18 Sep 2012

David Frum Tells Us Exactly How Awful He Used to Be

DeLong 68 Comments

UPDATE below.

UPDATE #2 below.

Listening to lectures about evil right-wingers from David Frum (passed on gleefully by Brad DeLong et al.) is like listening to Rush Limbaugh praise the virtues of marriage. Here he is, commenting on the Mitt Romney tapes:

Romney has been reshaped by this campaign. The dread to which Romney gives voice in his Boca Raton speech – that “makers” are about to be electorally overwhelmed by “takers” – is a dread expressed again and again by conservative media and conservative thought-leaders. “Democracy is two lions and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner”: how often have we heard that old country-club quip repeated these past four years? Only this time, the quip is repeated not as a joke, but with real fear.

The background to so much of the politics of the past four years is the mood of apocalyptic terror that has gripped so much of the American upper class. Hucksters… free enterprise is under attack… Obama is a socialist, a Marxist, a fascist, an anti-colonialist… by donating to my think tank, buying my book, watching my network, going to my movie, can you – can we – stop him before he seizes everything to give to his base of “bums,” as Charles Murray memorably called them.

And what makes it all both so heart-rending and so outrageous is that all this is occurring at a time when economically disadvantaged Americans have never been so demoralized and passive…. The only radical mass movement in this country is the Tea Party, a movement to defend the interests of elderly incumbent beneficiaries of the existing welfare state.

Just skim the preface of Frum’s 19945 book Dead Right. Are you kidding me?

Now it’s true, if you go read the preface, you’ll see not so much that Frum used to espouse the things that now (apparently) horrify him. Rather, back in the 1990s (and through the early 2000s, actually) Frum would tweak his message to appeal to these people since that’s apparently where the action was, in his judgment at the time. And that’s actually worse than just outright flip-flopping a la Romney.

NOTE: I’m not saying a guy can’t change his mind. I’m saying I don’t take Frum seriously when he acts disgusted by the environment in which he used to thrive, without him at least giving a nod every once in a while to the fact that, “Hey, maybe these people aren’t actually aware of what they’re doing. After all, when I was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, I didn’t get up for work every day thinking I was helping to launch an illegal war. So maybe I can cut current Republicans some slack too.”

UPDATE: Check out the first review of Frum’s book, which got the maximum number of stars. It is more succinct than the Preface, and you can’t see what looks like the juiciest part of the preface with Amazon’s search feature anyway. So here’s the opening of a guy who loves Frum’s book:

David Frum is a conservative not afraid to give blunt, constructive criticism to his fellows. In “Dead Right”, he questions whether the Republican coalition has actually made any progress toward reducing the size and scope of the federal government. In spite of good intentions, he determines very little progress has been made because the GOP is unwilling to incur the pain of telling people what they don’t want to hear, which is that moving from a self-reliant nation to a welfare state has damaged our national character.

The contrast between self-reliance and welfarism is the key insight of the book. Frum points out that negative behaviors like divorce, single parenthood, promiscuity, drug abuse, and chronic unemployment are now subsidized by the state and therefore have ballooned to nearly unmanageable proportions.

Everyone get that? In this book Frum is wagging his fingers at conservatives for not being aggressive enough in trying to roll back the culturally decadent welfare State.

UPDATE #2: Oh. My. Gosh. I just clicked the Frum link, since above I had merely pasted in what DeLong did in his own post. Frum does mention that he wrote a book on this stuff–but he points to a novel where (I guess) he had his current take on things. He didn’t point to his earlier book where he told the conservative movement they needed to push harder to roll back the welfare state, which was responsible for so much cultural decay.

68 Responses to “David Frum Tells Us Exactly How Awful He Used to Be”

  1. Major_Freedom says:

    We’re all Obamaniacs now.

  2. Blackadder says:

    Frum would tweak his message to appeal to these people since that’s apparently where the action was, in his judgment at the time. And that’s actually worse than just outright flip-flopping a la Romney.

    Well, okay. But Rothbard did precisely the same sort of tweaking to appeal to the New Left in the 1960s and the New Right in the 1990s. Heck, Rothbard even wrote columns praising Che Guevara and David Duke. I don’t think Frum ever did anything that equivalent to that.

    • Bob Roddis says:

      I have to agree that Rothbard’s courting of the left in the 70s and the redneck right in the 90s were embarrassing. When Saigon fell in the 1975 and the left in the west was wildly cheering, I was thinking at the time that the commies were going to slaughter everyone precisely because they were socialists and hated average people, but Rothbard was ecstatic. We’re still living with the fallout from the 90s in the form of the Ron Paul newsletter thing.

      Rothbard is still the smartest American of the 20th century, but when he was wrong, I’ll say so.

    • Matthew Swaringen says:

      Can you post a link to these articles or whatever other source you are referring to?

      • Bob Roddis says:

        Rothbard wrote an article in 1975 called “Death of a State”. I probably have it in my attic. I don’t think it’s online.

        The first essay, “The Death of a State,” appeared in Rothbard’s newsletter, the Libertarian Forum in April 1975. It began on this note:

        What we are seeing these last weeks in Indochina is, for libertarians, a particularly exhilarating experience: the death of a State, or rather two States: Cambodia and South Vietnam. The exhilaration stems from the fact that here is not just another coup d’état, in which the State apparatus remains virtually intact and only a few oligarchs are shuffled at the top. Here is the total and sudden collapse – the smashing – of an entire State apparatus. Its accelerating and rapid disintegration. Of course, the process does not now usher in any sort of libertarian Nirvana, since another bloody State is in the process of taking over. But the disintegration remains, and offers us many instructive lessons.


