I've perhaps picked up some prejudices toward Libertarianism from watching its US incarnations!
Below are some comments that I added to a Facebook group in a thread about the The Libertarian Alliance, a UK based Think Tank. These comments are my first reaction to this group. I've never really liked politics, mostly because its so messy. I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the subject as a consequence of the fundamentalist's attack on science being very much bound up with politics and the public vs. private polarization.
The Libertarian Alliance: Maybe they've got the wrong name, or maybe I’m confused by our “we-don’t-do-things-by-halves” cousins on the other side of the Atlantic who have given the term “libertarian” what are for me some bad associations. If the LA called themselves “The Open Solutions Alliance” I’d be interested!
There is quite a spectrum of libertarian belief about the role of government (even anarchism!), but the general theme seems to be one of diffidence toward input from central government. It is perhaps ironic that Marx believed that once private ownership was abolished the state would become unnecessary; he saw the state as the protector of the owners of the means of production; in his view central government was a capitalist creation!
When I did my “Mathematical Politics” series I tried to take a measured view on the mix between government (government=responding centrally to centralized information) and business (business=responding locally to local information). But in the end I found that I couldn't anticipate in advance what that mix should be.
In fact I ended up coming out against principled “catch-all” solutions - that is, solutions that depend on “universals” of the form “For every A then B”. The above discussion between James and James is indicative of an endogenous complexity and open endedness that makes principled opinions that cover all cases difficult to arrive at.
Catch-all solutions are attractive but they depend on a lack of exceptions to the rule. But our reality actually throws up connections like “For every A then %B”, where because of complexity %B is some percentage and not a certainty. The solution to this problem is that humans work as “complex adaptive systems”; that is, they are designed to work post-facto in an unpredictable world by responding after the data has come in and not in advance. Except perhaps in elementary physics there is little role for proactive predictive agents but a large role for reactive agents that respond intelligently as situations develop.
In any case it is my guess that governments are here to stay. In fact they are the fundamental systems theory manifestation of the balance between the use of centralized and decentralized information that one sees in adaptive organisms. Moreover, as was seen in the days of the Iron Age hill forts, governments engendered opposing governments in a regenerative feedback loop; it ends up as a choice between governments. Basically we’re stuffed if we don’t like governments! Another point I have made before: Decentralized information leads to nonlinearity and likely chaos; the information cannot be found locally to damp this chaos. Diffidence about government is up against deep systemic issues.
Society, industrial society in particular, is a mesh of “feedback” loops e.g. inflation=>wages=>inflation…etc which very likely leads to nonlinear effects which in turn are going to give rise to the hazards of instability, chaos and power laws. Trouble is no one is selling and making an “economic stability” product that can be sold to whole societies and be selected for in a Darwinian way. This is a meta-issue that is too big for the decentralized paradigm of capitalism; there are simply not enough trials going on for a Darwinian trial and error dynamic to work.
Clearly however, a free market is ideal for solving low level problems of demand and in fact the free market probably stimulates demand in a feedback loop. The old “command” economies fall-over at this level since their managers can never get enough information either in or out to solve the problems. In particular centralized economies can stultify technological innovation as you well know.
On the down side of free-markets is the fact that they lack the long/overall view and unleash insentient systemic effects that can be ruthless, uncaring and inhuman. Consider for example a game of chess; the two contenders are only playing at the level of the individual, seeking only their own victory; this in itself carries no guarantee that the game as whole will be exciting for viewers – it could turn out to be really flat and boring. People playing their own game are not seeing the bigger picture, by definition.
So my view is that there has to be a balance between the decentralized processes of the free markets and centralized (democratic) government management of economies, and between distributed intelligence and centralized intelligence; neither free markets nor government alone can solve all the problems.
An organism like the human body seems to also have this balance between local and global controls. Both are needed in my opinion.