When Libertarians Go to Work…

7 Mar

Yesterday, libertarian blogger Julian Sanchez announced that if the right-wing Koch brothers successfully take over the libertarian Cato Institute, where he works, he’ll resign. (According to most reports, the Kochs want Cato to be a more reliable instrument of the Republican cause.) Today, Sanchez criticizes progressives who can’t help noting the irony of libertarians complaining about wealthy people using their money to buy the kind of speech they like.

If Cato is Koch property, progressives say, doesn’t libertarian theory require that the Kochs be allowed to do with it what they will? Silly progressives, says Sanchez. Libertarians aren’t recommending that the Kochs, assuming they have legal title, not be allowed to do whatever they want with Cato. They’re simply saying it’s not a good idea for the Kochs to do whatever they want with Cato—to transform it from the republic of letters libertarians assume to be into the Republican propaganda mill the Kochs would like it to be.  Nothing in libertarian theory precludes libertarians from criticizing how the wealthy use their money.

I realize progressives think libertarianism is just code for uncritical worship of rich people, but as that’s not actually the case, the only irony here is that people think they’re scoring some kind of gotcha point when they’re actually exposing the silliness of their own caricature.

If only Sanchez read his own writing as diligently as he reads his critics’. For what’s noteworthy in his “presignation” letter is not his complaints about the Kochs and what they’re trying to do. It’s the remarkable portrait he paints of himself and his workplace, how the coercion he imagines his new bosses wielding would threaten his autonomy and integrity, his very capacity to speak the truth as he sees it:

More importantly, I can’t imagine being able to what I do unless I’m confident my work is being judged on the quality of the arguments it makes, not its political utility—or even, ultimately, ideological purity. Obviously Cato has an institutional viewpoint, and I wouldn’t have been hired in the first place if my views on the topics I write about weren’t pretty reliably libertarian. But when it comes down to specific issues and controversies, nobody tells me what to write. If my honest appraisal of the evidence on a particular question leads me to a conclusion that’s not “helpful” in the current media cycle’s partisan squabble, or that differs from either the “official” libertarian line, or from the views of my colleagues, I can write it without worrying that I’ll be summoned to the top floor to explain why I’m “off message.” That’s the essential difference between an analyst and an activist: I can promise readers that what appears under my name—whether I get it right or wrong—represents my sincere best effort to figure out what would be good policy, not an attempt to supply a political actor with a talking point.  If I couldn’t make that promise, I’d have no right to expect people to take my work seriously.

The mere thought that he might “be summoned to the top floor to explain why [he's] ‘off message’”—with the obvious implication that he’ll be fired if he can’t or if he does it again—is enough, for Sanchez, to compromise his ability to do his job as he understands it, which is to tell the truth. So threatening to his independence and autonomy is the future bosses’ power to fire him that Sanchez believes he must flee it—in advance of it even being exercised.

Ever since the nineteenth century, men and women of the left have looked upon this situation and seen coercion, an unjustified abridgment of freedom. (That’s partially what Marx meant when he spoke of the “despotism…of the workshop.”) Ever since they’ve made that claim, men and women of the libertarian right have said the left is wrong. For a great many reasons, one of them being that the men and women who take such jobs do so voluntarily, and that if they don’t like ‘em, they can leave ‘em.

Sanchez probably thinks he’s saying something like that—he doesn’t like what he imagines the Kochs will do, so he’ll quit—but notice how he describes his decision to leave:

As I said, I’m in no great hurry to leave a job I enjoy a lot—so I’m glad this will probably take a while to play out either way.  But since I’m relatively young, and unencumbered by responsibility for a mortgage or kids, I figure I may as well say up front that if the Kochs win this one, I will.

Sanchez’s youth, his lack of a mortgage and kids—all these material factors and conditions make his exercise of freedom less costly to him and thus more likely to occur. (Indeed, this afternoon he tweeted, “As I wrote, not in a huge hurry, but have fine options if it comes to that.”) Presumably someone not so unencumbered would not be so likely to exercise her freedom. That, it seems, is the clear implication—the presupposition, in fact—of his claim.

Ordinarily, most libertarians dismiss such talk as blurring the lines between negative liberty (the absence of coercion) and positive liberty (the capacity to act). The latter, they often add, is not a species of liberty at all, but something more akin to power or ability.

But clearly there is coercion in the workplace; Sanchez readily admits it. And clearly its reach—whether it touches the individual worker or not—is related to, indeed depends upon, that worker’s ability to act, in this case to quit. Again, Sanchez admits as much.

