The Rothbard-McElroy Report

I've noticed on the Mises website that some Austrians are always making distinctions between 'Misesians,' 'Hayekians,' 'Rothbardians,' etc. It always rubbed me the wrong way, because who are these camps? It's not as if there are uniformed Hayekians marching around looking for differently-uniformed Rothbardians to tussle with. It occurred to me that it's only self-identified Rothbardians who do this (following Rothbard, who identified Misesians and Hayekians and Walrasians and Xians and Yians and Zians ad infinitum). What identifies Rothbardians more than adhering to Austrianism in this vein seems to be the tendency to mix ethics and economics in the same argument. I dislike this tendency, though I should say that I am wearing a Rothbard t-shirt as I write this and that if I had to give a label to myself it would be a Hayekian Rothbardist or something ridiculous but Murray-centric like that.

What we should realize is that ethical problems are very hard but often lead to the same places that economic arguments lead, and we underestimate ourselves to assume we have to mix arguments rather than pursuing one from start to finish.

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I'm not sure why, but

I'm not sure why, but 'Misesian' has a nicer ring to it and sounds less cult-like than 'Rothbardian' or 'Randian'. Beware the hordes of savage Rothbardians storming the castle walls... :end:

The difference lies in the

The difference lies in the fact that Hayekians and Rothbardians and Randians etc have different philosophical underpinnings which bring them to their political conclusions. Mises was a Kantian, Rothbard was a neo-Thomist natural-rights absolutist, Hayek is more of a Humean/Burkean gradualist, etc.

While they end up agreeing on a lot of things in economics and politics, their disagreements are sometimes significant. Rothbard famously would have broken his thumb hitting the magic Smash the State(TM) button, while Hayek would have been horrified by such an abrupt change but probably wouldn't have objected if society evolved naturally in that direction; Rand absolutely insisted on a minimal state no matter what. And so on.

They all end up roughly in the same political quadrant, but on close examination their differences are real and often stark.

I should add, however, that

I should add, however, that since no matter which brand of libertarianism you follow, we're nowhere near where we want to be yet, so at this point the differences are mostly moot. That's why even though I'd class myself as a Hayekian, I have no problem making common cause with Randians or whatever. It's just unfortunate that a lot of the different factions have an annoying tendency to play the Johnny-more-libertarian-than-you game, when we should be hanging together instead of hanging seperately.

Well, the "I'm more

Well, the "I'm more libertarian than you are" game is obviously silly, but much of the disagreement amongst the factions, I believe, has to do with how best to implement the libertarian agenda. Shall we argue on natural rights grounds or consequentialist grounds? Those arguments seem necessary to figuring out how to implement the grand libertarian vision. But, perhaps, as you say, we should try to make common cause more often.

You're right, and it's

You're right, and it's getting over that first hurdle that's usually the problem. Most often though, I find that the inability to agree on policy arguments stems from a deeper communication problem between completionists and incrimentalists.

You can see this dynamic at work in more than just politics: two people can be looking at the same problem and even agree on their ideal solution to it, but one person sees the thing from soup to nuts and won't accept anything less than the vision in their brain, while the other person recognizes that the perfect is the enemy of the good and would sooner use a second-best solution and then maybe move toward the first-best later on. Incrimentalist says "this isn't what we'd like most, but it's better than nothing", completionist shouts back "THIS IS WORSE THAN NOTHING!"

Incrimentalist says “this

Incrimentalist says “this isn’t what we’d like most, but it’s better than nothing", completionist shouts back “THIS IS WORSE THAN NOTHING!”

By the same token, sometimes the picture is the completionist responding "It's so little an improvement it's not worth the effort." And sometimes incrementalists want incremental movements in the wrong direction, as with pseudo-privatizing social security, etc. :end:

Naturally, incrimentalist

Naturally, incrimentalist strategies can be in the wrong direction or fail to actually improve things appreciably. But even bringing up those objections implicitly assumes an incrimentalist attitude; a true completionist would simply insist on the complete solution no matter what and regard any incrimental change (regardless of degree or direction) as unsatisfactory. Which is why, when pressed, nobody is a true completionist all the time.

The trick is getting people who are stuck in completionist mode to realize that yes, piecemeal changes matter and are worth devoting energy to. Having an ideal end-state in mind doesn't mean we have to travel straight from here to there in order to say we've accomplished something.

Having an ideal end-state in

Having an ideal end-state in mind doesn’t mean we have to travel straight from here to there in order to say we’ve accomplished something.

I get the feeling you're trying to define away completionists by saying everyone is an incrementalist; a truism, but I'm not sure how useful a truism it is.

I get the feeling you’re

I get the feeling you’re trying to define away completionists by saying everyone is an incrementalist

I don't think that's a fair summation - the benefit here is to confront soi-disant "completionists" with the gap between their expressed and revealed preferences. If a "completionist" continuously shoots down any proposal, merely because it is incrementalist and on no other grounds, he might be persuaded to re-examine this reflexive opposition if he is reminded of some of the incremental steps he does favour . He might still oppose, say, educational vouchers, but he will be forced to use a better counter-argument than the "government should just get out of education already" which has no chance of persuading the incrementalist.

