Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Term I've Been Looking for is "Path Dependence"


I've spilled a considerable amount of virtual ink over the years trying to explain (or sometimes just to summarize) the "paleoconservative" deviation from libertarianism. For example, yesterday in a Facebook discussion, I wrote:

I agree with Clayton Hunt that anarcho-capitalism and paleoconservatism aren't the same thing. Anarcho-capitalism is an ideology. Paleoconservatism is a cult based on an attack of explosive strategic diarrhea that Rothbard would presumably have eventually taken some Kaopectate for if he hadn't died before he could get away from the toilet for more than a few seconds.

This morning I was (actually, I still am) listening to the latest episode of Freedom Feens Radio. Good show as always, and Rothbard comes up in a discussion of the "alt-right." You should listen to the whole thing, but here's the quote that got me thinking (I'm not as good with voices as I should be, but I think it's Lousander Feen saying this):

[T]here's a special libertarian logical fallacy called appeal to Rothbard, because although he was very good on economics, and he was very good on an awful lot of things, there were some things, particularly when it came to choosing alliances, that he absolutely was as dumb as six bags of hammers.

That quote is sandwiched in between mention of Rothbard's idea to ally with the antiwar left (specifically Students For a Democratic Society) during Vietnam and mention of the fact that he died while he was still enthralled with the "paleo strategy," a plan for libertarians to achieve political victory by wading into the moral sewer of Dixiecrat/"Solid South" peckerwood populism.

Which brings me to the quite possibly apocryphal tale explaining why the Solid Rocket Boosters used to launch the old Space Shuttles were the size they were. It goes something like this:

In order to be transported from factory to launch site, the Solid Rocket Boosters were put on rail cars and therefore had to fit through train tunnels.

The width of train tunnels is dependent on the width of trains.

The width of trains is dependent on the gauge of the tracks they run on.

Standard railroad gauge (4 feet, 8.5 inches between rails) came about because the first English train builders used the same width jigs that they used to measure the axle width of the wagons they built before they built trains.

The reasons the wagon-builders used those jigs was so that their wagon wheels would fit into the ruts of the old Roman roads the wagons traveled down.

The Romans built their roads to the width required to accommodate their war chariots.

The Romans built a war chariot to be as wide as the combined rear ends of the two horses pulling it.

Which means that the size of the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters was determined, nearly 2,000 years ago, by the width of a Roman war horse's ass.

The story may or may not be strictly true -- I've heard that it may not be -- but it's certainly illustrative of a phenomenon called "path dependence" in which the future course of a thing gets locked in by continued adherence (rational or not) to some past decision.

Paleoconservatism and libertarianism are both path-dependent to some extent.

Libertarianism is ideologically path-dependent on observance of the non-aggression constraint.

Paleoconservatism is strategically path-dependent on continued pursuit of Rothbard's insane idea that the way to get the libertarian chariot to its destination was to get a conservative horse to pull it along.

The two paths are clearly divergent. You can go down one or the other, but not both.

My preference is the path that doesn't leave me covered in, and smelling like, shit.

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