Thursday, July 29, 2010


People sometimes mistake me for a libertarian. This is not the case. Like libertarians I value individual freedom. So in cases where increasing individual freedom does not impose unreasonable costs I will tend to agree with the libertarian position. However I am more likely than libertarians to see trade offs between individual freedom and other values. Both because I give greater weight to other values (such as order) and because I have a different (and in my view more realistic) picture of how the world works. So I don't oppose all restrictions on the market. As I indicated here I don't believe people have some sort of natural right to prey upon the stupid and I support reasonable measures to prevent them from doing so.

These thoughts were prompted in part by this post by Tyler Cowen in which he compares restrictions on high interest lending to restrictions on gay sex. In my view this is an example of the folly to which excessive devotion to libertarian principles can lead. There are in fact good reasons for regulating business transactions more heavily than the same actions in a non-commercial setting. And in fact we ban commercial gay sex (prostitution) entirely.

So I don't think loose usury limits are a major imposition on my freedom. And if they prevent some bad credit risks from getting loans? Well if I recall correctly Adam Smith thought this was a feature not a bug and I am not convinced he was wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Is being a libertarian an absolutely all-or-nothing affair, or could one be 80% libertarian? The Non-Aggression Principle is quite clear, but other definitions of libertarianism are more flexible, e.g. that of the Free State Project: "The maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property."