
2.11.2007 5:05pm
The Emperor (www):
They want to return to a world where government interference in society is minimal.

When did the world ever have that? Most of modern history is made up of oppressive statist governments. It's only relatively recently that people have begun to fight against this.
2.11.2007 6:20pm
Blasphemer:
Who's more reactionary? The statists who want 17th Century mercantilism or the libertarians who want 18th Century laissez-faire?
2.11.2007 7:14pm
The Emperor (www):
Who's more reactionary? The statists who want 17th Century mercantilism or the libertarians who want 18th Century laissez-faire?

I don't think there is any "18th century laissez-faire" that remotely resembles the society that modern libertarians want to see. Maybe there wasn't much economic regulation, but freedom of religion, speech, etc. were non-existent.
2.11.2007 7:33pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The Incas provide a good example.

Gee, you find one example (an apparent aberration in human existence no less) where an ancient society developed as what can be described as a socialist system (500 years before the Russians reintroduced it apparently without ever realizing the Incas had already done it) and this proves what? One thing it might prove is that Socialism is not the unmitigated disaster ("failed every time it was tried") that every one claims. The Incas had the most extensive empire known to man up to that time. If not for smallpox, they could have beat the Spanish, all with a planned economy (to call it socialist is really a misnomer since it was really a monarchy with a degree of control ever seen anywhere else in the world).

How does prosperity make you Amish?

The great libertarian conceit is that you can have things like telecommunications, paved roads, sewers, running water, an electrical grid, commercial air travel, and all the other conveniences of modern society without pesky government regulation. It may be a nice fantasy but it ain't gonna work. None of the wonderful things you (or Instamoron) cherishes, would exist if it wasn't for the heavy hand of the government.

Heck, David, Eugene and Glenn Reynolds wouldn't even be able to rail against the evils of big bad government if they weren't collecting paychecks at public universities. If the government is so awful, the thing they should do is quit their jobs. Has anyone else ever recognized the delicious irony of having a libertarian think tank at a public university?
2.11.2007 7:47pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

The great libertarian conceit is that you can have things like telecommunications, paved roads, sewers, running water, an electrical grid, commercial air travel, and all the other conveniences of modern society without pesky government regulation. It may be a nice fantasy but it ain't gonna work. None of the wonderful things you (or Instamoron) cherishes, would exist if it wasn't for the heavy hand of the government.


And yet, should someone suggest that modern liberals think that the government should have absolute and utter control of every aspect of life, I'm sure you'd be offended, and say it was a straw man.
2.11.2007 7:54pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Well Charlie in Colorado, explain to me how Colorado outside of Denver and Colorado Springs would have gotten electricity roads and water without the government. A good chunk of your state's residents still depend on rural cooperatives for their electricity. And you certainly get a lot more in federal road dollars than you contribute.
2.11.2007 7:59pm
The Emperor (www):
explain to me how Colorado outside of Denver and Colorado Springs would have gotten electricity roads and water without the government

Good point, J.F. It's impossible to have electicity, roads or water without the government. They simply don't exist. Government bureaucrats invented them, and are the only people who can provide them. Private companies simply don't have the capability. There is no known mechanism whereby private companies respond to incentives to provide services that people want.
2.11.2007 8:26pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Well Charlie in Colorado, explain to me how Colorado outside of Denver and Colorado Springs would have gotten electricity roads and water without the government.
How does anything happen without the government? Enough people want something, someone feels it's economically worthwhile to provide it.

Why is it that leftists always think "The government provides X" = "X wouldn't exist without the government"?

Of course, some things the government does wouldn't exist with the government -- bad investments that rational people spending their own money wouldn't make -- but that hardly translates to "We'd be living a prehistoric existence."
2.11.2007 8:38pm
Nick H.:
Maybe you've got it right - for her part, Ayn Rand wanted absolutely nothing to do with libertarians. What does this have to do with the reviewer of a book about libertarians being a former objectivist?

I was simply refering to my casual observation that many libertarians or conservative-with-libertarian-bent enjoy those types of philosophies. It was a casual question if anyone else with libertarian sympathies disliked her philosophy.
2.11.2007 8:59pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Good point, J.F. It's impossible to have electicity, roads or water without the government.

