The Majesty of Quasi-Royalty

I go to IOZ for my considerable anti-political-romanticism needs:

David Brooks like totally like hates Bobby Jindal. Meanwhile Barack Obama remains Superjesus Black Reagan. He's got good delivery. Let's not say otherwise.

The . . . what would the Teevee call it? . . . optics were embarrassing. Congress? Men fit to be slaves, as Tiberius would've had it. All that leaping up to applaud. Watching adults seek to ingratiate themselves in so obsequious a manner makes me a bit queasy. What must this Roman spectacle look like to the rest of the world? The Elder Gods of the Senate may just have better quads than me, and I make yoga every goddamn day, what with all that rising and reposing. Lord above, it reminded me of High Holy Day services in my youth, except that we stood to acknowledge God and His Torah. Purim, appropriately, is right around the corner.

We will be civilized when national politics is what local politics is in my parts: relatively comptetent public administration with occasional catfights.

I was watching Unforgiven last night, one of my favorite movies. President James Garfield has just been shot and killed by that disappointed Oneidan Charles Guiteau. Gun-for-hire English Bob — the “Duke of Death,” who specializes in murdering wayward Chinese for the railroads — takes the occasion of Garfield's demise to bait Americans at every opportunity by suggesting that they might prevent further presidenticide by rejecting their quaint notions of republican equality and just get a King–even a Queen! Hey, let's go to the text!

ENGLISH BOB: … there's a dignity in royalty… a majesty… that precludes the likelihood of assassination. Why, if you were to point a pistol at a King or a Queen, sir, I can assure you your hand would shake as though palsied…

BARBER: I wouldn't point no pistol at nobody, sir.

ENGLISH BOB: A wise policy.  But if you did, I can assure you, the sight of royalty would cause you to dismiss all thoughts of bloodshed and stand… in awe. Whereas, a president… I mean, why not shoot a president?

Because it would be murder, of course. But that's no reason for a murderer. But, these days, we've got the majesty of quasi-royalty. Turns out Americans long ago accepted the spirit if not the letter of English Bob's advice–for all the good it did Kennedy and Reagan. I'm afraid that this doesn't prove that Americans are not impressed by majesty, just that we're prone to ideological derangement, trigger-happy, and impressed by Jody Foster even more. (God, how did I get on this riff? Please please please no one shoot the president!) 

For your further jaundiced-eye needs, here's our nation's preeminent imperial president skeptic, Gene Healy:

Today's president is a constitutional monstrosity: a national talk-show host with nuclear weapons. 

And so it has been for about a century now. [ADDED: I mean, not the teevee and the nukes in particular, but you get me.] I believe the executive of the de facto constitution is a creature of technological contingency–the invention of mass media–and so may be rather inconsistent with earlier American ideals and the methods of political limitation built into the de jure constitution. The hard question is whether life under the de facto constitution has changed our ideals so much that we cannot now conceive of officially moderating the role of the “our regular programming has been preempted” executive.

Big-Government Libertarianism vs. Limited-Government Liberalism

I've really been enjoying all the terrifically smart comments in the last two posts, which have been really helpful to me. 

Maybe one way to frame my argument is that I'm not arguing for “big-government libertarianism,” but for “limited-government liberalism.” (I see that this may confuse my prior attempts to distinguish “small” and “limited,” but bear with me as I circle and recircle looking to illuminate some things that have long nagged at me.)  My sense is that most people don't see a difference and what I've been doing is groping for a way to make the distinction between the two plausible and clear.

One way to think of it is to consider where you're starting from. I am, more or less, starting from a fairly typical liberal account of the state and it's aims. I'm then arguing that those aims are best achieved through appropriately limited government. I believe this is a principled and coherent stance that stands or falls with the background arguments about the legitimacy and desirablity of liberal democracy. If you reject the basic argument for the liberal democratic state, then you're not going to be impressed. But if you accept the desirability of liberal democracy, you have every reason to listen.  

