Evolving blog focus

I was recently accused (by co-author Goonix) of becoming more libertarian over the past 2 1/2 years.  Now I don’t agree, I think I am where I was in July 2007.  However, it is evident that the particular focus of the blog has evolved since then.

My position

Now as a starting point, my Nolan Chart in August 2008 (which was similar to where it was in July 2007) can be found here.  How does it compare now?


So I was both more economic right and more socially liberal.  Goonix was right …

Economic Left/Right:  1.25 (previously -0.88)

Social Libertarian/Authoritarian:  -6.36 (previously -4.51)

Blog focus

Initially we said that the blog was focused on positive government interventions.  We said these could take place when:

  1. “The most obvious role of government is to circumvent market failures, which are usually derived from externalities or excessive market power”
  2. “Government regulation and investment can be used to change the structure of the game that firms compete in, to the detriment or the benefit of society”

Now I don’t think the views of any of the authors have changed along these grounds.  These grounds for government intervention still exist.

However, the general tenor of my posts on the blog has moved towards prescription and discussion of current world events – instead of careful transparent separation of the descriptive and prescriptive elements of any issue I aim to discuss.

I am disappointed with this shift in my own writing, and I think it stems from a determination to reach conclusions more quickly than I am previously accustomed to – something I was forced to do during the recent credit crisis.

My aim for this year:  To move away from saying what we SHOULD do, and look at describing and framing what is happening.

So …

The focus of the blog is wider then when we began.  We criticise government more widely, because the government is more explicitly involved in trying to “fix” things then it was before the credit crisis.  This movement  in focus was captured in the discussion on this post.

However, my I aim to change my personal method for analysing these issues.  Fundamentally, I aim to become less prescriptive, and move descriptive.  Prescriptions will still be around, they will just be more clearly signposted.  And describing issues still requires a multitude of subjective assumptions, I will just attempt to more clearly signpost them as well.

16 replies
  1. rauparaha
    rauparaha says:

    I like how you became more libertarian and more prescriptive at the same time. Libertarians are such radically prescriptive social engineers that I can never take them seriously 😉

  2. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    I agree – it is because I’ve become to willing to “strongly agree” with things instead of walking the fine line of indifference. More indifference required IMO.

  3. rauparaha
    rauparaha says:

    Dark velvet robes are an awful lot comfier than sitting on a fence, it’s true! And more stylish and entertaining, too 🙂

  4. Eric Crampton
    Eric Crampton says:


    @Rauparaha: Re radically prescriptive social engineering: I’m curious what policy proposals from libertarians you’d count in this category. Drug legalization? Shifting from welfare to a negative income tax? Easier immigration? They’d all of course affect social outcomes, but I’m not sure they count as social engineering. I’d always thought of social engineering as trying to get folks to do stuff they really don’t want to be doing: nudge controls and stronger.

  5. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:

    @Eric Crampton

    I suppose that if we viewed government as an organisation that evolved from the will of the people, then interest groups saying that we should remove or reduce government involvement could be seen as a type of social engineering right.

    People want solutions to their co-ordination problems which they know they can’t apply at an individual level, yet libertarians are forcing them to act as individuals – social engineering right there.

  6. StephenR
    StephenR says:

    Individuals that are free to form collectives/organisations/’groups’? I’m guessing you still class that as individual action?

  7. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    That is the point though – if libertarians break up collectives that individual want to form, because they believe that the organisation is coercive for some reason, then they are actually betraying individual freedom.

    If this is the case in a certain situation I guess you could claim that some libertarian actions could be seen as social engineering.

  8. Eric Crampton
    Eric Crampton says:

    I gave three specific examples. Nobody is forced to take drugs with the removal of drug prohibition; the shift from targeted benefits to either a demigrant or a negative income tax increases poor peoples’ freedom of choice, though it might reduce the benefits paid to some (so I’ll buy engineering there perhaps); nobody is forced to migrate here. Moreover, individuals can still form voluntary collectives for any purpose they like. So if you want to build a housing development that has restrictive covenants prohibiting drug use, or if a neighbourhood gets unanimous consent from all property owners to impose the same covenant, no libertarian would stop that. I’m still not seeing overmuch the social engineering side. If the status quo is socially engineered, does any change in the status quo count as social engineering?

  9. rauparaha
    rauparaha says:

    Yeah, I was being a bit facile with that comment, but the substance would essentially be what Matt is saying. If libertarians promote individual freedom, and if people have freely chosen their system of government, how does it make sense for libertarians to promulgate a different form of government? With reference to Eric’s comments above, I guess it depends on how ‘extreme’ the libertarian is as to whether you’d classify it as a change in the form of government. I’m not an expert on political science so my terminology may be way off 😛

    I presume there are plenty of valid arguments to make on this point and I’d be curious to hear them, but the superficial appearance of hypocrisy is what I was referring to.

  10. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:

    @Eric Crampton

    “Nobody is forced to take drugs with the removal of drug prohibition”

    If drug taking choices are strategic complements, then the criminalisation of drugs could be seen as a co-ordination policy on the behalf of society.

    “the shift from targeted benefits to either a demigrant or a negative income tax increases poor peoples’ freedom of choice”

    Negative income taxes are still a form of redistribution, what type of redistribution is preferable should be determined by society not necessarily by technocratic views of efficiency. Of course you have already mentioned this in your comment.

    “nobody is forced to migrate here”


    “Moreover, individuals can still form voluntary collectives for any purpose they like”

    However, collective agreements formed through government may be cheaper and/or easier to enforce. By forcing individuals to co-operate in other ways this seems to place a binding cost on society.

    “If the status quo is socially engineered, does any change in the status quo count as social engineering?”

    That is also a good point. I was thinking about going down that path when discussing this, but decided to go with the whole social contract = government line instead.

    Overall I agree with the policies you’ve put down myself, I am just trying to come up with a social engineering line for kicks. After all, pretty much anything can be defined as social engineering insofar as all policies impact on the incentives, and thereby choices of, individuals in society.

  11. Eric Crampton
    Eric Crampton says:

    @Rauparaha: Re “People have freely chosen their system of government”. If 51% vote to enslave the other 49%, you’d then call a libertarian suggesting emancipation as being a social engineer ’cause “the people have freely chosen”. Most libertarians tend to advocate particular policy changes rather than changes in structures, though many libertarians also advocate changes in structural constraints (supermajority requirements, stronger protection of property rights, etc). I suppose you could call anything countermajoritarian as social engineering, just as you could call a more to majoritarianism from countermajoritarianism social engineering.

    @Matt: If any change from SQ is social engineering, then I’m happy for libertarians to be called social engineers.

  12. rauparaha
    rauparaha says:

    @Eric Crampton
    Yes, all I’m saying is that libertarians want to impose their normative judgments on people, too. Which makes sense, because libertarians are just another group with a particular set of normative goals. However, I just find it amusing that the promotion of individual liberties occurs through the promulgation of a group’s normative goals. I don’t think libertarians are necessarily social engineers in the usual sense of the word.

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