So if liberty is the absence of coercion, as many libertarians claim, and if the capacity to act—say, by enjoying material conditions that would free one of the costs that quitting might entail—limits the reach of that coercion, is it not the case that freedom is augmented when people’s ability to act is enhanced?

More to the point: is one’s individual freedom not increased by measures such as unemployment compensation, guaranteed health insurance, public pensions, higher wages, strong unions, state-funded or provided childcare—the whole panoply of social democracy that most libertarians see as not only irrelevant to but an infringement upon individual freedom?

In one sense, of course, the libertarians are right: such measures require taxation and redistribution, limitations on what people can do with their property, all of which do infringe upon some limited group of people’s freedom. But by providing to others some version of the freedom from material constraints that Sanchez already enjoys—state-sponsored childcare, for instance, being in one limited respect the financial inverse of not having children at all—such measures would also enhance the freedom of a great many more.

That, it seems to me, is the great divide between right and left: not that the former stands for freedom, while the latter stands for equality (or statism or whatever), but that the former stands for freedom for the few, while the latter stands for freedom for the many. “We are all agreed as to our own liberty,” wrote Samuel Johnson. “But we are not agreed as to the liberty of others: for in proportion as we take, others must lose. I believe we hardly wish that the mob should have liberty to govern us.” That’s why libertarians like Sanchez can sense so clearly the impending infringement of his freedom while remaining indifferent to the constraints of others.

It’s also why he can so easily toggle from sincere concern about the Kochs’ power at Cato to sneery condescension about the left’s critique of the Kochs’ power throughout the United States.

I don’t generally subscribe to the popular caricature of the Kochs as supervillains.  For a lot of progressives, the Kochs now serve the same function as the Liberal Media does for conservatives: The shadowy elite cabal whose pernicious influence explains why your own common sense views aren’t universally embraced, as they otherwise would be by all right-thinking Americans.

It never seems to dawn on Sanchez that the very same money power that would lead him—a fairly independent minded writer, who feels free enough from economic constraints that he can quit a well-paying, enjoyable gig merely on suspicion that he might be forced to hold his tongue in the future—to second-guess himself at Cato might have equal if not more effect upon others. When the Kochs wield their money at Cato, that’s hegemony. But when they do it in Wisconsin, that’s democracy.

So when leftists smirk at Sanchez’s cri de coeur, it’s not because we think he’s being hypocritical or inconsistent. It’s because we think he’s telling the truth. Exactly as he sees it.

Update (Wednesday, March 7, 1:30 am)

James Grimmelman, a professor at New York Law School, has a brilliant post on what this little episode of libertarian practice means for the larger libertarian theory, specifically about contracts.

86 Responses to “When Libertarians Go to Work…”

  1. wisedup March 7, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    the Koch paraphrase:
    ”We are all agreed as to the benefits of government. But we are not agreed as to who it should benefit: for in proportion as we take, others must lose. I believe we hardly wish that all should benefit equally.”

  2. MG March 7, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Public relations flaks are not *unfree*. Julian just doesn’t personally want be one.

  3. Mitchell Freedman March 7, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I just left a little message on Julian Sanchez’s site. I reminded him how right wingers who were fairly hip had a field day ripping into the fact that members of the lefty oriented punk rock group, The Clash, had filed lawsuits against each other over copyright, contract rights, etc. People do these things, and no elegant theory of communism or libertarianism seems to take stock of that. Still, I loved what you wrote and citing Marx in a way that is not ideologically limiting. I did, too, in my comment to Sanchez, where I noted Marx’s central insight about how money obscures the power the relations among people.

  4. Shane Taylor March 7, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    “Sanchez’s youth, his lack of a mortgage and kids—all these material factors and conditions make his exercise of freedom less costly to him and thus more likely to occur.” Exactly.

    Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis offered one of the better ways to think about power in private exchange. Employers, for example, have an edge in so far as there are fewer jobs offered than applicants to fill them. Bowles and Gintis describe this as being on “the short side of a non-clearing market,” where the costs from *not* agreeing to a particular exchange are greater for the employee than for the employer. So long as having the job is better than being jobless and searching, the employee has a compelling reason to obey. The better an employer’s options as compared to those of their employees, the greater the employer’s advantage.

    Bowles and Gintis also made use of a theory of incomplete contracts, which dovetails with James Grimmelman’s post.

    • JonJ March 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      Let’s see, now. Who was it who called that “the reserve army of the unemployed”?

      • Shane Taylor March 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

        A German philosopher who died in 1883.