On the other hand, if we start from traditional minimal-state libertarianism, we're starting with a deep suspicion of the possibility of anything more than governance of very low quality; it's just that the anarchist alternatives (which may be feasible and worse, or just infeasible) are worse. So, to this sort of libertarian, “big-government libertarianism” sounds like one of three things: (1) A libertarianism that can't possibly work–a hopeless oxymoron. The argument for keeping the state strictly minimal is that a more-than-minimum state cannot be kept from bloating into a rights-stomping superstate. You've got to choose between almost nothing or almost everything, but big-government libertarianism tries to have it both ways. No dice.  (2) A strategy for getting liberals to trust libertarians enough to listen to libertarian policy arguments. Some libertarians seem to think this is worth trying (how could we do worse?) while others seem to think liberals are too hopelessly statist to be worth bothering with. But the real problem with (2) is that liberals will plausibly suspect libertarians of indifference to their conception of basic liberal values, and so  libertarian policy advice dressed in liberal language looks like insincere Trojan Horsing on behalf of the powerful. Why listen? (3) Libertarian non-ideal theory. One might think minimal state libertarianism is correct, as a matter of ideal theory, but see that it is politically infeasible, and so conclude that a  libertarianism that makes some concessions to welfare state liberalism is second-best, and steps in that direction are small movements toward the ideal. One problem here is: How do you tell the difference between someone who actually thinks mandatory retirement accounts, for example, are the best policy for limited-government liberalism (that's me, on days when I'm convinced that means-tested alternative can't work), and someone who argues for mandatory retirement accounts as a small step down the road to libertopia?

So, “limited-goverment liberalism” starts with liberalism and then argues that libertarianish policies and institutions will best secure liberal aims. “Big government libertarianism” starts with traditional minimal state libertarianism, but moderates it to make marginally more libertarian policy politically feasible.

Sachs on the Self-Defeating Stimulus

Jeffrey Sachs's new SciAm column titled “The Economic Need for Stable Policies, Not a Stimulus” forcefully reinforces the lesson I drew from my interviews with Prescott and Phelps. Sachs highlights:

The U.S. political-economic system gives evidence of a phenomenon known as “instrument instability.” Policy makers at the Federal Reserve and the White House are attempting to use highly imperfect monetary and fiscal policies to stabilize the national economy. The result, however, has been ever-more desperate swings in economic policies in the attempt to prevent recessions that cannot be fully eliminated. 

President Barack Obama’s economic team is now calling for an unprecedented stimulus of large budget deficits and zero interest rates to counteract the recession.  These policies may work in the short term but they threaten to produce still greater crises within a few years.  Our recovery will be faster if short-term policies are put within a medium-term framework in which the budget credibly comes back to balance and interest rates come back to moderate sustainable levels. 

Looking back to the late 1990s, there is little doubt that unduly large swings in macroeconomic policies have been a major contributor to our current crisis. …


We need to avoid reckless short-term swings in policy.  Massive deficits and zero interest rates might temporarily perk up spending but at the risk of a collapsing currency, loss of confidence in the government and growing anxieties about the government’s ability to pay its debts. That outcome could frustrate rather than speed the recovery of private consumption and investment.


Most important, we should stop panicking. One of the reasons we got into this mess was the Fed’s exaggerated fear in 2002 and 2003 that the U.S. was following Japan into a decade of stagnation caused by deflation (falling prices). To avoid a deflation the Fed created a bubble. Now the bubble has burst, and we’ve ended up with the deflation we feared!

By the way, here's my earlier post on “Managing Expectations Better.”