Attempts at sarcasm are not a counterargument. Look at a map of Colorado. Considering the climate and terrain, explain how or why a private company is going to build a road from Denver to Grand Junction and keep it open 365 days a year (at most I-70 is closed for a few hours at a time). Heck, just explain the economics of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

I don't know how anyone who lives west of the Kansas/Missouri border can't wake up every day and thank the federal government for everything they have.
2.11.2007 9:05pm
liberty (mail) (www):
J. F. Thomas,

You mention cooperatives. What do they have to do with government? I lived in NM and my electricity was provided by a cooperative but it go no federal funding. Although tax dollars at one time paid for some of the infrastructure - roads and so forth - they need not do it now. In fact, given innovations and technology that the private sector can largely take credit for it is cheap enough to provide internet, television and telephone service to the most remote and rural areas of New Mexico and Colorado today that government can rest assured it is no longer required there today.

And while its true that government did fund some of the basic research and basic infrastructure that led to innovation and to fulfill basic needs in these rural areas at some points in history, it does nothing to prove that this was necessary or that government's intervention didn't slow the innovation that ultimately has made the big difference that means that today living rurally hardly makes any difference to one's opportunity to advance. Only when deregulation was passed did the private sector finally close the gap and provide services that allowed rural areas to catch up to cities in communications technology.
2.11.2007 9:50pm
The Emperor (www):
Look at a map of Colorado. Considering the climate and terrain, explain how or why a private company is going to build a road from Denver to Grand Junction and keep it open 365 days a year (at most I-70 is closed for a few hours at a time). Heck, just explain the economics of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

I don't know how anyone who lives west of the Kansas/Missouri border can't wake up every day and thank the federal government for everything they have.


There's no question that the government can build roads that private companies would not have built. The government can also build bridges to nowhere. That doesn't mean that either one is a good idea, though.
2.11.2007 10:04pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Only when deregulation was passed did the private sector finally close the gap and provide services that allowed rural areas to catch up to cities in communications technology.

You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. To this very day the government is extending services to rural areas where private industry has absolutely no interest in providing service. Just last year a small town in Louisiana got phone service for the first time ever courtesy of the government.
2.11.2007 10:20pm
liberty (mail) (www):
J.F.Thomas,

Um.. I do have some idea what I am taking about. I know that in NM where I lived, the first communications technology to speak of to reach much of the area was privately provided satellite television and satellite internet. Even, funny enough, to areas which have little or no phone service.
2.11.2007 10:35pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
That doesn't mean that either one is a good idea, though.

So I-70 isn't a good idea? What other interstates are "bad ideas"? Is the air traffic control system and the inland waterway system a bad idea too? How about the land grant colleges and public universities? Notwithstanding their libertarian bona fides, I'm sure Eugene and David wouldn't want you to criticize UCLA and GMU (or Glenn Reynolds UT).
2.11.2007 10:39pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I know that in NM where I lived, the first communications technology to speak of to reach much of the area was privately provided satellite television and satellite internet.

Oh yeah, and I guess all those satellites got into orbit how?
2.11.2007 10:41pm
Fearmonger (mail):
<i>at most I-70 is closed for a few hours at a time</i>

1) Not even remotely true. Last winter I was personally stuck in Glenwood Springs for 9+ hours when I-70. Also, I'm almost positive I-70 in eastern colorado was closed for <b>almost 3 days</b> as recently as December. (too lazy to look up a link). That's two recent events of more than a few hours just off the top of my head.

2) If the Colorado gov was so efficient at keeping I-70 open, then I-70 should rarely close, let alone for hours at a time. As it is, I-70 closes for "a few hours" all the freakin' time, maybe even several times a week. That's not a resounding example of efficiency. A quick google news search yields several examples of I-70 being closed for hours at a time in the last month.