        I think Rothbard was basically correct in his analysis. At the time, I thought it was somewhat inappropriate due to what I perceived to be the oncoming slaughter by the victorious commies.

      • Blackadder says:

        Here is Rothbard’s obit for Che.

        He wrote about David Duke a number of times. Here is one example.

  3. Tel says:

    As recently as 2008, Frum was saying that George W Bush was correct to cut taxes, but made the mistake of spending too much money. Also the 2008 crash was caused by government interference in the housing market. In other words, Frum was a free market fiscal conservative.


    Mostly Frum just doesn’t like old people, and especially he doesn’t like the idea that people who spent their lives paying into Social Security and Medicare expect to see some of their money back. Talk about sense of entitlement!


    If only David Frum had the good sense to read the Murphy explanation of accumulating intergenerational debt, rather than the Krugman “no time machine” plainly wrong explanation.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      If only David Frum had the good sense to read the Murphy explanation of accumulating intergenerational debt…

      As much as I dislike Frum, I wouldn’t wish *that* upon him.

      • Joseph Fetz says:

        I learned a lot from that. But yeah, it was rough to get through. You made my brain hurt in places that I didn’t even know existed.

  4. Bob Roddis says:

    David Frum is the son of the late arrogant condescending Canadian (excuse the redundancies) national nightly news anchor Barbara Frum. We’ve always received CBC over the air and on cable here on the Canadian border in Detroit since the 1950s.

    So isn’t it weird that David Frum is an arrogant condescending Canadian?


  5. Redmond says:

    LOL Blackadder – I would hardly call “Che RIP” praise, but I’ll give you that one.

    Rothbard may have made some tactical mistakes, but at least he didn’t advocate MASS MURDER.

    also, I would like to see if frum could ever come up with something to equal Man Economy and State.

  6. Bob Roddis says:

    Proving both the truth of the labor theory of value and Frum’s brilliant insight, you can now get Frum’s book “The Right Man” (aka”Why Dubya is the greatest thing since sliced cheese”) for $.01.


  7. Teqzilla says:

    The cheekiest part is his denouncing the hucksters who he claims profess certain ideas for pure personal benefit. Is it a coincidence that his reinvention as a serious/moderate conservative – that is, someone who criticises republicans in exchange for head pats from the left – came about after AEI decided that he wasn’t really worth the 100k a year they had him on?

  8. Successfulbuild says:

    Rothbard was the greatest thinker of the twentieth century (which puts him in line for being the greatest thinker of all time)? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard since the claim that Mises and Hayek were epic “thinkers.”

    Holocaust deniers and people who side with totalitarians during WWII are generally not intellectuals. But I will say supporting the notion of Che isn’t that stupid. Che Guevara at least stood up to American imperialism; had the people in Latin America not fought back at least someone the US would installed even more “friendly dictators” and carried out even more “operation condor” like activities and perhaps more people would have died. It would be like if nobody in the Middle East stood up to the US and the US installed a Shah (who killed off all moderate Muslims by the way and almost everybody in Iran has a brother or a sister or a father etc… who was affected by the Shah) in every country.

    But anyway if Austrian economics is correct how do you explain Linux? There is no price system involved and yet developers know what to put on the image, what not to put on the image, what exactly to program for it, how to distribute it. And not merely one group of people but many Linux distributions that are used by tens-of-millions of people.

    cooperative effort: an operating system and kernel with millions of users.

    A few guys understanding the price system: nothing to show for it.

    The ability to laugh at the latter? priceless.

    • Bob Roddis says:

      1. Who are you calling “Holocaust deniers and people who side with totalitarians during WWII”?

      2. But anyway if Austrian economics is correct how do you explain Linux?

      Great. Another anti-Austrian with no familiarity whatsoever with even basic Austrian concepts. I’m shocked.

    • Egoist says:


      Rothbard was not a holocaust denier, and Mises didn’t “side” with totalitarians.

      Rothbard just didn’t buy into every last mass murder story, and Mises chose Austrian militaristic fascism over a Nazi takeover of his home country as a temporary measure.

      Supporting Che is stupid, if you think it’s stupid to support advocates of mass murder. Che was not so much as standing up to US imperialism as he was fighting against capitalism and seeking to spread his own brand of communism.

      But anyway if Austrian economics is correct how do you explain Linux? There is no price system involved and yet developers know what to put on the image, what not to put on the image, what exactly to program for it, how to distribute it. And not merely one group of people but many Linux distributions that are used by tens-of-millions of people.

      Linux is not an example of a socialist economic system with no price system for the means of production my commie pinko friend. Linux programmers in fact operate in a price system for the means of production, which enables production to be carried to a level that sustains the programmers while they write and distribute the code for free. Linux is not in any way a sort of microcosm that shows economy wide “propertyless” production and “many people” democratically involved in all production, is possible without leading to the deaths and oppression of millions of people as what occurred under communist regimes in the 20th century.

      “Cooperatives” such as Linux are projects that exist in a price system. It isn’t without costs, and every programmer has to produce and earn money in a division of labor, or at least depend on others who do, in order to spend time programming Linux. Linux is more a microcosm of LEISURE that is vastly increased in capitalism over socialism.

