And while we're on the subject, consider this Slate article on libertarianism by Jeffery Weisberg:
The argument as a whole is reminiscent of wearying dorm-room debates that took place circa 1989 about whether the fall of the Soviet bloc demonstrated the failure of communism. Academic Marxists were never going to be convinced that anything that happened in the real world could invalidate their belief system. Utopians of the right, libertarians are just as convinced that their ideas have yet to be tried, and that they would work beautifully if we could only just have a do-over of human history. Like all true ideologues, they find a way to interpret mounting evidence of error as proof that they were right all along.
To which the rest of us can only respond, Haven't you people done enough harm already? We have narrowly avoided a global depression and are mercifully pointed toward merely the worst recession in a long while. This is thanks to a global economic meltdown made possible by libertarian ideas.
Another name of libertarianism is anarchism, except, instead of sharing the anarchist agenda of overturning global capitalism in the name of small local communities, they want to make the world free for global capitalists to engage in any kind of exploitation and rapine they want. Libertarians are anarchists who have lost their souls.
As Weisberg writes:
The best thing you can say about libertarians is that because their views derive from abstract theory, they tend to be highly principled and rigorous in their logic. Those outside of government at places like the Cato Institute and Reason magazine are just as consistent in their opposition to government bailouts as to the kind of regulation that might have prevented one from being necessary. "Let failed banks fail" is the purist line. This approach would deliver a wonderful lesson in personal responsibility, creating thousands of new jobs in the soup-kitchen and food-pantry industries.
The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from reading Ayn Rand novels in high school. Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world's failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight and the capacity for pragmatic intervention constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.
Meanwhile, there was an interesting full-page ad in this week's Sunday New York Times, bought by the Templeton Foundation to publicize their series of dialogues on their website. This time the subject was "Does the Market Corrode Moral Character?" The answers run from Michael Walzer's "Of course it does!" to Gary Kasparov's "Yes, but" (it's better than the other options), to Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Not at all" (really? Not at all? Never? I find it hard to believe she really believes this).
My own answer tends to fall somewhere between the "Of course" and "Yes, but" options, but what I find particularly interesting are appeals to Adam Smith as a defender of the assertion that the market promotes or supports moral values. This has the argument exactly backwards. Capitalism, for Smith, did not promote virtue. On the contrary, he argued it had a tremendous capacity to encourage vice. Rather, he argued, it was only in a community that was already possessed of the necessary virtues of justice, temperance, and fellow-feeling that capitalism was capable of working in the way that he envisioned.
Smith's great accomplishment was in showing how capitalism as a system could be a tremendous benefit to those living under it, but he was not Moses come down from the mountains with a new set of commandments, and he neither misunderstood nor sought to change human nature. He recognized, on the contrary, that the frailties of human nature and our own drive to self-interest, far from being moral ideals, were realities with which we had to grapple, and which are not eliminated in the creation or preservation of a capitalist system.
A regulated market works best, precisely because it does not rely, as Smith's model does, on a pre-existing world in which all participants are just and virtuous. Regulation makes a matter of law what virtue would require us to do as a matter of conscience. Smith recognized that as an essential element in social justice, even if his libertarian followers have forgotten.