You're either ignorant or intentionally distorting facts to support your claim.
2.11.2007 10:51pm
The Emperor (www):
So I-70 isn't a good idea? What other interstates are "bad ideas"? Is the air traffic control system and the inland waterway system a bad idea too? How about the land grant colleges and public universities? Notwithstanding their libertarian bona fides, I'm sure Eugene and David wouldn't want you to criticize UCLA and GMU (or Glenn Reynolds UT).

I have no idea whether I-70 is a good idea (and I never said your other examples were bad ideas). My point was simply that your argument that I-70 would not have existed without government funding does not support the view that it was a good idea for the government to fund it. You have to judge each government program on its merits. The fact that something would not have existed without the government is not a convincing argument that the government should have created it.
2.11.2007 10:55pm
Fearmonger (mail):
JF,

It would also be helpful in general if you actually crafted an argument as to WHY the services you speak of would not exist (or would not be as effective) without government.
Anectodal evidenc of government providing telephone service to one small town in NM does not support your claim, and neither does resorting to strong and insulting language directed at other commentors and bloggers (i.e. "you have no idea what you're talking about" and "Instamoron".) Please refer to the good professor's comments policy below.
2.11.2007 10:59pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Also, I'm almost positive I-70 in eastern colorado was closed for almost 3 days as recently as December.

You're right, I-70 was closed for several days in eastern Colorado (and I believe western Kansas) in an extraordinary weather event around Christmas. To imply that detracts from the extraordinary fact that in most years, at most times, you can drive coast to coast without paying a single toll in a matter of a couple days of straight driving, ignores my central point.

Life in most of the U.S. west of the Mississippi River would be impossible without the direct support of the Federal Government. The government provides the power, the water, the roads, and the exploitation of the agriculture, timber, railroads, and minerals that provided the original impetus for settling the west only made economic sense when it was subsidized by the government.

It would also be helpful in general if you actually crafted an argument as to WHY the services you speak of would not exist (or would not be as effective) without government.

It would be helpful if you would craft an argument as to WHY the services I speak of would exist without the government. So far, all I have seen is "people in NM got satellite TV". (And silence after I pointed out that the satellite was launched by the government--whoops).
2.11.2007 11:35pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
and neither does resorting to strong and insulting language directed at other commentors and bloggers

Well when someone says something like this:


You mention cooperatives. What do they have to do with government?


I think I can safely say he doesn't know what he is talking about. As for the esteemed Professor Reynolds, anyone who advocates genocide (no matter how cryptically) deserves to be called a lot worse than "Instamoron".
2.11.2007 11:41pm
anon252 (mail):
And if the government hadn't spent the money to "open up the West," would that money have simply disappeared, or, more likely, would the money have been spent by the private sector on either a similar venture, if it was actually efficient, or on something more efficient that would have made us all wealthier, even if no one lived in New Mexico? Why do you assume that because people live in some godforsaken place thanks to federal subsidies, that this was the best possible outcome? Lots of people live in places they clearly should not today, e.g., on beachfront land susceptible to hurricanes. They are only able to live their because of federally subsidized flood insurance and disaster relief. Yet we'd all be better off if they didn't live there. I just fail to see the logic in saying, "government has done something, some people have benefitted, if the government hadn't done it, those people wouldn't have benefitted, so clearly government is good." You should look up Bastiat on the "seen and the unseen." He refuted your fallacy decades ago. http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss1.html
2.11.2007 11:46pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
if it was actually efficient, or on something more efficient that would have made us all wealthier

