What's the Matter With Libertarians?

Thomas Frank blames the freedom movement for Jack Abramoff and George W. Bush

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, by Thomas Frank, New York: Metropolitan Books, 353 pages, $25.

One of the screwier sentiments circulating in libertarian circles holds that liberals should love George W. Bush. After all, he spends lots of money! It’s an analysis for people who’d rather joust lazily with strawmen than engage their opponents’ ideas. Real-life liberals don’t want the government to spend money willy-nilly; they want it to spend money on specific things. And the items they have in mind are not, by and large, the items chosen by Bush.

In The Wrecking Crew, a brief and breezy polemic by one of the left’s rising stars, Thomas Frank offers a similar argument about libertarianism. Under Bush, Frank points out, federal spending has exploded and corruption has oozed from official Washington. Obviously, we’re watching the free market in action, because businesses benefit! Really.

Frank, formerly the editor of the radical journal The Baffler and currently the token lefty on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, doesn’t just fail to distinguish between crony capitalism and free markets. He actively refuses to recognize the difference. “Laissez-faire,” he admits, “has never described political reality all that well, since conservative governments have intervened in the economy with some regularity.” Yet that doesn’t prevent him from declaring a little later that “what makes a place a free-market paradise is not the absence of government; it is the capture of government by business interests.” If you relied on Frank for your information, you would never dream that the idea of laissez faire initially emerged not as a defense against left-wing regulators, who were scarce in the 18th century, but as a critique of subsidies, government-imposed monopolies, and what Adam Smith called the “mean and malignant expedients of the mercantile system.” In other words, the “free-market paradise” was supposed to be an alternative to “the capture of government by business interests.”

Frank knows that libertarians believe the state is the engine by which some segments of society loot the others. “Governments are instituted among men in order to help one group in society exploit another,” he writes, summarizing Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State. They “are then captured by some other class, which sets about exploiting some other group, and so on.” For the free market set, says Frank, “there is no conceivable instance in which the state might be reformed or function morally: only oppression succeeding oppression all the way to the far horizon.”

Frank won’t acknowledge the implicit alternative: a society with much less government, where competition replaces privilege and cooperation replaces coercion. Instead he treats the Nockian perspective as a piece of psychological projection, less a description of state power as it is ordinarily exerted than a forecast of the Bush era. Free marketeers believe the state is essentially a tool for looting the treasury; therefore, Frank concludes, when free marketeers are in power, they loot.

In the waning months of an administration marked by enormous interventions on behalf of business interests, there has been an understandable surge of interest in both libertarianism, the ideal of a government that doesn’t intervene on behalf of any particular player, and social democracy, the ideal of a government that manages to help the masses without being captured by corporations. The best way to understand The Wrecking Crew is as propaganda for one of those alternatives against the other.

To that end, the book does everything it can to conflate libertarians not just with the Bush regime but with conservatives in general, regarding the two groups’ on-again, off-again alliance since the 1930s as a more permanent and deep-seated connection. “The conservative coalition has changed over the years,” Frank informs us, but “a commitment to the ideal of laissez-faire” has “remained steadfast.” When he turns his attention to the present day, he paints the Republican regime of cronyism and militarism, and its ugly results from Baghdad to New Orleans, as a specifically libertarian dystopia.

For evidence, Frank expends much breath describing the ways work once done at taxpayers’ expense by the federal bureaucracy itself is now done at taxpayers’ expense by federal contractors. There is a glimmer of an indictment of the pro-market movement here: Some libertarian economists have argued that contracting out exclusive services to private providers will be more efficient than doing the work in-house, and that this could serve as a stepping stone toward moving those functions to the free market. I don’t feel compelled to defend that view, since I have limited sympathy for it myself; still, I should note that the free market case for outsourcing has always stressed the need for competitive bidding, transparency, and other elements obviously absent from the sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts that attract Frank’s attention. And much of the spending Frank describes doesn’t even fall under the category of contracting: Simple earmarks earn a lot of his anti-market ire, as if Milton Friedman dreamed of a world where more pork went to businesses than to nonprofits.

Frank’s argument about government regulation is a bit more sophisticated. It may appear, he declares, that Republicans have done little to roll back the regulatory state, but looks can be deceiving. When the plutocrats despise a department but the masses support it, he contends, the “standard method” is to put the bureau “under the control of someone who is either spectacularly ill-suited for the job or vocally opposed to that department’s mission,” a strategy that “avoids the tactlessness of repealing or abolishing agencies while achieving the same results.” His examples include Howard Phillips, appointed chief of the Office of Economic Opportunity under Richard Nixon in order to wipe out the agency’s subsidies to the left; and James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s first secretary of the interior, who was famously friendly to ranchers, drillers, miners, and other businesspeople who wanted access to public land.