      Mises and Rothbard have far more to show for their efforts, than your Syndicalist Utopian garbage. It’s probably being typed on a MacBook, as you sit in an independent coffeem shop, drinking fair trade coffee, in your kefeya and bad beret, while your parents sustain you. I bet you like listening to Indie music, and you occasionally photograph homeless people and piles of trash because there is a “beauty” underneath it that you think capitalist ideology thumbs it’s nose at but only enlightened humanists like yourself, who feign disdain for consumerist culture, can understand.

      cooperative effort: an operating system and kernel with millions of users.
      A few guys understanding the price system: nothing to show for it.
      The ability to laugh at the latter? priceless.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Egoist, please try to take the moral high ground. E.g. “pinko friend” and “garbage.”

        • Egoist says:


          • Bob Murphy says:

            Just to clarify, obviously our friend (the commie pinko) said some aggressive things, but I’d rather the supporters of the Austrians answer with calm arguments and evidence, as opposed to understandable hitting back.

        • Successfulbuild says:

          Well, as for me being a “pinko”: I support MMT and would be fine if the government removed most regulations and followed the MMT line regarding the money supply (send money out into the economy, use taxes if there is too much demand pull inflation, and so on).

          I don’t know too many “commies” who would say that. I would tolerate anarcho-capitalist so long as property owners do not have too much power; however, I believe history has shown it to be the case that property owners inevitably have too much power if there is no taxation and they could force people to be their slaves.

          • Dan says:

            Taxes prevent slavery? That’s a new one.

            • Successfulbuild says:

              My thinking here is that without taxes some ass could just sit on property and would have no incentive to turn it over, no matter how inefficiency they run it. He could then force people to work on the property.

              Slavery kind of worked like that, you know? The slave owners had no interest in other technologies that would increase the unit costs. Have you ever tried to convince someone it was in their best interests to lose money? Mitt Romney has immigrants working on his properties for less than minimum wage. He does so because paying them a full wage would cut into his profits. Nothing really changes. Furthermore, slavery was self-perpetuating. Why invest in machines when you can just own the land, pay nothing on it, and have an endless pool of “free laborers.” This is another reason they didn’t want to invest in new technologies, since their labor costs were already so low, that’s a disadvantage, and it would have been years before new technologies would have been imported in say the American south.

              Naked capitalism posted entire excerpts of Hans-Hermann Hoppe advocating essentially feudalism so I don’t think my examples are that far fetched.

              Anyway, the point I would be fine if the government removed all regulations regarding speech (and yes those are still around in some societies), nearly all subsidies, and so on, and had a free-market economy.

              I would keep government investment in science, esp. since Libertarians seem not to know where inventions come from, such as linux, as they claim it came from the market system, which it did NOT.

              On top of that, tribal gangs in Africa go around butchering people in the absence of a centralized authority. If anarcho-capitalism came to that, I would say it would be a man’s duty to violently overthrow it.

              And by the way, there are demonstrated examples of syndicalism working: the Israeli Kibbutzim, the Ukrainian free-state, and so on. No where has this “anarcho”-capitalist existed except as a tyranny.

              So again, my free-system, which is even more free-market than neoclassical economics in my opinion (subsidies ever only occur to science and education, whereas in neoclassical economics they can almost always be justified), is something no “communist” would advocate, but it is anti-Austrian as we don’t arbitrarily tie the money supply to gold and then force other people to accept that standard at gunpoint.

      • Successfulbuild says:

        Rothbard did indeed deny the holocaust. Even other Libertarians admitted that Rothbard said that the holocaust was all “propaganda” by the West used to justify the war (World War II). He also said that the gas chambers didn’t exist and echoed the viewpoint of a well-known historian who denied the holocaust. That implies Rothbard is in some of kind of knowledge and that he has some kind of evidence that no one else has. So where is this evidence?

        Even if it was true that Rothbard just thought certain aspects of the holocaust were exaggerated, as you’ve admitted he did, its still fair to call him a holocaust denier. After all, Noam Chomsky was called a “genocide denier” in regards to Cambodia even though all he did was point out that the Western propaganda system staged faked photographs in Taiwan, and even aided Pol Pot to some extent. And what he was saying was actually true and was meant: there were staged photographs and the US did undermine a moderate regime there. In addition, Chomsky was trying to keep the US out of a war, out of a region of the world where the US killed at least 3 million people. What’s Rothbard’s excuse for holocaust denial?

        And if you think Rothbard was merely pointing out that the “mass murder” was exaggerated, show me which statements Rothbard made and evidence to go along with it that the holocaust was exaggerated.

        Your comments on Linux are ridiculous.. Linux does not have to “exist” as a market system of the “division of labor” and in fact Linux was developed at a University. Matthias Ettrich developed KDE a university as well, and the vast majority of FOSS developers are not working for corporations. The FSF collects a majority of its funds from individuals, not businesses, as well.

        The fact that you completely avoided my question shows Austrians have no answer to my question. They cant explain how entire industries can exist without the price system.

        As to the ad-hominem attacks I’ve written Java programs with over 100 classes. My final project at University was a Newtonian body simulator with my own physics engine. I will gladly send you the class files if you can prove you’ve even graduated high school. And I’m not on a “macbook.” I’m on Fedora Core 15, on Linux (which exists without a price system and yet millions of people died).

        (Btw… The “computer scientist” at the Mises Forums — ladyattis — isn’t even a computer programmer: he works at UPS and claims “C++” is a “machine language… Apparently Austrians think words like “while,” “for,’ and modern control structures are all a part of machine language.)