Such as? This is what annoys me. I provide actual examples of where government provides actual beneficial services. You counter, why wouldn't these services exist without government? So I ask you to provide me with a plausible alternative scenario and all I get is a bunch of what ifs. How the hell am I supposed to counter that?
2.12.2007 12:03am
Anon252 (mail):
It would be a foolish libertarian who would argue that the government NEVER does anything worthwhile or efficient. But your argument is that the fact that the government did SOMETHING and that it had SOME benefits is proof that libertarianism is mistaken. It's fallacious on two counts: first, you haven't shown that what the government did was BETTER than alternative uses of the money. True, I can't prove the reverse, but I'm not the one using particular examples to prove a general point; and second, let's say the gov't did do a good thing in subsidizing development of the West. But it also killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of Indians, despoiled the environment, and so forth and so on. For that matter, the same growth of the national government that you celebrate was also big enough to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans in WWI with appallingly counterproductive (the rise of Soviet Communism and Naziism) consequences. What you need is theoretical and practical argument as to why across the broad range of things government can do why, overall, Big Government should be preferred to various versions of libertarian government. Just saying, "hey, look at this good thing the government did that wouldn't have happened under libertarianism" is just not much of an argument.
2.12.2007 12:10am
Fearmonger (mail):
<i>You're right, I-70 was closed for several days in eastern Colorado (and I believe western Kansas) in an extraordinary weather event around Christmas. To imply that detracts from the extraordinary fact that in most years, at most times, you can drive coast to coast without paying a single toll in a matter of a couple days of straight driving, ignores my central point.</i>

True, it was a large snowstorm, but several days is a long time for I-70 to be closed! I am inclined to believe that the situation could have been handled much better, as are many people in Colorad. Anyway, you earlier said something like "70 almost never closes for more than a few hours," and I was just pointing out the falsity of that statement. Even disregarding the December event, I still contend that 70 closes for "a few hours" ALL THE TIME, which sucks, and closes for significant periods of time far more often than you seem to indicate. So no, I'm not ignoring your central point.

<i>you can drive coast to coast without paying a single toll</i>

You do pay tolls, they're just called by a different name: Taxes.

<i>It would be helpful if you would craft an argument as to WHY the services I speak of would exist without the government. So far, all I have seen is "people in NM got satellite TV". (And silence after I pointed out that the satellite was launched by the government--whoops).</i>

Dude, I never argued above that the services would exist without the gov. I simply requested that you explain why you think the would not without using mere conclusory statements and name-calling, which you have still yet to do. (Also, it was not me who mentioned NM, I think you are confusing commentors).

However, I do believe that cross-country highways and roadways to all major cities would exist without the governemnt. How? The would be funded by tolls, and in my opinion, would undoubtedly be economically sustainable due to the vast amount of commerce in the US.
2.12.2007 12:50am
Roy Haddad (mail):
Nick H:
It was a casual question if anyone else with libertarian sympathies disliked her philosophy.


I have not read any Rand, mostly because what I have heard suggests to me that I would intensely dislike her; I have it on (what I consider) decent authority that the philosophy is not serious. And I definitely have libertarian sympathies.
2.12.2007 1:18am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas-

As for the esteemed Professor Reynolds, anyone who advocates genocide (no matter how cryptically) deserves to be called a lot worse than "Instamoron".

Can you tell me more about this?
2.12.2007 1:57am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Nick H.-

I was simply refering to my casual observation that many libertarians or conservative-with-libertarian-bent enjoy those types of philosophies. It was a casual question if anyone else with libertarian sympathies disliked her philosophy.

I'm a libertarian but I haven't gotten around to reading any of Rand's stuff yet. I do know that some of her followers don't seem to really be libertarians, but I'm going to read her stuff before I dismiss her philosophies out of hand.
2.12.2007 2:02am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
JF, the point is that your black-and-white view of what a "libertarian" believes is a straw man. There is a very small, radical anarchist stripe of libertarianism that might imaginably be vaguely like the straw man you propose; similarly, there is a very small, fringe group that really believes in radically authoritarian control (most of them in Philosophy departments and older than 60.)

Criticizing the overall group of "liberals" on the assumption that all "liberals" believe in complete and utter authoritarian control would be a straw man, and foolishly uninformative. Similarly, criticizing libertarians based on an extreme, almost imaginary radical anarchist fringe is foolishly uninformative.

Sorry that the subtlety of the comparison overwhelmed you.
2.12.2007 2:11am
A. Zarkov (mail):
J.F. Thomas

"Gee, you find one example…
The Incas had the most extensive empire known to man up to that time… If not for smallpox, they could have beat the Spanish, all with a planned economy (to call it socialist is really a misnomer since it was really a monarchy with a degree of control ever seen anywhere else in the world)."