Prescott told me that he considers economic theory that treats the economy like a machine attached to policy levers that can be pulled to achieve the intended outcomes to be pseudoscience. He actually compared stimulus-mongering Keynesians to chemists before Dalton. (I gathered that Dalton is Robert Lucas.) Commenter Odograph gave me a bit of grief for quoting Prescott saying “Stimulus is not part of the  language of economics,” when of course, as Mankiw's poll shows, 90% of economists believe you can get a growth boost by fiscally goosing the economy when resources are underutilized. I don't know whether Prescott agrees or not (maybe not if he really thinks you can't surprise an economy twice). But Prescott's general point is pretty much the same as Sachs's here: discretionary macroeconomic policy is very likely to be self-defeating and we'd do better to concentrate on setting in place a sound structure of stable rules. When I asked what he would have advised, Prescott said he wished Obama had used his considerable political capital to form some kind of task force to very deliberatively restructure the tax system, the entitlement system, the financial system, etc., instead of pushing for a stimulus. But when the President instead uses his political capital telling people to panic, you just get more of the kind of mess Sachs describes. The government under both Bush and Obama has been giving us ridiculous fool-in-the-shower macro policy, and it really needs to stop.

[HT: Tyler]

The Possibility of Big and Free

Maybe it helps to look at some figures. Here's the 2009 Heritage Index of Economic Freedom top 10:

Pay special attention to Denmark at 8th, which is closer to the U.S. at 6th than the U.S. is to Ireland at 4th. According to the OECD, Denmark's government spending as a percentage of GDP is 50.8 pecent. In the U.S. it is 36.6 percent. Now, note that size of government is an input to the formula that determines the ranking. Denmark takes a HUGE HIT for that in the index. No country in the top ten has that low a score on any dimension. In fact, they take a big hit twice, because tax rates are in the formula as well. Drop the size of government from the index, but keep the tax rates (i.e. “fiscal freedom”) and Denmark would score higher than the U.S. in economic freedom. Of course, Denmark, like the U.S., gets high marks in other rankings focused on political and civil liberties, like Freedom House's. Denmark may be culturally weird, but I think it counts as a possibility proof of very big but quite limited government. Like the Economic Freeedom rankings, you might think that such high tax rates and big government count heavily against them, but it remains that they do nearly as well or better than every other country in the world in every other aspect of economic freedom. Tax rates and government size are in fact dissociable from regulation, barriers to trade, and so forth.  

Now, I'm just trying to reinforce a conceptual distinction. I'm not for one second arguing that the U.S. should have a bigger government. I think we'd be much better off in the extremely lean neighborhood of Singapore (about 15% I think). But I also think that the size of government in the U.S. is less important than some other aspects of economic freedom, and less important than the composition of spending, some of which is both immoral and wealth destroying. 

Consider that Denmark's size of government is similar to that of France, which scores 64th in Economic Freedom, between Uganda and Romania. The implication is that France could become immensely more economically free without doing much by way of cutting the size of its government. The way to do this would be to severely limit, as Denmark has done, the ways in which the government may intervene in the economy. Likewise, holding size of government constant, the U.S. could be doing much better, though I'm afraid we're rapidly moving in the other direction. 

More fun facts! Hong Kong is part of communist China, and so is lacking much assurance of liberty. Singapore is more or less an authoritarian technocracy. We don't hit a liberal state until number 3. Australia, at 34.9 percent of GDP, has a smaller government that the U.S., as does Ireland, at 34.2 percent, while New Zealand is a bit bigger at 39.9. Switzerland is also smaller (35.4%) but the rest of the list is bigger. Canada is in the neighborhood of New Zealand, Denmark is WILDLY larger than the rest of the list, and the U.K is very big at 44.6 percent. The only countries in the OECD with bigger governments than Denmark is are France (52.4%) Sweden (52.6%), and both do have fairly dismal economic freedom scores. However, Sweden seems to have the right idea, as it has refused to bail out SAAB.

Small and/or Limited Government: Some Distinctions

I feel the liberaltarianism discussion is often muddled because of confusion over a number of different ideas. I'm going to try to clear my own head here. Maybe it will be useful to others.

I think it's important to distinguish “small government” from “limited government,” and to distinguish between a couple different senses of “limited.”

Let's say government is small when government spending as a percentage of national economic output is relatively low. Small government, in this sense, will tend to have relatively low taxes. But the overall tax take tells us little about how the tax burden is distributed. It doesn't tell us what the money is spent on. And it doesn't tell us much about economic liberty.

