Today was the day of

Today was the day of high-powered libertarian law professors. Had a fun lunch with Eugene Volokh of UCLA (visiting at George Mason this semester) who wanted to talk about… blogs! He's a huge fan of my blogging hero Instapundit! (I think he knows Prof. Reynolds from the 2nd Amendment lit.) After blogs, nice chat on the logic and psychology of slippery slope arguments. (Hint: It's all about rational ignorance!)

Then, in the afternoon, a fantastically stimulating lecture by Randy Barnett of Boston University on the legitimacy of the Constitution. I cannot recommend Barnett's The Structure of Liberty highly enough. (Follow the link for free excerpts.) Anyway, in today's lecture (from a forthcoming book), Barnett went through the various arguments for constitutional and state legitimacy — consent of the governed; benefits received; hypothetical consent; you haven't moved yet, have you? — and blew each of them up. His positive contribution was, among other things, that a constitution is likely to be legit just in case a law's passing constitutional muster reliably conveys information about the genuine moral bindingness of the law. (Yes, that's right, no existing constitution could pass this test.) At the banquet after, we chatted about the relevance of his ideas to civil disobedience. (Not all that relevant.)

Cool day. The GMU Law School's not a bad place for a libertarian to be.

  • Another excellent rebuke of Naomi Klein’s ridiculosity…Will, you really should write a book that sets the record straight on capitalism and free markets, and include a chapter or two that directly destroys the ignorance of pseudo-intellectuals like Klein.

  • I wish you could have engaged the title of the post more. There really is a challenge to neoliberalism here – politically, if nothing else – and while there are people worth ridiculing, there are also people seriously considering the implications of what we are currently going through for future policy making. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.

  • adina

    The only way Friedman could have shaped the policies of everyone from to Deng Xiaoping to Yeltsin to Paul Bremer is if he were some Nutty Professor character, who managed change costumes, personalities, and ideologies in a snap. Here is Friedman in a larger than life , mythic incarnation, filled with confilcting and tall tales of multiple perceived beliefs (no matter if they run counter to what he actually wrote). Catch him if you can!

  • Hibiscus Monkey

    Vermando is right. The absence of rigor in Klein’s argument matters less to the reactionary left than its consistency with the ridiculous Capitalism-Communism paradigm in which socialism is the rational middle ground. They love that one.

  • Take a famous thinker you really don’t like. See if they’ve ever had a meeting with anyone who is responsible for anything bad. Blame it on the thinker. Seriously.

    OK, Naomi Klein’s book was stupid, but that seems a little glib. Friedman was a guy who looked pretty happy to be consider one of the spokesmen for free markets: I think that gave him some responsibility to call bullshit free market policies when he saw them, and I think he could have done more in that regard. Given his earlier associations with Chile, for example, I think strident denunciations of Pinochet’s regime would have been useful, but it was a subject he chose to keep pretty quiet on.

    I think the Chomsky example is actually pretty telling here, because he does a lot more than printing books that Chavez may or may not choose to read – he talks a lot about how Latin America, Venezuela included is taking some giant steps towards setting up “genuine democracy.” He also says he’s worried about some of the tendencies towards centralization fo authority, but he tends to make less of that. And for folks of a left libertarian persuasion, that makes Chavez more credible.

    Insofar as you find what’s happening in Venezuela overall objectionable, it’s not unreasonable to take a swipe at Chomsky for doing the wrong thing. But the same rules apply to Friedman.

  • Klein’s powers of exposition may be limited, but the view that she seems trying to articulate is less absurd than you suggest in your post. You are, I believe, a big fan of Robert Nozick’s. If you flip through the pages of The Examined Life you’ll find an essay, ‘The Ideal and the Actual’, that defends a position which is not that different from Klein’s. Here’s an excerpt:

    The capitalist ideal of free and voluntary exchange, producers competing to serve consumer needs in the market, individuals following their own bent without outside coercive interference, nations relating as cooperating parties in trade, each individual receiving what others who have earned it choose to bestow for service, no sacrifice imposed on some by others, has been coupled with and provided a cover for other things: international predation, companies bribing governments abroad or at home for special privileges which enable them to avoid competition and exploit their specially granted position, the propping up of autocratic regimes—ones often based upon torture—that countenance this delimited private market, wars for the gaining of resources or market territories, the domination of workers by supervisors or employers, companies keeping secret some injurious effects of their products or manufacturing processes, etc.