Frank recognizes that it isn’t exactly unprecedented for an industry to capture the agency that is supposed to regulate it. He quotes the railroad lawyer Richard Olney, attorney general in the second Grover Cleveland administration, explaining why he didn’t want to destroy the new Interstate Commerce Commission, an agency ostensibly designed to stop rate discrimination: “It satisfies the popular clamor for government supervision of the railroads, at the same time that that supervision is almost entirely nominal.” Frank does not discuss the other reason many railroad companies supported the ICC, and indeed lobbied to create it. As the historian Gabriel Kolko pointed out in his 1965 study Railroads and Regulation, freight rates in the late 19th century kept dropping, despite the industry’s attempts to stabilize them via voluntary agreements; when those efforts failed, the companies decided to use regulations to “bring under control those railroads within their own ranks that refused to conform.” That meant strengthening the commission, by giving it the power to set standard rates.

In other words, pro-business officials weren’t deregulating the railroads through inaction; they were regulating the rails in a way designed to assist the industry’s dominant companies. This was no aberration. When trucks started carrying freight, the same agency imposed a host of rules whose chief effect was to impose entry barriers against upstarts. The Civil Aeronautics Board was essentially an open conspiracy to eliminate competition in the airline business. There was a revolving door in the late 1920s and early ’30s between broadcast networks and the Federal Radio Commission, which dutifully reduced the power levels and transmission hours of smaller stations. When the New Deal regime replaced the agency with the broader Federal Communications Commission, that state-corporate partnership remained in place.

The result of such cozy arrangements is not just corruption but stagnation. In 1973—at a time when, by Frank’s account, “the country had embarked on a massive regulatory offensive, and reversing it would require conservative mobilization on an equally massive scale”—one observer wrote that “it is difficult to provide evidence of what innovations would have occurred without regulation; yet it is clear that technological lethargy logically adheres in the very structure of regulation.”

Was that cynical critic some corporate apologist slandering a sensible system? Nope: It was Mark Green, now president of the Air America radio network and a serial left-wing candidate for public office. He made that observation in The Monopoly Makers, a book assembled by Ralph Nader’s Study Group. By the 1970s, while the business-friendly Nixon administration was getting behind the “regulatory offensive” that Frank praises, the Naderites had become so disenchanted with the status quo that many of them were willing to call for substantial deregulation. Within a few years, Nader and that notorious Nockian, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), would push airline deregulation through Congress, at which point it was signed into law by the John Galt of presidents, Jimmy Carter. This incident is absent from Frank’s description of the “conservative mobilization” against regulation.

Instead he writes about episodes such as Watt’s tenure at Interior, an alleged example of deregulation being enacted in practice rather than statute. But Frank misses the most telling detail of Watt’s reign: The secretary was cool to the idea of moving public assets to the private sector. Indeed, he helped nudge Reagan away from a proposal to sell even a small fraction of federal lands. In this, he followed the preferences of the industries that used that terrain. They preferred the below-market rates they negotiated with regulators to the full costs they’d have to pay in an open market.

The alleged regulatory rollback of today tends to follow the same pattern. The agencies have sometimes, as Frank writes, pulled back from practices that offend the dominant players. The Department of Agriculture, for example, watered down its meat inspection processes in the Bush and Clinton eras. But the department hasn’t been shy about wielding its hammer against industry outsiders. When the owner of Montana Quality Foods, an independent meat packer, informed the government that he had received contaminated beef from the heavily subsidized giant ConAgra, the food cops jumped into action and investigated...the whistleblower. And the department actually prohibited a small company in Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, from testing its own cattle for mad cow disease. After all, if Creekstone advertised the fact that its beef was 100 percent safe, the bigger packers would have to either lose market share or respond to the competition by doing all that expensive inspecting themselves.

Such favoritism resembles the way the mid-20th-century FCC treated the Austin broadcasting operations owned by Lyndon Johnson’s wife. If a rule stood in the Johnsons’ way, the commissioners found a way to waive it. But if an upstart wanted to compete with the couple’s local monopoly, the government came up with an excuse to block it.

The FCC, incidentally, has arguably been more interventionist under Republican chief Kevin Martin than it was under the last Democrat to fill the position, William Kennard. More broadly, according to an August report from the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, regulatory spending has gone up more than $20 billion in constant dollars since Bush became president. Regulatory staffing has decreased in some areas, including labor and the environment, but only slightly—and it has increased by more than 80,000 employees overall. This is not a regulatory apparatus that has been hollowed out and rendered ineffective. It is a government pursuing the same general industry-boosting approach it took from the ’30s through the ’70s. If Frank wants to imagine that we’re in an era of laissez faire now, he ought to extend his fantasy back to the period he prefers.

But he won’t. Frank, who first came to prominence as a caustic cultural critic, now writes with a gosh-wow earnestness about the Roosevelt-Truman-Johnson era; he spends more time describing a gooey civic text from 1945 called We Are the Government than he does exploring the government’s actual activities in the ’40s. Frank has a long history of disdaining any American figures, from Barry Goldwater to the Beats, who challenged the mid-century liberal consensus. In this book he extends his animus even to the public’s post-Watergate skepticism, pointing out that it “permanently poisoned public attitudes toward government and stirred up a wave that swept Ronald Reagan into office six years later—and made antigovernment cynicism the default American political sentiment.” This is the domestic equivalent of a neocon fretting about the Vietnam Syndrome.