Yep, Frank's got it. I'm

Yep, Frank's got it. I'm saying people can shift back and forth between the two different modes of thought, but the problem is when some people focus more on one at the exlcusion of the other. Without at least some vague idea of where we want to go, incrimentalism is just flying blind; without an appreciation for the engineering nuances of finding a workable path from here to there, completionism is impotent.

Can anyone actually cite an

Can anyone actually cite an example of a completionist argument? In many cases, people who are accused of completionism honestly believe, often for good reasons, that the "incrementalist" approach proposed would actually make things worse. For example, some "completionists" oppose school vouchers because they think it would give the government too much control over private schools, and in doing so bring them down to the level of public schools.

True completionism is so bizarre that I can't believe that anyone would seriously embrace it. Is there anyone standing up and saying that we should reject a 5% government spending cut because we really need a 90% or 100% cut?

Well Brandon Berg, I'm sort

Well Brandon Berg, I'm sort of getting the impression that any libertarian who fails to support a would-be libertarian reformer is a "completionist", as with your voucher example.

No, that doesn't make sense.

No, that doesn't make sense. School vouchers are opposed because it is believed they move us farther from the destination--not because they are an insufficient stride in the right direction, but rather because they are a step in the wrong one.

I've been getting :argue:the

I've been getting :argue:the full on completionist denounciation on my extro-freedom yahoogroup for stating that, as an example of the logic of incrementalism, immigration controls should not be gotten rid of until the welfare state is completey or mostly dismantled, to take away the bait incentive. Timing issues like this drive completionists up a wall of teeth gnashing ire and caustic condemnations to the reeducation camps.:wall:

As for vouchers, there are

As for vouchers, there are two issues here: coerced taxation, and coerced public school attendance. Vouchers solve the second issue but leave the first in place, and thus are really only a solution for those with kids in school. Those with no kids are still screwed out of their property or other taxes to pay for brats they didn't have (which is typically the situation libertarians are in, being as how poor we are at breeding).

What the completionists fail to understand is that vouchers are a 'gateway drug' to libertarianism, because they expose people who would not otherwise be exposed to every day proof that private solutions work better than public solutions (i.e. their kids not being educated by the state). Particularly if they homeschool, they realize how cheap it is to do so. They will then support us in demanding the coercive tax scheme that funds public schooling be ended, because they will want their taxes back too.

School vouchers are opposed

School vouchers are opposed because it is believed they move us farther from the destination–not because they are an insufficient stride in the right direction, but rather because they are a step in the wrong one.

I can't say that I agree with you. Not (just!) about school vouchers but about why some libertarians oppose them. The real reason some libertarians oppose them, I contend, is that they just oppose public funding of education per se and vouchers still represent government funding of education. Their "beard" reason for opposing them - what you allude to - is that government money comes with strings attached therefore private schools will inevitably come under state control. This notion, based on a second order hypothesis ( if there is a voucher system, government regulation of schools is likely) doesn't really bear any kind of scrutiny. For one, the commonly understood idea of vouchers is that parents can use them to buy education from private schools. Under this version, there is no obligation on schools to accept vouchers-with-strings. It is of no use to complain now that further regulation might come under vouchers. The proper time to complain is if and when that regulation is mooted. The proper comparison for a voucher system is with what pertains now, where there is a massive government involvement in education, and not what some voucher-opponents contend is a likely (but debatable) outcome of a voucher system.

There isn't really a way that vouchers represent a step in the wrong direction (assuming the right direction is away from a government-run and government-funded education system) absent auxiliary hypotheses about other regulations a government might seek to enact just because they are providing vouchers (which , by the way, rather assumes too much that such regulatory measures wouldn't be adopted anyway, even without vouchers)

As it happens, I think there is a significant benefit to decoupling government planning from government funding, when it comes to education (and while we're at it, health). The planning does a lot more harm than the funding and if we can get agreement from non-libertarians that the government does a lousy job of running healthcare and education, there's more of a chance of an incremental step in the right direction.

I’ve been getting the

I’ve been getting the full on completionist denounciation on my extro-freedom yahoogroup for stating that, as an example of the logic of incrementalism, immigration controls should not be gotten rid of until the welfare state is completey or mostly dismantled, to take away the bait incentive.

Mike, this isn't just a completionist objection. There are very good arguments against immigration control from an incrementalist point of view. Immigration control is protectionism by another name. Those of us who oppose immigration control (and who are not completionists) do so because we think that people buying labour (just like people buying tvs) will have a better idea of the labour that suits their needs (just like they have a better idea of the tv that suits their needs) than the government. The welfare "bait" is a canard. It is a trifling matter to remove this "bait" - simply make immigrants ineligible for welfare. This is much cheaper than immigration control. No need for completionism here.

Fine, if it is so trifling,

Fine, if it is so trifling, go and do it. I'll enjoy watching.

The welfare “bait” is a

The welfare “bait” is a canard. It is a trifling matter to remove this “bait” - simply make immigrants ineligible for welfare. This is much cheaper than immigration control. No need for completionism here.

This is a little tangential, but most conservatives and liberals ardently prefer immigration restriction over reforming welfare, right? It's not clear to me that incrementalism of any kind will persuade anyone of anything, or advance libertarian ideas, because as far as I can tell most people just don't like immigrants and love welfare.