    Incidentally, how many readers of this blog would have dismissed the quote above as a leftist rant had the identity (and hence the libertarian credentials) of its author not been revealed in advance?

    • Capitalism has been a cover for: “international predation, companies bribing governments abroad or at home for special privileges which enable them to avoid competition and exploit their specially granted position, the propping up of autocratic regimes—ones often based upon torture—that countenance this delimited private market, wars for the gaining of resources or market territories, the domination of workers by supervisors or employers, companies keeping secret some injurious effects of their products or manufacturing processes, etc.”

      This is akin to arguments that all wars are based on religion. Utter nonsense. Can you please think all the concepts/philosophies/things/ideas (unicorns?) that have not been used as cover for great injustices and suffer?

      Now, either choose to repudiate everything not on that list or ditch this tired story.

      Capitalism exists in the world of man. Along with government, democracy, love, kinship, religion, and all sorts of other “ideals” that are claimed (and indeed often believed) in cover of horrible atrocities.

      Central governments have stacked up millions of bodies to their names in less than a century. Yet its “neoliberalism” that’s been discredited by its implementation in the “actual?”

      Too bad Friedman’s ideas were there to mess up the grand plans of Deng, Pinochet, and Bush!

      What exactly would have been different? I don’t know! Maybe Deng would have been a little more like Mao (err…). Maybe Pinochet would have spent less time stabilizing the economy and more time doing other things he enjoyed (err….)

      And we all know that ONLY if it weren’t for the fierce free market ideology of Pres. George W. Bush, America would be riding high on the hog.

      That is CLEARLY what has undermined his Presidency.

      [climbs back out of sar-chasm]

  • libfree

    I wonder how the world would have looked without Friedman. On the other hand, I don’t think the world would want to find out.

  • John Meredith

    “Incidentally, how many readers of this blog would have dismissed the quote above as a leftist rant had the identity (and hence the libertarian credentials) of its author not been revealed in advance?”

    Well, it struck me as uncontroversially and straightforwardly libertarian. If it had been written by Trotsky, I would still have appluaded it.

  • Deciduous

    I wonder if the many counter-examples of highly liberal economies coupled with relatively non-interventionist foreign policies and good humanitarian records mean anything to Klein. She might claim these nations are less “Friedmanite” than America, or perhaps that their transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is more gradual, but Ireland is not exactly a neoconservative empire yet.

  • muirgeo

    The easy deconstruction of your critique of Kleins well made points is simple. I simply ask you where Neoliberalism exist successfully in the world. It doesn’t and that’s her point.

    I think a big point Klein makes and you all miss is not that Freidman’s ideas weren’t truly tried so you can’t say they failed. The point is that whenever they are tried they devolve into cronyism and all the crap we’ve seen ever since this.

    Neoliberalism is not a foundation on which to build either democracy or competitive markets. It’s radioactive as a political philosophy and will always decay into a Great Depression or whatever it is we have before us now.

    You guys are like little kids standing over a broken vase with a baseball bat in your hands trying quickly to think of an excuse as you hear mothers footsteps coming nearer.

    • Where does democracy exist successfully in the world? What are you standards for success?

      And most importantly, what would you say to a monarchist who asked, two to three hundred years ago, where democracy exists (successfully or not) in the world? Would you consider this a decisive argument against democracy?

    • Sigivald

      Could you define “neoliberalism” for us, muirgeo?

      Are you conflating the economic term (aka “liberalism”) with the foreign policy term, which has no actual relation to the economics?

      The idea that liberal economics (in the classical sense of liberal, not “progressive”) somehow is not a basis for competitive markets and always leads to a Great Depression or equivalent is not one that stands automatically without support.

      (Free markets with no government-made monopolies (that is, the sort prescribed by liberal economics) are not “competitive”? Really? That’s going to be tough, isn’t it? Purely from the theoretical level, hasn’t that idea had holes below its waterline since before 1950?)

      Please to make any sort of argument for your claim. (I’d especially like an explanation of how a liberal economy is one that’s not a foundation on which to build democracy. Is this a novel redefinition of the terms?)

      (Especially given your example of the US since Reagan, since the US is not exactly an unbridled free market economy and never has been.)

  • Steve M.

