A Brief Libertarian Interlude

As a general rule, I don't feel it necessary to include the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer in everything I write. For sundry well-thought-out reasons, I'm not a supporter of government funding, and barely a supporter of the very existence of government. Freedom means far more than living in a representative democracy of eroding rights, strong property rights are necessary for progress, and the rule of law is vital. Incentives matter, and economic ignorance is the doom of cultures.

Most of the ills that beset the world can be traced back to our distressing tendency to build and support governments that destroy the roots of progress, wealth and freedom - and the remaining ills, such as degenerative aging, could be solved through sufficiently rapid advances in technology. These rapid advances depend, of course, on progress, wealth and freedom.

Most regular readers will know by now that I am a generally pragmatic libertarian:

Western style democracies are about as far as you can get from a libertarian society and still have a place that's moderately pleasant, free and safe to live in - so long as you blend in and don't make enemies amongst the powerful. Many people believe that high tax rates and lack of freedom (due to a winner-takes-all majority rule system of government and the preponderance of unaccountable, unelected officials) are the necessary cost of personal safety in a modern civilization. The only high profile modern alternatives - dictatorships - are invariably very much worse places to live, after all. But it is simply not true that we need high taxes, large government, and unaccountable officials: there are better ways of doing things.

In any case, how does this little sidebar fit in with healthy life extension? The answer is that in a world of large government, in which a good 35% of all medical research funding is provided by government grants, you can't ignore the system. It is an open question as to whether public funding for medicine speeds the rate at which real anti-aging and healthy life extension therapies are made available more than other aspects of a large government slow things down. For example, it is well known and documented that high taxes have a devastating effect on the economic engine that powers growth, commercialization and advancing technology.

As an individual, you can't change the system on a useful timescale. People are making serious organized attempts to create more libertarian societies, but this has little direct bearing on the large scale advance of real anti-aging science over the next decade or two.

Hence, we come to pragmatism. Between the two biggest problems I see in life - a) that we are aging and will all suffer and die if nothing is done, and b) that society is far less free and honest than it could be - aging is clearly the problem to be dealt with first. There's a time limit attached to it, and I am very much a first things first type of person.

So I draw my lines in a pragmatic manner. At the moment, I support working within the system to the extent of protesting government restrictions on research (although a more libertarian postion would be that any such interaction with government has the undesirable effect of legitimizing the very system you oppose). I'm not a big fan of the California stem cell research ballot initiative, but only because I think that too much (big government restriction and interference) bad is coming with the (research dollars) good on that one. Private projects like the Methuselah Mouse Prize, or any number of foundations and research groups are just fine in my book.

You folks should draw your lines where you please. I'm not a jealous libertarian, like some I could mention, and I'm certainly not telling you what to do. If you are comfortable with living in a Western democracy, more power to you; in a truly plural society you would be able to do so without forcing me to do so to as well. But we don't yet have such a thing, and probably won't until new frontiers - space, virtual nations, ocean living, floating cities in the upper atmosphere, and so forth - are opened up through advancing technology.

I'd be willing to take a first things first, utilitiarian approach to government funding if I thought it would lead to a net gain in longevity over the alternatives - better to be alive to build a libertarian society in the future, as opposed to dead, buried and no help at all. Supporting government funding means supporting massive waste and inefficiency in the use of those funds, however. It also means tacitly supporting vast damage to progress across the board; this is not good.

Why this little interlude? It seems that the absence of the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer in posts, critical and otherwise, and the last weekly Longevity Meme newsletter on the topic of the Longevity Dividend proposal caused a couple of folk to grumble about my endorsement of large-scale government funding. I can assure you that no such endorsement exists! My enthusiasm is related to the fact that the recalcitrant mainstream of gerontology has finally cracked, its core members coming out to endorse specific goals for healthy life extension in public. For any of us following matters - or pitching in to help - over the past few years, this is a terrific development and validation of our work.

As to the government funding side of the Longevity Dividend initiative - seeking $3 billion per year for defined goals in anti-aging science - well, these are mainstream scientists in the US. Did you really expect anything else to be their next step after the declaration of intent?

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Hah. I almost left a scathing comment along those lines a week or two ago, then thought better of it.

Posted by: J Thomason at March 15th, 2006 10:50 AM

Another stupid Libertarian rant from you Reason. Give it up. I did.

Go listen to Hanson's lecture at the recent futurist forum.

