Liberaltarianism Lives

On Tim Lee’s blog as “bottom-up liberalism”.

Tim’s right that liberals have internalized a fair number of libertarian arguments, and this is heartening. At the same time,  it’s  important not to overstate this. Also, few libertarians have yet to internalize liberal arguments that they should accept. Convergence is a two-way street.

The exchange between me and Matt Steinglass at Democracy in America over whether Obamacare incorporates Hayekian insights is an excellent example of they way libertarians and liberals continue to fail to connect. And most liberals remain pretty hostile to these common libertarian ideas:

  • Democracy sucks.
  • Unions hurt more than they help.
  • Campaign spending is political speech.
  • Economic inequality does not undermine democracy or democracy’s role in establishing and protecting equal liberty.
  • Economic rights are as important as political and civil rights, and should be just as vigilantly protected, even if  that leads to huge inequalities, which do not, by the way, threaten democracy or the value of political and civil rights.
  • Taxation is coercive but imprisoning the guy who nicked your lawn gnome isn’t.

One could go on. Some of these ideas are correct, some incorrect. Together they amount to a towering impediment to joyous liberal-libertarian comity.

Even if you’re a moderate Hayek-Friedman pro-welfare-state libertarian who does not think taxation or inflation are indistinguishable from theft, it’s still impossible to convince most liberals of this:

  • It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.

It’s not even clear to me what’s especially libertarian about this. It’s sorta just anodyne welfare-state liberalism plus economics. I’d be elated to get just this. When a not insignificant group of liberals start saying, “Of course! Of course this is what we should do!”  then I’ll feel we’re really cooking with gas, and I won’t care what we call it.

  • Brian J

    What “insidious” tactics are you referring to?

  • Jason Brennan

    “It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.”

    John Rawls’s argument against this is pretty interesting. He effectively says, “Look, I don’t want a society where a few people own everything and make all the money, and other people live as unemployed dependents on generous welfare benefits. I want an ownership society–where the system is set up ahead of time so that most people are self-sufficient producers and traders and don’t have to live on welfare payments. That’s why property-owning democracy is better than welfare-state capitalism.”

    • Yup. It would have been nice if he’d given a richer account of why “a society where a few people own everything and make all the money, and other people live as unemployed dependents on generous welfare benefits” is the empirically probable upshot of welfare-state capitalism.

      • The best argument I can imagine for this is a mix of conservative moral hazard/dependency assumptions with a certain type of public-choice argument about why people would vote themselves huge welfare benefits. Not clear this would square with Rawls’ behavioral assumptions.

      • Jason Brennan

        When Rawls theorizes about regime-types, he’s doing something a bit weird. First, he’s working in ideal theory, so he’s assuming that people will be motivated to comply with the rules, be competent to do so, and that the regime will realize its announced public aim. Second, he characterizes each regime not only in terms of its institutions, but in terms of its public aim. So, e.g., laissez- faire capitalism is defined (by Rawls) as a regime that aims at efficiency. He doesn’t really consider the possibility of a system with libertarianesque institutions that aims at justice as fairness.

        More to the point, though: For Rawls, the problem isn’t that in welfare state capitalism, it is empirically probable that a few people will own all the capital and many people will just live off welfare. Instead, the problem is that the system allows this to happen, and would regard it as legitimate if it did happen. So, he thinks a system is unacceptable if, even under the happy circumstances of ideal theory, it would permit and legitimize certain unacceptable outcomes is unacceptable.

      • Handworn

        This sounds like Rawls is basically a Distributist, a philosophy I think has very much to recommend it. This is because (for those unfamiliar with the theory) Distributism calls for ownership of the means of production to be as widely distributed as possible– as a situation, not as a forcibly redistributive government action. “[N]ot too many capitalists, but too few,” as Chesterton put it. This means stock ownership by as many ordinary people as possible, and it seems to be happening more than it used to, with (the frequently-cited figures of) 70% of American voters owning stock in some form or another. It’s simply not American public policy to strongly and publicly encourage it, yet.

        I see this situation as partly the result of the teacher’s union being such a core Democratic constituency. More power to ordinary people via partial ownership of great American corporations means a harder job selling people on the idea that they need the Democrats to defend them by reigning in and heavily taxing those corporations. And, too, I suspect that some people high up in Madison Avenue and among the Republicans believe it’s easier to take the money of the financially ignorant.