    No, no, Mr. Wilkinson, your insinuation that these paragraphs are useless is quite wrong. To the contrary, they teach us, through vivid example, that Naomi Klien has no sense of irony. Perhaps this piece is really a kind of performance art — how one otherwise could take Klein’s worldview seriously (as Klein presumably does) and simoultaneously argue that ideas should be judged not by their own merits, but rather by the actions of third parties who claim to believe in them is beyond me. Blah blah blah corrupt third-world dictatorships blah blah blah.

    Oh, and some while back, you asked what book I’d recommend banning assuming I had to choose one. I don’t have a book, but I hereby propose banning “neoliberalism.” As near as I can tell, it doesn’t actually refer to any particular doctrine or set of doctrines, but rather to non-specific dark and conspiratorial aspects of international finance. Likewise with “neoconservative” when not used to describe aging Trotskyites who came to believe in a kind of reverse capitalist Leninism and their intellectual descendants.

  • Herman G.

    You neglect the very real role that the University of Chicago economics department played in the training of more than twenty economists who would later take on various positions in the Chilean government in the 1970s and 80s. This history–the creation of the so-called “Chicago Boys”—has been well documented. You’re certainly welcome to challenge the extent of Friedman’s _direct_ influence on the Chilean economy–but the idea that there _is_ a causal line running from Friedman to economic policymaking in Chile seems indisputable, in a way that goes far beyond an analogy with Chavez’s interest in Chomsky.

  • muirgeo

    “And most importantly, what would you say to a monarchist who asked, two to three hundred years ago, where democracy exists (successfully or not) in the world? Would you consider this a decisive argument against democracy?”
    Micha

    King George the 3rd I believe asked just that question. The American revolutionaries showed him the answer. They said we don’t like your system of private property that results in ownership by a few and servitude of the many. And successful social democracies of the developed world have followed allowing a flourishing of the human condition but indeed with much refinement still needed as the Monarchs are not totally defeated.

    Libertrainism WAS the state of the world… feudal systems were the obvious end result. it’s an old refuted concept of stagnation and despair. And of little liberty. Social democracies do exist successfully all over the world and they maximize liberty as much as can be exppected when sharing among millions.

    • King George the 3rd I believe asked just that question. The American revolutionaries showed him the answer.

      So then you agree that the nonexistence of a system is not an argument against the desirability of that system?

      They said we don’t like your system of private property that results in ownership by a few and servitude of the many.

      So you are saying that the American revolution was a rejection of private property in favor of social democracy? Do you have any evidence to support this peculiar view?

      And successful social democracies of the developed world have followed allowing a flourishing of the human condition but indeed with much refinement still needed as the Monarchs are not totally defeated.

      Which countries, specifically, are the successful social democracies you admire, and which countries, specifically, are the unsuccessful neoliberal ones you despise?

      Libertrainism WAS the state of the world… feudal systems were the obvious end result.

      Which countries, specifically, would you describe as being libertarian, historically?

      Social democracies do exist successfully all over the world and they maximize liberty as much as can be exppected when sharing among millions.

      Why only millions and not billions? What makes you think it’s okay to force some people to share while excluding billions of others from sharing in the system you favor?

  • stuart

    ‘Why only millions and not billions? What makes you think it’s okay to force some people to share while excluding billions of others from sharing in the system you favor?’

    Because policy is the realm of states, and states are generally in the millions of people, no-one suggested changing the prevailing world order.

    Successful social democracies lets see, Sweden, Norway, Finland? It depends how you measure success. If you measure it as per capita GDP then maybe, If you equate it to the levels of social mobility then probably.If you measure it on happiness it depends which study you use.

    Failed libertarian/ liberal/ whatever you want to call it. USA, Iceland.

    But enough semantics, the point is there is a real challenge to the Neoliberal consensus with the failure of deregulated/less regulated financial systems. This article doesnt address that point, rather its just a tirade against some pop-left thinker who doesnt really know what shes talking about. Will, can you please adress the actual issue, how will liberal financial systems survive or change given the current situation? What implications does the financial meltdown have for other areas where markets have replaced government policy?

    • Question: Did anyone ever mention Iceland as an example of failed libertarianism/neoliberalism prior to two weeks ago? I know very little about contemporary Iceland, but this citation seems suspicious and all too convenient.

      • stuart

        Icelands been having problems for at least the last year, the last 2 weeks have just pushed it over the edge.

