Thursday, April 15, 2004

One More Potshot at Anarcho-Capitalism

Sorry, this one was so good that I simply couldn't help myself!

"Anarchy is the ideal for ideal man."
-- James Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan.

Just in case anyone was wondering, yes, that was the James Buchanan of Public Choice Theory I've quoted poo-pooing anarcho-capitalism. That doesn't make him necessarily correct (arguments from authority and all that), but it does say something about just how friendless anarcho-capitalists and Austrians are even amongst those who would seem to be their natural constituencies on ideological grounds. One can make perfectly sound arguments against the extension of government power without resorting to a flight from the world of experience into a self-contained universe of abstract reasoning based on "self evidently true" axioms.

As a sidenote, I find it striking that Austrians criticize mainstream economists for having too much faith in their abstract mathematical models, yet they themselves reject empirically grounded arguments for the sake of axioms they believe to be "obviously" true, and from which they imagine that all that can and needs to be said about economics can be derived. In this attitude, it is actually the Austrians who are closer to mathematicians in their intoxication with abstract systems of reasoning, although Austrians are unlike mathematicians in that they lack any awareness that even the most "obviously true" axioms can lead one to conclusions that are manifestly at variance with reality - Euclid's notorious parallel postulate being one easily accessible example of this phenomenon. Most mathematicians are well aware that there are worlds outside of the traditional ZFC-based set theory that lies at the foundation of their work, but the Austrians and their fellow travellers seem not to have reached a level of awareness of the possibility of alternative and equally viable foundations that mathematicians arrived at more than half a century ago.