Which society is freer? One with a smaller government where the very rich pay all the taxes (90 percent of the population pays no taxes! 90 percent libertopia?) or one with a slightly larger government with a relatively low level of taxation spread more or less evenly over the whole population? (Should we do a poll on this?)

The fact that a government is small doesn't rule out the possibility of egregious restrictions on non-economic liberties or of incredibly burdensome economic regulation. Suppose it takes two years to fill out all the paperwork, get all the licenses, etc. to start a small business, but once you do that, your profits aren't taxed all. Suppose many forms of exchange are simply prohibited. You might have small government, low taxes, and very little economic freedom. Of course, a small government can ban abortion, prostitution, drugs, a free press, etc. just as well as a big one. Such a government may need to spend a lot of its modest budget on police and prisons instead of on genuine public goods. The size of the budget as as percentage of output doesn't tell you anything about the composition of spending. This is a really important point. The United States spends a lot on prisons, the military, drug law enforcement, border patrol, etc. A lot of this is the opposite of rights-respecting, and a lot of it is downright wasteful. The composition of spending is important both as a matter or morality and a matter of economic growth (which I happen to think is also a matter of morality.)  Which is all to say, the fact that a government is small logically implies almost nothing about either liberty, justice or efficiency.

(Also, as a technical tangent, there may be economies of scale in the provision of certain public goods. So a smaller country whose government provides precisely the same goods as a bigger country may turn out to have a bigger government, simply because it costs them a little more to provide the goods. Slightly weaker economic performance relative to the bigger country may result, but a cutback in spending on those goods won't improve performance if they are growth-enabling.)

Limited government is really what matters, but “limited” is also a bit ambiguous. The most important sense is “rights-respecting.” Bills of rights are meant to declare that legitimate (and legal) government is limited to activities that do not violate rights. Many disputes between classical and modern liberals turn on their theories of rights. For example, if the collective action problems inherent in the provision of certain public goods justifies taxation, then a state that collects taxes for this purpose does not violate property rights. If you think there is no such justification for taxation, you'll tend to see the taxing state as violating rights and thus overstepping its proper limits. If you think there is such a justification for taxation, and believe there is an abundance of collective action problems that may be resolved only by government action, then you may think that a quite high level of taxation and government spending is perfectly consonant with limited, property-rights respecting government. 

Here's an aside about libertarian theory that I think helps transition to another, related, idea of “limited.” Though most libertarians are not anarchists, the outsized influence of property-rights-focused anarchists within the broader libertarian community somehow seems to create a lot of confusion, when it ought to help clarify the issue. The so-called “minarchist” or “minimal government” view accepts the public goods justification of the state, while the anarchist rejects it. The anarchist argues either (1) that the protection of rights is an individual good and that individuals can successfully protect their rights by going to the market and contracting with private rights-protection agencies or (2) all public goods, including the protection of rights, can be successfully provided using markets and other forms of voluntary association. Anarchists often argue that if the public goods argument for state protection of rights (and the system of public finance it implies) is sound, then there is no principled basis for stopping at “minimal” government. The scope of legitimate government will be however wide the logic of the public goods or market failure argument happens to take you. There are a number of possible minarchist replies here (the specialness of the use of coercion in the rights protection business, etc.), but I basically think the anarchist critique is correct. If there is something especially unstable in private markets for rights protection, and that fact justifies public provision of that service, then there might be other kinds of market failures that justify the public provision of those markets' services. 

I think this takes us to another sense of “limited government” as “limited to what non-government alternatives cannot do better.” An obvious implication of market failure arguments for state provision of certain services is that the state should not be in the business of providing services where markets or other voluntary mechanisms are superior. There's no justification for the coercive tax-financing of state enterprises when those goods and services would be provided (usually with higher quality and a lower price) with no state coercion. Also, state enterprises will tend to crowd out private enterprises both by (a) absorbing capital and using it badly and (b) by virtue of its inherent advantages in securing anti-competitive subsidies and barriers to entry, which is all the more reason to limit government to the things we actually need it for.

