Sunday, August 29, 2010

A couple of the many reasons why libertarianism and socialism are at odds

Ross suggests that libertarianism and socialism may not actually be at odds.

So, I have a couple of objections.

  1. One libertarian goal Ross posits is realizing a world in which people retain the full value of their labor. I fear that this is based on Kevin Carson's modern advocacy of the Labor Theory of Value. I haven't read Carson yet myself, but his basic idea as described to me is intriguing. It is plausible that it would be strategically productive to focus on the unjustness of rents captured through statist legal arrangements, but why ignore the Austrian contributions of subjective value? Advocacy for workers to retain the value of their labor doesn't make much sense, since it's not labor that's valuable; such a standard would be arbitrary, since the Labor Theory of Value is simply not true.

  2. Class warfare is wildly wrong. Yes, there is economic inequality among different groups of individuals, but this is the wrong analytical tool to evaluate societal welfare and social mobility. In the United States, if you track the poorest quintile in different time periods, then you will seem to notice a class of people who are stuck in poverty. However, If you actually track individuals from the lowest quintile and follow those individuals into future time periods, you'll see a high degree of mobility into richer quintiles. Assessing the group is fallacious. It would be like checking to see what percentage of second-graders could do calculus in 1990, and comparing that to the percentage of second-graders that could do calculus in 2000. What you want to check in 2000 is the percentage of high school seniors, who were the second-graders in 1990, and see what percentage of those seniors can do calculus.
Aside from these quibbles, I do admire Ross's good will. One phenomenon that Penn Jillette has noticed is for folks to believe that their political opponents actually agree, but advocate the opposite because they're evil. Thomas Sowell has attributed that as characteristic of the unconstrained vision. Ross certainly does not fall into this trap. I admire the socialist drive to do good, but it is misguided, since it is generally ignorant of economics.