Liberaltarian Q & A session


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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87 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I haven’t read it yet, though I’m stoked to (I’m at a bar [or was when I first wrote this]), but in any case mad props to E.D. for what looks like an amazingly thorough effort to address these questions on the front page; close to midnight PDT on a Friday (almost bartime CDT, or Madison, Wis, anyway).

    I’ll certainly fully agree with him on one point (made elsewhere) at this juncture: there really is no place like The League, y’all. There just isn’t.

    [An aside re: LoOG Beer Week. It’s funny: I am [or was when I initiallywrote this on my phone which cannot keep webpages current long enough to be able to post a longish comment – I’m current;y re-typing at home] at one of the establishments (or very near one) that Balloon Juice’s John Cole blogged from on hi recent sojourn through Madison. I’ve transitioned through a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA ( into a Stone Brewing Co. Arrogant Bastard Ale ( while checking the site and writing this placeholder. I’m not sure which to recommend more highly hops-lovers or even hops-likers. The 60-Minute is crisper and more refreshing (a great late-summer/early-fall option as opposed to its 90- and 120- Minute big brothers), while the Arrogant Bastard is thicker, richer, and darker. The 60 Minute is a truly fine beer: just a magnificent IPA with all the punch and pop of the traditional IPA, but then featuring a dangerously smooth finish. I honestly can’t think of a more refined yet refreshing hoppy beer: it’s an IPA you’ll want to drink all night. Arrogant Bastard, meanwhile, is that rare hoppy beer that has real body, depth and complexity. As the humble people at Stone contend at the link above, “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” And it’s true that it is is pretty in your face, but it is quite worth readying the palette for. In any case, unless it’s just your cup of tea, you’ll only need one to judge from.]

    In any case, I’m quite impressed with Erik’ prductivity at this time (a few hours hence now) on a Friday. I’m excited to look over his thoughts during the weekend, even though I’m rather less attached to the project in question than some others around the League. I’d be thrilled if the exchange perhaps led to some clarification of the concept that those taken with it found helpful, regardless of my personal reaction to it. Cheers!Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew, I’d second both those recommendations. I had the IPA at a friend’s bachelor pub crawl last summer and it was great. I’d forgotten about arrogant bastard, which I used to love when I was living in Virginia. I’m going to see if either are available in Ontario.Report

  2. Avatar Will H. says:

    I don’t see it as unusual.
    I grew up in New Mexico. This is the 5th largest state, and has a population some 30,000 less than the Kansas City metro area.
    The people from any inland Western state tend to be more libertarian than in other parts of the country.
    When I lived there, most of the people that identified themselves as ‘Libertarian’ tended to be more of the anarchist type.
    So, although people are comfortable holding those beliefs, they tend to be a bit more wary of the label.
    iirc, most libertarians tended to be leftists until the 80’s or so. Somehow, libertarianism became associated with the Right.
    That doesn’t really seem natural to me.
    And the Tea Party influencing the public opinion on libertarianism is something difficult to take. Seems like they’re more a bunch of cranks with an ax to grind. Were they truly libertarian, they would hold other beliefs in common with libertarians.

    As for:
    Is it alive?
    Well, what is Life? And how do we measure it?
    How can we tell if one thing is more alive than another?

    I would say liberaltarianism is, at present, a loose and somewhat distrustful coalition that has the potential to grow into a true movement.
    Not that it really matters.
    In a way, it’s more of a line of demarcation, a sub-set.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

      @Will H., And to expand on this, consider the following:
      I realize this is a holdover from the Colonial days, but if you’re down on your luck in NM, you go to the mission. You don’t go to City Hall.
      I think that people in the East tend to rely on government more, because that’s the only institution they’re familiar with.
      Neighbors coming out for a branding doesn’t happen too much in New York, I don’t think.Report

    • Avatar Travis in reply to Will H. says:

      I don’t really find the “West/libertarian” theories persuasive at all. Any history of the American West will show that its development was only made possible by government intervention and investment.

      The claims of being “self-sufficient” and “independent” ring hollow in places like Nevada — whose entire history is essentially that of a colony, economically reliant on federal water projects, military bases and subsidized highways. The Bureau of Reclamation was created by act of a Silver State congressman.