        Finally, as for Rothbard/Hoppe (who says that Left liberals should be “purged” by the property owners) being more intelligent than “syndicalists,” I can find computer scientists and computer science literature that has nothing but praise for chomsky’s work in two seconds. Yet notice how when you ask for proof that Mises, Hayek, Rothbard et al. actually did something you have to fight with them on the internet for two hours.

    • marris says:

      > There is no price system involved and yet developers know what to put on the image, what not to put on the image, what exactly to program for it, how to distribute it. And not merely one group of people but many Linux distributions that are used by tens-of-millions of people.

      I’m not disputing that Linux is cool and somewhat successful, but strictly speaking, what you write is not true.

      (1) Egoist is correct that Linux was developed in an economy with a price system. This is especially important for companies, which often pay Linux programmers to maintain forks and develop components like device drivers. IBM does *a lot* of this.

      (2) Developers don’t *know* what to put on a given image. This is why there are lots of code forks, and different builds/distributions available: because people don’t agree on what should be there.

      If you’re willing to spend the time (a scarce resource), then you can configure your system in a very customizable way. If not, then you will use a prepackaged distribution. Even here, many are simply using private charity (e.g. Canonical’s download servers), You’re also getting lots of mileage from the fact that the build configuration is basically a non-scarce recipe and the final output (the distribution) is information that can be replicated at only the cost of other resources (disk space, bandwidth, etc).

      Not sure if Rothbard is the greatest thinker of the 20th century (there were lots of great ones). But he is certainly awesome to read. He breaks complex stuff down to conceptual parts very much like a great programmer would.

      • Successfulbuild says:

        Linux was developed in a University environment which is not an economy with a “price system.” If you mean the entire economy then yes there is a price system, but how do we distinguish what needs a price and what does not need a price? How can you prove that if the government eliminated some public institutions, like education, that Linux would even be developed?

        Generally when there was not public education 99% of the population lived in poverty, which refutes his argument that capitalism “brings the necessary leisure time to invent Linux.” People were only really pulled out of poverty after the development of the advanced capitalist economies.

        I thought the point of the “price argument” was that all distributed goods need a price. If that is the argument, and I’ve seen people make statements to that regard, it’s obviously false as many of the best things in the economy really are “for free.”

        As for point 2, code forks and so on are the equivalent of early release builds. They ultimately do know what to put on the image as the vast majority of distributions (Open Suse, etc.) have users who only access the final product — the current distribution with a version number. A lot of the broadband is also provided by universities etc.

        Software engineers at big companies use “top-down design” — they design an algorithm by “decomposing” a problem into subproblems. I think it’s been shown it takes like 50 hours before you feel comfortable with that method. That doesn’t sound like the “emergent order” of the Austrians.

        The problem with making these kind of loose analogies, like the one you just made , is that they always leave out key details that easily refute the analogy.

        But I think I’ve made my point: Linux, which is not an uncomplicated item in the economy, does not have a price system, and yet, people are fine with it. There are many other things that do not use the price system that are essential to the function of society.

        Thus, a price system, (if it really even needs to exist), is just one aspect of the economy, of even modern society.

      • marris says:

        Yes, I know Linus wrote the first versions of Linux at university. I think the underlying question here is the one you raise: do all production processes need to face factor market prices in order to be successful/efficient/etc?

        My understanding of the Austrian (and neoclassical) theory is that *not all* things must be built this way. There are usually no prices within households. There are usually no prices within firms, yet there may be lots of intermediate goods produced there. Further, there are things that can be produced by charities (for example, food banks “produce” by bringing food to poor people). They don’t run a money profit-and-loss system.

        However, the Austrians (and I think neoclassicals) believe that prices are required to run *really* complex things, like economy wide structures of production. For example, take fuel production. Without prices to guide whether a non-specific factor unit (like steel) should be used by the natural gas industry or the oil industry or the personal automobile industry, you can’t do really large scale planning.

        This is not to say that a centrally planned economy cannot produce *anything* cool. For example, the Soviet Union produced lots of skilled chess players and gymnasts. The problem is that the social cost is pumped unnecessarily higher because mundane, complex, but economically valued industries are neglected (clothing, cars, etc).

        Even the case with Linux gets blurry in recent years, since it has received lots of paid developer time from companies like IBM, RedHat, Microsoft, and Google. Now we can debate what Linux would look like *without* these contributions, but the donated technology has been fairly high quality. For example, IBM contributed data structures code to help Linux scale past 64 CPUs. [BTW, the large-scale impact of these contributions were a big part of the SCO trial. SCO claimed that a lot of this cool tech was *theirs* … IBM denied this.]

        My point about the forks and multiple distributions is not as complicated as you’re making it out to be. And forks (and so on?) are not early release builds. I mean real forks of the code. You know, like

        git clone /path/to/some/kernel/repo
        Edit code…
        Rebase or merge once in a while, but don’t push up
        Build and release

        Many companies do this. I’m simply pointing out that your original assertion (“programmers know what to put into Linux”) is not strictly correct. Developers and maintainers often have a rough idea of what will be useful (some minimum kernel build, some bootloader, etc). But various groups customize the kernel and the distribution to meet their needs. This was not meant to prove or disprove what you’re saying about prices.

        I’m not sure who ladyattis is. C++ is not a machine language.

        • Successfulbuild says:

          I think the debate within economics is why corporations themselves internally do not use a “price system.” They still use a price system to distribute their products.

          I see what you’re saying but the bottom line is that Linux uses supply and demand.