    • He’s basically wrong though. If we lived in a world where nobody had to work and could still have a decent standard of living – Great! It’s very different from the society we live in now, and so it seems weird.

      But white-collar workers today have way more leisure time then they did a couple centuries ago. Culture will adjust.

      Empirically though, it really doesn’t seem to be an issue.

  • Rob

    I’m curious as to which you think is most likely, Will?

    1. libertarians convincing or making inroads with liberals on economic liberty/fiscal issues
    2. libertarians convincing conservatives to end military empire/national security state and the war on drugs
    3. neither
    4. both

    My heart says #1 but my brain says neither.

    • 4. in a very minor way. Inroads. Little ones. Optimism!

  • Chris

    1. Democracy sucks.
    2. Campaign spending is political speech.

    if (1) is true, then why is (2) a problem?

    • Torres

      Because democracy sucks, but every other option sucks even harder

    • Steve C

      There are things on that list I can more or less get on board with but #2 is closest to raw-assertion, pure libertarian made-up bs.

      It’s especially naive as this one has direct implications for the power game. In that game, unions have been defanged, corporations have massive concentrated spending power, and they own a party (well more like a party-and-a-half, but anyway) and that party LOVES this meme. R’s hear money=speech and think corporate money=speech. That’s what it means to them, this argument coming from places like Cato just empowers crony capitalism.

      Also it’s dumb. I need money to feed my cat therefore my cat is money.

  • It’s not even clear to me what’s especially libertarian about this. It’s sorta just anodyne welfare-state liberalism plus economics.

    What’s impossible for liberals to accept is Hayek’s point that in order for the decentralized economy to operate, people have to be compensated according to the objective results of their actions and not according to their subjective merit. Middlemen getting rich by exploiting trade opportunities will always offend liberal sensibilities, no matter how much money you provide in welfare benefits to the poor.

    • I’d disagree with that. The “Just Deserts” theory, that people should get paid what they “deserve”, is a standard conservative argument against income redistribution as an alternative to utilitarianism. Manikiw was just talking about it at http://modeledbehavior.com/2011/01/11/markets-and-morality/ .

      The primary strand of left-intellectual thought by now, is that markets are generally great, and that capitalism is powerful, and that government should just work to compensate the losers. See http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/more-thoughts-on-equality-of-opportunity/ .

    • One annoying tendency among libertarians is that they like to argue against Marxist strawmen. Fundamental critiques of capitalism were banished from mainstream liberalism decades ago.

    • Tried to reply earlier but it disappeared.

      “anodyne welfare-state liberalism plus economics”
      I’m surprised there was no link to the recent Ellerman post. I’ve been discussing Ellerman & related lefty thinkers on such issues here.

  • Yglesias is basically on board, as is most of the progressive blogosphere. Hell, it seems to be the economic consensus in the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, and Canada to a lesser extent.

    The issue is that “Maximize growth and then redistribute” has no support at all among Republicans or Libertarians. At all. Opposition to income redistribution is fundamental to both movements.

    • David,

      I agree that MANY Libertarians oppose redistributing income, but it’s not in fact true that they all do. Will Wilkinson, Robert Anton Wilson, Milton Friedman, etc., are plenty libertarian by any reasonable standard.

      • Yes, there is a bit of support. But Milton Friedman would be laughed out of mainstream thought, and Will and his ilk were kicked out of Reason for a reason.

        A big reason that the libertarian movement gets funding is precisely because rich people don’t want to give their money away. The precise institutional arrangements as to how it’s given away are not very important to them.

        • j r

          So, you’re saying that the big reason that rich people give their money away is so they won’t have to… give their money away?

          Either you think that a dollar donated to Cato somehow ends up becoming >$1 in tax savings or a lot of supposedly smart and selfish people are giving their money away in error.

          • engineerscotty

            It’s an investment. A dollar invested in funding right-wing propaganda mills may save ten in lower taxes. The whole point of this sort of “liberal capitalism” is that since the natural course of capitalism is to FTMP extract wealth from the poor and provide it to the rich, the role of the government is to do the reverse, through somewhat-progressive tax schemes and/or a robust welfare state. Many wealthy individuals would like to put a stopper in the return pipe.

