One of the neat things about having a blog is going back to what I wrote three and a half years ago and wondering what the fuck I was thinking.
For example, when I started blogging I had only a glancing interest in economics; now I think it’s irresponsible for anyone who doesn’t have an glancing understanding of the discipline to vote. (Not that I’m the one to stop them, mind you.) I started off as a moderate civil-libertarian, then as I read and wrote about abuses of state power I dropped the “civil-” qualifier and turned into a vociferous libertarian. (I guess I’ve basically stopped tilting at the “liberal” windmill. Well, Quixotic crusades like that one are essentially masturbatory, and that’s something I prefer to keep private. You’re welcome.)
The more I read about government, the more I decided it was ultimately a bad idea. The 2008 United States Presidential election and the credit crisis pretty much cemented this opinion: I see a positive, rather than a negative, feedback loop between government regulation and the flight of market incentives from reality. Let me take some of the nerd out of that sentence: Government and business, put together, make each other stupider and less rational. Government without business is stone-age subsistence farming; hence, government has to go. Somewhere around the start of 2009 I became an anarchocapitalist.
The good news for those of you who don’t like to see me walking around in a wookiee suit is that somewhere around June 2008 I picked up a copy of Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter. Somewhere in my next dozen posts is one of those “the ten books that most strongly influenced me” things that real economists are writing, and I’ll expand upon the Sheeple Book there, but basically it made me start caring about what can be achieved now in addition to what I’d like to see in some distant future.
If, for example, you were to ask me if state-provided law enforcement is ultimately a good idea, I’d say fuck no. There will be no government in anarchotopia; thus, no-one will have a monopoly on aggressive violence. On the other hand, should you ask me if we ought to abolish law enforcement in 2010 Vancouver, I’d also say fuck no. I’d like to make a few changes — Tasers On Horseback needs some meaningful oversight, for example — but we’ll need to evolve some new social mores before telling the cops ggs kthxbai. Read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for some idea of where we need to get. Actually, read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress anyway.
Briefly put: I don’t think we’ll get to anarchotopia in my lifetime, and I no longer think that just any incremental progress thereto will necessarily help. For example, if the Canadian social safety net were precipitously to collapse, we wouldn’t start living better and more Rothbardian lives just because “the welfare state done gone away” — a bunch of people would die, and a bunch more would riot. Death is a pretty big deal: you can restore someone’s property, and (try to) compensate them for lost liberty, but when someone dies there’s no making up for it. Sudden social changes tend to kill people who don’t have it coming.
Between that realization — sweeping changes are fun to read about but not to live through — and a bit more self-education on history and economics, I’ve turned into one of those practical libertarians that Austin Frakt and Ed Glaeser just wrote about. I won’t get a society that’d deal with my private heroin vending machines overnight, not even if I open-carry at a Ron Paul rally. More concretely, if I lobby relentlessly for every tax break that comes down the pipe (sometimes known as “starve the beast”), I’m just hiding behind ideology to ignore a huge problem called domestic fucking debt. Look at California to see how well “give me shit but don’t make me pay for it” works out in the long run. Or, say, Greece.
So lately I’ve become a deficit hawk. More than that, I’ve become a bit eschatological about economics in general. This goes back to the 2008 credit crisis: I think the TARP bailout and subsequent stimulus was a bad idea, not because the recession would’ve been any milder without it, but because I think we’re putting off and fueling up a much worse crisis down the road. My apocalyptic mindset suggests that the economy that precipitated the 2008 crisis hadn’t fully adapted to the reality of the post-2002 dot.bomb bust, and now that we’ve patched it over with band-aids and baling wire we’ve just increased the gap between the state of the economy now and the state of the economy in a stable equilibrium. Ask a chemist about polyazides for what I think is an apt analogy. We’re just setting up for a bigger fall, and the hell that that’s going to entail will make a laissez-faire response to 2008 seem like the smooth sailing of the 2006 housing bubble.
Similarly, I look at the economics of entitlement plans in Canada and the United States, and I think oh fuck we’re screwed. Far better to wind them down in an orderly fashion — and now that we’ve spent trillions on bailouts and &c. to raise taxes to forestall a domestic debt crisis — than to wait ’til we’re in debt up to our eyeballs, no-one will lend us money, and four hundred million or so people are on the verge of rioting because foreign investment has fucked away off to safer pastures (and taken the jobs with it) and the feds are paying out their obligations with IOUs written on toilet paper. Better to deal with hard problems now, before they become insurmountable.
So how do we get from “raise taxes now to pay down the debt” to “privately-owned and -operated vend-bots selling heroin and machine guns”? Brother, if I thought I had a good idea you wouldn’t be able to get me to shut up about it.
And, as always, I could be wrong.