          So Linux is different from families and the internal structure of a corporation in that it doesn’t rely on the division of labor that the price system has to use.

          You must not have used Linux in a long time because the vast majority of Linux users just use package managers (up2date, yum, aptitude, portage, and so on). They don’t play around with git and so on; only developers or people who want to be on the “cutting edge” do that.

          They use this to get “updates” to the software. “Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.”

          Of course new versions are made and so on, but that doesn’t prove that they have no idea what should go on the DVD, which is what most people.

    • Christopher says:

      But anyway if Austrian economics is correct how do you explain Linux? There is no price system involved and yet developers know what to put on the image, what not to put on the image, what exactly to program for it, how to distribute it.

      Your argument is built on the false assumption that what is should be. Nobody ever claimed that is was impossible to create something without a price system. In fact, entire countries ran on that idea. The question is: Is it a good idea?

      How do you know that it was worth all the effort and tremendous resources that were spent on public financed universities to create a product that, although is costs nothing, has a market share of less than 1% word-wide? How do you know that it wouldn’t have been better to let the market determine how these resources were used and build something that people actually want to have?
      How is that any different than the luxury hotels in East-Germany that they had to accommodate VIPs while regular folks had to wait 15 years for a low quality car? Needless to say, the hotels didn’t cost anything and neither did the cars. Yet the rooms were clean and there was food on the tables at dinner time.

      I understand that you like Linux. But you are a tiny minority. And that’s exactly what happens if you don’t have a price system. Resources of the many (in this case tax payers) are used to meet the need of a few.

      I think the experience with Linux is perfectly in line with what market economist would predict to happen if you take away the price system.

      [i]The ability to laugh at the latter? priceless.[/i]
      I assume the VIPs in their free luxury hotels were laughing just like you.

      • Successfulbuild says:

        Your comment is more in line with what I expected from austrian economists: simply deny that Linux is any good because it isn’t in line with the price system. Your post still contains many intellectual errors and its suggestions that Linux is an inferior product is faulty.

        First, Mises himself said that socialism is impossible. There can be no economy without a price system. The Soviet Union traded in the international monetary system and did have stores and prices. The problem was constant shortages and a lack of consumer choice, but there were “prices.” In the Soviet Union when you wanted an item you would go to the store, pick out an item, order it, pay for it, and get a receipt. After you got the receipt you would trek to another area where you would turn in the receipt and get your item. To provide goods for the people the Soviet Union usually mass produced items (offering consumers little choice), but they would make mistakes and produce too little. There was also little consumer choice, and obviously no democratic input.

        In Linux there really isn’t a price system at all, or less of a price system than they had in the soviet union, esp after you get it installed. To install an application I select “kpackagekit” and install the app. This could be anything, they are all free; the only input that exists is information about my computer that I can voluntarily send the Fedora team. There are many alternatives to a price system: standing in line, democratic input, distribution based on need, and so on. Some of these really are functioning in our economy in surprising ways.

        Next, Linux is not an “inferior product.” It is true that Linux is only about 1% of the market share; but in certain areas it has a majority of the market share, like web servers and so on. The vast majority of the world’s supercomputers run Linux. I imagine the people who build supercomputers know more about them than you do. So it is a fine quality product. The movie “The Titanic” (and other big movies) and the playstation 3 were developed with Linux.

        Finally, how do I know that the “resources” used to create Linux weren’t just wasted and the private sector would make windows better if it wasn’t for Linux etc…? Because the same area that creates Linux is the area that TRAINS the Microsoft developers. Again, after the development of the advanced state were there more inventions at a greater rapidity. Every day new things are invented and created. This is better than keeping everybody in poverty as what happened during the Austrian version of the “golden age” of capitalism when people had the choice to either work or starve to death.

        I think the experience with Linux is perfectly in line with what market economist would predict to happen if you take away the price system.

        And those economists are morons because Linux is actually favored in several areas. Furthermore, eclipse, which is an integrated development environment that makes it easier handle all the artifacts in a large software environment, and to extend and customize as well, and has a similar development process to Linux and has comparable amount of users to those IDEs developed in the “price system” environment.

        Sadly, the arguments presented here are entirely unconvincing and I’m left to conclude (1) social democracies are better than Libertarian societies; (2) a price system is not needed to distribute all goods; (3) Linux is not an inferior product, by any means, and it has not led to the deaths of millions of people. ironically, big corporations like Coca-Cola (who favor dictatorships in Colombia that kill union organizers, McDonalds (grazing rain forests in the third world by force), and Apple (unfair working conditions lead to suicides), lead to situations that kill people, where nobody has ever been harmed, with their “price system.”

        Also a correction to what I wrote above: the forced labor photographs were staged in Thailand, not Taiwan (not sure why I said that).

        • marris says:

          I’m not sure you have a good argument that (1) people before the rise of the state were faced with a “horrible” choice of working or dying, or (2) whether there were lots of people who died as a result of these policies.

          (1) Of course people *should work* for stuff. Otherwise, no stuff would get produced. Why is that a “horrible choice” ? Now we can talk about what help should be given to people who *can’t* work (disabled people, etc) and how that help should be provided. But if you *can* work, why shouldn’t you? The alternative is someone else working and you getting some of their product. Why would that be better?

          (2) I believe there were charities in capitalist countries in the 1800s, but I’m not sure how much of the population they covered. I was not alive at the time, so it’s *possible* that lots of people died in the streets. But I don’t think the history books mention anything like this.