            That said, here’s a thought. The US has traditionally focused on more of a progressive tax scheme (the graduated income tax, we’ll ingore the rats nest of deductions for now), but skips on the welfare state part. Many parts of Europe use VAT, a far less progressive taxing regime, but provides a lot more social welfare. Maybe it’s simply that the political consensus prevents the wealthy from getting a toe in the door, but there seems far less desire to dismantle this state of affairs.

          • I wouldn’t go that far. I think that rich people who donate to libertarians legitimately believe in the stuff, at least for the most part.

            But the main reason libertarianism appeals to the very rich is that it confirms this idea that their money is rightfully theirs, that they deserve their money, and that taking it away from them to give to the poor would be wrong.

            It’s a much better fundraising drive then technocratic arguments about the precise nature of tax curves.

  • ktismael

    Welcome back, Will!

    I’d really love to see you spend some time exploring bullet point #2 some more. I know you just posted a bit on DemoAmer, but this is one area that has always been confusing to me in Libertarian Dogma. Perhaps there is some philosophical point I’m missing, but it seems to me that freedom to assemble and associate are pretty basic parts of liberty, and that the freedom for workers to associate and bargain in their interests is totally consistent with a free market. And yet, there is such hostility to the very concept of unionizing in much of libertarian circles that I wonder what I’m missing. I’m sure no small part is the degree to which a lot of “mainstream” libertarianism (if such a thing exists) is tied very closely to corporatism, or crony capitalism, in which anything that interferes with corporate interests is seen as impeding the free market, even when that interference is only the free association of people seeking their own interests. While many Libertarians decry coporatism, there still seems to be a reflexive push on its behalf (what RadGeek (not that) Charles Murray called “libertarians a little too eager to defend WalMart).

    I think I grasp the distinction made for public employee unions (though if you’d like to draw that distinction more sharply I think I might learn more from it). To be sure, there are many faults in current union practice, but then there are plenty of those in current corporations or banks or sheriff’s offices, but I don’t hear a lot of call to abolish them.

    Anyway, I know it would be informative and instructive for me, and I think it might for others as well, even though I know it’s not in your usual wheelhouse, if you could explain your opinion on collective bargaining, and if it differs from the libertarian strawman I meticulous created above, then where you think that mindset comes from.

    As an “anodyne welfare-state liberalism plus economics” practitioner who strives for social justice but sees market techniques as being some of the best ways to improve outcomes for all, this one particular point has always rankled a bit. And good to see you back, again.

    • engineerscotty

      While I won’t speak for libertarians, a big issue for many is the belief that labor law in the US puts a thumb on the scale in favor of unions. (I don’t believe this is true; exhibit 1A is the sorry state of labor in the US today).

      According-to-Hoyle Libertarians might argue that workers ought to have an unfettered (by the state) right to unionize, picket and/or strike in the absence of contractual agreements to the contrary, to mandate union shops or closed shops if such a thing can be won at the bargaining table, and do so without fear of violence from Pinkerton’s men.

      However, the same theory also argues that employers should have the unfettered right to refuse to recognize unions, to fire and blacklist employees for union activity, to prohibit union activity on the premises, to likewise prohibit strikes and other work stoppages, etc. by terms of employment agreements, to lock employees out, etc; and that the relationship between business and labor is private contractural relationship that government should play no special part in (beyond enforcing contracts and such).

      One interesting conflict between libertarian theory and practice is the position on “right to work laws”. Such laws, it can be argued, interfere with the freedom of contract between labor and management–if a given union can win a union shop at the bargaining table, then so be it. Yet most libertarians seem to like such laws, on the theory that the right of an individual worker to defect from a union and seek employment outside the scope of a collective bargaining agreement is more important than the right of such arrangements to be enforced and protected by law.

  • MichaelDrew

    You make such a show of saying “exactly what you mean” in special language, and then fail spectacularly to communicate. If you just mean you’re all for the welfare state as long as taxation isn’t motivated by a desire to redistribute per se and accomplished by what you see as confiscation targeted at the resented rich, then why not just say that? Because that would actually attract liberals to your ideas and blur the distinction that you want to preserve not because of these differences, but because they are key to your identity. If that’s not what you’re saying, then what the hell are you saying? You went to graduate school, I hear. Didn’t anyone tell you to use plain language when possible?

    • MichaelDrew

      Sorry, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s what I see, and maybe you appreciate hearing it more than if I had demurred. Or maybe you don’t.

