The second lesson of economics(-overgeneralising libertarians) is to ignore the second lesson of politics: there is no end to political scarcity (see below). By the way, I do not know libertarianism.org and have not checked its website yet. I just like the Sowell quote, which is excellent in its own right, and a great opportunity to bend it in the direction of my own agenda.
Below I offer two slightly overlapping comments that I left at askblog.
The briefest possible abstract: libertarians tend to make themselves politically scarce as they fail to appreciate the phenomenon of "political scarcity".
Now, what in the world does that term mean?
The first is inspired by The Task of Persuasion:
I have the highest regard for Bob Higgs. However, this does not prevent me from disagreeing with him on a range of fundamental issues. Let me offer this hypothesis: His advice “to make moral arguments” is really an appeal to dogma, the especially unsatisfactory Rothbardian variant of “natural rights”. Unfortunately, modern libertarianism ignores the classical liberals, most notably David Hume, who (quoting me from a comment made at Cafe Hayek)
” … has paved the way toward a differentiated incentive-structure-analysis of government, by discovering that “rights are not deriv’d from nature but from artifice.”
I should add: once you challenge the dogma that “rights … are deriv’d from nature” you unblock the path that leads to an analysis of what “deriv’d by artifice” means. That’s the moment when you start to look at the world as it is, and you discover politics and the state, however much you may dislike them, are decisive parts of the process that churns out rights, good and bad.
Yes, Mr. Boudreaux, modern libertarians are well advised go back to David Hume, so as not to go astray by concentrating exclusively on the defects of government / the state, which is the result of the moral dogma of ‘natural rights’.”
What strength is libertarianism expected to gain if it refrains from politics and refuses to engage in the struggle to form the nature of the state? Out of dogmatic moral vanity; attracting those content to mope rather than to act, protect and further freedom in a naturally messy world.
There may be good reasons to disdain politics, the state and democracy, but you should have a sound and well-developed theory of the state, politics and democracy before you go advertising this contempt as your sole default position. Libertarians do not have such theories – how would they if the said phenomena are being prejudged self-evidently to be uniformly evil.
It seems to me that my fellow-libertarians have a strong tendency to avoid the hardest part of liberty. Making it happen in a world that will never be free of politics and state structures.
The second comment is inspired by The Three Axes of Drug Prohibition:
“… I find [x] so compelling that I have difficulty seeing any merit in looking at the issue from the point of view of [y] …”
Not that I necessarily disagree with your statement; however, for my present purposes, I find it striking for other reasons than an urge to concur or object.
As a libertarian, I am unhappy with what seems to me a tendency amongst my political friends to ignore those parts of (ultimately political) reality that are so messy and probably impossible to tidy up (within a reasonably foreseeable future, or ever) that the option of facing this fundamental impasse is (half-consciously) deleted from the range of possibilities, as it threatens to blur the clear cut contours, the neat standard of liberty.
As a consequence, I have recently focused my attention on the question why markets are incapable of supplanting certain forms of interaction characteristic of the political realm. One of the most basic reasons why, is contained in the type of proposition quoted above.
Human beings create constantly what Riker (“Liberalism vs. Populism”) calls “moral or political scarcity”: a need to take decisions for which (especially general, multitudinous) support is scarce compared to attaining the objective without encountering appreciable friction.
Your quoted conclusion represents a cognitive pattern that fosters a state of mind prepared to deal with “political scarcity” by coercion. (I hasten to add that I do not mean to imply that you are championing coercion.) The coercion-triggering cognitive pattern may be generated cynically and viciously, unwisely and unnecessarily; and it may be owing to reasons and motives that can be rectified or improved; however, irrespective of the quality of our character, morals or reasoning, there are also many occasions where we seem to have advanced to a vantage point of personally persuasive insight so clear cut and and immune to valid refutation that coercion appears an appropriate means of dealing with “political scarcity”.
At any rate, my concern is a clearer perception of the reasons why markets cannot be expected to take care of everything, and that we are compelled to deal with much of the residual by organising or forcing consent that does not exist naturally.
For some, the lesson may be: if something cannot be handled by the market, this does not automatically represent market failure. For others, the lesson may be: Do not expect the market to handle more than it possibly can, in all its beauty and power.
My worry, of course, is not that markets may be less powerful than I thought; I am far more concerned that libertarians are insufficiently prepared to expose their convictions to the inevitably corrosive effects of real politics and statesmanship.
As politics cannot be abolished, the best we can do is to cultivate, to humanely refine it; and considering the heritage of classical liberalism, libertarians should have a comparative advantage at it.