The following is a guest submission by Professor Steve Horwitz, Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University.
One of the best signs of the progress that libertarian ideas have made in recent years is that we are under increasing attack from a variety of places. The chattering classes apparently have realized that not only is libertarianism growing in the academic, intellectual, and political worlds, it is beginning to catch fire with young people, including through popular culture. Libertarianism threatens not just those with political power, but those in the media who, even though they think they are speaking truth to it, make a living parasitically off of such power. The result? Attacks from both ignorance and mendacity.
Moe Tkacik’s July 6 Gawker.com column on the young musician Dorian Electra is a perfect example, as she manages to simultaneously distort her ideas, accuse everyone involved in the movement of being either stupid or out to indoctrinate, and most offensively, turns a young woman who writes the lyrics and music, produces, directs, and stars in her own music videos into a mere pawn and sexual toy of mysterious dark (presumably male) forces. As one of the people sideswiped in Tkacik’s smear job, I feel compelled to respond.
It’s clear from the start that Tkacik is only interested in a smear against libertarians, as her description of Hayek as an “unabashed propagandist who loved Pinochet/hated workers/had sex with his cousin” bears little resemblance to the truth. She conveniently ignores his Nobel Prize for Economics as well as the slew of books and journal articles on a wide variety of topics from publishers a bit more reputable than Gawker.com. There is absolutely no evidence that he “loved” Pinochet (note the absence of a link there), nor that he “hated workers.” In fact, one of the points Hayek made about capitalism is that it was misnamed because its primary beneficiaries were not, in fact, the owners of capital, but workers and consumers in general. In The Fatal Conceit (p. 111) he wrote: “Since this term [capitalism] suggests a system serving the special interests of the owners of capital, it naturally provoked the opposition of those who, as we have seen, were its main beneficiaries, the members of the proletariat.” And yes, Hayek did indeed marry his first cousin. Sneering at that seems odd from someone coming from the progressive left. They were long past child-bearing age and all was consensual and, for that matter, legal.
What’s more troubling, though, is that Tkacik somehow sees Dorian’s “I’m in Love with Friedrich Hayek,” as portraying Hayek as a sex symbol. In fact, the lyrics are a very accurate presentation of Hayek’s ideas. The reason Dorian’s character loves Hayek has nothing to do with sexuality, but rather that she thinks he provides her with a better way to understand the world. Tkacik is so concerned with making an argument that a group of powerful white men have turned poor little Dorian into a tool for their machinations (Dorian has been “programmed”), that she can’t even acknowledge that what Dorian, who again wrote it herself, is concerned with is Hayek’s ideas.
And Hayek’s ideas, of course, are far more complex than Tkacik is capable of dealing with. The reason Hayek thought markets would benefit us all is because only the market can turn the various bits of knowledge that individuals have into a form that can be effectively made use of by others. The fundamental social problem is that people all know different things and some of what we know we can’t even articulate, yet somehow we need to share that knowledge and cooperate to use scarce resources effectively and produce the things that people want. Hayek argued that what markets and a price system do is to provide a communication process that extends beyond language and statistics that enables us to do just that. In doing so, the market helps produce what economic historian Deirdre McCloskey calls “The Great Fact” – the over 100 fold increase in humanity’s standard of living since the advent of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. The economic freedom that libertarians support has lifted billions out of poverty and enabled billions of others to live longer, better lives. That is what Hayek and libertarianism are ultimately about.
That Tkacik can’t get the ideas right should come as no surprise as she can’t even spell the names of her targets right either, including my own. (And I thank her for that as it eliminates her piece as a Google result when people search my name). But what’s even more disturbing, particularly to libertarians, is her bizarre claim that somehow the libertarian movement is sexualizing a young woman to serve our nefarious plots to control the world. Aside from the fact that doing so would violate all kinds of libertarian ethical principles, it’s a total figment of Tkacik’s imagination.
Her fascination with Dorian’s sexuality is clear from the “Lolita” in the sub-title to the use of “ideological pedophilia” toward the end. The reality, of course, is that if one actually watches Dorian’s videos, there’s not a hint of her using sex to tell the story. Her dress is modest, there’s not a bit of booty-shaking, and, more important, every single one of her videos is about ideas. The only sexualization and pedophilia going on here is being made up by Tkacik. One would think that a supposedly accomplished and professional woman such as Tkacik would applaud a young woman who takes ideas seriously, portrays them professionally, and has the smarts and talent to be a one-woman creative force.
Of course Dorian, like the rest of us, is guilty of really only one thing: having the wrong ideas.
Libertarians strongly believe in the agency of the individual. We are often accused by the left of wanting a world in which people are at the mercy of powerful corporations that deny our individuality. In fact, as we know, the opposite is true – we celebrate the individual and her right to live her life as she pleases, to make the friendships and connections she wants to make, to have the right to use her property to construct a meaningful life for her and her loved ones, and to think, eat, read, hear, and love whomever and whatever she wants as long as she respects others’ rights to do the same.
The left often celebrates the individual, but as Tkacik’s article demonstrates, some on the left are quick to demonize anyone whose individuality is expressed by stepping across the boundaries of the correct ideas. Young, talented women like Dorian are not supposed to be libertarians, they should be good progressives. So at the end of the day, rather than acknowledging that libertarian ideas might be having an increasing appeal to high school and college age young people, and writing a serious story about why that might be happening, Tkacik has to fall back on the oldest conservative, male, misogynist tactic of them all: claiming that a smart, contrary-thinking woman must be the pawn of others with power rather than having come to those ideas on her own.
Tkacik ought to be ashamed.
As libertarians, however, we should be proud. Proud of young people like Dorian, yes. But more important, proud of the fact that we are taking the high road and not engaging in smear campaigns and hit pieces. Our ideas offer powerful insights into the world and people are catching on. When this is all our critics have to deploy against us, we are winning. And winning big.