      • billyjoerob

        asfawefdasdfqd

  • “Also, few libertarians have yet to internalize liberal arguments that they should accept.”

    An example of which would be… what?

  • thorsky

    Will, I’m with David Schor on this one. You were the first commenter on the widely linked Freddie de Boer article recently. Didn’t that post mourn the lack of what de Boer considers truly leftist voices in the blogosphere because all the institutional bloggers are converging on an essentially neoliberal consensus? And Yglesias basically said, “OK, yes, I guess I’ll grudgingly own the neoliberal label, because I think that set of policies does more to help us reach progressive goals than old-style leftism.”

    And this, “It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme sounds like a pretty neoliberal statement to me.

    Personally, I think the problem with finding a synthesis both sides can live with almost entirely political, and is driven by a giant political version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Neither the liberals nor the libertarians interested in a liberaltarian fusion wants to go first and leave the devil they know.

  • Cameron Parker

    I am tempted to say this comes down to Rawls vs. Nozick. Distributive vs. Procedural justice are ideas that liberals and libertarians respectively just won’t budge on.

    • Averymallcow

      I agree, but would expand: The real problem there is that there is that while you can make all the intellectual arguments for procedural justice you want, when it comes time for policy it fails because those arguments only hold true in one iteration.

      Its like the prisoner’s dilemma – the long run optimization ends up being significantly different from the short run optimization.

      So you end up with a divide that cannot be bridged through compromise.

  • Ebenezer Scrooge

    “It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.”

    I useta think that this was right. After all, “It’s sorta just anodyne welfare-state liberalism plus economics.” But then I got mugged by political economy. Unless you have a Lee Kuan Yew running the store, the people who become rich by “maximizing growth rates” are going to make damned sure that the little people won’t receive “wicked-good social insurance” from the rich folks’ optimal taxes. And the rich folks’ idea of optimal taxes will be Leona Helmsley’s.

    The problem with being a standard-issue liberal is that you gotta reconcile democracy with economic efficiency with political economy. I envy libertarians–their optimization is so much simpler.

  • axoplasm

    “it’s still impossible to convince most liberals of this:
    It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.”

    I dunno, I’m probably as “liberal” as they come (or at least as liberal as Timothy Lee, anyway) and this sounds pretty damn awesome. Isn’t this the way most (other) developed economies operate anyway?

    • The idea that e.g. France or Italy are trying to maximize growth rates is pretty laughable. Certainly that is not what the people are asking for in any 1st-world nation.

      • Sure, but the Netherlands and the Nordics fit the bill. And public policy in France is surprisingly good where it matters. GDP per worker in the EU-15 grew just as fast as the US or Japan from 1990 to 2010 (30%, 31%, and 30%)

  • Liam781

    Most Americans follow the example of the Founders: pretend to be be principled, but be opportunistic in practice. This is what Americans are; ideologues, being captive to ideas over real people, can never deal with this as a reality, only as a conceptual problem. This is as true of Objectivists or latter day Hayekian wannabes as it is of consciousness raisers in Berkeley.

    The idea that, if you get the sequence of ideas right, people will behave differently, is rather laughable. It doesn’t mean ideas aren’t consequential. It just means they are consequential in ways that are in the cognitive blindspots of the ideologue.

  • kmf55

    I’d be interested to hear an explanation of why libertarians think “Democracy sucks”.

    • Averymallcow

      because your vote falls within the margin of error for any counting process, and thus doesn’t really count.

      • That’s a fallacy. The presence of recounts and margins of error doesn’t actually effect the probability of a vote being decisive. Read Gelman et all.

    • 3589MilesWhite

      Democracy is tyranny of the majority, and when the majority wants welfare, who do you think is going to be forced to foot the bill? This is one of the reasons why the development of the modern welfare-state has grown in conjunction with the expansion of suffrage. There is plenty about democracy for a libertarian to hate. For more reading on this, I refer you to H .L. Mencken’s fantastic Notes on Democracy.

  • Kewilson263

    In my experience, there are three main motivations between modern liberalism…

    1) They want the government to provide for basic living standards for the poor.

    2) Paranoia. If not for the FDA and the President’s personal oversight, rich people would pour cyanide into the water supply, just for the fun of it.

    3) . The free stuff for everyone forever hurray puppies and rainbows welfare model. Essentially they want free stuff for themselves (even if not poor) and don’t understand or don’t care that said stuff has costs, even if it doesn’t have a market price.