Frank’s narrative reaches a crescendo when he describes the Northern Marianas, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific where taxes on capital were low, minimum wage laws were weak, construction permits were granted freely, and, in a sharp break from all that deregulation, an army of foreign guest workers were legally prohibited from changing jobs without official permission and thus were largely helpless in the face of abuse. When the Interior Department started making noises about overruling some of those policies, the island government hired the right-wing fixer Jack Abramoff to make its case to the nation. Abramoff dutifully began to boast about the benefits the territory had accrued with its lower taxes and lighter business regulations. Those advantages were real, but they were only part of the story. As long as those workers were legally chained to their employers, exploitation was inevitable.

You might conclude from this that labor mobility in the Marianas needed to be deregulated. Frank concludes that the free market is a fraud. Specifically, he says: “What went on in the [Northern Marianas] could not have happened without the active involvement of the state. Yes, this was a free-market paradise, as the libertarians assured the world on dozens of occasions, but a free-market system never simply means do what thou wilt.”

So is there any merit at all to this book? Actually, there is. Frank devotes a lot of space to the underside of the right in the Reagan years, when Abramoff and Ralph Reed were College Republicans instead of corrupt appendages to the political class. This is the one section where he makes a real contribution to our understanding of the last three decades, sifting through ancient direct-mail packages and low-circulation right-wing journals to paint a vivid picture of a milieu that hasn’t received much attention from historians.

The account that emerges is sometimes superficial, but Frank has noticed something that many mainstream pundits miss: the flat-out weirdness of the 1980s right. Modern Republicans often chide the liberals of that decade for not realizing the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, but the conservatives could be even further off base. Just a few years before the Communist system collapsed under its own weight, paranoid cold warriors imagined Moscow as a virtually all-powerful giant, its tentacles pulling stateside liberals’ strings while our weak-willed society teetered toward surrender.

Meanwhile, Rambo-era conservatives cast themselves as a band of guerrilla heroes, openly drawing on their Marxist enemies for inspiration. Frank actually understates the levels of irony here. He describes the right’s love affair with a series of morally dubious anticommunist rebellions in the Third World, with the Angolan thug Jonas Savimbi receiving the veneration that a certain sort of leftist gives to Che Guevara. “Angola had been one of the very last countries in Africa to be freed from colonial domination,” Frank explains, “but unlike so many other ‘national liberators’ over the preceding decades, Savimbi was not a Communist.” Somehow Frank neglects to mention the funniest part of the tale: Savimbi was a communist, or at least had played that role when his biggest benefactors were based in Beijing rather than the Heritage Foundation. In Cambodia, similarly, the right exalted the nationalist opponents of the Vietnamese occupation while tiptoeing around the fact that they were effectively fronts for Pol Pot, the bloodthirsty former dictator who made Mao look like a mild-mannered McGovern volunteer. The same people who accused liberals of being naive communist dupes were themselves...naive communist dupes.

Against this background, the young Abramoff and others drew freely on libertarian language about the virtues of the market and the evils of the state, even as they prepared for careers of using the state to feather their nests. This phenomenon is genuinely disturbing, and if Frank had been willing to take his foes’ ideas seriously he could have expanded his discussion of it into a potent critique.

Frank is wrong to blame the libertarian attitude toward government for the crony capitalism of the Bush years. But it is true that many conservatives used the libertarians’ anti-statist rhetoric as they acquired power, then turned around and behaved like stock villains from the free market imagination. Worse yet, some people in the libertarian movement were their willing partners, if not in the looting spree then in the selective outrage that helped those unprincipled opportunists take over Washington.

Someone could write an interesting book about that. But not Frank. For one thing, he’d have to contrast such corruption with the behavior of all the free market organizations that refused to fold their principles when a funder’s interests were at stake. More important, he’d have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a libertarian principle in the first place, that it’s possible to take a stand for economic liberty and anger a wealthy corporate donor in the process.

If Frank embraced that sort of intellectual rigor, his thesis would have unraveled. He would have had to treat the people who believe in unfettered markets as more than just a front group for the regime that brought us billion-dollar bailouts and a trillion-dollar war. And that would mean acknowledging that Frank’s political tribe is not the only conceivable alternative to the Bush Republicans.

Managing Editor Jesse Walker is the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of American Radio (NYU Press).

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Mark||

    The weird thing is, Frank started out as such a promising writer. I thought "The Conquest of Cool" was a brilliant, contrarian take on the ad industry. His later stuff...not so much.

  • Lefiti||

    Blames libertarians! Fucking ridiculous! How can you blame people for anything who have never had an ounce of influece on anything except a feww feeble minds that could make it through an entire book by Ayn Rand?

  • Sam Grove||

    Is Frank related to Naomi Klein?

