September 5, 2014 – The Guardian recently ran a hit-piece article by David Robert Grimes entitled “Libertarian ideology is the natural enemy of science: Whether the issue is climate change, healthcare or gun control, libertarians are on a permanent collision course with evidence.” The title speaks for itself. The implication is that more government intervention is necessary to address these issues. This despite the fact that government intervention is inefficient, ineffective, and extremely destructive (think the U.S. housing, stock, and student loan markets, or U.S. military intervention to spread “democracy”). Of course, the proper remedy for these issues is more freedom, grounded in non-aggression and private property rights.
Let’s focus on Grimes’ assertions about science and climate change. Now, I don’t know if climate change is a reality. But if it is, freedom stands the best chance to foster and facilitate the innovation and technology necessary to address it, not intervention. Grimes states that the climate science is settled, writing that science is “objective” and “unconcerned with petty prejudices or personal conviction.” Theoretically, this should be true. But in reality scientists are human. And it’s human to have prejudices and personal conviction. That’s why there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Statistical models are at the mercy of the human inputting the data. “Climategate” (1) and the “Hockey Stick Controversy” (2) come to mind. Also, there was the global cooling scare of the 1970’s. (3) “Settled” science? There’s also the phenomena of the “court intellectual” to consider (4).
Grimes continues, stating that science often “loses” to political rhetoric. I agree. But ironically, contra Grimes, I agree because this is especially true when it comes to the science of Austrian economics, the intellectual foundation for libertarianism. Over the last century, policy-makers have eschewed the sound Austrian economics in favor of the destructive Keynesian economics, which hinges on boosting consumption (perhaps Grimes should rather be attacking the extreme unsustainability of Keynesianism). The failure of Keynesianism is why the U.S. is in the economic mess it is in. This failure also explains the revival of libertarianism. But back to the point, again, contra Grimes, it is indeed the political ideology of libertarianism which is most compatible with science. Notes USA Today:
“In a nutshell, scientists and libertarians deal with the world the way it is, rather than the way they want it to be… For a libertarian, like a scientist, this means promoting freedom and reality above all else. When truth is revealed, issues that conservatives, liberals and progressives normally worry about will begin to take care of themselves… Thus, the resurgence in libertarian ideology is not only understandable but also desirable. Its support derives from something neither political party possesses: a youthful, widening and intellectually diverse support base.” (5)
Grimes completely reveals himself a fraud when he attacks the libertarian advocacy of private property rights. After lazily and predictably characterizing libertarians as selfish, greedy and exploitative, he goes all-out on private property: ” unregulated use of natural resources infringes the property rights of others and is ideologically equivalent to trespass, so the tenuous property rights house of cards comes crashing down.”
Thinking he’s in for the kill, Grimes unwittingly unspools his own argument, displaying a gross misunderstanding of libertarianism in the process. Murray Rothbard explains that the problem is government, not libertarianism (this is from 1971 — substitute “libertarianism” for “capitalism, private property” and “climate change” for “pollution and overuse of resources, 6):
“Thus, when we peel away the hysteria, the confusions, and the unsound philosophy of the environmentalists, we find an important bedrock case against the existing system; but the case turns out to be not against capitalism, private property, (libertarianism) or modern technology. It is a case against the failure of government to allow and defend the rights of private property against invasion. Pollution and overuse of resources (climate change) stem directly from the failure of government to defend private property. If property rights were to be defended adequately, we would find that here, as in other areas of our economy and society, private enterprise and modern technology would come not as a curse to mankind but as its salvation.”
For a brief, entertaining elaboration, check out chapter 13 of For a New Liberty (7).
Grimes concludes by calling for “some softening of extremist outlooks.” But what is extreme? Libertarianism, which properly addresses these issues with freedom? Or government, which wreaks destruction every time it intervenes? The evidence suggests that the extreme outlook which needs softening is Grimes’ own.