Let me wrap it up. The “size” of government is not a good proxy for either economic or non-economic liberty or for economic performance. Advocates of “small government” need to worry more than they do about the moral and economic dimensions of the composition of spending, and they need to realize that they care more than they think they do about questions of “distributive justice,” which is pretty obviously manifest in enthusiasm for reforms, like the “flat” and “fair” tax.

I think our real concern ought to be limited government. But whether you think an ideally limited government is also small will depends on lots of things including your account of rights, your beliefs about the relative efficiency and reliability of state vs. market provision of various goods, your beliefs about the necessity of public spending to facilitate growth, and more. The claim behind my version of  “liberaltarianism” is that there is a principled position between classic night-watchman “minarchism” and full-on modern liberalism. If you're not an anarchist or totalitarian, then you think that it's possible for the state to do either too little or too much. Minarchist libertarians seem to be a bit embarrassed by the concessions they do make on the way to arguing for a state, and so stick as close as they can to their anarchists friends without going all the way stateless. But the anarchists are right that the minarchists have, in some sense already “given away the store,” and that it would be pretty surprising if the logic of the minarchist argument allowed them to stop where they do. On the other side of the equation, modern liberals need to get more credit from libertarians in desiring and defending limited government. The governments of the successful liberal democracies are in fact remarkably limited relative to the possibilities, both in terms of respect for rights and in refraining from crowding out the efficient private provision of goods and services–which explains their success. That said, it would be pretty surprising if either the modern liberal state or modern liberal theory (which often looks suspiciously like ad hoc apologetics for the modern liberal state) gets the limits of government right as either a matter of morality or efficiency.  

There's lots of other stuff to talk about: the paternalism of modern liberalism as a failure of limited government; the consistency of social insurance and poverty-mitigating redistribution with a principled account of limited government; and other stuff–but those are separate posts.

What Do Recent Nobel Prize-winning Macroeconomists Say about the Prospects of the Stimulus?

I decided to ask!

I talked to Edward Prescott and Edmund Phelps the day Obama signed the stimulus into law and wrote about it in my latest column for The Week.

I'm persuaded that the general logic of Prescott and Kydland's work on time inconsistency applies to the present situation (and I don't think you need to accept the strict rational expectations framework to see how it applies), but I was especially taken by Phelps' concerns about the potentially damaging effects of the stimulus on entrepreneurship and innovation. Please check it out.

Talking to these giants of macro has convinced me that we need to be talking about is how to get the institutions right and keep them stable. What the government is now doing amounts to a pretty radical restructuring of our scheme of economic institutions, but with shockingly little deliberation about or regard for the optimality or stability of the overall incentive structure. This mess was precipitated by what turned out to be a disastrously unstable alignment of incentives. That fact would seem to prescribe taking a lot of care in thinking through how various large interventions might ramify through the system before jumping in. But our government's behavior increasingly looks a bit like a zealous small-town narcotics squad, excited by its slick new SWAT gear, that's just kicked down the door to a meth house and has started shooting at anything that moves.

Austerity Chic

Here's Ed Glaeser:

Yet there are many Americans who spent the last eight years living within their means, and have plenty of resources left. For those Americans, the ones with cash in their bank accounts, this is the time to spend.

Cracking open the Champagne does not exactly feel in tune with today’s spirit of national austerity, but recessions get worse when prosperous people do not spend. In fact, if you can afford it, then this is exactly the moment to redo your kitchen or buy a car. Not only will you be able to get a good deal, but your spending will help revive the economy. The economist John Maynard Keynes convincingly argued 70 years ago that thrift was no virtue during a recession.

Despite the strength of the economic logic urging spending during a downturn, powerful psychological forces push in the opposite direction. America is hurting; thousands are losing their jobs. In today’s political climate, public displays of prosperity are the kind of thing that gets you lambasted by a Senate subcommittee.

I made a similar argument on Marketplace just before Christmas. Here's what I said:

Most of us won't lose our jobs, won't face a pay cut. Yet we tighten anyway. Dollar-stretching tips circulate even among the most comfortable. But if your paycheck's intact and you're still cutting back, you may be part of the problem.