    • “no-one suggested changing the prevailing world order”

      I am aware if this. My question is: why not? What makes it just to force millions to share with you while excluding billions from sharing with you? Telling me that’s just the way things are isn’t responsive to whether things should be that way. Surely poor people living in the undeveloped world would benefit much more from our coerced generosity than poor people living in the developed world.

      Is it actually the case that Sweden, Norway, Finland have more regulated financial systems than the U.S. and Iceland? I recall them having higher taxes as a percentage of GDP, but not necessarily more regulations.

      • stuart

        re. millions vs billions, I just dont see how its relevant to the article, The only examples of social democratic states are states in the millions of people hence the focus on that.

        I’m not 100% sure on the banking regulations, but there tends to be a correlation between social democracy and increased regulation on the whole. And its not just the levels of regulation but the impact of the whole system on the wider society. Eg. more equitable incomes may increase poorer households abiltiy to repay loans, it may lead to a smaller subprime market, socialised health costs means that there less costs on households, we need to look at the impacts things like this may have on economic and social outcomes.

  • mari dupont

    This woman is clearly a fool, yet I have the sinking feeling her books actually sell, otherwise Will wouldnt have devoted a entire blog post to mocking her. While she may call herself a researcher, clearly her research doesnt extend to empirical evidence. If it did, she would be forced to conclude that even the most watered down version of Mr. Friedmans free market “Utopian” ideas have resulted in greater material well-being, protection of human rights (via capitalism’s relationship with democracy) greater personal freedom and individual autonomy than any other attempted economic system. But of course, I happen to LIKE these sorts of things, so I guess I’m biased.

  • stuart

    ‘If it did, she would be forced to conclude that even the most watered down version of Mr. Friedmans free market “Utopian” ideas have resulted in greater material well-being, protection of human rights (via capitalism’s relationship with democracy) greater personal freedom and individual autonomy than any other attempted economic system’

    Personally I would attribute this more to Keynes than Friedman.

  • muirgeo

    What a bunch of tripe. The successful post FDR economy was NOT watered down Freidmanism. It is the opponent of Freidmanism, Keyesianism. It rescued the world from the last ” Friedman” like debacle the Great Depression. Now once again Friedmanism has brought the economy to it’s knees and everyone is a Keyensian again.

    Neoliberalism is simply a return to the belief that laissez faire economies are some how better, more efficient or stable when in fact they are not and you should have known thaat by a brief study of past history. That’s the main reason for the “Neo” label. How many times are we going to have to repeat this experiment?

    Losing your ideology is hard… I know… I used to vote Republican and Libertarian. But I worked my way through it. It’s a difficult process but once you break through you feel liberated. You become a Free-thinker again. I think some one could make a lot of money opening up a 12 step reform program for neoliberals. But remember the first step is to admit you have a problem.

    You say, ” Hi I’m Joe Schmoe and I’m a Neoliberal….

    • John V

      Muirgeo,

      You mock yourself with your answers.

      Now once again Friedmanism has brought the economy to it’s knees and everyone is a Keyensian again.

      This comment shows how uninformed you are. You simply have no way of coherently explaining what this means. Considering how entrenched Keynesianism is in so much of economic policy making, your statement is right off the bat incredibly preposterous. Keynesianism abounds.

  • Harlan

    Even Fukuyama is distancing himself from these economic notions, which tie “political freedom” to the idea of a “free market.” Even if Friedman were right about the mechanics of a freely-functioning market (though he wasn’t, because information is never totally available within an economic system), no logic, aside from a purely linguistic one (a repetition of the word “free”) can unambiguously demonstrate that market freedom and political freedom truly coincide. The connection is largely imagined. And there is, as other comments on this page have pointed out, a very well-documented relationship between Friedman and a series of authoritarian regimes throughout the Southern Cone. One ignores this at one’s peril.

  • Harlan

    I would also point out that this entire article rests on a straw man fallacy; Wilkinson has radically simplified her argument in order to deal with it more successfully. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein says that crises form an integral part of the Friedmanian system. A financial disaster does not “discredit” neoliberalism; neoliberalism, she argues, functions by breaking down.

  • Harlan

    I was amused to see how brittle the spine of this article was, so I spent some time over at the Cato.org site, looking at Wilkinson’s other essays. And I can report that they suffer, too, from the kinds of problems this one does. Their length, however, acts as sort of incubation chamber where errors are free to grow.