  • Lefiti||

    If Frank embraced that sort of intellectual rigor, his thesis would have unraveled. He would have had to treat the people who believe in unfettered markets as more than just a front group for the regime that brought us billion-dollar bailouts and a trillion-dollar war.

    "People who believe in unfettered markets"??

    So this is a fucking religion! Most secular non-true believers believe in what works and resocnize that no human construct is perfect. A truly unfettered market doesn't even exist, so believing in it is perfectly in keeping with other forms of religious zealotry. The Market is Great! Fuck!

  • ||

    Why did you post a picture of Stephen Colbert?

  • Mark||

    @ Episiarch

    They could have been separated at birth...

  • Mike T||


    One of the screwier sentiments circulating in libertarian circles holds that liberals should love George W. Bush. After all, he spends lots of money! It's an analysis for people who'd rather joust lazily with strawmen than engage their opponents' ideas. Real-life liberals don't want the government to spend money willy-nilly; they want it to spend money on specific things. And the items they have in mind are not, by and large, the items chosen by Bush.



    Their opposition to many of his domestic proposals was one of implementation, and not the ideas behind them. I don't recall any liberals damning his prescription drug plan as an assault on free market economics, rather than as a bad way to go about socializing healthcare.

  • ||

    Why did you post a picture of Stephen Colbert?

    For the truthiness, damnit! The truthiness!

  • ||

    Is Frank related to Naomi Klein?

    The way Jesse tells it, it sounds like Thomas Frank one of Klein's pen names.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Mike T.: Liberals damned it -- rightly -- as a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies and as a piss-poor way to improve Americans' health care.

  • economist||

    Lefiti's just pissed that this guy got published writing what Lefiti has always been posting.

  • Lefiti||

    I have a very small penis.

  • ||

    Jessee,

    But the right threw a fit about the drug benefit to. Bush was barbequed for it on here and by most rightwing thinkers. The only people who supported the plan were mushy moderates in Congress and the drug companies.

    To say that the rise of Bush is somehow the responsibility of libertarians is pretty God damned rich. The desire of among some of the Right not to be accused of being callous to the poor and unfortunate and to find a way to embrace government in a "Republican" way what was behind things like No Child Left Behind and the drug benefit. Perhaps if liberals like Frank had spent the last 40 years engaging the proponents of free markets and small government on serious intellectual terms rather than accusing them of wanting to throw women and children in the streets, a large portion of formerly free market advocates wouldn't have embraced government in hopes of looking compassionate. The Left has spent its entire history arguing that the right didn't care about the poor. Now that some on the right actually did try to help the poor through government spending, they scream the results are all the fault of those on the right who didn't embrace the idea.

    It says really bad things about our times and our country that someone as dimwitted as Frank could get book contracts and professorships. He ought to be ranting and raving in a bar somewhere or disrupting city council meetings, not publishing books and being taken seriously.

  • ||

    Powerless, irrelevant and totally at fault.

    Libertarians are the niggers of the [political] world.*

    * Apologies to Yoko Ono.

  • ||

    Thomas Frank's WSJ columns read like bad parody.

  • ||

    "Thomas Frank's WSJ columns read like bad parody."

    This week he was telling us how card check and increased union membership was the road to prosperity. I think Frank honestly believes that businesses print their own money and the only reason everyone doesn't make 100K a year at their jobs is becuase greedy capitalists just won't give up the loot they print in the basement.

  • ||

    As long as those workers were legally chained to their employers, exploitation was inevitable.

    Sounds like the modern day UAE.

    Anyway, do libertarians really have any claim to libertarian principles? I mean, as corrupt cronyism has co-opted libertarian rhetoric, couldn't it be seen the other way around?

    Maybe libertarians took the robber baron rhetoric and added an unrealistic premise. The premise that people could be trusted not to exploit and abuse the system as to effectively tilt "free" markets in their own favor. People just aren't that altruistic.

  • ||

    The Wrecking Crew.

    Sorry. Just had to do it.

  • DannyK||

    Franks' book sounds like it doesn't address libertarian theory very well, but it sure speaks to GOP-libertarian practice.

    How many republicans spoke out against James Watt's depredations under Reagan, or the even more egregious market-rigging under both Bushes? Why did the "small government" faction of the GOP wait until October 2008 to speak out, half-heartedly, against Bush's policies?

    The answer, as was discussed recently at Unqualified Offerings, is that there was never any genuine interest in libertarian ideas. It was just a nice flag to fly over the same old pirate ship. The fact that they got some actual libertarians to sign on was gravy, but not necessary, and they won't miss you when you're gone.

  • ||

    "Maybe libertarians took the robber baron rhetoric and added an unrealistic premise. The premise that people could be trusted not to exploit and abuse the system as to effectively tilt "free" markets in their own favor. People just aren't that altruistic."

