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Bad Guys Versus Context

Arnold Kling writes about his journey from leftism to libertarianism (similar to mine, except his took a lot longer), and the ways in which both philosophies are similar, and those in which they are different:

  1. Far Leftists and libertarianism have much in common.
  2. Libertarians know something that Far Leftists do not.

What I believe that Libertarians have learned is what social psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error. The error is to attribute behavior to a person's character when this behavior is in fact based on context. In one classic experiment, the subject is asked to watch a person read a speech that the subject knows that the speaker did not write. Subjects attribute to the person the beliefs contained in the speech.

The Far Left believes that bad policies come from evil motives. In this view, villains, such as powerful corporations, oppose good policies, and political incumbents lack the strength and courage to overcome the villains.

Libertarians believe that context is more important. We believe that government power is inherently corrupting, regardless of who holds leadership positions or how they are influenced. We believe that the market does a relatively good job of channelling self-interest toward socially desirable ends.

This encapsulates my views toward NASA. Contra the strawman views that I'm occasionally falsely accused of holding, it is not a diabolical, hegemonic government agency, run by evil people who want to Keep Humanity Out Of Space (though it's often hard to figure out just what it would be doing differently if it were). It's simply a blundering government bureaucracy seeking rent, as government bureaucracies are wont to do, with many good and smart people working for it responding to the incentives within. Sadly, the administrator seems generally to not understand this.


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At TCS Daily is an interesting story about the similarities and differences between the far-left and the libertarians, and why the author switched to being a libertarian. That reminds me of another conversion story, from the CEO of Whole Foods. TCS als... Read More

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 28, 2006 8:50 AM.

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