I was actually a staunch progressive before entering the startup world. A few things turned me into a libertarian:
1) I realized that nearly every instance of what my college professors called a "market failure" was really an instance where there was a web of government regulations preventing me from starting a business to solve the problem ( such as health insurance, education, or corporate governance). Once you stop thinking, "How could the government solve this problem?" and start thinking, "How can I start a business to solve this problem?" your perspective on the world change dramatically.
2) The software industry is so new it hasn't had the time to earn government favors and protection. Thus an engineer pays a lot to the government, but gets virtually nothing in return. Other professions used to be this way, and were much more libertarian ( farmers being the original case, but also doctors, bankers, etc.). Long ago those professions started getting either direct government funding or laws protecting entry into their industry. They became dependent on government. Engineers are also wealthy enough that they are net losers from income redistribution. And finally, by working in the startup world, most engineers see the free market at its best, rather than only seeing the soulless corporate side.
3) I decided to actually read about this "Austrian economics" nonsense. I read a bunch of books from both sides and scoured the internet for arguments and counter-arguments. At the end, I was shocked to realize that Ron Paul was right. Before, I thought he was a nut-job and Austrians were just ignoramuses who had never even taken a college macroeconomics course. After, I was ready to don my tin foil hat :-)
I have yet to encounter a critique of capitalism that can't be rephrased as a business plan. I think libertarianism as an ideology has survived for so long because it's adaptable in that way.
(Many other professions would also benefit from cheap labor and therefore we, as customers of the labor, would benefit from lower prices, but I think geeks are at risk of losing more than we gain.)
I hear a lot of libertarian geeks complain about the unfairness of the progressive income tax or the welfare state, but not so many complaining about the unfairness of our immigration policy.
Then you must run with a different tribe of libertarian geeks than I do.
I'm a libertarian geek. And I complain about the unfairness of our immigration policy constantly. A few of the best hackers I know are from other countries.
I completely disagree that I'm "at risk more than I gain" from increased immigration. If they can do as good a job as me for less money, then that's the market, and I'll have to accept that. But really good programmers -- the top 5% that are 5-26 times more productive than the rest -- are always going to be rare, and it's worth a pay cut to be able to work with them.
Incidentally, with our current system, tech workers are often given a visa that is only good for the duration of their employment with a single company. That means, if my coworker wants to go to another company, he has to get a whole new visa, which is incredibly non-trivial. As a result, my employer can skimp on his pay, because of the added cost of changing jobs.
If they pay immigrants less, then that brings down the whole market, including my salary. If our doors were open, we'd have more immigrants, but they'd be more able to negotiate, and we'd all be on equal footing. More people means higher housing costs, the weight of which tends to spread out the population distribution and make workers more demanding.
Consider the difference between an American consumer who wants to 1) have a simple spreadsheet extension written, or 2) have a simple legal will drafted.
In case 1, the consumer can 1) hire someone with a PhD, MS, BS, or no degree at all in any field, 2) send the work overseas with minimal oversight and regulation, 3) bring a foreign worker into the US on an H1B or L1 visa (to a limited extent).
In case 2, the consumer can 1) hire a member of the state bar who attended an ABA accredited school. That's it. No other options.
Law is an extreme example, and lawyers are, as members of the judiciary, quasi-government officials themselves, so maybe this isn't representative. But even in relatively unregulated labor markets here in the US, there's still no specific visa program to bring people on. In fact, the late nobel prize winner in economics Milton Friedman, champion of free markets, actually called the H1B program a subsidy for the tech industry!
Milton Friedman scoffs at the idea of the government stocking a farm system for the likes of Microsoft and Intel. "There is no doubt," he says, "that the [H-1B] program is a benefit to their employers, enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy."
So while US immigration policy, by not allowing everyone and anyone in, does indeed mess with free global labor markets, if anything it skews immigration in favor of foreign engineers who would like to come here, and against US Citizens in these fields. But I don't know anyone other than extremists who think that the US can have a truly open door immigration policy. The numbers would simply be too great. Instead, the US "only" accepts well over a million legal immigrants a year, not counting hundreds of thousands of work-related visas.
Keep in mind, in a true free labor market, I, as a programmer would face more competition, but I'd also benefit as a consumer from an increase in competition in the services I consume. By targeting high tech specifically with work visas, but leaving the other fields untouched, the market is probably more skewed than it would have been enforcing a skills-blind approach.