    A glance at “Capitalism and Human Nature” demonstrates typical moves of the Wilkinsonian mode. In a short article meant to dismiss one hundred fifty years of complex discussion, Wilkinson begins by contrasting a single line from the “Theses on Feuerbach” with a preposterous (and criminally negligent) statement from Kim Jong Il. The purpose? To argue that “Marx’s theory of human nature, like Kim Jong Il’s theory of pine needle tea, is a biological fantasy, and we have the corpses to prove it.” Wilkinson, by bringing together disparate information in a nearly Surrealist juxtaposition—dramatic but rationally meaningless—seeks to make claims about capitalism’s compatibility with human nature. The only problem is that his areas of focus (theories of hierarchy, evolution, territoriality and exchange) are not without their ambiguities. For each terrain he manages to cross, there are countless counterarguments—coming from figures as diverse as Pierre Clastres, Niklas Luhmann, Marcel Mauss, Jacques Derrida, Heinz von Foerster, Theodor Adorno, Georges Bataille, Gregory Bateson, Gilles Deleuze, Wilhelm Reich, Felix Guattari, Victor Turner, etc. And this is only in the past fifty years. To cite just one example, Pierre Clastres’s studies of the Guayaki Indians in Paraguay demonstrate a political economy quite distinct from capitalist organization, one much closer to a kind of “mystical Marxism,” where accumulations of power are halted in advance via a series of complex social mechanisms (including tribal war), and in which the sharing of game—in a manner that helps cement communal relations—is dictated by an existing taboo. The Guayaki lived out this human experiment for hundreds, if not thousands of years (when Clastres lived with them in the late 1960s, they were much the same as they had been described by Jesuits in the 16th century). It would be pathological to say their way of life was not “natural.”

    Wilkinson however does make liberal use of philosophers in the course of his argument, deploying their names mainly as signatures, rather than engaging seriously with their thought. We manage to bounce from Marx to Kant (a backward revolution if there ever was one) on to Denis Dutton, in a series of moves seemingly culled, in their utter banality, from a calendar of daily quotations.

    But maybe the most problematic of Wilkinson’s propositions is contained in the section titled, “Mutually Beneficial Exchange is Natural.” This assumes that exchange within the capitalist system is always equal. If that were the case, Marx would never have found it necessary to write one sentence of economic philosophy. (Unequal exchange is a specter haunting much of Western literature and thought—you need only look at the opening of the Iliad, whose narrative begins with this very issue.) But somehow in Wilkinson’s free market fantasy, exchange is both natural and equal.

    This short account of the naturalness of capitalist systems, bolstered mainly by a superficial engagement with evolutionary biology (and every other discipline to which Wilkinson turns his hand), runs completely counter to the narrative presented by Naomi Klein, who can produce her own corpses. No wonder Wilkinson takes such issue with it.

  • Hi Harlan, I’m afraid you’ve misinterpreted much of what I’ve said.

    “These features of human nature—that we are coalitional, hierarchical, and envious zero-sum thinkers—would seem to make liberal capitalism extremely unlikely. And it is.”

    But it is possible, and so evidently not inconsistent with human nature.

    “Once we appreciate the improbability and fragility of our wealth and freedom, it becomes clear just how much respect and gratitude we owe to the belief systems, social institutions, and personal virtues that allowed for the emergence of our “wider civilization”.”

    If you think I was saying that capitalism is especially natural, you really need to read it again. I think it’s pretty unnatural, and requires the cultivation and encouragement of a few weak natural tendencies, and the discouragement of a few strong ones. Do you disagree?

    I’d suggest that if you think Derrida or Deleuze are relevant to this debate, you’re reading the wrong people. Try Herb Gintis for a man of the left who takes work in recent behavioral science seriously. http://people.umass.edu/gintis/ And check out his Amazon review of the Shock Doctrine, while you’re at it. Very unfriendly to free market economics, but also sees that Klein doesn’t know what she’s talking about. http://www.amazon.com/review/R2NEWPETGH4KPV/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

    I’d like to see what you think of my paper on happiness. The empirical evidence is very clear that liberal capitalist democracies with high levels of wealth and economic freedom are the ones in which humans tend to flourish best. Do you suppose Klein is aware of this evidence?

