Debating Tyler Cowen….

by Tom Palmer on December 5, 2009

I just remembered, after Tyler Cowen’s very generous comments on my book Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice that I had criticized his views in this podcast: ““The Nature of Liberty: A Response to Tyler Cowen,” Cato Institute Podcast, March 22, 2007

NOTE: The podcast in which Tyler made his remarks is here, and the essay in Cato Unbound is here.

P.S. I got several (three) abusive emails (with the usual obsessive sexual references: you can find the type on the Mises.org blogs) from the followers of a certain cult expressing faux surprise and mockery because I would disagree on something with a person who said nice things about my book. It’s a sign of the dogmatic and religious mentality that disagreement is seen as a form of personal animosity. In my view, reasoned disagreement can be one of the fruits of friendship.

{ 1 trackback }

Merit of Civility – Economic Thought
December 8, 2009 at 5:15 am

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandeep December 6, 2009 at 4:04 am

I liked the discussion and thought you were quite fair and respectful. It’s a topic that I recall from Isaiah Berlin and you handled it well.

I was not, alas, shocked by the cretinous and disgusting level of discourse at Mises.org. To think that the name of an old world gentleman such as Mises is associated with such people is very disappointing.

MNR-L December 6, 2009 at 1:07 pm

We need more intelligent discussions like that.

MNR-L December 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Whoops! “Like that” did not refer to the Mises.org trash talk, but to your exchanges with Tyler.

Anon December 7, 2009 at 1:31 am

Very serious discussion from which I learned something. Thank you both.

hrg December 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm

That’s a gratuitous swipe at Mises blogs, as though rude people never comment on Cato sites. Perhaps you should consider this: http://blog.mises.org/archives/011153.asp.

Swede December 7, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Thank you for the links. The distinctions among views of liberty are important and getting clarified on them is a good step to further understanding. I tend to agree with Tom on the need for a view of liberty that ties it to the actions of other people, but Tyler is right, maybe unfortunately, about the view that freedom is just being able to do more things. What is needed is the understanding of the role of economic progress when power is duly constrained. Economic growth gives us the positive freedom Tyler supports but it only does that when the power is constrained, as Tom calls for.

Swede December 7, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I often read the Cato sites Cato Unbound and Cato@Liberty. I have never seen any rude comments.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán December 7, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Please do not mistake the rude comments made by Mises.org readers as those which Mises.org endorses. I don’t work with Mises.org or have any type of allegiance to it, but I am a frequent visitor and a frequent poster on their forums. At least on the forums we have taken steps to make them more conducive towards healthy and respectful debate, but that sadly has not completely been translated to the blog comments.

On the other hand, I guess that people are free to believe what they want to believe.

Long story short, I don’t think you should snipe at Mises.org like that. I interpreted the comment as just an opportunity to sucker punch the website and the organization, and I don’t feel that that is fair.

tdf December 7, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Are you serious hrg? Have you ever seen anything like that on any Cato product? What the Mises guys hate is that Cato is in the big leagues and doesn’t ever mention them, and that they’re too classy to get down in the mud like the Mises Institute. It’s a “fight” with only one side — the Mises guys who attack Cato regularly. I’ve never even seen a mention of the Mises Institute on any Cato Institute website, blog, or publication. Not ever. (I just searched and there are a handful of footnote citations — nothing else. And the only mention of Rockwell ever was the one made by Cowen, an invited commentator.) But I’ve been to the Mises site over the years and it’s a regular thing with them. And “hairy lollipop” is not the only grotesque insult on their pages. Tom occasionally exposes their ugly side (the racism, for example, which he documented very well; I remember their hate-filled attacks on Rosa Parks with disgust; NO WAY you can credibly deny that there are plenty of racists in that group) on his personal website, but that’s all. And for that he is regularly attacked with the most disgusting insults. Tom’s right. Auburn is home to a cult.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán December 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm

tdf,

Like I said. Do not mistake Mises’ readers as the Mises Institute itself.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán December 8, 2009 at 5:17 am

I’d like to offer some thoughts on the current rift between different libertarian “schools of thought”: http://www.economicthought.net/2009/12/merit-of-civility/

TGGP December 8, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Both comments were from that “Beefcake the Mighty” fellow. I remember him acting similarly at the Austrian Economists blog. I think he has now adopted the pseudonum “Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light” for reasons known only to him. Why did your filename reference Kinsella? He can be a jerk, but doesn’t sink that low.

Tom G. Palmer December 9, 2009 at 8:39 am

It was a blog posting of his, so that’s how I filed it. I wouldn’t read too much into the use of the author’s name in the filename of a screenshot of a blog posting. I learned to get screen shots of what those guys write because they quickly drop their disgusting posts down the memory hole after people are alerted to them. But it’s worth noting that Mr. K had certainly seen those comments on his own blog posting and did nothing about them. In any case, it was a file name for the name of the blog posting.

TGGP December 12, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Sorry, I thought the comments were from the Mises blog rather than Kinsella’s.

whatAboutJustice April 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

It is not a confusion of wealth, unless you erroneously believe that lack of negative liberties is the only thing that creates freedom.

Germany example: You have got to be kidding me. STRAW MAN!!!! So you take one society with extreme lack of of negative liberties (Germany 190s) but with some positive liberties and compare that to one with less positive liberty and large amounts of negative liberties (Germany 1880). This is a HORRIBLE example.

How about this: two people with virtually identical negative liberties, but only one lacking positive liberties. How about someone born into an American ghetto and one that was born into a family headed by an Ivy League professor making a six-figure salary. Who’s more free? Let me quote you: “Come on, that’s easy.” Tyler said (maybe you didn’t read it) that positive liberties are important too (I think he said more important), but he didn’t say that negative liberties don’t matter.

Tom Palmer April 28, 2010 at 3:37 am

Just to be clear, WhatAbout, I find nothing “kidding” about my response. We could take less extreme examples (say, the USA in 2000 and in 2007, when people were richer in 2007, but subject to more restrictions on their liberty, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act and other atrocities) if you prefer. My point would still stand, but with less vividness.

I’m happy to take you up on the example you offer. I would say of the two cases that you describe that both are equally free, and one is richer. What’s so odd about that? You seem to imply that if I deny the term “liberty” to one good, I am saying that it is not important. Not at all. I am saying that when you call all important things “liberty,” you empty the term “liberty” of its meaning. That detracts from clarity of thought. And while that is a bad thing, I would not call it a diminution of liberty. It’s just bad.

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