Just in the interests of balance I'll point out that the problems with defending pet theories tenaciously are not in any way the preserve of the left. I've noticed a formulation frequently employed by anarcho-libertarians to explain why there is nothing the state is justified in doing. It goes something like this:
1. My theory predicts that in general any positive outcome achieved by the government will be achieved by voluntary effort in the absence of government.
2. This "in general" principle applies to all particular circumstances.
3. Therefore the government shouldn't do anything at all.
One example of this, Scott Scheule explains to a friend why he is opposed to state-funded scientific research:
The general economic defense of any subsidy, tax, tariff, etc, is that it corrects a market failure (in your example, most likely, proponents would point out that basic research has positive externalities and is thus likely to be underfunded under laissez-faire conditions). While true that market failure can result under laissez-faire conditions, to get from that truth to the conclusion--government should fix market failures--one needs another step in the process: namely, a proof that the political marketplace will reliably and on average produce results that correct private sector failures. Such a proof as of now does not exist, and given what we know of the political marketplace--special interests, rational ignorance of the electorate, arrow's theorem--I doubt it ever will.
Again, the private sector fails; the question is, can and will the government repair those failures? I think not.
As a sign of my selflessness (or stupidity), I point out that here I am arguing against subsidies for neuron research, when my family has a long history of very debillitating cases of Alzheimer's, and I'm one of the next in line.
Now, Scott is at least happy to risk his own future health on this theory but what his argument boils down to is to convert a particular instance - state funding of neuron research - into a general principle - voluntary effort driven by the market will do a better job than the "political marketplace" driven government - and concluding therefore that the particular instance is wrong. And further, wrong until someone can prove without a doubt that the state will tend do a better job than the private sector, in general. Left out in this is any consideration of the possibility that there might be something different about scientific research with consequent longterm payoffs that might lead one to conclude that government funding might not be a bad thing. I'm not saying it is, I'm just saying that the form of the argument acts to obscure the relevant issue, and thus insulate the person making that argument from any pet-theory-confounding conclusions.
[Just to show that this isn't something specific to Scott and I don't mean to particularly pick on him, here's a similar, circular argument from John T. Kennedy on why national defense should be left to voluntary effort.]
Thanks to his comment to my recent Samizdata post, I am pleased to discover a newish blog from Northern Ireland: Squander Two Blog. At a stroke this doubles the number of libertarianspeople with opinions on liberty*, of whom I am aware, north of the border (the other one is Samizdata's own Dale Amon)
*latest editorial policy at Samizdata, don't you know...
I have a post over on Samizdata about adopting an incremental aproach to discussing issues such as healthcare. It arose out of a discussion I had recently with Dick O'Brien about the Irish health system and it occurred to me that there might be significant agreement between adversaries on various areas to do with health once those issues are packaged seperately and that adopting an absolutist, 'greedy' approach wouldn't allow such areas of agreement to emerge. Perhaps I am guilty of being too optimistic but I would hope it is possible to persuade someone such as Dick of the benefits of a privatised health system which needn't require him to abandon his support for the welfare system. The issue of the optimum way of funding such a system exists seperately from who actually delivers it. So, while we can disagree about a redistributionist approach, perhaps we can agree that the government, any government, does a miserable job of running a healthcare system.
I mostly agree with him, although I would have a subtly different emphasis. For me, the proper objection to Anarcho-capitalism is not that so much that it is absolutely unworkable - it is certainly "workable" as contemporary Somalia shows but at some considerable "cost" - but that Anarcho-capitalists are either deluded, dishonest or, being charitable, disingenuous in the claims they make, specifically about Anarcho-Capitalism providing the conditions for peace, prosperity and, yes, individual freedom.
I must concur with Abiola as to why it is important for those of us of libertarian inclination to make these points:
Anarcho-capitalists help to deligitimize libertarianism as a whole, by providing an easy target in the same manner that hard-left types do for advocates of social democracy. Whether or not one thinks it fair, it is a fact of life that one is judged by the company one keeps, and marching in lockstep with fools and lunatics is a pretty good way to get oneself branded a fool and a lunatic as well.
One of the reasons Razib objects to the wide sweep approach of Child Support agencies seeking "deadbeat dads" - under which arbitrarily identified targets are apparently presumed fathers unless proven otherwise - is that..
..in the process it destroys the trust that individuals have in our government as an accountable and responsible organ of the public good rather than an capricious and arbitrary machine that mechanically exists to extract & redistribute public goods & services.
Perhaps that should be modified to read: "the trust that some deluded invididuals still have".
Maybe I'm too cynical but I would have thought that if the contrasting public perceptions ever squared off for a fight, "capricious and arbitrary machine" beats "accountable and responsible organ" nine times out of ten.
Communism versus liberal democracy was the biggest variable in the laboratory when I was growing up, but it's far from the only one that has been and is being tested. The laboratory procedure is shot to hell and the results are unclear, but they keep coming in. They say that an aerial photograph of two neighbouring states in the US will sometimes show the land changing colour at the state border as clearly as on a map; the difference being no manifestation of nature but the result of differing agricultural policies.
What I fear is that a time will come when there will be no significant examples of difference left in the world. That possibility is still far off but for the first time in history the technology is in place for it to happen. Think about that. We are always being told that this or that situation is without precedent when what the tellers mean is that they dislike the precedents, but this time there really is no precedent. We do not know how human beings do a single world society.
It strikes me that the key philosophical flaw behind transnational remedies is essentialism: the notion that there exists some perfect, optimum system towards which, all imperfect real-world remedies must strive. I have a pretty good idea of an optimum system: minimum government, low taxes, but these are just general principles and ideally work best by competing with alternative systems - even within the same country: this is the best argument for devolution and local government - I don't propose a one-size-fits-all system because I am not an essentialist and I don't such a "size" exists.
Incidentally: it also occurs to me that some of the posters and commenters at Gene Expression betray a similar essentialist flaw, not only in describing one's genetic endowment in essentialist terms but in assuming such a thing exists as a universal "optimum environment" under which every person's genetic potential (good and bad) is rendered more starkly.