The modern nation-state (i.e big government) has only existed since the mid 1850's. For the entire time before that humanity was living under anarcho-capitalism. Yet as Hanson's power-point graph shows, the rate of economic growth during all that time was barely above 0.

The big explosion in economic growth is completely correlated with the rise of big government, as Hanson's power-point graph shows.

All the evidence then, suggests the total opposite of Libertarian ideology.

Posted by: Marc_Geddes at March 18th, 2006 12:40 AM

Correlation is not causation.

Posted by: Reason at March 18th, 2006 10:17 AM

Correlation is not causation.

But Geddes gets it exactly wrong. Capitalism was born just recently; before that humans lived under different forms of society involving coercion (never anarcho-capitalism). See, for example, Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers.

So, although correlation is not causation, I think that, with respect to capitalism and big government, the implication holds. "That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves."

Posted by: Kip Werking at March 18th, 2006 10:57 AM

There is and never has been any such thing as "anarcho-capitalism," thus not even the correlation that Geddes suggests exists. It is the protection of individual rights that makes explosive human progress, including explosive economic growth, possible--and such protection was first implemented in a nearly-consistent principled form after 1776.

Posted by: Lee Pierson at March 20th, 2006 10:01 AM

I'm an ex-Libertarian myself guys. Believe me, no one is more familiar with Libertarian arguments than me.

What Kip and Lee are using is a tired old ideological trick - 'society x failed because it wasn't TRUE political system y'. In this case: 'Past societies were not TRUE capitalism'. Sorry doesn't cut it. Communist and socialist ideologies use exactly the same arguments: 'The Soviet Union wasn't TRUE Communism' and so on.

Capitalism is as capitalism does. Big government arose because an unbridled free market wasn't working. Too much capitalism and you get: Lack of public goods, extreme social tensions, discrimination, large numbers of people living in poverty due to bad luck. Too much socialism and you get: Loss of individual liberties, loss of innovation, excessive corruption and cronyism.

Best empiricial results have always been obtained with an even mix of capitalism and socialism.

Posted by: Marc_Geddes at March 22nd, 2006 10:24 PM

Marc_Geddes get's it right,

He has been thier, seen that, and is now better than ever because he see's the WHOLE THING the incubant ruling GOP are coorprotist. They don't believe in representative government by the people rather by the corporations. The pendgalem has gone to far. We do resemble the communist government of China. The elite ruling class, the better than thow mentality. Compare the balance of wealth to the have and have not's. The US and China are at 46.8 and 46.7 respectively compared to numbers as best I can recall around the high twenties for Europe and Japan. It is an amoral ruling elite and thier ilk that threaten humanity.

Thank goodness the US woke up in the last election something not as easy to achieve in China.

It is a question of balance.

It is also clear that the great depression was due to lack of controls over the corporations and the BIG GOVERNMENT saved us and brought the greatest middle class of all time.

Bottom line, free enterprise tends to be more productive.

Taken to far it becomes total supression.

Democracy does take work and vigialance. It's is still the best system to work with and we all need badly to take a hand at the riens.

Please do not confuse single payer health with socialism. Market force can continue. It could also be deployed parallel to an insurance based administration, both of which must be responsive to a government check. open and transparent data and systems incorporated into a simplified unit to include all (the whole) will serve us best. Our corporations don't deverve a $1,500.00 inborn tarif per unit car compared to the competition.

As Lee Pierson said above it is the protection of individual rights that promotes growth but the current executive sworn to protect our constitution has done damage to three, four, or more of it's blessed articles without appology.

They rule without balance, rid themselves of the intelectual/responsable middle class, and all because they were brought up wrong.

They don't believe in the whole of the nation and mankind. The corporatist have promised us a great market in China. China is communist, they got the market (Us), they got the investment, they got the jobs, what did we get? Or are we just working on the plan called laz a fair Bush government till we can prove government doesn’t work.

OH I just remembered we got the deficit and the week dollar.

OH yes national; debt foriegn rising from 1 trillion to about 4.5 or more and from a relatively low foriegn ownership to in the area of 45%. They spend 10 billion a month in Iraq, and cut millions from the domestic safety net. With such a good gig why do they have to hurt.

Look it's clear what went wrong. take of the amoral blinders and join the team.

God Bless America, United We Stant.

Tom J. Flaherty

Post Script: Sorry I've never been a good speller.

Posted by: Tom J. Flaherty at December 18th, 2006 6:14 PM
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