Saturday, 10 December 2016

Libertarians don't have any solid plans

Recently, after quizzing me on how x, y and z would be achieved without Government intervention, a socialist told me that "All of the libertarians politics is based on "if and but" no real solid plan."

I said I can see why it might look like that but it's not really accurate. On reflection maybe he's right.

People often ask how various services would be provided if not for government, and often the best answer I can provide sounds something along the lines of, "perhaps it would be done like this, or like that, but it just depends on what people want; these are just my suggestions, experts would probably come up with better ideas, those would get tried out, improved upon, and the best ideas would win out over time."

That's admittedly, not a very solid plan. But we are really  skeptical about people with "solid plans."

Because if you have a solid plan you basically think you are a genius and can run the whole society so long as your plan gets implemented. That you have better ideas than the entire combined intelligence of society working to test potential solutions on the small scale and through trial and error, rather than complete a priori calculation, allow the best ideas to be optimised and prevail. 

We actually believe that the community as a whole has far better methods for reaching good ideas than anyone with a "solid plan" can ever achieve. We see the progress of society as working like a sieve for good ideas, bad ideas get weeded out and good ideas get more widely adopted and rolled out and improved upon.

Solid plans, on the other hand, are very inflexible.

If you ask a Socialist, "what do you think the policy should be on x," they almost always have one, and they almost never have the same exact policy as one another. They have fervent debates over which policies should be implemented (for the whole society) under socialism, not stopping to consider how autocratic this all is.

We don't like to impose our "solid plans" on other people - we like to let them choose which plans they think suit them best and learn from their own mistakes. We would rather a thousand plans were tried all at once. Some of those plans might turn out to be bad: a waste of time, money, and resources, but at least only a small number of people will be affected by then. (If the stakes are high enough people can choose to get insurance against a plan going wrong.) On the other hand you might have a solid plan that sounds great on paper but when you try it out it turns out to be terrible. On a free market when that happens the bad plan goes out of business, but if the government has implemented that plan over the entire nation the results can be disastrous.

When many flowers bloom, good ideas become adopted more widely, and as they do they can be tweaked and upgraded because there is not yet a massive infrastructure churning out that plan for everyone in the country. The infrastructure around an idea builds as it becomes more popular meaning that if a product is good but could be better new versions can come out before everyone is issued with the first version.

To illustrate the importance of this point, lets suppose some politician with good intentions decides to invest billions of public money subsidising a new solar panel roofing product which he believes in, and tens of thousands jump to the opportunity to get them cheaper. Three years later another company invents a new solar product that is 20% cheaper more efficient. Those public funds have just been wasted on an inferior product due to someone's solid plan. It would have been better if a smaller number of people bought the inferior solar paneling, and a larger number waited until the new model emerged. These things are too unpredictable for central planners to account for and so the market is the best arbitrator of how soon and by how many people new ideas are adopted.

Libertarianism is essentially about the humility to know that you don't know. No one does. No individual knows better than the combined genius of the entire society testing out products and services created by the best designers each particular field. Making those experts in charge of running their field is no solution either. They might have good information about potential advances in their particular area of expertise, but they don't have the knowledge of everyone's needs, wants and preferences which are constantly changing in real time, neither can they have knowledge of future advances, or knowledge of how every element of their ideas may work out in the real world once tried, or which elements could be tweaked and re-optimised. They can't possibly have all the economic, social, political, historical, etc, etc., etc. knowledge from all possible other fields to make sure that their dictates run smoothly, or that they are the best dictates that could be dictated.

So if libertarians don't have any solid plans, thank goodness for that. At least no one is trying to plan your life for you. Our solutions are simple, if you get the incentive structure right for solutions to flourish then the best solutions will win out over time and the rest will fall into place. It's not a perfect system owing to human error, but it's a self-correcting system where the consequence of bad decisions are limited and lead to better decisions in future. That's the most important thing.

A. S. 10/12/16

If you liked this article you will also benefit from reading Economics is Elegant! (not boring).


  1. Great article! You're spot on. This lays out exactly one of the reasons why I like cryptocurrencies. They are a free market for how to do money. If Bitcoin hardcoded fixed supply monetary policy is wrong, use Blackcoin with 10% annual inflation, or Ethereum Classic, or Dash. They all have white papers explaining their ideology, some people use them and some don't. The best ones become popular (gaining market cap) and the bad ones disappear into worthlessness naturally over time. Much better than the Government decreeing "Our new national currency shall be PoundCoin!" because we know best!

    1. Cryptocurrencies are a perfect example of the sieve for good ideas that is the free maret and we will see that sieve producing better and better cryptocurrencies in the future.

  2. Nice article,

    I love the line "knowing that you don't know." And that is a rare thing indeed.

    1. Thank's Pat I hope you continue to enjoy my articles I look forwards to your input.

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    3. Saw you on Peaceful Anarchism and was glad I found your blog. Looking forward to reading your books and blog. Thanks for all you do to advance the ideas of voluntaryism. Chris