Are Social Issues Economic Issues?
I’m not sure that I fully endorse this (although I certainly agree with most of it, especially in the first half), but I think Simon K is on to something when he comments:
The more I think about it, the less I accept the division of policy into “economic” and “social” issues where libertarians are meant to agree with conservatives on economic issues and liberals on social issues.
This just isn’t correct for any kind of consistent, principled libertarianism. For a start, many conservatives are nationalists and nationalists hold many positions that are just inconsistent with libertarian positions on “economic issues” – for example they believe in restraining free trade, subsidising exports and manipulating the dollar for trade-related reasons.
Immigration is an even more interesting. Is it an economic issue or a social issue? A good (and very conservative) friend of my recently tried to convince me it was a national security issue and therefore off the table for any kind of reform other than tightening border security.
Or defense spending for that matter. Most conservatives seem to favour “strong defense” which in practise means maintaining bases and even invading armies in places with tenuous connections to the national interest and no relation at all to anything you can call defense without causing George Orwell to spin in his grace. Libertarians do not – or at least should not – favour this.
Even on the supposed core of conservative/libertarian agreement, I don’t believe the agreement is or ever has been all that close. Consider taxes. Both conservatives and libertarians want low taxes, but there’s a huge divergence on precisely which taxes to lower and how. If libertarians are being true to their principles they should prefer taxes than are as non-distorting as possible and as close as possible to being voluntary. Conservatives, on the other hand, want to manipulate the tax structure to promote their favoured activities just as much as liberals do.
And lets consider the other side of the coin – I’m not sure where this idea that the gulf between liberals and libertarians is unbridgeable has come from. In spite of what some of the commenters here believe, the goal of liberal policy is not in fact to introduce central planning. To the extent liberals differ from libertarians on “economic issues”, they just believe the state has a role in enforcing labor and consumer standards and in regulating the overall frameworks of markets. Yes, there are people who want more than that – those people are called socialists, not liberals, and there are essentially no socialists in American politics. If you can’t tell the difference its you, not the liberals, who are out on the extremes.
The interesting thing about this disagreement is that it isn’t really one of principle for liberals. If libertarians could present a credible argument for how, say, drug safety or labor standards could be enforced without the state there’s no particular reason liberals would not go for it. As it is libertarian responses to these questions generally have an Underpants Gnomes quality to them: “Abolish government” ???? “Self enforcing labor standards”.
The basic thing I’m getting at here is this: Libertarianism is a restriction on means – in particular the non-violation of various rights. Modern liberalism is largely about one particular end – the maximization as far as possible of everyone’s positive liberty, There is no fundamental inconsistency between these ideas.
Implicit in this is what I was trying to get at in my post, which is that the long-standing affiliation with the Right has cause libertarians to quite often accept the way in which the Right frames the Left, and view the Left through that prism.