    In all my back and forths with liberals,I usually try to propose a basically libertarian government/system that takes care of the basic needs of those that can’t do so themselves and who can’t be helped on a voluntary basis via a kind of federally administered empathy-market I’ve been tossing around. If they care about poor people, they’ll be OK with this model, because I’ve theoretically guaranteed the minimal living standards of the poor. If they’re motivated numbers two or three, then I think any kind of alliance between their brand of liberalism and libertarianism is probably impossible.

    • 1) We’re undergoing a secular shift into an economy where a small proportion of super-stars are going to have most of the wealth, hugely at the expense of the median american.

      This will, probably increase overall wealth. But it will be a bad development for the vast majority of people. Why would they ever agree to such a thing? But if the gains from growth are taxed and redistributed away from rich, then the whole thing becomes pareto-optimal, and we can let the pie grow.

      So it’s not about administering basic living standards for the poor. It’s about making sure that everyone gains from growth. Despite what libertarians sometimes think, there is no theoretical reason that an unfettered market would do that, and modern trends point in the simultaneousness rise in pre-tax income inequality in nearly every western country in the world.

      2) Rich people did dump toxic chemicals into our rivers and water supply for decades until the EPA stopped them. Not because they were evil, but because that was the cheapest way for them to dump toxic waste. Negative externalities exist.

      • Kewilson263

        On point one, why does it matter what the distribution of wealth is, once we guarantee basic necessities? On what basis do you think the government should intervene to correct the lopsided distribution, if no one is going to starve/freeze to death as a result?

        On point two, my issue wasn’t with the assertion that the wealthy/corporations sometimes violate peoples’ rights, it was that the paranoia surrounding this didn’t concern negative externalities, but the underlying belief that the wealthy are somehow evil, and must be punished merely for existing.

        • “On point one, why does it matter what the distribution of wealth is, once we guarantee basic necessities?”

          Basic utilitarian calculus. Marginal utility of wealth is quickly decreasing, and so it follows that aggregate utility is maximized at total income inequality, growth concerns aside(This is easy to prove mathematically). And so we should aim to make things as equal as we can without impacting growth. Considering that GDP per worker growth in the EU-15, the US, and Japan, from 1990 to 2010 was 30%, 31%, and 30%, it doesn’t seem that the growth-equality trade-off is very serious at current levels.

          That sentence is a bit dense and never convinces anyone, so I’ll be more clear: Government and our economy should exist for the good of the people. If we can take measures that can make most people better off, we should. Markets are means, not ends in and of themselves. This shouldn’t be controversial.

          “On point two, my issue wasn’t with the assertion that the wealthy/corporations sometimes violate peoples’ rights, it was that the paranoia surrounding this didn’t concern negative externalities, but the underlying belief that the wealthy are somehow evil, and must be punished merely for existing.”

          Honestly, it’s not the worst heuristic in the world. Libertarians can be naive about this, there are not many moral ways to make tons of money. Rich doctors make their money by purposely prescribing useless procedures, Executives make their money by corrupting governance structure and giving themselves raises. Personally speaking as someone who has worked in finance, basically all the real money is in using math to cover up fraud and regulatory arbitrage.

          Libertarians like to believe that we can set up perfect institutions that internalize every externality. Realistically, rich people have better lawyers, engage in regulatory capture, and greatly distort the political process. It’s institutionally more realistic to tax them and redistribute.

          Sure, you could say they’re all acting rationally to exploit flaws in the system. But so do car-thieves.

          • Kewilson263

            But for libertarians (without trying to presume for all under the banner) markets are ends in and of themselves, since they represent voluntary interactions between free individuals. Hence, even if a perfectly-functional single payer system could be designed, (most/all) libertarians would still support a free market health system, even if people were less healthy as a result.

            The rest of the post just seems to confirm/rationalize a bias against the wealthy, just because they are wealthy (and are therefore evil).

          • “But for libertarians (without trying to presume for all under the banner) markets are ends in and of themselves, since they represent voluntary interactions between free individuals. Hence, even if a perfectly-functional single payer system could be designed, (most/all) libertarians would still support a free market health system, even if people were less healthy as a result.”

            Right. That is to say, we care more about outcomes then ideological processes. This is different then your initial characterization.

            “The rest of the post just seems to confirm/rationalize a bias against the wealthy, just because they are wealthy (and are therefore evil).”

