Via Economic Policy Journal

Tyler Cowen

In a remarkable essay,  What libertarianism has become and will become — State Capacity Libertarianism, Tyler Cowen, who serves as general director of the Koch-funded George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, uses climate change as a cornerstone justification for “higher quality” government.

He writes:

[I]t doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.  

This claim is preposterous. Putting aside for a moment the likelihood of the drama related contradictory claims of the climate alarmists, about how climate will change, there is nothing, zero, that a free market economy couldn’t handle that the climate alarmists are proposing could impact the earth.

This is foundational economics that a college freshman should be taught. For example on the possibility of a sea-level rise see A Free Market Solution to Climate Change Dangers.

The fact of the matter is that if significant global warming does occur, it will impact different geographic areas differently and people and economies will adjust.

Cowen is thinking in a stunningly static sense. It is as though he would worry about a Dallol, African bushman flying to Alaska in January while just wearing a loincloth, without adjusting with a heavy parka and other winter clothing. Or an Alaskan flying to  Dallol, Africa, while wearing a heavy parka and other winter clothing, and not taking them off. Such flights are sudden climate change, that must be dealt with in the here and now–and they are done so every day!

People adjust to circumstances. Climate change differences over time would be adjusted to. Basic.

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Another cornerstone by which Coewn attempts to justify what he calls “State Capacity Libertarianism” is the education sector. His thinking here also reflects a limited scope of possibilities.

He writes:

[E]ven if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better.  That would even make privatization easier, if that is your goal.

What the hell is this? Make the current system better first?

Does Cowen not understand the fundamental point made by both Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that a government system can not be made “better,” because it lacks free market pricing signals?  That the only solution is that the government education system must be ended, and next week is not soon enough. The free market will come up with creative alternatives immediately.

Cowen also ventures into foreign policy. He is just as bad here:

State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible. 

This, of course, flies in the face of George Washington’s sound advice, in his Farewell Address, to avoid foreign entanglements and foreign alliances:

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all—religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages
which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies for others should be excluded and that in place of them just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another
an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. 

And thus in his short essay, Cowen manages to take on Mises, Hayek and Washington in an attempt to overthrow libertarianism in favor of every of “State Capacity Libertarianism” which isn’t supported by him by any great thinking but by current every day fads, slogans or politically correct themes. And I mean Cowen touches on many of them.

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Included are:

“most of all from educated women”

” keeping China at bay abroad”

“keeping elections free from foreign interference”

“science subsidies”

“nuclear power (requires state support!)”

“space programs”

In a response to Cowen, Mises Institute president Jeff Deist put is best:

We build “capacity” in society through profit, saving, and capital investment. Government makes this worse, not better, in each and every case.

Libertarianism simply means “private.” It is a non-state approach to organizing human society. It is not narrow or confining; in fact everything Cowen desires in an improved society can be advanced through private mechanisms.