Libertarian IQ

I recently stumbled across an old essay from the early 1990s written by a libertarian activist that is absolutely fascinating. The activist is a computer scientist currently at the University of Washington, Stuart Reges, and the essay is on the connection between intelligence and libertarianism.

Suffice it to say, many people cannot understand libertarianism simply because they cannot think in abstractions the way that libertarians seem to do. Computer programmers are another group characterized by high intelligence and Mr. Reges makes an important connection in his essay between the two, with logic bringing the two together.  He writes:

The student in my hypothetical story displays the classic mistake of treating symptoms rather than solving problems. The student knows the program doesn’t work, so he tries to find a way to make it appear to work a little better. As in my example, without a proper model of computation, such fixes are likely to make the program worse rather than better. How can the student fix his program if he can’t reason in his head about what it is supposed to do versus what it is actually doing? He can’t. But for many people (I dare say for most people), they simply do not think of their program the way a programmer does. As a result, it is impossible for a programmer to explain to such a person how to find the problem in their code. I’m convinced after years of patiently trying to explain this to novices that most are just not used to thinking this way while a small group of other students seem to think this way automatically, without me having to explain it to them.

Let me try to start relating this to libertarian philosophy. Just as programmers have a model of computation, libertarians have what I call a model of interaction. Just as a programmer can “play computer” by simulating how specific lines of code will change program state, a libertarian can “play society” by simulating how specific actions will change societal state. The libertarian model of interaction cuts across economic, political, cultural, and social issues. For just about any given law, for example, a libertarian can tell you exactly how such a law will affect society (minimum wage laws create unemployment by setting a lower-bound on entry-level wages, drug prohibition artificially inflates drug prices which leads to violent turf wars, etc.). As another example, for any given social goal, a libertarian will be able to tell you the problems generated by having government try to achieve that goal and will tell you how such a goal can be achieved in a libertarian society.

I believe this is qualitatively different from other predictive models because of the breadth of the model and the focus on transitions (both of which are also true of programming).

Indeed. I should note here that ‘libertarian’ in the Reges definition means libertarian and not Ron Paul Republican, self-declared Austrian economist, or dedicated follower of some dead economist. Those people give the rest of us a bad name by hiding behind the libertarian moniker to make flawed arguments and baseless assertions, knowing full well that if they made the exact same argument under the moniker of a conservative nobody would take them seriously.

You can read the essay in its entirety below the fold. Continue reading