Lastly, plenty of high tech workers most definitely do complain about the unfairness of the policy. Most of the programmers I know are much angrier about the corporate control over the H1B's life than the presence of foreign workers. I know that the economic world is a positive-sum game, especially in wealth creating industries like high tech.
But the current approach of skewing immigration toward high tech workers while allowing employers to control the residency rights and green card application? I'm looking for the free market with a microscope dude, and I ain't seeing it.
Consider your laptop. What proportion of the cost of a laptop can be attributed to the cost of wages for workers in the US? (Remember what Adam Smith said: the cost of everything in a free-market economy can be divided among "rent of land", "wages of labor", and "profit of stock".)
There's the cost of the longshoremen who unloaded it from the docks, the cost of the truck drivers who drove it across the country, the cost of the warehouse workers who put it on the shelf and then took it off again when you ordered it...on a per-laptop basis, I don't think those costs add very much to the price. So if the US opens its borders and people all over the world compete for truck-driving jobs, I don't think the cost of laptops is going to go down very much.
My point was that software is among the most free labor markets in the US. This was in response to the point that engineers are hypocritical for not applying their libertarian leanings to foreign engineers who would like to move here without restrictions. My point was that 1) I plead guilty to this charge - I do not support unlimited immigration, though that would be the purest form of free markets, and 2) relative to other fields, software engineering is more open to foreign nationals than almost any other field in the US (rivaled only by crop picking - the other great employer-sponsered work visa program - and maybe that tells you something about software...)
The Austrians are too doctrinaire for my taste. They do have some good insights that have been ignored by the mainstream. For example, the idea that cheep Central Bank credit leads to boom/bust economic cycles has gained a lot of mindshare in the wake of the mortgage mess. However, they tend to close their minds to cool ideas from other schools of thought.
That they definitely do. They reject positivism as an approach to economics on the basis that you can't do repeatable experiments with entire societies, preferring a deductive approach that yields statements that are correct but weak. But as a result, they miss out on theories that aren't quite rigorous but nonetheless have good (but imperfect) predictive value.
Also, I'd note that Austrians tend to be much more knowledgeable of "mainstream" economics than mainstream economists are of Austrian economics ( see http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/04/austrian-economics.ht... and http://www.slate.com/id/9593, the latter article by Paul Krugman shows a stunning ignorance of what the Austrians are saying ).
The three biggest economic issues today are:
1) the stagnation of the American standard living since 1970
2) the massive trade deficit and the hollowing of the American economy
3) the financial crisis
All three of these problems are related to fiat currency, maturity mismatching, and inflationary policies by various banks. That's why I think the Austrians, while not perfect, are much closer to the truth than the other economic schools.
Thus we assume that people are rational, will act rationally and by extension, live peacefully with their neighbors.
However we are a small minority of the population.
Our personality type is drawn to systems work, the architecture of things. We strive to understand systems, whether it's a desktop PC or the government. The aesthetic we seek is a simple, logical architecture that can be explained and reasoned about.
Unfortunately, the world doesn't often meet our expectations. We are left with C++ not Lisp and a republic slipping towards totalitarianism, not an anarcho-capitalist paradise.
But the problem is, suffering is still suffering whether it be stupid or not. A society with a destitute underclass suffering due to its own idiocy is still a society with a destitute underclass. The general definition of a "progressive" is someone who sees this as a problem irrespective of culpability, where a "libertarian" is someone who doesn't see it as a problem at all.
I was a libertarian in high school, for the same reasons I was more or less a jerk in high school. I've softened since.
Being an uninformed idiot is not always a choice, but often times it is. I argue that some of them earn their lack of respect because they are selfish and ignorant. They earn selfish because an uninformed person is a cost to society, through pollution, welfare, medical, insurance, etc...
When you have a population of intentionally ignorant people, you need to lie to them to prevent them from doing dangerous things. For example, abstinence instead of protection. This is a problem because it is a bad way to solve problems, and an ugly trend.
I care about helping others, but I don't think the vehicle for doing so is a mega-sized bureaucracy that sits on a former marshland a half-continent away from me. The proper place for help others is in your own community.
If libertarianism was contingent on people acting rationally and peacefully, then I wouldn't be a libertarian. Rather, I assume that people respond to incentives. When people have incentive to live peaceful and orderly lives, they tend to do it more than when those incentives are lacking.
