I saw this frankly absurd polemic from Jason Brennan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians the other day and laughed it off, but since Andrew Sullivan has seen fit to tee up this particular passage I thought I might as well take a swing at it:

You complain, perhaps rightly, that corporations are just too big. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create complicated tax codes, complicated regulatory regimes, and complicated licensing rules, these regulations naturally select for larger and larger corporations. We told you that would happen. Of course, these increasingly large corporations then capture these rules, codes, and regulations to disadvantage their competitors and exploit the rest of us. We told you that would happen.

It’s not rocket science. It’s public choice economics.

OK, so let’s assume that the fundamental assertion at the heart of this passage – that “complicated tax codes, complicated regulatory regimes, and complicated licensing rules […] naturally select for larger and larger corporations” is correct. Then I’d imagine that, say, one of the following countries:

Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Australia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark, Finland, Germany, The United Kingdom

would be even more dominated by “large corporations” than the American economy, right?


I mean, I’d have to imagine that any libertarian worth their salt would agree that at least some of the countries on the above chart have a more burdensome and complex regulatory regime than the United States, right?

Anyway I think the thing you can say about this chart is that it’s definitely not sorted in order of most-to-least regulated in either direction. There are lots of good reasons the United States has an economy dominated by larger firms, and there are both good and bad things about this, but I don’t think as a rule the size or complexity of a state’s regulatory regime is what determines that.

To wildly over generalize from a data-less assertion I think one thing libertarians don’t do nearly enough of is compare across states and countries.

To speak more generally to Brennan’s polemic I think he blows the whole thing up when he says this:

You balk: Isn’t the problem the regressive pro-market post-Reagan politics? Please, people. Let’s be serious a moment. Reagan used a bunch of pro-market, pro-liberty, anti-big government rhetoric, but the man was no libertarian, and he did little to make the country more libertarian. Reagan spent and spent, and thus ran up the debt. He doubled the number of imports with trade restrictions. He pursued militaristic foreign policy. He increased rather than decreased the size, scope, and power of government. Reagan ramped up the war on Americans civil liberties drugs. He wasn’t even a big deregulator—that was Carter. Look past rhetoric to reality. Reagan was in practice just a more militaristic version of one of you.

[bold mine] So if Reagan is “just a more militaristic version” of the moderate left, then what does that make “big deregulator” Jimmy Carter? The real libertarian? Isn’t he the awful liberal that right-leaning people are so often attempting to hang as a millstone around the necks of the moderate left? And indeed, if you read the blog of lots of moderate lefties these days you see positions advocated like “deregulating land use,” “abolishing the home mortgage interest tax credit,” “replacing the current tax code with some alternative that is more efficient, just and transparent,” etc. Anyway, the point is that Brennan never really identifies who he is referring to here as the “moderate left.” If he’s talking about the conservative wing of the Democratic Party – folks like Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, the Blue Dog Caucus, the DLC, Harold Ford, etc etc – then he may be right! But most of the left-identifying folks in the blogosphere despise the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, precisely because they tend to vote with the GOP when plutocratic interests are at stake. If this essay is being aimed at them then I think he’d find Markos Moulitsas would like to buy him a beer.