    No, people are not that altruistic. Of course when they become government bureaucrats, the don't magically become altruistic then either. That is the reason why governmet intervention fails. The government bureaucrat will act in his interest not the collective interest. Further, the bureaucrat doesn't even have enough information to know what the collective good is even if he wanted to act for its benefit. The alternative to this is to set up a market and let people act to their own benefit. This has shown to have the amazing effect of raising the collective welfare.

  • ||

    "How many republicans spoke out against James Watt's depredations under Reagan,"

    And what would those have been? Wanted to sell off all of the publicly owned land in the West sounds pretty liberarian to me.

  • Jesse Walker||

    But the right threw a fit about the drug benefit to

    Absolutely. Or at least the portion of the right that put market principles above party loyalty did.

    Wanted to sell off all of the publicly owned land in the West sounds pretty liberarian to me.

    As I pointed out in my review, Watt was not in fact enthusiastic about privatizing lands. Robert Nelson had an excellent article about this in Regulation a few years back. Google it up; it's worth a read.

    Franks' book sounds like it doesn't address libertarian theory very well, but it sure speaks to GOP-libertarian practice.

    It could have, if he was willing to admit that this distinction exists.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Amazingly, Jesse found some good in Thomas Frank, something I've never been able to do. I've never been able to get past the bit about the "strangely dainty shoes" that K Street lobbyists are supposed to wear. I work on K Street and I've never seen anyone wearing "strangely dainty shoes."

    Distinctly off track, as it were, I've read in several recent economic histories that the ICC, at times at least, was captive to the small farmers, not the railroads themselves, and that shipping rates were held down in the early 20th century to the point that the railroads weren't able to invest in new equipment as they should have.

  • J.T.||

    I'm in the middle of reading "What's the Matter with Kansas?" right now. It should be titled "Why isn't everyone a socialist?"

  • ||

    Lefiti,

    Though you are almost completely incomprehensible, I believe I understand what your first comment says, and if so, I appreciate your making a distinction between libertarians and the selfish assholes who worship Ayn Rand. I think the prominence of their attitudes are substantively responsible for much of the image problem that libertarianism has. And to which end I am refreshed and delighted to read this balanced line in Jesse's article:

    "[Libertarians seek] a society with much less government, where competition replaces privilege and cooperation replaces coercion."

    To listen to an objectivist rant in E-shut-the-fuck-up, you only hear the competitive first half. Nature red in tooth and claw, economic might makes right, etc. etc.. As much as anything else, I do not call myself a libertarian because almost invariably, I'll read some brilliant Reason article, then go to the comments section and find myself viscerally not identifying with too much of a chorus of what read like feckless, bitter island-men who never learned to share their toys.

    But I still read Reason, and I am sympathetic to many of these ideas. I despise Ayn Rand, I believe Adam Smith thought capitalism was only less evil than letting the king have all the wealth, I don't give a shit who Hayek was. But I do often reflect on another relevant piece of writing, one which is older than all of those people: chapter 57 of the Tao Te Ching.

    Conquer with Inaction
    ---------------------
    Do not control the people with laws,
    Nor violence nor espionage,
    But conquer them with inaction.

    For:
    The more morals and taboos there are,
    The more cruelty afflicts people;
    The more guns and knives there are,
    The more factions divide people;
    The more arts and skills there are,
    The more change obsoletes people;
    The more laws and taxes there are,
    The more theft corrupts people.

    Yet take no action, and the people nurture each other;
    Make no laws, and the people deal fairly with each other;
    Own no interest, and the people cooperate with each other;
    Express no desire, and the people harmonize with each other.



    I read that, and I do wonder if a competitive AND, without coercion, a cooperative society is possible, and if so, how we get there.

  • ||

    "Distinctly off track, as it were, I've read in several recent economic histories that the ICC, at times at least, was captive to the small farmers, not the railroads themselves, and that shipping rates were held down in the early 20th century to the point that the railroads weren't able to invest in new equipment as they should have."

    That doesn't surprise me. The farmers owned the government for a very long time.

  • thoreau||

    Jesse, that was a truly excellent review. I loved it in the print edition and I was checking every day to see when it would go online so I could blog about it.

    Bravo!

  • Lefiti||

    Don't let thoreau's comment go to your head, Jesse. Your review is absolutely predictable libertarian orthodoxy. You could have written it (yawn) in your sleep. Keep the faith!

  • Lefiti||

    STOP POSTING IN MY NAME!!! SCUMBAG!!

  • Lefiti||

    Will the real Lefiti please stand up?

    I repeat: Will the real Lefiti please stand up?

    We're gonna have a problem here.

  • Lefiti||

    Ya'll act like you've never seen a troll before.

  • Lefiti||

    Jessee Walker,

    Free market fundementalist lunatic. Yesterday's man.

  • Lefiti||

    I'm the real Lefiti and I hate these posts in my name. This just proves that you can't have a free market in blog comments.

  • Lefiti||

    All ur Lefiti posts are belong to me.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    To listen to an objectivist rant in E-shut-the-fuck-up, you only hear the competitive first half. Nature red in tooth and claw, economic might makes right

    You're projecting common stereotypes on Objectivism. In that regard, you're a lot like Frank.

