I have just contributed the below three comments to a post at Cafe Hayek. And I got my first "Like"; it turned out I received it from Laura Ebke, our wonderful host here at RSE. Laura, and Eric Parks, have helped me develop my thinking during the four years that I have been privileged to participate in Laura's blog. While Laura holds a PhD in the discipline, I am only beginning to realise just how important political science is in promoting, and understanding, the conditions of liberty.
What worries me is a pronounced tendency within the libertarian movement whereby increasingly vigilance vis-à-vis the state is turning into unconditional verbal opposition, a habit of lamentation and a dogmatic moral posture that condemns anyone who takes the original view of classical liberalism (according to which there is a need to work through the political process and with the state) or indeed anyone who does not endorse (an often only implied) anarchism. Note one of the replies for the accusation levelled at me, and the sophisticated, contradiction-free unpacking of an anarchist's idea of markets and politics.
If there can be so much disagreement between people who support liberty (let alone the larger community), I cannot see how these rival views are ever to be dealt with other than through the means and channels of political competition. Analogously, there is the untenable presumption that ideas on what a market is, how it works, and what action will further or damage the market represent an uncontroverted, pristine standard known to the believer in liberty, if only he is of the true kind. Add to all this, that even tiny differences, once thrown into the pond of human rivalry can quickly expand to vast concentric circles. In a word: no one can escape from politics. Liberty will always be a political attempt.
Commenting on a piece by Don Boudreaux, I put these questions to him.
Can markets handle the task of protecting themselves against adverse political influence on them? By which mechanism do markets achieve this feat? If markets are incapable of achieving this aim, may politics and the state play a certain role in protecting markets?
I did not get an answer, but a reader replied:
What incentive do politicians have for protecting a market that disempowers them?
To which I replied:
Ask Ron Paul, Ludwig Erhard, Leszek Balcerowicz [thanks, Eric Parks] ...
Also, there are good reasons to assume that "the State" pursues the duplex aim of wealth and power maximisation. There is ample evidence that some states are considerably more successful at balancing these two needs: enforcing property rights etc that make for a powerful economy (creating a rich resource basis for the state) AND marshalling political support to cement its power base. My own native Germany and the USA are a lot better at this than Somalia, say, or North Korea, and the reason why is that we have hugely better governments/states, i.e. governments that are far more protective and supportive of the institutions of liberty than other countries. And this is largely because there are people who are prepared to fight with the requisite and indispensable political means for a state that respects liberty.
I concluded by addressing a second remark to Don Boudreaux:
You write: "People too often suppose that large social problems can be solved only by deciding ahead of time which particular group of people and procedures hold the key to the solution." This is certainly a big, chronic problem, masterfully explained by Hayek. However, the insertion "too often" in your proposition is important. For some large social problems can be solved only by deciding ahead of time which particular group of people (those of our libertarian convictions and knowledge) and procedures (those favoured by us, the rule of law and other norms conducive to free markets) hold the key to the solution. Unless libertarians succeed in the political process thereby managing to play a leading role in forming the nature of the state, the requirements of markets and liberty are in danger to be violated by other participants in the political process. Unless it can be shown that markets qua markets can handle the task of protecting themselves against adverse political influence. Like Armen Alchian, however, I have never found evidence to support the assumption that markets can take care of their own preconditions.