    • thetragicallyflip March 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

      This fundamental power imbalance is never acknowledged on the right. Employers almost always need any given employee less than that employee needs to have a job. It is very rarely the employee who has the upper hand in any dispute in the contract between employer and employed, movie stars and top atheletes are about the sum of that, people who are actually irreplaceable.

      The costs and risks to the employee in leaving a job are always higher than the employer having to replace that person. And this situation is no different. So some libertarian won’t work for the Kochs. They’ll have a dozen hacks vying for that job for lower pay and who will do a better job from the Koch’s perspective anyway because they know who they owe for employment. Sanchez thinks he has options, maybe he does and will land on his feet, but if he’s wrong the consequences for him are much more serious than for the Kochs in losing him.

    • derrida derider March 8, 2012 at 12:35 am #

      There is a well developed literature in the last two decades on the effects of asymmetric information and search costs (ie the risks of leaving a job due to the difficulty of finding another one) and what this means for wages and exploitation. It’s basically the same set of ideas as B&G’s, but in a more conventional microeconomic modelling framework.

      The real irony of this “new labor economics” is that these models were first developed by very libertarian Real Business Cycle macroeconomists to “prove” that all unemployment was voluntary and recessions don’t exist. The labor economists picked them up but turned them on their head to reach directly opposite policy conclusions – sort of what Marx did to Ricardo.

  5. Todd March 7, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Doug Henwood said it best summing up the theory of libertarianism: “I got mine, so fuck you.”

    • Karl March 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      Naturally Henny Dougwood the henpecked lefty non-comedian said that. It was easier than summarizing honestly.

      Honesty: “I got mine, and on the subject of compulsion, fuck you. Please allow me to decide for myself where and when I will be a philanthropist. Thank you.”

      Here’s the leftist/pwoggle perspective: “You got yours, but it’s actually MINE. Now gimme. Why? Because I’m more eliteresterest than you. See my Prius? See my Vermont Law School diploma? See my Stanford u-grad diploma? These things prove I get to tell you what is best for you.”

      • nillionaire March 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

        I don’t know how you could possibly expect anyone to accept your laughably narrow conception of “compulsion” on this blog in general, let alone this particular post.

      • Todd March 7, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

        “Please allow me to decide for myself where and when I will be a philanthropist. ”

        Wow. If that were all it was, you wouldn’t be wasting time and bandwidth here.

        “These things prove I get to tell you what is best for you.”

        Funny, this is what every worker hears from the boss all the time (not so succinctly, mind, but the same thing), whether or not the boss has a degree.

        Libertarians are only interested in freedom so long as they get to be the free ones, eh?

      • Karl March 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

        So, neither “nillionaire” nor “Todd” has any response other than dismissal?

        Judges scores on comedy: 0/5, 0/5, 0/5, 0/5, 5/5 (Mara Liasson)

        Judges scores on originality: 0/5, 0/5, 0/5, 0/5, 5/5 (Liasson again)

        Judges scores on pwoggism: 5/5, 5/5, 5/5, 5/5, 3/5 (Liasson again)

        What’s the “narrow concept of compulsion” that you have assigned to me, nillionaire? And how in Hades did you discern exactly what was my intended scope? By watching a PBS special with Jim Lehrer?

        As I read good old Corey’s entry, and the smug pwoggy comments thereafter, I saw a bunch of smug disdain and a lot of assumed entitlement to tell Hated Libertarians what was their obligation to support, tax- and personal effort-wise. What pwoggies believe is everyone’s obligation, many others find an individual decision rather than a social mandate.

        So if you waddle and quack like a duck, I’m gonna guess you’re a duck. Else you should walk and talk differently if you want different understandings of your arguments, eh?

        As to young Todd… well, you sure did attack things I never typed!

      • thetragicallyflip March 7, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

        You’ve confused possession and receiving goods with earning them. Doing the former doesn’t necessarily imply the latter.

        Did you really hit that triple or were you born on third base?

      • nillionaire March 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

        “What’s the “narrow concept of compulsion” that you have assigned to me, nillionaire? And how in Hades did you discern exactly what was my intended scope? By watching a PBS special with Jim Lehrer?”

        The conception that looks at taxation as unconscionable compulsion, but sees the petty little dictatorship that is the American workplace as some sort of archetype of freedom because one person there can do whatever they want and everyone else is free to leave… except when they’re not because they lack the resources to do so. If it sounds like I’m not doing anything more than paraphrasing Corey’s post it’s because I’m not. Did you read it? Clearly you didn’t understand it.