I find it mystifying that the "progressive" type assumes that citizens will behave stupidly and violently but that they will somehow elect smart, saintly public servants to guide them.
I accept the Public Choice critique of government. I believe that government actors are just ordinary people like you and me and that they also respond to incentives. Disturbingly, they often have only very weak incentives to act for the public good, but strong incentives to SAY they are working for the public good, which I think explains much of what we see in politics. I don't think giving someone power will instantly make them a selfless angel.
Libertarianism is a realist philosophy, and it outperforms other philosophies in addressing the real world.
You hit the nail on the head there.
People do what the incentives say they'll do. The incentives may be rational or not, but whatever they are, that's what you can bet people will do, and you'll be right almost 100% of the time. The biggest difference between dogs and people is that people learn faster; but the nature of the learning is roughly the same. Cookie = do that again; swat = don't do that again.
Capitalism protects individual freedom, which is morally right. Incidentally, it also turns the incentives towards efficient use of resources, which is in the public's best interest. I find it mystifying that progressives claim to impose regulation for the public good, when that almost always leads to a very wasteful misuse of resources that hurts the public in the end.
I wouldn't give the government "credit for Walmart", but the government has created an infrastructure that Walmart used to its benefit.
Just because government funding was central to developing large section of the internet does not mean some similar system would not have developed anyway.
The Internet is a network of networks, where I can rent a server on a data center owned by A which delivers bits through a pipe owned by B to a customer whose ISP is owned by C, and if I don't like A's terms of service then I can go buy equivalent bandwidth and access from A-prime. That wasn't possible with pre-Internet online providers.
Like I said in the essay, the bloat objection to emacs is irrational. Nonetheless, though, it's a natural reaction that most people have to get over.
The key to appreciating emacs is to realize that it's only incidentally a text editor. It's really a not-quite-general-purpose application platform for tasks that fall under the broad heading of "text processing". Similarly, Mozilla has evolved into a not-quite-general-purpose platform for interacting with internet services. With the advent of Web 2.0 the world seems to have suddenly embraced that interpretation of Mozilla. Before that, people used to gripe about Mozilla bloat in the same way that they still gripe about emacs bloat. (Think Zawinski's Law.)
Also, I enjoy living in a free and prosperous society, I want my future children to live in a free and prosperous society, and I think the organic order of the market, which is a product of freedom itself, is the most likely organization of society to preserve freedom and prosperity.
All the alternatives to the market that have been tried throughout history are versions of Plato's philosopher-king. Whether leaders are elected or chosen by birth, the idea is that society needs a few wise people to have more power than everybody else in order to guide the rest. The arguments for a philosopher-king are simple and straight-forward, so many people advocate the idea. However, although arguments for the market are more subtle, I believe evidence and logic shows that the organic order it produces is better for society than order imposed by a philosopher-king. Bottom-up is better than top-down.
I'm not particularly successful, although I guess I am of above-average competence and have a fair chance at success. I resent the implication that I hold the ideas I do for solely self-serving reasons. I don't accuse the billionaire leftists I know of being self-serving.
(e.g. those who identify with those who are unable to earn much tend to prefer more collectivist ideologies, and to call tallent luck, while those who identify with people who earn a lot tend to support more individualist ideologies, and call luck tallent.)
I think it is somewhat self-reinforcing, a person who believes that it is all a roll of the dice is less likely to put as much effort into self-improvement than someone who doesn't believe in luck.
But then, I don't believe in luck.
A religious friend has suggested that this is because I'm just lucky :)
And sure, sure, I know you can get around this by defining your body and mind as your property. But then the whole thing becomes kind of a silly point, no? Everything can be a property right if everything is defined as someone's property. That's hardly profound.
Really? He was actually paraphrasing Ayn Rand. Although, she would probably put it more like this:
The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.
Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.
“Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 94
When you live in a "black and white" world, there's much less need to tolerate gray areas. Ask 100 politicians, writers, or clergypeople a question and get 100 answers. Much less so for us scientists. Sure we debate a little, but in the end 2 plus 2 still equals 4 (most of the time), and it's often easy to see if something works or doesn't.
Libertarianism is probably the most "black and white" of the political ideaologies, so the transfer is pretty natural for us.
I think Marxism and radical environmentalism (Earth First, Human Extinction Project) are equally so.