Thursday, 6 July 2017

Dictatorial Libertarians

Previously on this blog, we encountered the proposition that a "transitional dictatorship" might be a good thing. Today's argument is that
  • all economists who appeased the Pinochet regime, or support those who did, should explain themselves; 
  • exceptions for school boards in NZ show how tightly constrained any justifiable "transitional dictatorship" should be; and
  • regional government dictatorship in NZ shows how easy it is for the "transitional dictatorship" idea to break out from its natural habitat.
It is disturbingly easy to find right-libertarians bagging democracy. Most obviously, the late sainted Hayek said that "a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period".  So, yeah, if Hayek reckons its a good idea, but you plebs will never vote for it, then he'd be up for just forcing it on you. Not to mention Hayek's fellow traveller, the recently-minted but shy of being kiwi kiwi Peter Thiel, who after much consideration decided that freedom and democracy are incompatible.  

Hayek was the founder of the Mont Pelerin Society, an invitation-only club of economists (& others) formed in 1947 to oppose government involvement in the economy. I've long conjectured that Wellington has the greatest concentration of MPS members on the planet, but its a secret society so we'll never know.

What we do know is that the MPS gave intellectual and moral support to Pinochet, the CIA-backed military dictator who in 1973 deposed the overwhelming choice of voters: Salvador Allende of Chile.

Political prisoner, National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, 1973. Koen Wessing

Some say Allende was too moderate, and he might well have made economic mistakes, but that is no reason to engineer a military coup against a popularly-elected government. Fascists are pretty brutal once they get power: the 1973 coup in Chile resulted in terrible atrocities, including the extra-judicial killing of at least 3000 people. Even transitional dictatorship fans must agree that seventeen years of Pinochet was a very leisurely transition indeed.  

Pinochet's transitional dictatorship in Chile operated from 1973 - 1990. The Mont Pelerin Society met in Chile in 1981, well after Pinochet's human rights abuses were obvious. As one who fought the Springbok tour that same year, I say that every participant at that meeting gave succour to a vile and tyrannical dictator and they should all be very ashamed of themselves.

The late sainted James Buchanan was at those meetings (that's the economist, not his namesake who was one of the worst ever USA presidents). Apparently Buchanan's paper was titled "Limited or Unlimited Democracy" and explored the idea of limiting democracy to depoliticize the state so that unconstrained market forces could guide human interaction. Anyone got a link to the full paper? Key point: Buchanan was there, succouring up to Pinochet, at a time when freedom-loving economists should have been boycotting Chile.

Local Applications
There are times when transitional dictatorship is necessary & appropriate.  In NZ, schools are governed by a locally-sourced board of trustees, and sometimes people take to squabbling and the boards get so dysfunctional that the minister appoints a transitional dictator to sort things out. Fine, IMHO, and I've been happy to serve as an appointee in such cases.

Much less defensibly, transitional dictatorships are sometimes imposed with the apparent aim of delivering outcomes for a political constituency. Back in 2010, the current government effected a coup over regional government in Canterbury, citing water issues that, funnily enough, many people in Canterbury are still pretty pissed off about.

Takeaway Points
1. Libertarian apologists for dictatorships should explain themselves
2. If dead, their apologists should do it for them


  1. Here goes, John. I don't think you'll like it though.

    1. The best description of the book you were pushing on twitter, and of the articles lauding it, is academic fraud. The author misquotes her subjects, cutting sections of their work to reverse their meaning. Mike Munger at Duke has an excellent review showing what she's done. Nobody with any passing familiarity with Buchanan's work should have been able to take her claims seriously. That's why my first reply to you was to read Buchanan. There is no plausible line from Calhoun to Buchanan. Further, to claims that he wanted to set up some kind of new plutocracy, the guy supported 100% inheritance taxes.

    2. There is no evidence that he supported Pinochet. There are other libertarians who viewed Pinochet as far less bad than Allende. The best you've got is that Buchanan attended the MPS meetings in Chile. Well, I attended the MPS meetings in Hong Kong - that doesn't make me a supporter of the Chinese dictatorship either.

    3. Buchanan supports constrained democracy, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. America's republican structure IS constrained democracy: a system of checks and balances that helps ensure against the tyranny of the majority. Buchanan and Tullock's 1962 work shows the true beauty of the system: higher effective majority thresholds when the likely costs to minority interests of majoritarianism are especially high. That's the whole darned point of the Bill of Rights: making it hard for democracies to trample on rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, the security of your own home, the right to bear arms, and rights of due process. It's also the point of the structure of Congressional approval, Presidential veto, and Congressional over-ride. If you want to damn him for laying out the intellectual explanations of the merits of that system, go right ahead. But it's dumb to pretend that it's some right-wing radical position.

  2. Thanks for engaging Eric.

    1. this is not about "the book", except in the trivial sense that it raised these issues.

    2. there is strong evidence buchanan gave at least succour to Pinochet. More importantly (because buchanan was after all just one subscriber to a larger club) the MPS very obviously did. i love and cite buchanan's work but he did attend in 1981, so he wasn't all that seriously averse to military dictators was he? think of the counterfactuals against which buchanan himself would insist we evaluate this question. he obviously cared less about democracy than the tianamen square victims, or the civil rights martyrs in south africa and further back to southern USA civil rights.

    3. i'd be genuinely interested to read any defence the MPS may have ever mounted to its apparent anti-democratic leanings.

    4. hong kong / china is *very* different: emergence from communism, whereas Chile already had a democracy, just not one to the liking of the powerful.

  3. Without Proportional Representation there is no democracy. The term democracy doesn't apply to USA.