  6. Aditya March 7, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    “So when leftists smirk at Sanchez’s cri de coeur, it’s not because we think he’s being hypocritical or inconsistent. It’s because we think he’s telling the truth. Exactly as he sees it.”

    Just wanted to chime in that I got here through Brad DeLong’s link to you and I think the argument you’ve made is superb. Thanks.

  7. troy grant March 7, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    While we’re on the subject of Libertarianism, it might be proper to clear up the difference between it and Anarchy:

    Libertarian or Anarchist?

    Libertarians are often accused of being anarchists or asked what the difference is between a libertarian and an anarchist. The popular image of anarchy is unrestrained violence and looting. Libertarians take a stronger stand against violence and looting than any other political group including republicans and democrats. The early history of the United States with its severely limited government was strongly libertarian and completely different from this image of anarchy.

    The misunderstanding on this issue comes from the ideal state of peace and productivity with no government interference imagined by many libertarians who forget that we are the only ones who can imagine it. In a libertarian society the evolution of voluntary institutions providing the few remaining government services might lead to the gradual elimination of government but this scenario is completely beyond the imagination of the general public and it harms our cause to confront them with such a startling vision.

    Here is a menu of answers to the question:

    What’s the difference between libertarians and anarchists?
    The traditional answer
    Libertarians want severely limited government and anarchists want none.

    The humanist answer
    Libertarians are nonviolent; some anarchists are violent.

    The funny answer
    Libertarians are to anarchists as nudists are to naked people.They’re just middle class & organized so they appear less crazy.

    The Party answer (from Andre Marrou)
    An anarchist is an extreme libertarian, like a socialist is an extreme democrat, and a fascist is an extreme republican.

    The graphic answer
    It’s like the difference between a lover and a rapist.They’re both in the same place but one uses violence to get there.

    The straight answer
    Libertarians believe in free markets, private property, and capitalism. Anarchists who believe in these things usually call themselves libertarians.
    http://www.chaospark.com/politics/reid12.htm

    • Cernunnos March 7, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Your definition of anarchist seems blissfully unaware of over a century of left anarchist/libertarian socialist (not to be confused with the American perception of the term “libertarian”) political theory. What you’re actually drawing a distinction between is anarcho-capitalist ideas (which are closer to right libertarian and Objectivist political/economic views) and “the popular image of anarchy” as “unrestrained violence and looting.”

      Suffice it to say that we ought to draw a distinction between “anarchy” in terms of unrestrained chaos and “anarchism” in terms of a political theory involving organization and mutual aid in absence of state coercion.

      Anarchism in terms of the left-wing or egalitarian movement is directly opposed to capitalism and rights founded only upon private property, and thus opposed to “libertarianism” as it is defined in the US and UK. (In fact, “libertarian” used to be virtually synonymous with left-anarchism and the radical labor movement until the 1950s when American pro-capitalists adopted it for their mantle. Thus we now have to resort to calling the other libertarianism “left-libertarian” or “libertarian socialism”.)

      • theendlessnightisnigh March 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

        Excellent point of distinction, on which Chomsky has always been particularly clear:

      • greg byshenk March 9, 2012 at 5:30 am #

        There’s always Kim Stanley Robinson’s comment: “That’s libertarians for you – anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.”

        Alternatively, one might say, yes “Libertarians believe in free markets, private property, and capitalism.” Anarchists believe in freedom for all people. “[F]ree markets, private property, and capitalism” are not sacred fetishes, but are to be supported only if and when they are means to that end.

    • RanDomino April 14, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      Of course Anarchists believe in free markets and property. We just have different definitions of them than Libertarians- specifically that without a State to protect Title, property ownership would be determined by use and protected by communities; without a State to protect stockpiles of commodities, the economy would shift from exchange-based to gift-based.

    • casino implosion May 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      “,,,The early history of the United States with its severely limited government was strongly libertarian and completely different from this image of anarchy….”

      Unless you happened to be a member of one of several hundred Indian tribes, that is.

  8. Mike the Mad Biologist March 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Maybe Julian Sanchez could form a union or something? Heh.

    • casino implosion May 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      Supercilious Dbags Local 151

  9. ericdondero March 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    “Rightwing”? The Kochs are generally non-interventionists on foreign policy. Unless they’ve changed? We pro-defense libertarians have been looking for any hint of foreign policy being involved in this dispute and can’t find it. Please enlightent us?