          Can you also provide evidence that company policies have resulted in millions of lost lives around the world? Where is this claim coming from? I know sometimes a company dumps pollutants into a river, etc. I’m sure lots of bad things *have* happened. But millions of people?

        • Tel says:

          Egoist and marris are correct that Linux does operate on a price system. However, there is no particular reason to believe that price is single dimensional (nor does anything in Austrian economics depend on this). Each man’s resources are worth to him what he believes they are worth, and no other price is fitting.

          Some people put time into software because they are interested in such things, other people get paid. I believe that RedHat supplies to the NYSE and I would guess they do that because they get paid.

          Sure Linus Torvalds started his work at university but the university did not pay him to work on the project, indeed I believe he was a student and his time belonged to himself. He was probably paying to even be there (or his parents were). Anyhow Linus got his inspiration from Andrew Tanenbaum who wrote a book on the subject (I bought that book myself “Operating Systems Design and Implementation” and I presume that Linus also paid for his text books).

          That is not the start of it: D J Delorie ported the GCC compiler to the popular i386 processor and the Miscorosft DOS environment. But GCC started from RIchard Stallman and the FSF who worked on Sun equipment (Sun is now owned by Oracle).

          That is not the start of it either, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan wrote about the C programming language when they were at Bell Labs and also set the foundations of Unix, not as a result of divine inspiration but as a reaction against their work on Multics. That’s not the start of it either because BCPL started at Cambridge University in the UK (a university started by the Catholic Church).

          So when you get down to it, the Pope really is responsible for Linux.

          I warned you it was complicated.

          • Successfulbuild says:

            I’m not following your points at all. Linux operates on a price system because he went to college and bought a textbook.

            First, universities in Finland are free, so you’re just incorrect there.

            Second, it might be better to say that Linux operates within a price system in regards to the textbooks and other things that were used to create it. But this is a not an Austrian “free-market” version of the price system, but a price system tainted by social democracy. It seems social democracy has a better “price system” than the free-market then.

            The bottom line here is that linux users some things that were developed in the price system and others that were not but it itself is free.

            Third, Red Hat operates on the NYSE because they are a company that provides enterprise level services, and the help that goes along with it. They provide other proprietary services, but you could get the Linux portion of what they provide for free.

            Fourth, GNU stands for “GNU’s not Unix,” so it was as much a reaction against Unix as Unix was against Multics.

          • Successfulbuild says:

            “The great thing about standards is that there are so many of them.”

            In fact, the whole point of GNU was to return to the “share-and-share-alike” days of the university system, which faded away after Unix became proprietary software and entered the “price system.” It was, in a way, a reaction against the price system. There were so many problems with the different variations of Unix that people started using DOS just to be able to do any work. So in a way Microsoft windows grew out of an environment that wasn’t pure capitalism either.

        • Christopher says:

          I don’t think you have addressed any of the points I made. But let me address your points. I go by paragraphs:

          1) I don’t know whether Mises thought an economy without a price system would be literally impossible. If so, I disagree with him.

          2) Yes, in a free society there will be people who offer their services for free. That’s, again, perfectly okay with free market economics.
          There are even more alternatives to a price system than the ones you named. Law of the jungle would be one. Technically it works but that doesn’t prove it’s advisable.

          3) What’s the measure for that? I don’t know if Linux is “inferior” or not – to what by the way? We just don’t know what would have happened without Linux. That’s the point I was making above. The mere existence of Linux doesn’t prove anything because you can’t know whether a market run on prices would have brought us an even better product, or can you?

          4) We don’t! That’s my point. But you are making it look like we can deduce the superiority of Linux from its mere existence.

          5) The mere fact that Linux is favored in certain areas is, again, in line with free market economics. Yes, if the governments around the world fund thousands of public universities that do research on something, there will be results that can be used. The questions is, is this a good approach – is it the best approach?

          6) Yes, the existence of a price mechanism isn’t a sufficient condition for a desirable society.

          Maybe I should add one thing to prevent any further confusion: I am not saying that price systems are superior in every thinkable situation . What I am saying is that I don’t agree with your interpretation that the existence of Linux is at odds the predictions of free market economics.

        • marris says:


          > However, there is no particular reason to believe that price is single dimensional (nor does anything in Austrian economics depend on this). Each man’s resources are worth to him what he believes they are worth, and no other price is fitting.

          This is a valid point. The free programmer and the charity worker are definitely working on a subjective profit and loss basis. The good feelings they get are weighed against lost time, energy, etc. Someone who enjoys his work may not need additional money income to incentivize his behavior. He’s like an artist who enjoys painting for the sake of painting.

          That said, I think the “prices are good and necessary” argument is *not* about this subjective system (or at least, I’ve never heard someone make this argument). I think I’ve only heard it for economic money calculation, and the coordinating signals that *prices* provide. Of course a person’s subjective preferences will affect their responsiveness to prices (e.g. someone who derives a lot of pleasure from a low income job may still choose this job, even though the price signal is less strong).

          And I think the specific subset of the production structure that Successfulbuild describes (even though that subset is embedded in a market economy) includes *other signals* besides prices. It has *use* signals of non-scarce products (who uses some software) and *use* signals of scarce resources (who downloads from what server, etc).

          Is this similar to how you think about this?

          • Successfulbuild says:

            Linux does NOT rely upon supply and demand and does not use the “division of labor” that is supposed to be necessary for production that the capitalist corporations use.

            It is unique in this regard.