            I don’t see how you can actually dispute much of what I said. The easiest way to get tons of money is to exploit failings in the market-design and offload your costs to the public.

            Not to pick on Walmart, which I think is actually a fairly good corporate citizen as far as they go, but a good deal of their profit comes our wage subsidies via the EITC and Medicaid, their reliance on actual slave labor in China, and free-riding off of our interstate high-way system (Not funded at all by gas taxes, and trucks impose much higher ware and tear then normal cars because road damage is proportional to weight cubed).

            I’m not claiming rich people are especially evil. Just that they respond to incentives, and that these incentives are often not socially optimal. And that we’re much more likely to get good results from regulatory regimes then hoping that legislatures will magically create the perfect property paradigms.

          • Kewilson263

            “Right. That is to say, we care more about outcomes then ideological processes. This is different then your initial characterization. ”

            Well, no. Your outcomes (helping the poor and obtaining free stuff at public expense) are driven by your idealogy.

            “Not to pick on Walmart…”

            These are compelling arguments for ending subsidies, privatizing the road system, and making free trade agreements with China. Arent’ they?

          • “Well, no. Your outcomes (helping the poor and obtaining free stuff at public expense) are driven by your idealogy.”

            Well, no. It’s maximizing the living standards of as much of the population as possible.

            “These are compelling arguments for ending subsidies, privatizing the road system, and making free trade agreements with China. Arent’ they?”

            EITC and Medicaid: No, welfare is probably higher with these policies then with no transfer programs at all. They also encourage work, which has all sorts of positive externalities. It is an argument that we shouldn’t means-test social welfare programs.

            Road system: No. Network externalities make road privatization untenable and wasteful. Also, massive road construction is effectively impossible without eminent domain due to transaction costs. It happened in the 19th century because government was corrupt and looked the other way in the face of theft. Congestion pricing would be the way to go with that.

            Free trade agreements – All the free trade agreements in the world wouldn’t stop slave labor in China. I don’t actually see a good solution for that.

            But the larger point, and one you didn’t touch, is that while an inter-locking system of checks to internalize externalities and create perfect institutional arrangements is a first-best solution, it’s not a politically stable equilibrium.

          • Kewilson263

            Redistributing wealth in order to maximize living standards has nothing to do with ideology? I’m not sure that’s credible.

            Welfare spending is higher when we cut welfare spending.

            My understanding is that, though obviously impossible, private highways do in fact exist.

            Nothing is a politically stable equilibrium, so I tend not to hold that against much of anything.

          • AG

            If your contention is that the rich end up getting away with breaking the government rules and regulations, doesn’t it follow that they’ll get away with not paying the taxes?

            “there are not many moral ways to make tons of money.”
            I think that’s exaggerating a little….

        • Barry_D

          “On point one, why does it matter what the distribution of wealth is, once we guarantee basic necessities? On what basis do you think the government should intervene to correct the lopsided distribution, if no one is going to starve/freeze to death as a result?”

          We’ve already seen that a lopsided distribution of wealth is (a) poor for economic performance and (b) gives massive political power to the elites.

    • DannyK

      On #2, you’re presenting a straw man version of a common libertarian-liberal dispute, whether regulations are necessary or whether we can rely on the free market to keep oil companies from poisoning the Gulf, food manufacturers from selling tainted peanuts and refusing to recall them, etc.

  • DannyK

    What you present, Will, is a shrunken version of libertarianism that’s fostered by think-tanks; all the critiques of government overreach, none of the critiques of corporatism. That tamed version of libertarianism has nothing to offer liberalism, anyway.

  • It’s the consequence of fusionism that there will be ongoing liberal-libertarian trust issues. And trust seems like the problem with #7. If a libertarian seems ready to make a deal for deregulation plus tax-financed redistribution, but remains ideologically opposed to redistribution, why should a liberal trust that he won’t pull the football away at the last minute?

    Mostly I buy the argument that liberal-libertarian fusion might work if libertarians and liberals talk about things they agree about rather than focusing on the things they can’t. Phrasing your political ideology in terms of disagreement is no way to build common cause.
    http://timothyblee.com/2010/07/14/liberaltarianism-in-practice/

    • Barry_D

      ” If a libertarian seems ready to make a deal for deregulation plus tax-financed redistribution, but remains ideologically opposed to redistribution, why should a liberal trust that he won’t pull the football away at the last minute?”