    The pro-defense/anti-Islamist wing of the libertarian movement would love a “hostile takeover” of the left-libertarian Cato Institute if that meant it would be run by those who favor a more consistent pro-liberty approach on foreign policy. Islamism is not consistent with libertarian ideals.

    • snuh March 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      “The Kochs are generally non-interventionists on foreign policy” haha yes we all remember all that money the kochs spent trying to stop president bush’s rush to war in iraq. they so deeply believe in being “non-interventionists on foreign policy”, that no amount of money was too much, for that cause.

    • Anon April 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      “left-libertarian Cato Institute”

      as a Proudhonian/Tuckerite/Warrenite
      I lol’d. Hard.

  10. Rhett March 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Could you define “limits the freedom of a few” for me? Is that refering to everyone who isnt a tenured professor at some ivy league institution, just wondering? Self determinism whether you wind up in the ditch or a penthouse is better than state sponsored anything and this comes from one who has spent more than a few days in a ditch.

    People require motivation to work because for the overwhelming majority work isnt fun , its work. If youre part of the 1% that controls 93% of the wealth in the United States you have no idea what Im saying because chances are good that you decide what work is for you. Most of us, for one reason or another dont get to make that decision for ourselves.
    Anyway, point is, if all you social do gooders want to help people, figure out a way to put people to work so they can improve themselves. All social programs do is make people lazy and rob them of the motivation needed to go out and do work. Id love to see how many people pull themselves out of poverty because of all these wonderful social programs . I bet the # has gotten smaller every year since 1968, thanks LBJ.

    • Todd March 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

      “Anyway, point is, if all you social do gooders want to help people, figure out a way to put people to work so they can improve themselves.”

      Good idea! Let’s start here:

      http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm

      Depending on the cheap-ass rich bastards to do it doesn’t work: they throw people out of work just as fast as they put them to it.

      “Id love to see how many people pull themselves out of poverty because of all these wonderful social programs .”

      And I’d love to see how many people pull themselves up out of poverty depending solely on themselves.

      (BTW, you are aware, right, that the vast majority of people who use social programs don’t do so continuously?)

    • Tyro March 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      Self determinism whether you wind up in the ditch or a penthouse is better than state sponsored anything

      I’m pretty sure that state-subsidized health care sounds a LOT better than winding up in a ditch.

    • thetragicallyflip March 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      “Id love to see how many people pull themselves out of poverty because of all these wonderful social programs . I bet the # has gotten smaller every year since 1968, thanks LBJ.”

      Poverty was much lower under LBJ and bottomed out in the early 70s, rising precipitously when Saint Reagan took office.

      Medicare probably doesn’t pull seniors out of poverty, but medical bankruptcies sure do, so Medicare does keep seniors out of it.

      • economist1 March 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

        Social Security has made a huge difference in poverty among the elderly.

  11. Karl March 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Ahhh yes. Pundits blowing hot air at each other, while believing they’re “shaping policy” with their verbal foehns.

    Silly wabbits. Policy wankery is for frauds!

    Yellow Kid Weil’s ghost is impressed though. Your elitist self-impression will ingratiate you to those who actually do shape policy, and may even land you a position on the payroll.

    Worked for Taibbi! Worked for Greenwald!

    • Corey Robin March 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      Your communiques would be a lot more effective if you made some minimal effort to, um, communicate.

      • Karl March 7, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

        For a guy that writes self-impressed polysyllabic policy wonkery you’re not that clever or quick on the uptake or synthesis are you Corey?

        I’m sure if you read the 2:32pm comment a few times without trying to disparage me as a right wing reactionary or libertarian hypocrite, you might get the clue.

        Go on, give it a try!

  12. JW Mason March 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Excellent post.

    I think the angle you took here is the best one. But another would be, that the distinction between what rich people should have the right to do, and what they actually should do, is not as sharp as Sanchez wants it to be. Because if we, as a society are considering whether a maximal definition of the rights of property is something we should agree to, we presumably are going to ask how those rights are likely to be acted on in practice. If the Koch Brothers, by treating Cato as their property, are destroying the values that it ought to uphold — as Sanchez clearly believes — that would seem to be an argument against treating something like Cato is private property in the first place.

  13. Corey Robin March 8, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    Everyone, let’s keep the tone a little more civil here; I’ve gotten quite a few comments (of you guys to each other) that I’ve had to delete. Sharp critiques and comments are fine. But please watch the nasty language. If I have to, I’ll shut the comments thread down.

  14. Brad DeLong March 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    If I were you, I would simply ban Karl from the site. It’s not as though he is engaged in Habermasian discourse, after all…

    • Corey Robin March 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      I need to figure out how to do that first! But trust me: working on it, working on it.