      Or take Alaska, whose “libertarian” residents proudly demand that government get off their backs while simultaneously begging Uncle Sam for even more federal investments.

      The West’s purported libertarianism is skin-deep. They don’t want the government telling them what to do, but they want the government to pay for everything they do.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Travis says:

        @Travis, Good call.
        They don’t want the government telling them what to do, but they want the government to pay for everything they do.
        No, not really.
        They want the mining and oil industries to pay for an awful lot of it.
        In NM, the state owns all mineral rights, which it sells out in 50 yr. leases.

        And NM in particular, it’s always been a military outpost. It’s gone a bit high-tech these days.
        I would like to see a study that shows the amount of military armament per head of cattle. That should tell the story.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will H. says:

          @Will H., Wouldn’t you say it’s a near-certainty that the very federal military personnel who staff the armament facilities of which you speak themselves identify with the Western Independent-Libertarian mythos we’re looking at?Report

          • Avatar Will H. in reply to Michael Drew says:

            @Michael Drew, Definitely, at least 80 to 90% of them.
            And so do the miners and the oil men.

            The thing is, Democrats are not unpopular, if we’re talking about Blue Dogs.
            I grew up in a town of 63 people, with two paved roads (except for the refinery), and there was a state trooper that drove through town once a week– that was it as far as the police force was concerned. The next town over was maybe 15 miles away, and you were pretty much expected to take care of yourself, except in the most dire of circumstances. Call the sheriff if you want, but don’t expect him to show up any time soon.
            As the Proverbs has it, “A neighbor near at hand is better than a brother far away.”Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Here’s a definition I can buy into. If Liberaltarianism is perhaps simply the notion that there is less difference between modern liberalism and libertarianism than traditional adherents of either camp tend to assume or believe there is, then I’m right there, even though that still allows that there might be/are FUNdamental differences between the two. I’m cool with that.Report

  4. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I’d generally second most of what E.D. writes above. One thing he doesn’t address is the shared history of liberalism, which I tend to find maybe more important than most. Any time at or before John Stuart Mill, we have great difficulty untangling the threads of intellectual ancestry, if it’s even possible at all.

    The one thing I would disagree with in the strongest possible terms in the above is tangential. “Private” prisons are no such thing. When the government has a monopoly on imprisoning people (which I agree that it should), and when it licenses that monopoly out to a private company, it has created a monopoly, in the classical sense of the word.

    Monopolies to the classical liberals were not the result of dominance in a free market. They were the result of the state declaring that only one company could be in a given line of business in a given area. And they were abhorrent.

    That’s what private prisons are, and if more “libertarians” knew their own intellectual ancestry, they would know that state-granted monopolies were among the things most reviled by the liberals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And they’d know the reasons for this, which were (and are) overwhelmingly strong.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      “Any time at or before John Stuart Mill, we have great difficulty untangling the threads of intellectual ancestry, if it’s even possible at all.”

      This is a very good point. And the meaning of it is clear, at least for me. The New Deal/welfare state really does change things. Ever since then, the dominant energy behind modern liberalism has been toward the perceived completion of the welfare state.

      As things stand now, there’s no common ground between liberals and libertarians remotely as powerful as commitment of liberals to the welfare state. That has a lot of consequences for this liberaltarianism if such a beast ever gets off the ground (and for me, none of them are good).Report

  5. Avatar silentbeep says:

    Ok not to rain on kain’s parade but if anyone wants fuller answers to some of michaels questions go to will wilkinson’s blog. he has been writing a bunch of liberaltarian “what is this thing?” posts since last year. additionally i am hoping the book he is writing with brink about liberaltarianism is still a go.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to silentbeep says:

      @silentbeep, I do say pretty explicitly that I’m probably not the one to ask you know.Report

      • Avatar Silentbeep in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        @E.D. Kain, sure i just did now want to come across like “yeah everyone should just listen to wilkinson anyway.” for the purpose of getting hopefully more complete answers wilkinsons blog is pretty good – but i think you are making some good contributtions to the conversation.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to silentbeep says:

      @silentbeep, Wilkinson pretty clearly just says he wants to make liberals more libertarian-minded by convincing them the way to their goals are by his means. A ‘scheme of persuasion’ as I call it in the comment quoted in this post. That’s perfectly fine, but from what I can see, on his account liberaltarianism is just libertarians making their case to liberals, not any new thing.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @Michael Drew, It’s certainly possible that I’ve missed some part of his vision, though.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @Michael Drew, Well here is where he and I might differ than. While I think that there is some truth to this – that some liberal ends are certainly served by libertarian means, I would also say that some libertarian ends are served by more liberal/progressive means. I would say this is especially true of safety nets. A strong welfare apparatus allows for better markets, a more stable labor force, etc. So it works both ways. Perhaps this project is partly about striking that balance as well as reconciling these two strains of liberalism.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          @E.D. Kain, Mark argues this but openly admits it makes him heterodox. But I’m not sure if he accepts his heterodoxy because he sees utility in the position regardless, or if he thinks the libertarian line on the matter should change to be like his.Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          “I would say this is especially true of safety nets. A strong welfare apparatus allows for better markets, a more stable labor force, etc.”

          I’m very skeptical of this, as you might guess. In any case, here’s a useful thought experiment. Do you have any ground-up idea for what the welfare state is supposed to do, and how much it should cost (ie, a priori of our various social welfare programs and their historical path)?

          I doubt it, in fact I’ve never heard of such thing myself. I think it’s fair to say that any analysis of our safety net programs occurs within the context of the panoply of programs that we have, and for liberals the answer is always more.

          In any case, it seems a little naive or disingenuous to bank the supposed benefits of safety nets/the welfare state when we have no real idea how much they cost or if it’s feasible to spend enough money to get them.Report

        • Avatar Simon K in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          @E.D. Kain, There’s an important difference between Liberal and Social Democratic arguments for safety nets, which often isn’t apparent in American politics because Liberals and Social Democrats vote for the same party (by and large) and don’t make up two distinct groups.

          Social Democrats support a thorough-going redistributive welfare state because they consider equality to be a good in and of itself because it promotes solidarity. This is not an argument that has ever gone down very well with the American public when stated baldly, but its tacit in some “liberal” arguments. It is, for instance, about the only reason to prefer single-payer healthcare over a hybrid public/private system with a public option, and yet a good number of Democratic voters do prefer that.

          Liberals, on the other hand, support some kind of welfare state as a force for stability, to prevent anyone falling into total destitution, and to ensure that everyone is provided for against certain risks. Liberals generally do not have much time for solidarity or equality of outcome, and therefore don’t particularly favour redistribution or preventing people from spending their own money.

          The distinction is important because libertarians, if they’re being consistent in applying the non-aggression principle, should oppose government programs to the extent that they’re involuntary and should therefore put social insurance programs like unemployement and social security fairly low on their agenda.

          While clearly paying taxes is not voluntary, in the absence of social insurance schemes for unemployment, disability, old age, chronic ill-health, etc run by the government we would need to have private substitutes, which in order to work actuarially would end up looking very similar and having almost universal subscription, with the hold-outs taking an almost unbelievably stupid risk.

          While not coercing people into not being stupid is right in principle, it ought to be pretty low on the priority stack when compared with foreign wars, police shooting people, police shooting dogs, the state licensing of barbers, and …. well, almost everything else.. You can put it above the abolition of speed limits and helmet laws if you like. In most cases of state coercion after all, the state isn’t merely coercing people into doing things that are almost certainly in their future self interest, but coercing them into doing things that are almost certainly not in their self interest under any circumstances.

