My first wife got me into libertarianism. She was very clever and I followed right along with her ridiculous arguments. A good example was her argument against antitrust laws. The way she saw it, they were unnecessary. If one company wanted to undercut prices and throw everyone else out of business: great! That meant that we would all get cheaper prices. Once the company had its monopoly and then raised prices: no problem! That would open up a market opportunity for other companies to come in. This is a typically facile argument that doesn’t take into account start up costs and times. Nor does it deal with regional effects. It is, in other words, the perfect libertarian argument: it has little or nothing to do with the real world — thought through just long enough to make the libertarian case.
But even if those were not problems, who would want to live in such a world? This month, cars costs $1,000. Next month, they cost $10,000. The month after that, who knows? And what is especially problematic with this world is that libertarians are obsessed with price stability. As a result, they want the gold standard so that no bureaucrat can take John Galt’s wealth away! Price stability is important for the economy as a whole. But as long as it isn’t the government, but rather various rich capitalists who are stopping people from planning their economic futures, libertarians don’t think it is a problem.
Dean Baker just brought my attention to a similar kind of libertarian nonsense, Forbes’ Tim Worstall Is Upset the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Bans Export Subsidies. Worstall recently wrote an article in which he claimed that we shouldn’t worry about other countries keeping their currencies artificially low and that the TPP doesn’t need to address the issue. Just like my wife used to say, they are doing us a favor by giving us goods at low prices. Shouldn’t we be glad about that? Well, it depends.
If you are rich and you don’t need a job, then it is great. The Chinese, for example, provide us with goods that are cheaper than they should be. That’s as true for the poor, however. The problem is that the poor need jobs. So there are all these products that are made in China that would be made in America if the renminbi were properly valued. This I always find really interesting. There is no doubt that Tim Worstall is in the upper middle class — but he’s probably in the upper class and may well be just flat out rich. And as I’ve discussed many times, reporters tend to see as “obvious truth” what is in fact just whatever is in their own best interests.
Baker noted that Worstall ought to be angry about its ban on export subsidies. After all, he is for allowing countries to subsidize consumers in other countries through currency manipulation. Export subsidies are just a different way to do exactly the same thing. So what gives? Well, as Baker noted in an addendum, Worstall thinks that the world is always at full employment. And that circles back to the larger issue which is that Worstall sees everything from his own social position. I’m sure that he doesn’t know many if any people who are unemployed or underemployed. It seems to me that almost everyone I know falls into one of those categories.
Again, the problem isn’t that Worstall is man of his own culture. The problem is that he considers himself a clear eyed observer — maybe even objective. If he would just admit that all he really cares about is the rich, there would be no problem. We could just discount him the same way we do simple minded libertarians. In his perfect world where everyone who wants a job can have one, it all makes sense. But we don’t live in that world. Instead, we live in a world were incompetent ideologues like Tim Worstall have good paying jobs at popular business magazines.