      Also, that’s generally been the way that politics work out. Cut part of the safety net, and a few years later right-wingers and libertarians are calling for (and generally getting) more cuts from the new baseline. Deregulate, and ditto; cut taxes (as much for the rich as corrupt politics allows, which is quite a bit), and ditto.

      Trash the financial system and the right/libertarians explain it away and fight attempts to re-regulate and to increase taxes on the elites to even slightly pay for the damage.

      The only significant improvement in the safety net for decades was healthcare reform, and where were libertarians on that?

      See: http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/are-we-at-the-completion-of-the-liberal-project/ for more details.

  • adamiani

    “It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.”

    Um.
    Modulo protection for safety, what do you think the liberal program for the last twenty years has been?
    I think we’re moving away from that point now, as the post-tax distribution appears to have grown disturbingly more and more damned.

  • ten

    What is the currently most popular libertarian “solution” to the problem of the historical fact that much (most?) of current physical resource control is causally linked back to ill gotten gains (unjust initial acquisition)?

    Is the one time equal distribution that Nozick sketched popular? Or is there some other solution in vogue in libertarian circles? Or is the issue just being systematically dodged?

  • Luis Enrique

    it seems trivial to me that taxation is coercive, and that organizing things via taxation has advantages in certain settings, and one should use taxation until these advantages balance are offset by the cost of coercion. Trivially, if a coercive tax of $x could produce a benefit of $X, and if x was small enough and X was big enough, there’d be nothing to argue about. All that’s left is haggling over the price, as they say.

    people in polarized debates famously don’t spend enough time looking at the strengths of their opponents arguments and the weaknesses of their own. Liberals don’t spend enough time thinking about how government can be the worst answer, libertarians don’t spend enough time thinking about when it is the best answer.

  • urstoff

    The keys to maximizing growth run directly counter to a lot of liberals’ intuitions about the justice of markets. They often view fluid labor markets as unjust, not to mention the lack of corporate or capital gains taxes, or the absence of a minimum wage. Even reducing the barriers to certain fields runs counter to some commonly held views that licenses are there to protect the consumer rather than insulate the practitioner from competition. So, basically, all the stuff that Friedman harped on 50 years ago is still viewed as abhorrent by lots of modern liberals.

  • joseph

    Two possible reasons why some on the left do not embrace this.

    1. Not all regulations are aimed at redistribution of wealth. No matter how fair an after-tax distribution of income is, it won’t fix a corrupt and lax regulatory body of say, I don’t know, letting a foreign company dump tons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Or what about derivatives regulation? I mean, that might have some ultimately (and minor) redistributive effects, but the main idea behind that is “let’s not crash our economy,” not “let’s redistribute wealth.”

    Now, you could argue that eliminating unions and making up for it with redistribution of income could offset each other but only to an extent. After all, if we just entirely eliminated all workplace regulation, that would probably result in some who work in the blue-collar industries getting seriously injured or killed (considering it happens even now with regulation), which (needless to say) redistribution will never fix.

    2. The thing I find jumping out at me is also the paternalism/authoritarianism covertly lurking beneath the surface here. Let’s imagine we say “To hell with unions, we’ll be efficient and fund social insurance more.” Well, great, until a politician who likes the “no unions” bit but doesn’t like the “social insurance” bit gets elected – what happens then? I think on a more fundamental level, there’s something valuable in having a certain level of control over your own situation. Maybe you’d prefer social insurance if you’re literally starving, but if you’re just “poor” without being destitute, I think having a direct hand in redistribution has intrinsic benefits. Also, as a practical matter, how do you propose getting rid of things like unions? Outlawing them is an explicit violation of the 1st Amendment, and beyond that, pretty much every private/unofficial effort to destroy them has already been made and hasn’t quite killed them off.

  • joseph

    Also, one thing to point out: most of these European systems that people claim are “liberaltarian” (aka ordoliberal, etc. whatever) have very high union rates and also tend to have far more worker control than we do over here. Traditional Republican-party conservatives are going to be left in the dust, soon and I think this liberaltarian coalition will become a major force in the coming years but it’s not the end of the story – we still need to have an important debate about hierarchy, inequality, authoritarianism and democracy.

  • Liberals and Libertarians have been working in tandem for generations. See: http://www.Libertarian-International.org