You really should read Shafarevich. He gives many more examples of state socialism than the Inca Empire. These include the Jesuit State in Paraguay, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient China. He also discusses socialistic ideas, philosophies and movements in antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The Inca Empire (1197-1572) qualifies as the most extensive pre-Columbian empire in the Americas, but not in the realm of history up to that time. The Mongol Empire (1206-1405) was certainly bigger covering 33 million square kilometers and 100 million people as compared to the Incas, which covered only 2 million square kilometers, and 15 million people.

The smallpox explanation for the defeat of the Incas by the Spanish is a little too simple. For one thing the Incas had a lot of enemies that provided help to Spanish, but this whole subject is for another discussion.
2.12.2007 2:30am
A. Zarkov (mail):
It seems to me that the very few people believe in no government regulation. For example we learned that hard way that the securities industry needs regulation to enforce transparency. It's actually a tremendous benefit to that industry to be regulated. It remains to been seen whether the deregulation of the banking industry is going to work out. The repeal of the Glass-Steall Act was a mistake in my opinion. I don't think banks should own insurance companies. I think commercial banks should stay out of the securities business. And so on. The government has also failed to properly regulate the derivatives business and this whole thing is a ticking time bomb. The book Infectious Greed by Partnoy is an excellent scholarly treatise on the dangers of derivatives.

All that being said, the government should stay away from regulating activities like secondhand smoking, particularly when it's based on junk science. There are ordinances that forbid smoking at the beach! Or even in your own house! While we need some regulation, it can easily get out of hand.
2.12.2007 2:57am
David M. Nieporent (www):
It would be helpful if you would craft an argument as to WHY the services I speak of would exist without the government.
Either they're economically useful or they're not. If they are, then why do you think they require the government? If they're not, then you're right -- they wouldn't -- but that raises the question: why do we want the government wasting money on projects that have negative return on investment?


Unfortunately, JFThomas takes the easier to defend position in this discussion. It's like the free trade debate. We know that free trade, net, creates jobs -- but that doesn't mean some jobs, or even some domestic industries, won't be destroyed. So what do the protectionists say? "What will the people who do X do if their jobs move overseas?" And the free traders have a hard time responding, because the answer is: we don't know. It's a lot easier to point to the specific industries that will disappear than the unknown industries that will arise. Similarly, it's a lot easier to point to the specific government programs that exist than the private programs that might spontaneously arise. We don't know whether a specific road would exist, or how.

JFThomas is like the possibly apocryphal story of the Soviet official who visited a western grocery store and said, "very impressive -- but how do you make sure that the store stocks all these goods?"
2.12.2007 3:06am
Fearmonger (mail):
"We don't know whether a specific road would exist, or how."

True. In all likelihood, the highway system in the US would look drastically different if not constructed by the government, because a completely different set of incentives would determine which roads were built, where they would lead. It's quite possible (likely?) that we would be better off, meaning our highway system would be more efficient, if its creation had been left to private enterprise.

In any event, I just cannot imagine that without big government intervention there would be no cross-country system of highways. Powerful market forces require goods (not to mention people) to be transported from New York to LA and everywhere in between.

Perhaps a more interesting query invovles the governments role in planning and developing roads in large metropolitan areas, given traffic and congestion considerations. Any thoughts?
2.12.2007 3:43am
liberty (mail) (www):
Oh yeah, and I guess all those satellites got into orbit how?

Instead of huffing and puffing and responding to individual sentences, why don't you go back and read what I origially wrote. I gave government some credit for some of the basic technologies (e.g. satellites, computers) but explained that there is no need today for government to provide things out to these remote areas and government regulation over the past few decades has actually slowed the progress of private companies toward bringing innovative new technologies (which may be based on some research funded by government) to these remote areas.
2.12.2007 10:28am
liberty (mail) (www):
And silence after I pointed out that the satellite was launched by the government

Excuse me, I was asleep.

Well when someone says something like this:


You mention cooperatives. What do they have to do with government?



I think I can safely say he doesn't know what he is talking about.