  15. David J. Littleboy March 10, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    “… but that the former (the right) stands for freedom for the few, while the latter stands for freedom for the many (left).”

    Exactly! While most on the right won’t admit this, it is exactly what libertarians believe: that the very very rich have the right, nay, the moral responsibility, to sling their wealth around in any way they please. What the Koches are doing is thus the very essence of libertarian morality, and for a libertarian to complain about it is the height of hypocrasy.

  16. mittelwerk March 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    what buffoonery. a torrent mock-clever circuitous reasoning signifying … what? sanchez never appeared to be arguing a point of libertarianism re contract rights, but civil liberty re HIS rights. what exactly is the point, then? that the potentially coercive aspect of working as a blogger for a boss whose politics you deplore is similar to that of working on some factory floor because you need the money — only SANCHZEZ REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE THIS? is that it? man, you third-rate blogger are all so … third-rate.

    • RanDomino April 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      An argument that points out the bankruptcy of the Cato brand of libertarianism on principles? Yeah, why would that be relevant?

  17. David J. Littleboy March 10, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    “sanchez never appeared to be arguing a point of libertarianism re contract rights, but civil liberty re HIS rights. what exactly is the point, then?”

    The point is that he is demanding civil liberty rights (or whatever it is he is demanding*) for himself that he would deny to others, through both his approach to contract law and the basic stance of libertarians on property rights. That’s why we see him as being hypocritical.

    *: If you read what he wrote, though, you’ll see that it’s not civil liberty at all, but simply that he wants to be paid to write the kind of stuff he thinks he and other people should be paid to write. You don’t get that unless you own the organization in a libertarian universe, or in real life either.

  18. kumagau March 11, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Reblogged this on textamajig and commented:
    Your own petard… you’re hoisted on it.

  19. The Ultimate Philosopher June 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    What (“right-wing”/capitalist) libertarians need is another Nozick – someone of his smarts and willingness and ability to go toe-to-toe dialectically with a Rawls, to anticipate and meet objections and modify/amend accordingly. I realize that this is what the BHL folks are attempting to do, but no one there seems to have made the splash that Nozick did. Maybe Epstein comes closest (though his specialization is indeed different)? There is much in Nozick that needs to be taken perhaps more seriously than has been by many on the left (save for the left-libertarians), just as there is much in Rawls et al that should be taken more seriously than has been by many on the right. It would have been interesting to see how Nozick would have proceeded had he stuck with poli-phi or returned to it later on. It’s also the case that the world has changed considerably since the early ’70s, with globalization bringing home certain harsh economic realities in the face of some pretty unpalatable features of the corporate (and corporate-political-complex) world.

    In retrospect, it sounds like Rawls and Nozick were philosophizing in more of an optimistic time (weren’t we all supposed to have flying cars by now, and just how badly *are* we wrecking the biosphere?) with some visions that now look very utopian, idealized and sanitized, with next to zero chance of being realized nowadays – not when the likes of the Koch brothers are so influential in framing America’s pitiful national McDiscourse. I’d say good libertarians despise *corporatism* in its various inhuman manifestations, whatever benefits the corporate business structure might bring. (“If only the people running corporations were *better* than typical human beings as they are now, with all their weaknesses….”)

  20. hidflect July 1, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Maybe if Sanchez joined a union he wouldn’t have to worry so much about workplace integrity.

  21. Editor July 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Go to http://www.LibertarianInternational.org which is the organ of those who created the modern movement. They’re very protective of union rights, basing them on the right to agency. The LIO head even thinks people should have 4!

    CATO is libertarian in the loose sense, and makes clear on its site the focus is limited government, not voluntary solutions.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Thoughts on a Thinktank War | The New Student Union - March 7, 2012

    [...] rivals at a thinktank, and instead many have passed it up for cheap name-calling. Several bloggers suspect that there is rich irony in libertarians placing the alleged positive liberties that a [...]

  2. Koch vs. Cato Bibliography at Under Penalty of Catapult - March 7, 2012

    [...] Robin, “When Libertarians Go to Work” (response to Julian Sanchez) (March 7, [...]

  3. First They Came for Russ Feingold, Then They Came for CATO | emptywheel - March 7, 2012

    [...] while I am fascinated by Corey Robin’s critique of Julian Sanchez’ presignation, When the Kochs wield their money at Cato, that’s hegemony. [...]