  • economist||

    "That doesn't surprise me. The farmers owned the government for a very long time."
    Look at recent farm bills, John, and tell me the farmers don't still own the government.

  • economist||

    Lefiti 2:13,
    You're obviously not the real Lefiti. You don't sound like enough of a douche. To be more convincing, you have to say libertarians are irrelevant and simultaneously declare that they are destroying the world.

  • economist||

    I don't see why Thomas Frank merits such a long article when he is, in fact, just you're average leftwing hack.

  • Lefiti||

    We believe in the unfettered free-market even though we have never seen it with our own eyes. Our faith is strong and keeps us donating. Donate now!

  • Thomas Frank||

    I am Lefiti!

  • St. V||

    Totally thought that was Stephen Colbert at first...

  • classwarrior||

    As long as corporations can make large contributions to political parties as "free speech", crony capitalism will be a fact of life.

  • Seward||

    Jesse Walker,

    I've seen statements about the close coordination between the various agencies you mention and the interests they "regulate" before but only in passing or as an aside in other works. Do you know of a text that deals with that issue head on?

    Great article, BTW.

  • ||

    As long as corporations can make large contributions to political parties as "free speech", crony capitalism will be a fact of life.

    It is illegal for corporations to give to political parties or candidates.

    Of course, they get around this by "sponsoring events" and the like, but that just points out RC'z Sixth Iron Law:

    Money and power will always find each other.

    Campaign finance reform, as an effort to keep monied interests from influencing the exercise of power, is and always will be a complete futility.

    As an exercise in creating barriers to entry to the halls of power and protecting incumbents, it is a rousing success.

  • ||

    We are all Lefitis.

  • ||

    Hey Angry Optimist,

    stereotypes exist because real actions by real people get repeated often enough that we begin to notice a pattern. Are all objectivists as comically exaggerated as, say, the amorous marble statues holding up their planet sized emotional needs on TheAtlasphere?

    http://nymag.com/news/features/artifact/51814/

    Perhaps not, but they are nevertheless the ones who define the image, and I do believe, stereotype or not, their actions betray the intellectual shallowness and uncooperative arrogance of Ayn Rand. I am certain that whatever she said of value has been more rigorously and convincingly argued by someone else, and I do believe that libertarians stand to improve their image by divesting themselves of the lingering coattails of that woman's arrogant cult.

  • ||

    Bush needs to stick it to MacCain one last time and pardon Abramoff.

  • ||

    Totally thought that was Stephen Colbert at first...

    He looks like the picture in the attic of the bastard stepchild of Cameron Crowe and Bob Costas.

  • economist||

    Dammit, in my last post it should have "your" not "you're". Before you know it I'll turn into teh concerned observer nd strt havving alllmy postes be incophetnsibl messes of giberis.

  • economist||

    "As long as corporations can make large contributions to political parties as "free speech", crony capitalism will be a fact of life."
    As long as the government has the power to give huge favors to specific groups, cronyism (sometimes "capitalist" and sometimes "socialist") will be a fact of life.

  • economist||

    Or
    As long as there are laws concerning what can be bought and sold, the first thing to be bought and sold will be politicians.

  • Mike M.||

    I swear, even when they win in a landslide and get almost total power, somehow the liberals still manage to come off like a bunch of crybabies.

  • economist||

    Holy fucking shit, he does look like Stephen Colbert!

  • ||

    "I am certain that whatever she said of value has been more rigorously and convincingly argued by someone else, and I do believe that libertarians stand to improve their image by divesting themselves of the lingering coattails of that woman's arrogant cult."

    Amen. At the very least libertarians have an image problem. Sure, perhaps they're not all cave dwelling frustrated intellectuals/cave dwelling frustrated neo-confederates, but any attempt to argue against their first principles is met with "that's a straw man; we don't believe it precisely that way." Then they forget to offer an economic argument of their own that could rid us of the stereotype. Any libertarians have any suggestions for the current economic crisis? One that perhaps doesn't lead to a decade of suffering for most people?

  • Lee Cruz ||

    The point of the book is not to be some intellectual discussion of the far rightwing side of the American Political Spectrum. The point is to sell books for entertainment purposes, like most modern political products. Okay Reason you can pay me now for solving that brainbuster...

  • economist||

    "I swear, even when they win in a landslide and get almost total power, somehow the liberals still manage to come off like a bunch of crybabies."
    When you have a victim-complex, everybody's keeping you down.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Blaming libertarians for George W. Bush is like blaming poor people for all the insolvent banks.

  • FloppyFeet||

    THE MELTDOWN AND THE FLEECING OF AMERICA-or restated--DON'T BLAME THE REPUBLICANS
    Comment: LET'S TALK ECONOMICS--and what has led to our "meltdown"

    prior to 911 when DEMOCRATS WERE IN OFFICE the Usa sent our law enforcement to Yeman to arrest Osama bin laden. The Yeman ambassador promptly got into a 'turf battle" with USA law enforcement to claim the USA LAW ENFORCEMENT was "infringing" on YEMAN ambassadors "turf".

