2 June, 2004: Freedom fries

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I'm just going to draw people's attention to Peter's commentary on yet another piece of idiocy by Steven Landsburg which purports to advocate executing `computer hackers' (by which he means, somewhat improbably, those who write viruses and worms) on economic grounds. (Peter, like I, found this from Marginal Revolution, which occasionally passes on good links, but more frequently turns up Landsburgesque nonsense, which is sad.)

There are several points here. Pete points out that Landsburg's economics is crap; another, which is often forgotten, which is that writing computer code like a virus or worm is speech, and speech is free. (Releasing a virus or worm is an offence, of course, but that's a distinct act.)

A third is that Landsburg is an idiot. I tried to read his book, The Armchair Economist, but it was unbearably dreadful and I was unable to make it to the end. You can get a good feel for what his book is like (please for god's sake don't buy it) by imagining the following paragraph, with slight variations, repeated for hundreds of pages:

Many people think [something which might or might not be true, but which Landsburg doesn't believe] but economists know that it is false. According to [some data Landsburg quotes selectively from somewhere] it is obvious that [some conclusion which he doesn't justify, whether obvious or not] and therefore [some outrageous policy prescription, like executing computer hackers or banning car seatbelts.]

For Landsburg, `economists know that...' is sufficient to dispose of any argument. This is more feeble than the usual type of argument-from-authority (``well-known commentator X argues that...''), since in many of the cases he cites, economists (let alone actual specialists in the field) don't agree on the issue in question. (His discussion of risk homeostasis is particularly hilarious from this point of view.)

I lent the book to a friend of mine on holiday a little while ago (I did warn him...), and he, unlike me, was able to make it through to the end; his response?

I can't tell you where he gets wrong on every page of this book, but the man is definitely a cunt.

Since I haven't the energy to review the book in toto I'll have to let that stand.

Anyway, since Peter doesn't have comments on his web log, I'll pose the following here:

``Libertarianism is just trolling applied to real life.'' Discuss.

Copyright (c) 2004 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.