sights & sounds

May 18, 2010

“incorruptible politicians”


Much like ‘government organization’ or ‘unbiased opinion’, the very idea is (oxy)moronic and worthy of nothing more than ridicule2. An ‘honest politician’ is as much a mythical beast as the elusive jackalope; but somehow, I think I have a far greater chance of stumbling upon an antlered bunny in the woods than finding an honest man in Washington.

No one is more cognizant of these facts than anti-statists are, but Paul Krugman’s recent blog post strangely indicates otherwise:

“Thinking about BP and the Gulf: in this old interview, Milton Friedman says that there’s no need for product safety regulation, because corporations know that if they do harm they’ll be sued.

Interviewer: So tort law takes care of a lot of this ..

Friedman: Absolutely, absolutely.

Meanwhile, in the real world:

In the wake of last month’s catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski blocked a bill that would have raised the maximum liability for oil companies after a spill from a paltry $75 million to $10 billion. The Republican lawmaker said the bill, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would have unfairly hurt smaller oil companies by raising the costs of oil production. The legislation is “not where we need to be right now” she said.

And don’t say that we just need better politicians. If libertarianism requires incorruptible politicians to work, it’s not serious.”

While true that Krugman’s criticisms can apply to a minarchist(ish), state capitalist position that retains corporate privilege, this position isn’t the end of all libertarianism; and it’s intellectually dishonest of Krugman to pretend otherwise. Further critique from Cafe Hayek, addressing Krugman directly; emphases mine:

You’re deeply confused.  One foundation of libertarianism is the observation that no profession is as infested with corruption as is politics.

[Statists] unceasingly plead for politicians to be entrusted with ever-more power and money, while libertarians – understanding that politicians aren’t the saints that you 3 presume them to be – oppose your efforts.

Your accusing libertarianism of requiring “incorruptible politicians” makes as much sense as a faith-healer accusing science-based medicine of requiring flawlessly effective witch-doctors.

Another perspective on Krugman’s argument, from Marginal Revolution:

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), which is the law that caps liability for economic damages at $75 million, does not override state law or common law remedies in tort4 (click on the link and search for common law or see here).  Thus, Milton Friedman’s preferred remedy for corporate negligence, tort law, continues to operate and there is no doubt that BPs potential liability under common law alone would be in the billions of dollars.

Thus, Paul now has only (N-1) reasons why libertarianism doesn’t work.

The exact excerpt from the OPA is as follows4; emphases mine:

(a) PRESERVATION OF STATE AUTHORITIES; SOLID WASTE DISPOSAL ACT.—Nothing in this Act or the Act of March 3, 1851 shall—

(2) affect, or be construed or interpreted to affect or modify
in any way the obligations or liabilities of any person under
the Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq.) or State
law, including common law

I’m sure Krugman doesn’t realize it, but his critique of corporatist libertarians serves as an excellent argument for why it’s inherently self-contradictory and dangerous for libertarians to participate in electoral politics in the first place.

From c4ss; emphases mine:

Statists are concerned with outcomes. They have a picture of what they would like the world to be like, and they will advocate whatever (they believe) will “work” in order to make the world that way. Libertarians on the other hand are generally concerned with principles. They (mostly) have one major rule, that they apply to different scenarios in order to determine how they feel about particular issues. This rule is called the Non Aggression Principle (sometimes called the Zero Aggression Principle). It basically says that one should not use violence or fraud, except in self defense.


This principle-based approach either confuses or appalls most statists. This is why they will often accuse libertarians of being contradictory in their approach to what the statist thinks the libertarians desire as an outcome. Of course the proper libertarian response is “so much the worse for that outcome”.

Only the anarchist has the answer to this conundrum. … Unlike minarchist libertarianism, anarchism says specifically that no one has the authority to do anything that everyone else doesn’t have the authority to do.  There is no magic beast called “government” that can save us or destroy us.  The result of this, if widely accepted, is also that there are no magic beasts called “banks” or “corporations” (though there might be organizations that use those words, they would not resemble the formalized institutions we know of today).  An anarchist doesn’t let a bully take over or destroy their neighborhood, no matter what special labels or formulaic ritualised words they try to use to justify it.

1. I’m in a charitable mood, so I thought I’d include a photo of Krugman that makes him seem marginally more lovable than he truly is.

2. The two are oxymorons to me, at least. Krugman might differ, as he favors the former and is under the illusion that his politics are grounded in the latter.

3. That post serves as an excellent rebuttal of the “anarchism is utopian!” claim that statists make. Is there anything more ‘utopian’ than entrusting an elite, oligarchical class with privileges not granted to the general populace, and expecting them to use that power benevolently? Someone could respond to the question with “But without government intervention, evil corporations will have all the power!”, but that critique rests on a profound ignorance of the relationship between big business and the state that spawned corporate tyranny in the first place.

4. I disapprove of the cap in the first place, obviously; but that’s not the point.


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