    So what happened OUR USA LAW ENFORCEMENTS WERE TOLD by DEMOCRATS--to go home empty handed. The DEMOCRAT Administration didn't know at the time their irresponsible actions had paved the way for terriorist to make plans and lay groundwork for 911.

    The Wall Street journal at that time printed a small article on it and to the recent it has been discussed but apparantly NOT ENOUGH.



    I submit for your reading NY Times 1999 - MUST READ!

    Well, it???s about time, the mainstream ???brainwashing media??? is finally coming out with the truth on this meltdown???

    I think if they would???ve come out with the truth right away instead of letting obama camp point fingers at the Bush Admin. THE Gallup polls etc would HAVE LOOKEDA whole lot different FROM RIGHT NOW!

    I just hope the ???American People??? Get it ~ before it???s too late!

    Look! The New York Times is catching up to the American people..it???s important for ALL Americans to know who is responsible for this Economic Meltdown we are experiencing???in fact, some of you might remember that I posted the notice from Bill Clinton himself [I posted again, what Bill said at the bottom of this post]

    Who???s administration
    caused the problem??? See below.

    Amazing
    foresight!! Take a gander at this while they try to lay blame for the whole meltdown???

    9 years ago???this one is priceless and worth the read- right out of New York Times

    September 30, 1999

    Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending by steven A Holmes where the DEMOCRATS admitted that faulty lending pracitces along with ACORN activities have brought use to the crossroads our Nation is today.
    HERE IS WHAT BILL CLINTON HAS TO SAY:

    Bill Clinton knows who is responsible for this NATIONAL CRISIS!

    PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: "I think the responsibility that the Democrats have may rest more in resisting any efforts by Republicans in the Congress or by me when I was President to put some standards and tighten up a little on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

    ANNCR: You're right, Mr. President. It didn't have to happen.

    Watch this video with Bill Clinton ~~ AND NO THIS WAS NOT TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szMGSbtYFtc


    SO here we have it DEMOCRATS BROUGHT ON 911 AND CAUSED OUR MELTDOWN thru their FAULTY LENDING PRACTICES and now are once again all for this FLEECING OF AMERICA thru this bailout bandwagon!

    Just found out days ago that this bailout will derail the economy by encouraging businesses to engage in the same kind of IRRESPONSIBLE risky business practices knowing full well that when the irresponsible business practices are overdrawn the PUBLIC WILL once again be left PAYING FOR IT.

    WANT TO KNOW what happened to all those SO CALLED ACORN AND DEMOCRATS properties they claimed they wanted? WELL THEY ARE ALL BOARDED UP. MEANTIME our economy is still reeling from the effects of the DEMOCRATS CONSTANT IRRESPONSIBLE ACTIVITIES.

    NOW THE BAILOUT which gives all businesses a blank check to engage in every conceiveable irresponsible business manner knowing the public will be forced to pick up the tab when the company runs out of money.

    This will bankrupt our Nation, people and we will wind up like CUBA.

    here is what the ACLU THINKS how stupid AMERICAN'S ARE SPELLED OUT BY NORMAN THOMAS ONE OF THE FOUNDER'S OF THE ACLU

    quote American's will never knowingly accept Socialism but under 'liberalism' accept every fragment of the Socialistic agenda; until one day they wake up in a Socialist nation and "wonder" how it all happened. by norman thomas one of the founders of the ACLU.

    We need as a nation to make sure we legally and legislatively never leave WASH DC alone until everyone of our freedoms are iron-clad protected.

    What we need to investigate is how the DEMOCRATS can count on the USA continuing to be as "stupid as the ACLU THINKS AMEIRCANS ARE' so that the ACLU and DEMOCRATS can further their communistic/socialist/marxist agenda.

    feel free to cut paste and comment please

  • economist||

    Floppyfeet,
    You're making us other opponents of the left look stupid. Stop it.

  • highnumber||

    feel free to cut paste and comment please

    Obviously!

  • ||

    Jesse,

    Great critique. Well written piece.

    RC, I believe in yer 6th Iron law.

    Sounds as though we who belive in the power of free markets to benefit mankind -- and fear the evils of the state -- are in for another long, tedious argument -- while people starve in the Sudan. Glad I live here, where food is free.

  • ||

    Funny, I would be directing that question to the two major parties.

  • ||

    Damn! I forgot to paste the comment I was talking about: "Any libertarians have any suggestions for the current economic crisis? One that perhaps doesn't lead to a decade of suffering for most people?"

  • ||

    "The more guns and knives there are,
    The more factions divide people;"

    Guns and knives don't divide people; people divide people :)

  • mike farmer||

    In criticizing the opposition it pays to exaggerate the negatives and ignore the positives. Objectivity is no fun at all.

