David Brin
David Brin
David Brin

Oops, he did it again.

David Brin, whom some think of as a libertarian science fiction author, and who styles himself as such, but who really isn’t even close to being libertarian, and who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time these days attacking real libertarians like a jilted lover, was recently interviewed on Wired.com via the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Brin has a controversial take on Star Wars. For example, he calls Yoda one of the most evil characters ever. Well, okay, Brin does have something of a point when it comes to Yoda. The Jedi as a whole are pretty much useless, meddling busybodies who are directly or indirectly responsible for the fundamental political problems in the Star Wars universe.

But Brin’s main criticism of Star Wars and George Lucas is premised largely on his fetish for state-democracy (my term for democratic institutions and processes ossified as formal mechanisms in the state apparatus). Lucas comes under fire for always protraying the republic as corrupt and nonfunctioning, which he does because he despises democracy and favors benign dictatorship.

But, of course, Brin has staked his entire nonfiction career on his Platonic ideal of radical transparency allowing perfect knowledge in a state-democracy. Only when this ideal is realized will freedom be protected and capitalism work properly, says Brin.

One of the gods of the right, Friedrich Hayek, founder of the Austrian School of Economics, who the conservatives claim to consider to be the greatest economist of all time, said that the absolute necessity of capitalism is for all the players to know all of what’s going on all the time, so they can make good capitalist decisions. Even a laborer in a factory, even a peasant, if that peasant knows everything that’s going on, then that peasant can make the best deal for the fish he just caught or the yam he just grew. The greatest hypocrisy on the planet right now is for those who defend capitalism to not be in favor of radical transparency, for all of us to know who owns everything. And that is my militant, radical, moderate, pro-capitalist, pro-Enlightenment, ferocious stand.

There’s so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll try to break it down.

  1. First, Hayek was not the founder of the Austrian School of Economics. That honor goes to Carl Menger, who published his Principles of Economics in 1871. If one wants to distinguish a modern incarnation of the Austrian School from its early days, then the founder of the modern incarnation would be Ludwig von Mises. Mises was a leading member of the Austrian School while Hayek was still a socialist. In fact, Hayek himself credits Mises for showing him the error of his ways with the publication of Die Gemeinwirtschaft (later translated as Socialism). “To none of us young men who read the book when it appeared,” Hayek recalled, “the world was ever the same again.”
  2. Members of the Austrian School do not care who American conservatives consider to be the greatest economist of all time. Hayek is great, to be sure, but if anyone can lay claim to the title of greatest, it is Mises. If you think about it, and have some knowledge of the history, it is not surprising that conservatives have favored Hayek. He was more “respectably” moderate and therefore more popular politically than the radical and uncompromising Mises.
  3. Wow, is it possible to get what Hayek said about knowledge more wrong than Brin does here? It’s difficult to imagine. Hayek said nothing even remotely like this perfect-competition-style Platonic ideal of perfect knowledge. What he did say was that economic planning is best done by individuals with (often tacit) knowledge of time and place, including the information conveyed to them by price signals in an unhampered free market, which depends upon the institution of private property (no offense, Brin). It has nothing to do with government transparency.
  4. Government and corporate transparency is great and all, but it’s no panacea for society’s ills; it can’t legitimize the state or eliminate its evil. The root of the problem that Brin rails against is not lack of transparency but the state itself.
  5. It is not necessary that every player know all of what’s going on all of the time in order for them to make good decisions or for capitalism to work. It is not even possible for any one player or group of players to know all of what’s going on all of the time. That was Hayek’s point and an important part of his critique of central planning and socialism. How this escaped Brin is beyond me.
  6. The greatest hypocrisy on the planet right now is not the failure of those who defend capitalism to be in favor of radical transparency, but rather their failure to be in favor of abolishing the state. The radical transparency that David Brin favors is simply not possible with the state. States do not have any political or economic incentive to adopt radical transparency or anything remotely approaching it. As organizations that claim a territorial monopoly over the legal use of force and ultimate decision making, states are the means by which the plutocratic elites accumulate and maintain their wealth and power. If it is radical transparency Brin wants, he should embrace free market anarchism wherein the political culture and economic competition truly would give individuals and businesses incentives to adopt it.
  7. “…radical transparency, for all of us to know who owns everything. ” Wait… is that all that radical transparency is for?
  8. Brin ain’t no radical; he’s a reformer. And how could he be both a radical and a moderate at the same time?
  9. Nope, sorry, not pro-capitalist either; he favors too many state interventions for that.
  10. I’ll give him militant and ferocious. He is that. As for pro-Enlightenment… well, the Enlightenment came with benefits and pitfalls. It’s not a good thing to be militantly, ferociously, absolutely pro-Enlightenment. The Enlightenment screwed up a lot of things in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

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About the Author

Geoffrey Allan Plauché Executive Editor

Geoffrey is an Aristotelian-Liberal political philosopher, an adjunct instructor for Buena Vista University, the founder and executive editor of Prometheus Unbound, and the webmaster of The Libertarian Standard. His work has appeared in Libertarian Papers, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the Journal of Value Inquiry, and Transformers and Philosophy. He lives in Edgewood, KY with his wife and two children.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Morlock Publishing August 21, 2012 @ 5:24 pm | Link

    I met David Brin once, around 1994 or so, at a book signing.

    I had been a subscriber to Liberty magazine for several years, and asked him a question. Or tried to. I started “Your wrote an article for Liberty about the electoral college -”

    He cut me off and went off on a rant about how libertarians are childish, selfish, destructive, and want to destroy democracy.

    The rant went on for almost half an hour. The small audience of 20 or so was entirely bored by a political rant from someone they wanted to hear talk about science fiction.

    It was quite eye-opening – the man was clearly very hostile to individual liberty and any attempt to dismantle the welfare state.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey Allan Plauché August 21, 2012 @ 5:29 pm | Link

      Thanks for sharing that anecdote. The evidence just keeps mounting.

      Reply
      • No one June 17, 2016 @ 11:01 pm | Link

        I have discovered that the man is a politically bigoted hypocrite and found he demonized my proof, which asked for and then wrote me off as a raving paranoid person because he disagrees with what I showed him. I will never trust him again and advice anyone who buys into his persona, to just smile and nod and let him think he is right about everything because you will save yourself headaches and ugly confrontations.

        Reply
  • Konrad Graf August 21, 2012 @ 7:42 pm | Link

    Nice dissection. More evidence also that if you want to talk muddle-headedly about “free market economics,” your go-to guy is always Hayek. “Even Hayek says”…whatever you want him to have said…

    Reply

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