Monday, April 09, 2007

Brian Doherty: Completely Wrong and Nothing New

I'm trying to decide if I want to purchase Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. I've skimmed through two chapters in my local Barnes and Noble.

The book begins with a falsehood. On the first page of the introduction, Doherty states that Social Security is unsustainable in its current form. Not too further into the introduction, he has "libertarians" building on classical liberals. In this context, Doherty makes the false statement that classical economists depicted markets as bringing about social harmony. No, neither Adam Smith nor David Ricardo depicted members of different classes as having harmonious interests.

I also looked at the chapter on the Austrian economists. My problem here was that I know this story in too much detail. I doubt I would learn much new from Doherty's account.

So I'm leaning against purchasing Doherty's book.

6 comments:

James said...

"No, neither Adam Smith nor David Ricardo depicted members of different classes as having harmonious interests."

Did Doherty attribute to Smith and Ricardo the claim that different classes have harmonious interests? I've not seen the book but I suspect the position he attributes to Smith and Ricardo is that markets allow people with very different interests to simultaneously benefit from their mutual association. I smell a straw man.

Of course Social Security is sustainable in its current form, so long as we don't take "current form" to refer to any particular rate of contribution, retirement age, etc.

Robert Vienneau said...

"I've not seen the book" makes James second paragraph fairly silly.

Even if one is ignorant of the demonstrations of Social Security's viability by, say, Dean Baker, one should be able to agree that events have already overtaken Doherty's book. Doherty brings up Social Security to show how the U.S. public has become more welcoming of "Libertarian" ideas. He's talking about Bush's attempt to make the situation of the aged more precarious. One can see how well that worked out.

James said...

James doesn't understand why Robert likes the formality of the third person in the comments section of his blog but is willing to go with the flow.

Robert claims that James' second para is fairly silly but does not answer the question James put to him. James believes that the present level of support for private accounts, while not high enough to result in a policy change, is higher than before, indicating that the public is more welcoming of something, but not libertarianism.

Robert Vienneau said...

"This is a very big problem. People like [deleted] --people with no social skills whatsoever, who never learned how to behave in any company, polite or not--ruined USENET as a forum. In my view, the--unfortunate--prevalence of such <censoreds> makes an unmoderated email list unsustainable and non-viable in the long run...

...The only strategy I think will work in the long run is to adopt the rules of propriety that legislatures typically adopt.

Think about it: speech on the floor of the U.S. Congress is--in many ways--the freeest anywhere. Legislators are not to be called to account 'in any other place' for what they say on the floor. But within their chamber they are held to strict rules of politeness and propriety--so much so that Tip O'Neill once landed in a big mess for saying a very weak version of what he thought of Newt Gingrich. All statements are notionally addressed not to other members but to the Chair. Forms of reference to other members are tightly controlled.

All of these rhetorical rules exist for good reasons. Unless forums like this adopt analogous rules, I fear that they are doomed." -- Brad DeLong, 18 May 2001

I realize that sometimes when I adopt this policy, my writing comes out overly formal and stilted. But I don't care. Furthermore, I realize that sincere attempts at being clear and trying to understand each other can take work and many interchanges. I'm willing to think before I write, but I'm not always patient with others.

James' assumption of my bad faith, when he admittedly doesn't know what he is talking about, doesn't encourage me to go on. My post, I would think, states that I don't have Doherty's book handy. Besides, I don't find Mises (e.g., Human Action, third revised edition, Chapt. 8, Section 4 and Chap. 24) convincing.

James said...

Robert claims that James assumes bad faith (This 3rd person stuff is a chore, but I'm trying.) but James does not such thing.

Rather: Robert (after mentioning that he doesn't have the book handy) claims "Doherty makes the false statement that classical economists depicted markets as bringing about social harmony." Then, as if to refute this, Robert writes "No, neither Adam Smith nor David Ricardo depicted members of different classes as having harmonious interests," as though not making the latter claim implies that they did not make the former.

Robert Vienneau said...

I see. The problem is with "assume" and "interests". What Doherty wrote is: "We live in a world energized and shaped by the beliefs of ... the classical liberals, the thinkers who believed a harmony of interests is manifest in unrestricted markets... ...liberalism in the nineteenth century..." (No, I am not going to buy Doherty's book.) Smith, Ricardo, and the Mills believed no such thing.

Surprise me. Explain why somebody interested in the ideas of Piero Sraffa would have some views on the history and the historiography of classical economics.