  4. Collective Conscious » Cato & the Kochs - March 7, 2012

    [...] Corey Robin (via Brad DeLong): [...]

  5. Making an ideological omelette | Psychopolitik - March 7, 2012

    [...] libertarian philosophy (which in their dictionary says “see: Objectivism”).  A more serious version of this by Corey Robin actually grazes a legit point about the common view of libertarianism: [...] [...]

  6. Libertarian Hypocrisy? | Bleeding Heart Libertarians - March 7, 2012

    [...] that response didn’t appease anyone (surprise!) Corey Robin writes that Sanchez’s presignation just illustrates how Sanchez affirms that it sucks when [...]

  7. Making an ideological omelette « The Jefferson Tree - March 7, 2012

    [...] contradicting libertarian philosophy (which in their dictionary says “see: Objectivism”).  A more serious version of this by Corey Robin actually grazes a legit point about the common view of [...]

  8. Rovinose cadute dal pero » Ocasapiens - Blog - Repubblica.it - March 7, 2012

    [...] ben guardati dal criticare il controllo della produzione esercitato dai padroni altrui – fa notare anche Corey Robin. [...]

  9. Gidget goes to hell « Investment Watch Blog – 2012 - March 7, 2012

    [...] When Libertarians Go to Work: [Julian] Sanchez criticizes progressives who can’t help noting the irony of libertarians complaining about wealthy people using their money to buy the kind of speech they like. [...]

  10. On Cato, Libertarians, Freedom, And Social Democracy | Alas, a Blog - March 8, 2012

    [...] Corey Robin finds this telling: But clearly there is coercion in the workplace; Sanchez readily admits it. And clearly its reach—whether it touches the individual worker or not—is related to, indeed depends upon, that worker’s ability to act, in this case to quit. Again, Sanchez admits as much. [...]

  11. Lavatory and Liberty: The Secret History of the Bathroom Break « Corey Robin - March 8, 2012

    [...] Inspired by all this libertarian talk, I dug out an old piece of mine from 2002, in the Boston Globe, that talks about a little known fact: many workers in the United States aren’t able to exercise their right to pee on the job—due to lack of government enforcement—and it wasn’t until 1998 (!) that they even got that right, thanks to the federal government. The piece pivots from there to a more general discussion about coercion in the workplace and its history. [...]

  12. Links 3/8/12 | Mike the Mad Biologist - March 8, 2012

    [...] Urban Planning and the Role of Government Why STEM is not enough (and we still need the humanities) When Libertarians Go to Work… Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponRedditDiggEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  13. Politics, Pluralism, and Uncertainty « Thought News - March 9, 2012

    [...] example: I believe that individuals are free when they are actually able to pursue a chosen path, while you believe that they are free when they are left alone. I believe [...]

  14. Lesetipps für den 9. März | Netzpiloten.de - das Beste aus Blogs, Videos, Musik und Web 2.0 - March 9, 2012

    [...] TANKS IN USA When Libertarians Go to Work…: Yesterday, libertarian blogger Julian Sanchez announced that if the right-wing Koch brothers [...]

  15. OUPblog » Blog Archive » Lavatory and Liberty: The Secret History of the Bathroom Break - March 9, 2012

    [...] Inspired by all this libertarian talk, I dug out an old piece of mine from 2002, in the Boston Globe, that talks about a little known fact: many workers in the United States aren’t able to exercise their right to pee on the job—due to lack of government enforcement—and it wasn’t until 1998 (!) that they even got that right, thanks to the federal government. The piece pivots from there to a more general discussion about coercion in the workplace and its history. [...]

  16. Weekly List Bookmarks (weekly) | Eccentric Eclectica @ ToddSuomela.com - March 10, 2012

    [...] When Libertarians Go to Work… « Corey Robin [...]

  17. The Prison House of Labor « Corey Robin - March 11, 2012

    [...] I’ve been talking quite a bit of late about workplace coercion—though it’s an old concern of mine, going back to my grad school work as a union organizer [...]

  18. Freedom in the Economy 2: Cooperative Control « thecurrentmoment - March 14, 2012

    [...] nor is freedom to leave work all there is to freedom in and at work. Some recent debates between Corey Robin (followed up here) and libertarians, especially Jessica Flanigan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, [...]

  19. Libertarians work? « Hush that fuss - March 15, 2012

    [...] It’s worth a read, but I did want to add one more thing; Julian Sanchez let the cat out of the bag on one other major libertarian belief: that people only do their jobs for money, and they only do them well if compensation is tied to performance. Sanchez gives a pretty good reason as to why he couldn’t do his job as an analyst and writer well if Cato were to become a (more obvious) partisan organization, since his job is to tell the truth as he sees it, not bullshit people to advance a particular viewpoint. [...]