You still have not explained why. The electric co-op that I used in NM did not get any government funding. Private cooperatives and government are two different things. (and that's "she doesn't know what she's talking about" btw)
2.12.2007 10:33am
liberty (mail) (www):
David M. Nieporent,

Very well said. This thread had really gotten out of hand with anecdotes. Nice to have some theory back.
2.12.2007 10:42am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I gave government some credit for some of the basic technologies (e.g. satellites, computers) but explained that there is no need today for government to provide things out to these remote areas and government regulation over the past few decades has actually slowed the progress of private companies toward bringing innovative new technologies (which may be based on some research funded by government) to these remote areas.

Well that satellite that provides television to those remote areas was launch by a government agency, probably NASA. There wouldn't be satellites at all (or an aerospace industry) if not for the huge subsidies of the the government through defense spending and the space program.

As for electrical coops. Electrical coops are semi-public entities that are chartered through the rural electrification programs originated during the 30's and continuing to this day. Although they operate independently, much of the infrastructure, as well as the power they buy, is heavily subsidized through Federal grants or sometimes outright owned and maintained by the federal government. And where do you think a lot of that power comes from out there? Ever hear of the Glenn Canyon or Hoover Dam? Without us people out east pumping literally billions of tax dollars your way, life in the west would be impossible. You wouldn't have any roads, water or electricity.

So when you get off the grid, stop drinking Colorado River water, and stop driving on federally funded roads, then you can come back and tell me how wonderful it is to be a libertarian.
2.12.2007 11:44am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
In any event, I just cannot imagine that without big government intervention there would be no cross-country system of highways. Powerful market forces require goods (not to mention people) to be transported from New York to LA and everywhere in between.

Well, its nice that you can't imagine it, but can you name any country that has ever developed an advanced transportation system without big government intervention?
2.12.2007 11:50am
TJIT (mail):
Has anybody else noticed that whenever the discussion involves what the proper size and role of government is discussed some individuals in the comment thread always follow this procedure.

1. Haul in truckloads of straw and construct a small battalion of strawmen.

2. Distract the comment thread from the topic of discussion by immediately asserting that what libertarians are demanding is no government at all.

3. Embellish said distraction with snarky, vituperative, ad hominem attacks.

4. Repeat until comment discussion is far afield from the original topic.

Entertaining to watch. Educational too, but probably not in the way the commentor hoped it would be.
2.12.2007 12:01pm
liberty (mail) (www):
As for electrical coops. Electrical coops are semi-public entities that are chartered through the rural electrification programs originated during the 30's and continuing to this day.

Actually, from what I can tell they are no more subsidized than any other electric utilities. Yes, they were originally part of FDR's new deal, but today, through their National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation they raise most of their money privately. They do get low-interest government loans and tax breaks, but so do your local phone companies. In fact, electric coops receive the least federal subsidy according to some sources:

Federal Assistance to Electric Utilities
According to Nobel Laureate economics professor, Lawrence R. Klein of the University of Pennsylvania, all types of utilities (Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), Municipal Owned utilities and electric cooperatives enjoy some form of subsidy. You may be surprised to learn that electric cooperatives receive the least amount of subsidy per customer.
http://www.nreca.org/AboutUs/Co-op101.htm

Again, most of the communicatiosn technology that has really made a difference out in rural areas of late - such as satellite TV and internet - is private. Yes, the basic research for this technology came from the DoD (a legitimate government function of you ask me) but the government wasn't going to translate that technology into the television and internet service and internet based phone service received into millions of rural homes today: only the market could drive the innovation necessary to do that.

Just because FDR expanded government into the area of funding electric coops in the 1930s does not mean that these areas would not have thrived without that program. The market may have innovated and created better generators, better transportation, a more innovative and cheap way to run electric lines to remote areas - who knows what the market would have brought.
2.12.2007 12:22pm
TJIT (mail):
What ends up getting missed is the fact that government action can crowd out better alternatives. What also gets missed is the fact that government solutions often make the problem they were supposed to fix worse or they cause a completely new set of problems to develop.