            A great majority of the contributions come from other areas of the economy such as Universities which also do not use the price system.

            • skylien says:

              So your point is that because there is freeware out there even quite complex one as Linux, we could dispense with a market economy in everything? And that it disproves all of Austrian theory?

              By the way lots of Ancaps are against patent and copyright laws that are an actual barrier for freeware. Without those laws I think a lot more SW would be developed on the lines of Linux, Winamp…

              However does it mean because a group of people likes to work in their free time on SW that actually might be useful, that people would like to mine iron ore from a mine in their free time? Or that people grow food in their free time and hand it out for free? Does it mean people should do everything for free and get everything for free?

              Or does it mean a few planners can replace a price system and decide arbitrarily or on artificial designed supercomputer models who needs to produce when what and how? For sure not…

              People can do in their free time whatever they want, and doing something that even can be used for production or consumption doesn’t disprove one single thing Austrians say about economic calculation. That Linux as impressive as it is disproves the need for property rights/capitalism is a big red herring.

              • Joseph Fetz says:

                Skylien, you really didn’t have to even go through all of that. You only need to look right here, and then you see that the same dynamic that SB is talking about is right here before your eyes.

                Blog commenting is the exact same system as Linux, only it is even more decentralized. Does this falsify Austrian theory? No, because ideas aren’t scarce, and there is a fine line between leisure and utility.

              • successfulbuild says:

                First of all, no one here has even given any evidence that they’ve even used Linux, let alone understood what its about.

                (Kind of like how Robert Murphy’s student egoist/major freedom claims to be a practising scientist, and yet knows little about it.)

                “freeware” usually refers to free versions of proprietary software that are limited. Free-software refers to GNU and open-source is a more business friendly environment for free-software.

                Second, people do grow food for free. There are thousands of community gardens all over the world. I currently live in the reddest state in America and we have community gardens. The way they pay for the garden varies from city to city and maybe they have been given special access to it.

                So again, community gardening, we see something where the division of labor is not required according to capitalist principles.

                And as for Joseph Fetz, Linux still has “costs” in the sense that everybody has unlimited time on earth.

                My point is that even though there is that time cost, the capitalist profit and loss system, nor gains and losses, and everything else associated with a market economy, ARE NOT REQUIRED TO DEVELOP LINUX.

                That’s a FACT.

              • successfulbuild says:

                It really gets goes to the fact that people like you, skylien, and the other commenters here, have a hatred of freedom.

                Freedom can be defined as trying to maximize the control that individuals have over their lives and products. Linux is something that gives people even more freedom that something that is produced in the capitalist market.

                The reason Libertarians hate freedom is because they believe everything has to have owners, and everybody else is at the whims of those owners and have to obey the owners. Hans Hermann Hoppe even talks about how the necessity to give the “owners” of society special privileges and subsidies. He believes they are so important they deserve power over others.

                Once you start from a hatred freedom, it’s only a matter of time before you have to make up bizarre conspiracy theories to justify explaining why democracies and non-market institutions provide so much more freedom than market institutions, why universities and the government have been behind some of the greatest inventions in history and why there were more inventions after the creation of the federal reserve.

                So the conspiracy theory in software is that the government is somehow oppressing the current software developers to the point that Linux needs to be created, but if we lived in the anarcho-“capitalist” dictatorship, THEN the “owners” would produce Linux. Yeah, right.

                I do think global warming will necessitate the human race looking into alternative means of production, ones that aren’t so destruction to ourselves and ones that do not limit our freedoms.

              • skylien says:

                Of course you don’t know how to answer those questions. And now you resort to telling me that I hate freedom.

                I don’t hate it I embrace it. People should be allowed to program for free and sending it for free to other people. They also should be allowed to do community gardening, and they should also be allowed to trade the food or whatever they produce for whatever others are willing to give in return voluntarily (That is capitalism).

                It is you who only approves of certain cooperative methods. I say whatever pleases the people on a mutual basis should be allowed. You want that people aren’t allowed to trade. So you must hate freedom.

                For the record. I used Linux already and my brother bought! it. Whatever this should prove I don’t know. I also use Winamp and I love it. I also use an Alienware Laptop and I love it too. But unfortunately no one wanted to give me one for free. Those evil Alienware producers. Next time I need one, I am sure you give me one or a similar laptop for free, right?

              • successfulbuild says:

                As a Mises [dot org “anarcho”-capitalist totalitarian, skylien, you advocate a system where a handful of property owners could force people to be their slaves and acquire more wealth solely based on the fact that they own the property.

                As Hans hermann hoppe says, these Libertarian communes will expel people with hedonistic (defined as anything Hoppe doesn’t like) lifestyles.

                Furthermore in modern capitalism private property is backed up with the hand of the state. that makes it difficult for non-totalitarian styles of production to crop up because so-many of the resources have already been monopolized that they have to use the price system just to be able to purchase goods. The big guys have an advantage over goods because they have all the capital technology and the wealth, making the little people unable to afford it.

                Thus there is a “producer sovereignty,” a form of totalitarianism that is based on wealth extraction backed by the state, with externalities such as global warming which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and other environmental externalities which kill millions.

                You’re simply unable to envision a society where people are coerced: where people put in what they want to, when they want to.

                You can’t understand freedom; it’s that simple.

              • Christopher says:


                for what it’s worth, I agree with you that Linux does not work on a price mechanism. Regardless of whether there are prices involved somewhere (time or whatever), that’s certainly not the kind of system free market economics proposes.