  20. Vacation Response Roundup - March 19, 2012

    [...] Corey Robin argues that a brief aside in my post unwittingly undermines the libertarian worldview by tacitly [...]

  21. Is That All There Is? « Corey Robin - March 19, 2012

    [...] was a little underwhelmed by Julian Sanchez’s response to my post about his thoughts on the Cato-Koch [...]

  22. Like links through the hourglass, so are the posts of our lives « Fraser Sherman's Blog - March 22, 2012

    [...] argues both we and our bosses are better off with a 40-hour work week. Corey Robin takes on the libertarian view. •Republican flexibility on the concept of state’s rights. Plus paranoia about [...]

  23. Attack the System » Blog Archive » Free the Market, Abolish the Wage System - April 17, 2012

    [...] seized the opportunity to chide libertarians for our alleged inconsistency on the job culture (“When Libertarians Go to Work,” March [...]

  24. Protocols of Machismo: On the Fetish of National Security, Part I « Corey Robin - April 22, 2012

    [...] the last several months, I’ve spent much time defending the state against both libertarians and anarchists. In this chapter, however, I go after the state and one of [...]

  25. Free the Market, Abolish the Wage System « Attack the System - May 6, 2012

    [...] seized the opportunity to chide libertarians for our alleged inconsistency on the job culture (“When Libertarians Go to Work,” March [...]

  26. Libertarianism and Private Power | Bleeding Heart Libertarians - June 7, 2012

    [...] Corey Robin and Chris Bertram have both recently claimed that libertarianism is insufficiently responsive to concerns about private power – especially the power employers wield over their employees. If libertarians care about individual liberty and freedom from coercion, then why focus exclusively on the ways in which big government undermines these values, to the utter neglect of the ways in which ordinary employers do? [...]

  27. Cato Koches Cons and Libertarians - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum - July 5, 2012

    [...] [...]

  28. Nothing left to lose « AbsurdBeats - July 7, 2012

    [...] to argue, but it is based on months of discussion with the Bleeding Hearts. The conversation was kicked off by the critique one of us—Corey Robin—offered of libertarian Julian Sanchez’s presignation letter to Cato, in [...]

  29. With Torches and Pitchforks, the Denizens of Crooked Timber Advance on the Fortress of "Contractarian Consent Equals Legitimacy"… | FavStocks - July 9, 2012

    [...] Corey Robin: When Libertarians Go to Work… [...]

  30. Wow, Tyler Cowen, How Much Paper Do They Steal at GMU? And Other Responses to the Libertarians « Corey Robin - July 13, 2012

    [...] Koch brothers.  You remember the Kochs: the libertarians whose attempted takeover of Cato launched this whole goddam debate about workplace coercion to begin with. Circle of [...]

  31. Reality spells doom for GOP healthcare plan. - Page 4 - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum - August 19, 2012

    [...] [...]

  32. Thoughts on a Thinktank War (Alex Biles) « ( iN ) - August 27, 2012

    [...] rivals at a thinktank, and instead many have passed it up for cheap name-calling. Several bloggers suspect that there is rich irony in libertarians placing the alleged positive liberties that a [...]

  33. There is no such thing as Free Speech - Page 6 - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum - October 15, 2012

    [...] [...]

  34. Why Do Democrats Believe - Page 2 - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum - November 6, 2012

    [...] [...]

  35. Is economics a morality play? OR God is my economist. - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum - December 12, 2012

    [...] [...]

  36. Historicizing the Conservative Think Tank by Jason Stahl | s-usih.org - January 13, 2013

    [...] the encroachment on civil liberties associated with the “War on Terror.” And as Corey Robin rightly notes here, there is some irony involved in the way Sanchez constructs his “presignation letter” given his [...]

  37. s-usih.org - May 28, 2013

    […] words, Paglia views consensual sex, including sex for money and sex on camera, in the same way that libertarians view a labor contract as an equal and fair […]

  38. Good Books on Libertarianism? - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum - June 22, 2013

    […] http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2…inimum-income/ When Libertarians Go to Work? | Corey Robin Why I Am Not a Libertarian Why is libertarianism wrong? Critiques Of Libertarianism: So You Want To […]

  39. Esquerda e Direita | Blog Pra falar de coisas - October 14, 2013

    […] Como bem assinalou Corey Robin: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,599 other followers