There Are Two Kinds of Libertarians….


….those who think you can divide all libertarians into two types, and those who don't.

Joining the former, and previous more or less useful classifications such as anarchist and minarchist, paleo and cosmo, utilitarian and natural rightsers, is the division between "policy libertarians" and "structural libertarians," explicated by Jacob Lyles over at "Distributed Republic."

Here is the line of division, Lyles says:

Policy Libertarians (PLs) include the vast majority of the most visible organizations and writers in the modern libertarian movement: the Reason Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Ron Paul campaign, the LP, the Constitution Party, most libertarian economists (e.g. Milton Friedman), and single-issue organizations like Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. PLs, as their name suggests, focus their energies on inventing and advocating a list of policies that governments should follow. For example, you can find policy libertarians opposing liberal eminent domain laws, fighting for lower taxes and deregulation, supporting cultural tolerance, opposing invasive police searches, and advocating the rest of the familiar libertarian manifesto.

Structural Libertarians (SLs) are much rarer in modern times than PLs, although the opposite used to be the case. Structural libertarians include Patri Friedman, Mencius Moldbug, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, all libertarian Public Choice economists, Lysander Spooner, and the classical liberals that libertarians have adopted as intellectual ancestors. SLs often have the same moral and policy beliefs as PLs, but they focus their energies on the alternative ways to structure a government and the effect that government structure has on its incentive to adopt good policy. At their most extreme, SLs barely sound like libertarians. Under a market-based government system (a common SL proposal), the architects of Singapore would likely find plenty of customers for a burbclave that is incredibly prosperous and clean, but where communists are sent to jail and litterbugs are viciously beaten with sticks.

And he's taking sides–he thinks "policy libertarians" are naive and largely useless given the structural incentives of modern democracy.

Reason magazine contributor and economist Bryan Caplan has some thoughts questioning the validity of the division Lyles sees:

…institutions themselves are a kind of policy. They arise because previous institutions create incentives for change, and endure because current institutions create incentives for stability. Or as we economists like to say, "Institutions are endogenous."

I remain a gooey ecumenicist when it comes to libertarian activism and agitation, who thinks that the currents of social change are often too chaotic to usefully model, predict, or manage, and that every attempt using whatever strategy or technique to create policy and ideological change in the direction of fewer decisions in the human social world being made under threat of violence deserve to be pursued in the great division of political labor–presuming that some libertarian activist chooses to pursue it.

Undoubtedly, as in any market, there will be plenty of efforts exerted that prove ex post to have been misguided, but it's hard to know that before hand–and sometimes efforts at ideological and political change are consumption goods anyway.

This is not to say such taxonomic divisions and side-taking in libertarianism are useless or to be condemned–just that I think whatever such divisions you can create, it is quite likely that libertarians on either side are doing good things to help bring about a more libertarian world, even if that merely means convincing one more person that we should live in such a world.