When home values surge, we tend to feel richer and spend a bit more, even if we don't plan to sell the house. Economists call this “the wealth effect,” and it's got a recessionary flip side. So when our 401(k)s dive as the economy hits a rough patch, we feel a bit of a pinch and rein in consumption — even when our incomes and the long-term value of our investments hasn't changed a bit. In short, we don't always look to our personal financial fundamentals when choosing whether to splurge or scrimp.

But just as “irrational exuberance” can keep a speculative bubble afloat, equally irrational anxiety, and the ethos of austerity it produces, can trap us in the doldrums. So maybe you went a bit crazy during the boom, and now's the time to return to financial sanity. Good! But if you were living comfortably and responsibly within your means last year, you probably don't need to cut back now. 

You know what? This argument DRIVES PEOPLE CRAZY. Check out Glaeser's comments, and mine, which tend to confirm that there is in fact a Keynes-ish sort of pack psychology about appropriate consumption behavior. It's funny that people get upset by a recommendation to do things that are both individually prudent (it's just good financial stewardship to buy things when prices are low) and that have larger than ususual positive spillover effects. I doubt people really think it's better to leave yourself and everyone else worse off. My diagnosis is that most people either don't get the idea of periodic downturns and recoveries and so tend to suspect  with each serious recession that this time everything may go to shit permanently (which is true, it might, but what are the odds?) and to infer that prudence demands hoarding. My biggest worry about things going to shit is that government profligacy may leave us with a worthless dollar. But then why not spend all your dollars now on durable stuff!  I recently put a lot of my savings into a diamond ring, which I'm now thinking turned out to be fairly savvy move in several different ways.

Now On the Liberaltarianism Channel: Reflections on Liberaltarianism

It's sort of gratifying to be unable to keep up with all the people talking about your ideas. But I really can't keep up. I promised Jonah another reply, but haven't done it yet. We're doing a Bloggingheads tomorrow, so maybe I can get some of it out then. Here's another reply from Ross. Let me say something about this bit:

Yes, there's a best-case scenario in which the dumbening of the American Right works out fine for libertarians, because the infusion of “liberaltarianism” suddenly makes the left-of-center much smarter and more freedom-friendly about issues of economic policy. But I think the more likely scenario is that the liberaltarians vanish into the center-left without much of a ripple, leaving a right-wing rump to battle eternally with a fat, lazy, none-too-libertarian left-liberalism. And in fact, that worst-case scenario already exists: It's called the state of California.

I want to emphasize for all the conservatives who've come 'round these parts complaining about me calling them dumb that I swear it was Ross Douthat, the conservative Catholic Republican, who brought up the topic of “the dumbening of the American Right.” I admit that I leapt on the idea and indulged in some “jingoistic fagbasher” sort of rhetoric, which is a poor strategy for winning the affection of both those conservatives who do and do not fit the description. I assure you that many of my closest friends are Republicans, and those approving of gay sex on burning flags are closer still. To clarify further, Ross and I were not talking about the relative IQ scores of Democrats and Republicans. We were talking about “intellectuals,” an elusive species of social parasite paid to publish their worthless thoughts, and whatnot. I noticed that some among those who thought I was saying that they are dumb simply on account of their ardent belief in the Good Book seemed to be a bit hostile to the very idea of an “intellectual.” Because who the heck are intellectuals to think they're so much smarter than the rest of us when they probably can't even change the oil or gut an elk? It's a good point. But there you have it.  

But that's neither here nor there. Pardon me if my series of blog posts is not internally coherent, because I'm truly working things out in real time. But again I find myself wanting to stress that all this farseeing speculation about the relevance or irrelevance of liberaltarians is interesting to me, but decidely secondary. I've now spent well over a decade devoted to the study of philosophy and political economy and for what?! I have had many periods of doctrinal enthusiasm, but let me now congratulate myself by publicly admitting that my aim has always been to get it right. As a human, I've liked being on teams and have taken some real satisfaction in ideological partisanship. It seems I can't help but listen to arguments against my side because I'm so aggressively partisan I mean to personally undo them all. Through dumb repetition, I eventually gained a distinct awareness of the singular subtle sensation of intellectual aggravation. Allow me to generalize here, so that this is not about me only.