  • Harlan

    I agree with you that form represents a complex relationship between a subject and its environment. However, your account of weak and strong impulses is compromised by a lack of critical reflection. My point above was that insights from anyone on the list of writers I cited (Derrida and Deleuze included) might complicate, if not dilute, many of the premises of your basic argument (the section on property rights might become even more interesting seen through the prism of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “territorialization”). The anthropological assumptions alone require more rigorous analysis. Again, you work through a great deal of material in a very short space, and the approach is not critical enough. I could point out, for instance, that the transition from face-to-face exchanges to impersonal markets comes with a baleful inheritance whose outcomes are often far removed from the idea of “institutions that make human beings willing to treat strangers as honorary friends,” a quote that sounds quaintly utopian.

    I would argue that, even if the emergence of capitalism represents a certain human improbability (though Horkheimer and Adorno’s “Dialectic of Enlightenment” is persuasive in arguing the opposite), your approach to its emergence seeks to free it, not only from negative political consequence, but political consequence entirely. What else explains the urge to sever Milton Friedman from the terror practiced in the Southern Cone? Marx, you remember, never sent letters to Kim Jong Il. Yet, if we compare your reflections on Klein with the text of “Capitalism and Human Nature,” we come away imagining that while communism mainly produced suffering, capitalism has, in its mystical self-showing, mobilized some of our essential (politically neutral) human traits, and has caused no suffering worthy of mention. It’s like history without history.

    Let me read through the text on happiness. I’ll respond via email.

    • webgrrl

      O by my high-heeled shoes, Harlan, please spare us the French cant.

      Really, back in the day I would have just eviscerated your use of Derrida and Delueze both here with a scathing feminist critique, but now we’re all sooo over that.

      A better use of time would be just watching Dita von Teese strip. Drop the dead po-mo and consider developing a healthier interest in burlesque.

      • Harlan

        How very Weimar. Can I assume you like Reich? I mentioned him too, after all.

        • webgrrl

          How your sarcastic condescension just silences this girl. Not. I suppose by invoking Weimar I’m supposed to be ashamed of some kind of “decadence.”

          But seriously Harlan, real thought involves more than tying together some Large French Names with their respective dull jargon. That does not intellectual work make.

          In France itself, people don’t really talk about most of these folks anymore. Po-mo is in fact fading fast, faced with the onslaught of the actual contemporary world.

          • Harlan

            Actually I was just joking. You couldn’t find a bigger fan of Weimar cinema than me (or Fassbinder, for that matter). I was just hoping that you dug Reich. He’s a lot of fun.

            I know people in France don’t talk about these writers–they barely ever did. But my criticism of Wilkinson’s approach is that it severs capitalism from a set of historical realities that are embarrassing for free marketers to consider. There’s nothing particularly French about my observation. In this article and others posted at this site he presents a caricature of Klein’s argument in order to dispense with it more effectively. This would not be allowed in a freshman class on composition, much less be tolerated from a public thinker. Wilkinson seems genuinely baffled by her accusations when, in actuality, Friedman had been dealing with these questions since the time he advised the Pinochet regime. They are not new. What is new is the way Klein assembles her particular narrative.

            Now, what I find telling is, whether or not you believe The Shock Doctrine, Wilkinson, in his essay on human nature, dramatically links Marx to the domination of totalitarian regimes (as if Marx had been there to advise them), while the rest of his output manages to inoculate Friedman against any viral attack. One might go so far as to say that the excesses of Klein’s narrative are meant to counterbalance this kind of silence. And rather than focus on ethics–essentially the heart of the matter–Wilkinson, in another study, turns the discussion to happiness. In that forty page essay, the word “history” appears a total of three times. In my book, such moves annul “the onslaught of the actual contemporary world.”

          • Harlan

            Seen in this light, his approach is much more postmodern than mine.

    • Tracy W

      I could point out, for instance, that the transition from face-to-face exchanges to impersonal markets comes with a baleful inheritance whose outcomes are often far removed from the idea of “institutions that make human beings willing to treat strangers as honorary friends,” a quote that sounds quaintly utopian.

      Well, can you please point out what this baleful inheritance is, and in particular what these outcomes are? Then we can make up our minds whether these outcomes and the baleful inheritance are better or worse than those outcomes and the baleful inheritance of face-to-face exchanges.

      Marx, you remember, never sent letters to Kim Jong Il.

      Marx and Engel did however, in The Communist Manifesto, advocate, inter-alia:

      6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.

      8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

      These strike me as ample justification for government control over the labour force – after all armies in Marx’s time relied greatly on conscription. And the centralisation of the means of communication in the hand of the state – what a receipe for censorship!