  • economist||

    "Damn! I forgot to paste the comment I was talking about: 'Any libertarians have any suggestions for the current economic crisis? One that perhaps doesn't lead to a decade of suffering for most people?'"
    Now why should they do that? After all, everyone knows the best people to scrutinize are the ones who aren't in power.

  • JMR||

    I think people underestimate the extent to which Republican theft of libertarian rhetoric while never intending to implement fiscally responsible policies leads not just to the erosion of liberty, but to NewSpeak. Right now, "free markets" are getting the blame for anything "deregulation" (under record regulatory spending) isn't.

  • Alan||

    RE: Any libertarians have any suggestions for the current economic crisis? One that perhaps doesn't lead to a decade of suffering for most people?

    Sure, cut the marginal tax rate. Or the capital gains tax. Heck, do both. This solves every economic crisis. And if you think that would lead to a decade of suffering for most people, you just aren't a libertarian, are you?

  • ETJB||

    Their is an important grain of truth in what he is saying, although he -- and the critic -- both missed on the boat;

    The author takes it for granted, while the critic brushes it aside. "Why is libertarianism and libertarians" associated with Republican Party, especially its more conservative wing?

    Many Libertarians do not want to dig too deeply into this question, because it does not always highlight the brightest libertarians minds around. Yet, this association did not just magically appear.

    Ron Paul is the obvious modern example; here is a 'right-wing' Republican who makes a tidy and profitable career out of appealing to libertarians and paleo-conservatives.

    Many people in both groups seem to love him and flocked to his primary campaign. The fact that Paul has never really been a libertarian and ended up endorsing -- no surprise -- the Constitution Party did not seem to bother too many libertarians.

    Their are enough libertarians out their that will happily vote Republican, proudly wear the right-wing label, and gush over Ron Paul, but are often the quickest to lash out when anyone happily votes Democrat, wears a more liberal label and dislike Barr, Baldwin and Paul.

    The message I got, time and time again, when debating with libertarians online and in person was that the right-wing of GOP is closer to the libertarian message.

    Yet, anyone with a basic understanding of the philosophy, knows that to be false.

    Yet, at least from my own experience many libertarians are happy to overlook, forgive and forget, when a Republican politician goes against their philosophy, and much less so when its a Democrat.

  • Alan||

    RE: Paul.. ended up endorsing... the Constitution Party.

    Gag! Cough, cough. He did WHAT? How could a libertarian do that? How in the world could anyone professing Reason, and Liberty associate themselves with that backwater bunch of illiberal authoritarians?

  • Duncan||

    The central fault in the comments on THE WRECKING CREW seems to me to be anchored in the contention that Frank has erroneously linked corrupt cronyism with free market principles. What is missing in THAT argument is the fact that unregulated markets ENCOURAGE corruption, attracting people who actively seek to game the system to their advantage. And nothing serves that agenda like having morons in high regulatory places, particularly if those morons like nice toys. And that without the stable framework and market of millions of salary workers and small businesses - the shrinking middle class - provided by government, there wouldn't be much of a market to exploit.

    I have to admit my own bias: Here's my blog.

    http://www.TheManWhoBrokeTheWorld.com

    It horrifies me that corporations are accorded legal personhood, when those corporations are persons without a moral compass and with only two central driving forces - survival and growth, at all costs. And in our system, the emphasis is on short-term growth - let's downsize and outsource to cheap offshore vendors to get a quick cost reduction, ignoring the huge costs of replacing those workers when the economic tides rise again. That's not healthy for a society.

    I don't want one - a corporation - living on my street. And I want them regulated.

    I recently heard a self-described libertarian on the radio, attacking government regulation of advertising. He seemed to see no problem in corporations marketing to kids, or harmful products like cigarettes being advertised. We're all individuals, parents should control their children's exposure tot such, and adults should be allowed to make up our own minds.

    What HE missed was the fact that there's a difference between advertising and analysis, that advertising doesn't present a balanced and inclusive story, warts and all. Advertising is designed to push our psychological buttons and get us to buy, even to create a market for products we don't need.

    I don't want my children subjected to that, and I don't see any way of making an informed decision when millions are poured into presenting a warped benefits picture, leaving anyone seeking to make an informed decision on their own, poking around in under-funded liberal corners where the "Naders Raiders" of today skulk around in the dark. Liberals! Who could trust them anyway?

    Now will all Libertarians kindly give up their government-encouraged and tax-incented employer healthcare, their paid holiday, maternity/paternity/bereavement and vacation leave, their 40hr work weeks and all those other liberal benefits? I wouldn't want good libertarians to compromise their virtue and values.

  • Barry||

    In "Whats the Matter with Kansas", Frank basically admits that the reason he went lefty was some frat-boys were mean to him in college; now THERE'S some solid ground for a political philosophy!

  • b-psycho||

    Duncan: corporate personhood -- in fact, corporate status in and of itself -- is a grant of privilege by the State. A regulation, if you will. The problem with the modern libertarian movement is that it has been hijacked by people who either don't realize that, or willfully deny it simply because so few these days are both anti-state & anti-corporate.

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