Webathon

Are Libertarians More Rational Than Others? No, Just More Aware of the *Limits* to Reason

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Matt Welch and I will be appearing on Thursday's episode of John Stossel's eponymous show on Fox Business. During our segment, Stossel talks about how encountering Reason magazine over 20 years ago gave him a new way of thinking not just about economics but life and politics more generally. In the preview clip above, he asks us whether we think libertarians are more rational than most people. Not at all, not at all, but we're rational enough to realize none of us has all the answers. To paraphrase Dirty Harry, politicians and planners and control freaks gotta know their own limitations.

The career of John Stossel is just one way that Reason seeks to influence debates over politics, culture, and ideas. As he explained in his 2004 book Give Me a Break, reading Reason

…was a revelation…Here were writers who analyzed the benefits of free markets that I witnessed as a reporter. They called themselves libertarians, and their slogan was 'Free Minds and Free Markets.' I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but what they wrote sure made sense."

Stossel airs on Thursday night at 9PM ET. Go here for more details.

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  1. “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” – Hayek

  2. Meh. Sit a conservative, progressive and a libertarian at a table and each one will think they hold all the answers and the other tow are crazy or evil.

      1. And the libertarian would be correct.

        1. Or would he..?

          I’ve come to the conclusion that if The Answers (TM) were so simple and obvious that they could fit neatly into an ideology, humanity would have sorted it all out hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.

          1. That’s the libertarian conundrum.

            People who seek power generally seek it to wield and expand it, not to destroy it. Thus libertarians go nowhere in politics. They have nothing to offer except liberty.

          2. I think a lot of it stems from different starting values. If you can agree on what the end state should be and some basic rules for getting there, you’ll probably agree on most of the details, too.

            The other aspect is picking and choosing the problems you try to solve. I think libertarians are more willing to leave it up to individuals to work out their own shit, even if that means accepting the sometimes negative consequences that persist. Conservatives and progressives seem to be more likely to see any remaining negative consequences as a call to greater action. Well past the point of diminishing returns.

            1. I think there’s something to that. I find that when I agree with a columnist or commenter here it’s often the conclusion I agree with and not the precepts from which that person may have used to reach it.

            2. Which is to say that I don’t think there is as much of a utopian streak running through libertarians. There is to some degree, of course (hello, libertopia), but if you really pin someone down, they’ll admit that even in libertopia there would still be crime, violence, war, abuse of power, poverty, unemployment, economic downturns, and just plain bad luck, and we have to live with that, but that there would be less of those things.

              Conservatives, and especially progressives, may admit that utopia can’t be achieved, but that it is still something worth striving for. I used to think that was true. I’m not sure anymore. Maybe in isolation it is OK, but how can the pursuit of perfection be worth it if it leads you to adopt destructive tendencies? The campus rape crusade is a pertinent example.

              1. Well said. For example, I believe the right to bear arms/own guns will have a certain amount of negative results – murder, crime, school shootings – or whatever “evil” belief a proggy wants to imprint on the second amendment.

                However, this is just the cost of the freedom – and one that I would rather live with instead of having that right taken away.

                1. However, this is just the cost of the freedom – and one that I would rather live die with instead of having that right taken away.

                  ftfy

          3. The difference is the libertarian wouldn’t want his answers enforced on the other two.

            1. But preventing them from using force is enforcing your answer.

              1. Preventing people from using force is tyranny!

                /Tony

                1. The difference is I was being snarky and I knew it.

                  1. When the libertarians are in charge we’ll have camps to rid you of your snarkiness.

    1. Progressives want government to be their mommy.

      Conservatives want government to be their daddy.

      Libertarians want government to treat them like adults.

    2. You are correct. But honestly I don’t know what those three labels mean. Hardly any two people subscribing to any one of those labels is like the other. They are pretty easy to sort out though; simply ask their position on gun control. This is a pretty direct way of asking them if people own themselves or not without using those words.

      1. I was going to use the terms “wingnut” and “moonbat” but I didn’t know the term for a kool-aid drenched libertarian.

        Maybe this is all too nihilistic for a tuesday but I always find myself suspicious of certainty in philosophy.

        1. Objectivist?

          Kidding.

          1. Why kidding? It hits the nail on the head.

        2. Anarchist.

        3. The Kool-Aid drenching is understood, so you can just say libertarian.

          1. Oh, uh, it’s supposed to be Kool-Aid?

            1. Kool-Aid is just the first of the eleven holy drenching liquids.

              1. Secret herbs and spices?

        4. Wingbat?

          Moonnut?