                It remains a mystery, however, why you think that disproves free market economics – so I have to suggest you have a strange and false idea of it’s contents. Sadly, you refuse to listen to people who are trying to set your perception straight but instead resort to reiterating that Linux is awesome and insulting people. I don’t think that’s a good basis for a discussion.

                Freedom can be defined as trying to maximize the control that individuals have over their lives and products.

                It seems your idea of freedom is some kind of policy – or why don’t you just say “freedom is control that individuals have..”?
                I bet you will be outraged by this question – as you are outraged by pretty much every question that threatens your worldview – but how is it maximizing the control over my life if someone coerces me to give you money to produce something I don’t want to have?

              • skylien says:

                Again you side step and utter pure assertions without proof.

                Again YOU want to limit people’s peaceful actions, You want to coerce people NOT TO TRADE WITH EACH OTHER!

                But you understand freedom Mr Everything should be made for free for everyone from everyone, sure right…

                A true believer in the land of Cockaigne!!

            • successfulbuild says:

              Libertarians want private mobs to go around ruling people and somehow this is called freedom. We see that every time we relax laws that put corporations in charge of writing laws and “governing themselves,” things get worse, not better.

              Half of what you say isn’t even my position: I never said Linux proves capitalism shouldn’t exist. If I was to make an argument against capitalism it would be more complex than that. In fact, I even brought up global warming as an example of the limitations of capitalism in this very thread, so you’re just lying.

  9. Bob Murphy says:

    ANNOUNCEMENT EVERYONE: I am zapping any more comments about the Holocaust. Literally any comment submitted from this point on that has that topic discussed will be zapped. I don’t want to get into the weeds of evaluating each comment, this is a blanket policy. This is not a good direction for this debate to go. I’ve let people state their views, now this one is done. Thanks.

  10. Tel says:

    If you want to understand the relationship between Linux and Capitalism, you must read everything on this blog:


    Also read everything that Richard Stallman has to say as well. It is a difficult topic, and there’s still BSD to consider.

    Freedom, is more complicated than it looks, especially in the software industry.

    • Successfulbuild says:

      See my reply above. Linus Torvalds had relatives at the University he attended and probably went to school for free.

      I don’t read Eric S. Raymond for the same reason I brush off Libertarians: he’s a conspiracy theorist, and has made several errors when he (incorrectly) corrects people:



      • Tel says:

        Deltoid hate ESR because he won’t buy into their Global Warming shtick. The AGW crew are just as happy to indulge in theories about secret funding from oil companies, or massive government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry…

        This has nothing to do with Linux, and already many blogs are devoted to this subject. I could list the errors I’ve seen on Deltoid, but not here.

        Brushing people off because you find something objectionable about them, doesn’t really answer their arguments though.

        • successfulbuild says:

          And you seemed to be one of the more intelligent commenters. If you think global warming denialism is comparable to the belief that big corporations fund propaganda campaigns there really isn’t much to discuss here — one is denying science, the other is political analysis.

          Eric Raymond didn’t invent GNU or Linux. I have looked at his code for like “Hunt the Wumpus” clones and it is interesting, but he is not part of GNU. What he talks about is open source being used by businesses to their advantage, which I have no problem with. What I was bringing up is the creation and contributions of Linux itself.

  11. Bob Roddis says:

    A new DeLong post displaying the extreme desperation of the Keynesians as they are losing their grip:

    Paul Krugman asks a question: ******

    “OK, I don’t expect a serious answer. But it’s scary that this has become the more or less official doctrine of the GOP.”

    Well, in its origins it springs out of Medieval Christian (and earlier) condemnations of usury as unjust enrichment:

    And by the 1920s it’s part of a general fear of Jews, intellectuals, homosexuals, financiers, and people who weren’t born rich but might be smarter and become richer than you.


    • Bob Murphy says:

      Roddis don’t miss this comment.

      • Dan says:

        Those comments are just painful to read.

      • Richie says:

        How long has that Alexander Hamilton moron been trolling you?

      • Bob Roddis says:

        It’s over. We’ve won. Now let’s be too arrogant about it. DeLong has slipped his leash and is barking at his reflection in a mirror.

        Let’s all be cool about it, but we’ve won and they’ve lost.

        • Joseph Fetz says:

          We know that. However, I have given more thought to what Murphy said the other day regarding the presenting of our views.

          Many people, especially in the Austro-libertarian camp, see what the mainstream is doing as a shot across the bow, as a silly personal attack. That makes sense, because that is essentially what is going on here; it’s pure marginalization and mischaracterization. However, the general public doesn’t know this, they haven’t taken the time to study each school’s theories and weigh them on their merits. To be honest, it took be about 4 years of study to even be able to do that (half-assed, at that).

          The better way, or the more optimistic way, of looking at things is to see that they (our opponents) are essentially opening up a portion of the stage for us. It is inexplicable why they would do such a thing, and they probably don’t even realize that they’ve done it, but there is no denying that that is what is happening.

          We need to take over the floor and we need to take full advantage of this, but we aren’t going to achieve that by sinking to their mud-slinging level.

          • successfulbuild says:

            Lol. What are you talking about? The overwhelming evidence suggests that the gold standard is a failure and every single society even approaching anarcho-capitalist is about the farthest away from freedom you can possible go.

            You sound like a Scientologist, proudly proclaiming victory against mainstream psychology, without point out a single piece of evidence showing this supposed “victory.”

Leave a Reply