The more one feels aggravated by a line of reasoning, the more one resolves to unravel it. Our methods for disposing of the obviously spurious vary, and we may become attached to our methods. But not all methods are equally useful for swift and total disposal. Those especially inefficient in this are prone to become intrigued by arguments whose indubitable spuriousness is deviously hidden. One may pick at the knot a while, but become distracted by, say, a beloved but dubious proposition simple to sadistically dissect. So certain problem thoughts are shunted off to obviously spurious storage. One assumes one will return, soon, better equipped to straigten things out. The day of reckoning will come. But then one night, while sniffing the hamper, one recalls with mild alarm earlier in the day deploying, with no trace of devil's advocacy, an argument previously locked in obviously spurious storage. There may be a problem! Tiny spiders of self-suspicion canvass the web of belief. Heretofore unquestioned doctrines may be quietly accused of undetected spuriousness. In the end, one makes the minimum necessary adjustments. No, there is no problem at all, one is relieved to conclude. There is yet so much in common with the team. The best team!

These are not conversion experiences. These are periodic tune-ups. But how many periods until the boat you've rebuilt one plank at a time while sailing in it is a distinguishably different model? What if you like your boat, but you're lonely on it? Oh what a team our regatta would be! This is liberaltarianism to me. If the question was what to do with my voter registration card, I'd make an origami cat.

Back to Ross's passage. Regarding the state of California, I'm told the problems more than anything have to do with their ill-designed scheme of direct democracy. And the prison union.

Hey, I'm a Statist!

I'll try to respond at length to Jonah tomorrow. But a couple thoughts. Again, I'm not the one who's trying to talk about partisan coalition politics. Its not my main interest, and it's not my comparative advantage. I'm trying to show how attractive classical liberalism can be once it is scoured of the conservative barnacles of the now irrelevant Cold War alliance and once it begins to take seriously (rather than just ignore) the powerful arguments of the best contemporary liberal thought.

I think maybe one of our main issues is that Jonah seems to think actually-existing-politically-relevant conservativism is in some sense “anti-statist,” and that's why libertarians ought to like that kind of conservative. (Jonah: “If the right ever loses its anti-statism, we will have a race-to-the-bottom between two statist parties, one cosmopolitan and socialistic one nativistic and nationalistic.”) I have some questions about what the anti-statism of “the right” amounts to. But, hey, I'm not an anti-statist! I'm statist! Lots of libertarians are! So maybe statism isn't ipso facto socialism? Like James Madison, for example, I want a state, I want its power constitutionally limited, and I want it democratically governed. I am a proponent of free-market liberal democracy — like Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan, and I'd guess a whole lot of market-loving economists. I accept the public goods justification for the state, more or less. I accept that regulations which correctly price negative externalities tend to make everyone better off, and are worth doing. I am morally and methodologically anti-nationalist–which is more unusual–but that's not anti-statism. I don't mind the fact of country-sized public goods jurisdictions, nor do I mind tax-financing of genuine public goods by more or less legitimate states. I just wish national jurisdictional boundaries should better respect basic liberties by being more porous. Nor do I mind the tax-financing of education or welfare programs that actually help members of a polity to develop the capacity and ability to meaningfully exercise their rights and liberties. I am a liberal! “Rawlsekianism” is a ridiculous word, but I actually think a certain fusion of the best of 20th Century classical/market liberalism and welfare liberalism is the best political philosophy. I also think it may be possible to persuade many other people of this, and that they will find it attractive. In my experience, the people open to this view are already relatively liberal, in the usual sense, and tend to favor Democrats. That's fine by me. 

But I do have some admittedly amateur thoughts about partisan politics, and I think Jonah's commitments may have led him a bit astray, so I'll try to say something about that tomorrow.