      2. Hardly any two people subscribing to any one of those labels is like the other. They are pretty easy to sort out though; simply ask their position on gun control. This is a pretty direct way of asking them if people own themselves or not without using those words.

        I use “legalized prostitution” for that. Progs and conservatives agree that prostitution is icky and should be illegal. They only disagree about which party in the exchange should go to jail.

    3. The conservative will think the other two are godless.

      The progressive will think the other two are selfish.

      The libertarian will think the other two are statists.

      1. And everyone will be right.

      2. But the progressive will be lying about his greater compassion, and will donate less of his time and money than the conservative he hates, because the progressive is a selfish Narcissist.

        And the libertarian will promote a system that outproduces the system of either the progressive or the conservative. But it will be the conservatives who are the actual producers in that system.

  3. “Are Libertarians More Rational Than Others? No, Just More Aware of the *Limits* to Reason”

    Which is… more rational.

  4. There are limits to reason?

      1. And those are?

          1. Brute force and ignorance beat reason and finesse, everytime.

            1. We see it on a daily basis.

        1. Well she’s probably walking by now but reading is likely beyond her limits

    1. Human beings are inherently emotional creatures. Even those who strive with herculean effort to be totally logical and rational can’t do so all the time. So trying to understand and respond to human behavior using only reason is guaranteed to lead to…frustration.

      1. So you’re saying we can’t just become Vulcans overnight?!?

        1. Why would you want to. Name one hot Vulcan.

          1. Well, there’s T’Pring. And that Vulcan from Enterprise. And maybe Young T’Pau. Not to mention Saavik and whatshername, the Big Trouble in Little China Vulcan.

            1. the Big Trouble in Little China Vulcan

              This did not turn out well

              1. Of course, because she’s no longer a Vulcan.

            1. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as linking first.

              1. Maybe if you had the heart and soul to understand, you would, you green-blooded freak.

          2. You’ve never read Vulcan Love Slave?

          3. Are there Vulcans that aren’t hot? The token Vulcan is usually my favorite character in whichever Star Trek series it is I’m watching.

            1. I can’t really speak for the male Vulcans, but they’re pretty good about the female ones. Kirstie Alley (young Kirstie Alley), Jolene Blalock, even Robin Curtis wasn’t bad.

          4. Fine, you guys win. If you really want to call watching Enterprise winning.

  5. Who are you calling a Kant?

    1. As David Hume once said, “Kant touch this.”

  6. Stossel films days in advance? Give me a break.

  7. I’ve talked to Progressives who think droning on about “fairness” and “social justice” is logical debate.

    1. The general “progressive” debating technique I’ve seen is to drone on like that until the other person either quits or commits suicide.

      1. I’m more prone to want to hurt others than myself in those circumstances.

    2. Yep. And good luck explaining to them that what they’re saying is based in emotion and not reason. I’m convinced the Progs are on a 365 day period, with heavy flow.

    3. People who value fairness have no regard for justice, because fairness requires institutionalized injustice.
      Justice is an absence of injustice. It’s a negative term, like darkness or silence.
      In a just world there will be inequality as some people are more productive than others. Fairness requires using force to remedy inequality, but doing so is injustice because it involves forcefully taking from one to give to another. When government engages in injustice, then there can be no justice.

      1. Fairness requires using force to remedy inequality, but doing so is injustice because it involves forcefully taking from one to give to another.

        I may have mentioned this before, but I think the word “Fair” means “I want.”

        When you base laws on what you want rather than what is Just, the meaning of the word “law” ceases to exist.

    4. People voted for a Progressive who thinks droning on about “fairness” and “social justice” is logical debate.

    5. I’ve talked to Progressives who think droning on about “fairness” and “social justice” is logical debate.

      Shit, my wife thought her “economic justice” class had something to do with Economics.

  8. Have I mentioned that Francisco d’Anconia likes Stossel ?

  9. I don’t want to be a dick about this “more rational” thing, but I will definitely say that libertarians tend to be stronger at syllogistic reason – “If X then Y” type of stuff.

    That is often precisely why libertarians have drifted to their extreme in the first place.

    People on other parts of the spectrum don’t feel compelled to reason in the form “If X then Y” and so they are able to hold diametrically opposed views simultaneously and see nothing wrong with it.

  10. Possibly the next Stossel:

    Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”

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