Some commentors might find it hard to believe but there was actually electricity in rural areas before the government got involved. Towns had small power stations and rural residents had things like wind chargers, battery banks, or small generators. A distributed generating infrastructure existed and the creation of the rural electric grid by the government destroyed that infrastructure.

Today there is great interest in distributed power generation from sources like wind, solar, and fuel cell systems. Partly for grid stability reasons, partly for economic reasons, and partly for environmental interest reasons.

I suspect distributed power system technology would be much more advanced if the government had not killed that market by creating the grid.

Tradoffs like this exist and they should be discussed, not ignored over the fear that it might cause people to recognize that government actions can have bad results.
2.12.2007 12:27pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The market may have innovated and created better generators, better transportation, a more innovative and cheap way to run electric lines to remote areas - who knows what the market would have brought.

Well if it could have, why didn't it?

such as satellite TV and internet - is private. Yes, the basic research for this technology came from the DoD

Basic research!? The internet was funded and invented by the government. A satellite can't get into space unless it goes there on a NASA rocket or the Space Shuttle (or a government rocket from another country). The industry is only viable because of the defense business. There would be no satellite television if the most of the satellites launched weren't defense or government related. Only the government could drive the innovation and investment necessary for a space program. Look at the vaunted X-prize. Private industry finally managed to do what the government was doing regularly over 40 years ago.
2.12.2007 12:34pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Well if it could have, why didn't it?

Because as TJIT points out, it was crowded out by government. And in fact it was starting to exist before government got in the way!

As to the rest of your post, again, you don't know what would have existed without government. Everything that government does crowds out some private alternative. We don't know when private market innovation would have invented computers and internet on its own -- its true that the demand for some of these things is low without national defense reasons. But, we need national defense whether its government or privately run. I believe it is a natural role for government - some anarcho-capitalist types believe it should be privately run - and some pacifist and isolationist types don't think it should exist at all.

But, if it is a natural role for government then the argument that government innovation in this area provided or provides some of the technology requires for these market innovations like satellite tv, internet and phone, carries no weight. We don't know how the private sector would have done without government, but we also recognize defense as a role for government (because it is a pure public good: non excludable and also being one of governments functions: protection of life) then it is irrelevent whether the private sector could provide the goods provided by government in this area.
2.12.2007 12:51pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
As to the rest of your post, again, you don't know what would have existed without government.

As I pointed out above, there is a town here in Louisiana that just got telephone service last year (the government supplied it). So obviously, one hundred thirty years after the invention of the telephone, private industry still couldn't be bothered to extend phone lines to some areas.

It's nice to pretend private business could have done it better if big bad government hadn't interfered, but that isn't an answer because it doesn't explain how private industry could have done it. Take the space program. Nobody is stopping anyone from competing with NASA. And supposedly private enterprise could launch satellites much more efficiently than the government. So where is all the competition?
2.12.2007 1:23pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As I pointed out above, there is a town here in Louisiana that just got telephone service last year (the government supplied it). So obviously, one hundred thirty years after the invention of the telephone, private industry still couldn't be bothered to extend phone lines to some areas.

It's nice to pretend private business could have done it better if big bad government hadn't interfered, but that isn't an answer because it doesn't explain how private industry could have done it.
The question is not "how" private industry could have done it; that's trivial. (Namely, the same way the government did it. The government isn't magic; it doesn't have secret consumer telephone technology that the private sector doesn't have.) The question is why private industry would do it. Maybe it just doesn't make sense to put phone lines there -- after all, even the fairy godgovernment didn't do it for a century -- any more than it makes sense to build a major league baseball stadium in Boise.

Take the space program. Nobody is stopping anyone from competing with NASA. And supposedly private enterprise could launch satellites much more efficiently than the government. So where is all the competition?
In fact, the space industry is heavily regulated.

Also, the fact that the government isn't "efficient" in a particular area doesn't mean that it's easy for the private sector to compete with it; the government has the minor advantage of being able to compel people to subsidize its services at gunpoint. For the purposes of competition between government and private sector for a particular service, what matters is not "efficiency," but rather the price the government charges to people for that service.
2.12.2007 2:55pm