By Cliff Asness
I’m a somewhat (very mildly) well-known libertarian. I do indeed believe government should be mostly small and that individuals can and should be mostly trusted to make their own decisions. I think liberty should always get the benefit of the doubt.
BUT I AM NOT A LIBERTARIAN ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS and the enormous health and economic dangers it entails (economic dangers do become health dangers to the vulnerable).
There are always people who believe in extremes. Libertarians verging on anarchists, democratic socialists verging on communists, conservatives and leftists verging on fascists.
But I believe that most libertarians (I have been granted the authority to speak for them by the secret council) are not anarchists. Particularly in viral foxholes. Certainly I am not.
In normal times government indeed has a role in fixing market imperfections. There are indeed free rider problems, monopolies, externalities, sadly necessary wars, sometimes the commons are truly tragic, and fraud and theft are always crimes best not left to private armies.
Reasonable libertarians don’t deny this or that government is sometimes needed. We simply think both the left and the right often see their own favored problems with the market as much more severe than reality. That these things exist doesn’t mean they’re behind every rock.
We think many non-libertarians grossly under-appreciate markets and the miracles they perform, and often (even usually) create cures that don’t solve, and sometimes even worsen the problems they are trying to fix with the best of intentions.
Most (again, I’m an authorized spokesperson) libertarians see a role for the government (which, remember, is just the rest of us, the government doesn’t really pay for things the taxpayers do) in helping those in desperate straights in normal times.
We need a safety net. This does NOT mean permanent Bernie-esque “rent control for all” or free college for the bourgeois. But “libertarians against any safety net” is a much smaller club than straw-man loving critics assert.
Many libertarians (certainly me) favor solutions to these problems that look more like the government paying for things not running things (e.g., paying for private health insurance for the needy not government run healthcare).
This whole throat clearing CMLA pre-amble brings me to today. While we should be careful not to permanently lurch to bigger and more intrusive government (as often happens post crisis as the measures become forever), THERE IS NOT A PURELY LIBERTARIAN SOLUTION TO THE CORONA VIRUS.
Btw, CMLA stands for “cover my libertarian ass” as some fellow travelers will not like that last ALL CAPS sentence.
We need to tell people to practice extreme social distancing. In many cases we do need to ENFORCE that not simply ask people politely. Yes, I’m losing libertarian bonafides here. I’m ok with that. We are all walking negative externalities right now that the market just can’t fix.
Idiots quoting how much more the flu kills than Corona so far need to be shouted down. This is like claiming that the flu kills lots of people but nobody has died yet from the comet about to hit the earth, so don’t be a “comet fear monger.”
The comet might miss us (and Corona might be milder than we fear). But when you’re on an exponential curve saying “it’s not so bad yet” is a disastrous argument.
Other idiots who still (these are dwindling but are still around) think going out to dinner or not canceling things is “showing we won’t let this panic keep us down” have to STFU. This panic should keep us down (or at least at home).
Here I’m still a libertarian. I’m not willing to force these idiots to stop saying these things. I won’t go un-libertarian on the first amendment even now. But they really need to STFU. It’s not quite fire in a crowded theater for me but it’s getting there.
Last comment about idiot statements. It’s fine to note that the elderly are, by far, in the most danger. That’s just a fact. But those noting it often have a tone of “and therefore it’s not so bad.”
If you think that then you’re horrible. I for one have a 76 year old mother living on a friend’s donated kidney. I’m not ok with a pandemic that only ravages the elderly and the weak. Social distancing is not for you it’s for them. Don’t be an asshole.
So, on to the economic suggestions that kind of hurt me to admit. We need to help. We need to do more than we’re doing or seem to plan to be doing. This isn’t just risking a normal recession.
This is people not able to work while their bills keep accreting and we tell them to stay home. That’s not normal and can’t be fought with normal tools.
We need, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, fiscal help. We need fiscal relief for individuals and small (and maybe large) businesses. The Fed action was fine, and those who dismiss it are wrong, we should use all possible tools.
But, it’s not nearly enough if the worst happens. We can go back to arguing about the Obama stimulus and Keynesian economics in general later. But, right now, it seems, even to me, we have to try it.
So, after this is up for a while, I’m intending to leave Twitter again, as it brings out the worst in me, and when the Corona danger is passed I’m going to fully revert to my (non-extremist non-straw-man) libertarian ways.
I will definitely be back to arguing that whatever measures I’m supporting now should be temporary not permanent. I will still argue that Piketty and Saez are mostly full of it and Bernie is out to lunch. BUT THAT IS AN DISCUSSION FOR LATER.
I’ve always hated the argument “there are no atheists in foxholes” as just because you believe in God when terrified doesn’t mean there is one (it also doesn’t mean there isn’t one!).
Similarly, because there are, or should be, no pure libertarians in viral pandemics, it doesn’t prove a thing other than straw-men about libertarian extremists, who are actually pretty rare, are silly. It certainly doesn’t say the government should always be huge and intrusive.
Oh, and on a far less important (though excruciating for me) note, value is performing worse in the market panic this month than it did when the market went straight up, which was pretty damn bad (including “value” trades in the macro world now really suffering).
This will (imho – all standard legal disclaimers apply as I really know very very little and you should never listen to me) come back stronger than ever.
Value will come back (same disclaimers apply). The people we lose in the pandemic won’t. Thanks for listening.