Diversity Libertarianism

Posted on 25 Mar 2021 by Steve Markham

The latest SSC post is thought-provoking. You should read the whole thing right now.


He articulates a couple of things that I strongly agree with, in particular making a distinction between anti-government libertarianism and diversity libertarianism. In typical SSC fashion, he steelmans “the other side” by noting that

it’s not hypocritical for libertarians to support a wide variety of corporations with different policies, and also oppose coordinated corporate censorship

while also saying

I usually err on the side of regulation not being the answer

I have a few criticisms, though.

First, as was pointed out in the comments:

The key point that makes something anti-fragile is that, as a system, it survives its tail events and goes on to keep improving itself.

This seems orthogonal to libertarianism. Diversity and liberty are both good, but however much diversity and liberty we have, we should also want anti-fragility. Scott is writing about Taleb’s book Anti-Fragility, and this comment points out one way in which he is changing or over-simplifying that idea. But that’s a nit.

Second, and this is my main criticism, policies that promote diversity libertarianism are very case-by-case. Diversity libertarianism is great, and if everyone internalized it and just started living that way things would be great. But given that some people seem to want other things, what does a political party promoting DL actually want in terms of policy, or legislation, or leadership? Any flavor of libertarianism that forces people into it is self-defeating. So as soon as I move from “how should I personally live my life” to “which policies that govern how other people live their lives do I support” I have to pick between anti-government libertarianism and something that doesn’t look like DL, but rather a specific point along the spectrum of diversity. I’ve got nothing against meta-politics, and DL seems like a good guiding principle (as opposed to, say, Kendi’s version of anti-racism as a guiding principle for meta-politics, which I have thought a lot about recently, since it’s in the national psyche). Perhaps I could argue for or against net neutrality in terms of DL, and someone else who subscribes to a DL mindset would find my argument persuasive. But this necessarily depends on context. If NN would improve diversity, I support it, but if it would diminish diversity, I oppose it, therefore I have to know how diverse the current situation is, and how NN would modify the business incentives of the current players. I can’t simply look at it and say “it’s government, therefore I oppose it” (L) or “it regulates business, therefore I support it” (D) or “it’s different and new, therefore I oppose it” (C) or “it’s the opposite of privatization, so I oppose it” (R).

The last point I want to record is also from the comments.

I can argue against diversity libertarianism on non-catastrophic grounds. It’s not that I think that having a high variation in car companies will cause society to break down … It’s that having a high variation in car companies places an unacceptable burden of complexity on uninteresting choices.

This is a point Jeff has brought up recently. The world is increasingly complex, and it becomes difficult to have confident, reasonable opinions on things, because due diligence requires a PhD, it seems. My gut has an opinion about AWS booting Parler, and it feels like I should have to be an expert in contract law to articulate my opinion. But if I’m not an expert in contract law, then when someone who disagrees with me cites chapter and verse of the terms of service or of legal precedent, I can’t engage with them.

Scott suggests that Consumer Reports goes a long way addressing this concern with respect to cars and other consumer products. I think that’s only true if you accept the axes along with CR evaluates things. Where reasonable people might choose significantly different axes of evaluation, such as politics, you end up with polarization/tribalism.

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