          But I’d never argue that the current welfare state in the US is a perfect liberal welfare state. Its clearly an extremely untidy compromise between liberal and social democratic goals, made even more untidy by selective conservative opposition to the bits that redistribute money to people who aren’t sufficiently old and white. Libertarian energies might be better used proposing reforms of the system to make it less coercive by more nearly matching it to people’s needs rather than proposing its wholesale abolition, a line that would go down significantly better with liberals as long as it was done in good faith.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Simon K says:

            @Simon K, I agree entirely, Simon. What I’m searching for is somewhere in between the two. Stronger safety nets than a minimilast liberal state, but not quite so burdensome as the social democracies. The right balance should lead to a society ready for the freest markets, most mobile labor force, confident, prosperous, etc.Report

            • Avatar Simon K in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              @E.D. Kain, Yes, I agree – the minimum that I think most libertarians should be prepared to buy into is probably a bit too minimal for me personally, although I could live with it if we got the other benefits of a more libertarian political settlement.

              I think an ideal set of safety nets would be sufficient to allow each person to exercise their best talents to the full, but not so generous as to blunt the incentive to do so. I’m quite tempted by the idea of trying to get the private sector involved, since they’re generally much better than governments at assessing particular circumstances and designing incentives around them, but I have some liberal skepticism about the advisability of that.Report

  6. Avatar silentbeep says:

    Also i recommend an old bloggingheads episode from feb 09 with jonah goldberg and wilkinson where. It is mostly will explaining what the liberaltarian concept is about and jonah challenging him on thay from a conservative viewReport

  7. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    The problem is that basic libertarian principles are not compatible with modern liberalism. Libertarianism is a stand alone political philosophy which if water down to become liberal-compliant is nothing but modern liberalsim. Modern liberals have supported the “leftist” agenda, and until they can turn away from progressivism, there is no commonality with libertarianism. Wilkinson and Lindsey are not libertarians — they are liberals who are have problems with some aspects of progressivism, and that’s okay — but they aren’t libertarians, and calling them liberaltarians is not helpful — it just adds to the confusion. Libertarianism itself is good enough to stand on and promote, even with diverse views among libertarians, and it doesn’t need to be folded into modern liberalism or conservativism. The non-coercion principle is the distinguishing factor — the societal goals might be similar between liberals and libertarians, but the methods to find solutions are incompatible. These different influences in the political realm will battle for prominence, and one will become a unifying force — conservativism and modern liberalism have failed — if libertarianism is co-opted by modern liberalism, it’s the end of libertarianism, and that will be the end of the freedom movement, I fear. Libertarianism has a chance to become the unifying influence to empower the private sector and end the rule of the few elite, powerful interests.Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I know that this is hardly the stuff of a political philosophy or even of a political realignment, but something needs to be said about how difficult it is to talk to conservatives lately.

    I mean, look at me… I’m openly gay and married to a dude. I’m a foreign policy dove. I think the good old American judiciary system is perfectly competent to try terrorists, and that torture is never acceptable (we have laws against it, you know). I think secret prisons, secret trials, secret evidence, and secret sentences are the stuff of tyranny, not the American way.

    For this, I don’t get disagreement from conservatives. I get demonization. My gay marriage is destroying civilization. That I don’t care for pre-emptive war makes me a terrorist. That I believe in the old fashioned judicial system makes me doubly so. And probably a secret Muslim too.

    It’s impossible for me to have remotely a sane conversation with the American right.

    On the left, people think my economic ideas are woefully naive, but then, the feeling is mutual, and we can at least talk.

    This doesn’t mean we’ll agree on a lot. But if I just want to talk, I know where I have to go.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, I know that feeling all too well.
      This might help you to feel better about things:

      On the question of where I place myself on the political spectrum,… I have the same political philosophy I’ve always had–basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-C conservatism. But I am no longer a member of the Republican Party and no longer consider myself part of the “conservative movement.” That’s not because I changed, but because I believe that they have. The Republican Party of today is not the party of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan that I was once a member of; it stands for nothing except the pursuit of power as an end in itself, with no concern whatsoever for what is right for the country. In a recent interview with The Economist magazine, I characterized the Republicans as the greedy, sociopathic party. I stand by that….

      When clowns like Glenn Beck are its leaders and right-wing bigots pander to ignorant yahoos about a planned mosque in lower Manhattan, I want to be as far away from any such movement as I possibly can. And readers of this blog know what I think of the know-nothing tea party movement, which conservatives have latched onto en masse.

      As for destroying Civilization, don’t worry about it so much. Civ V is due out later this year. 😉Report

    • @Jason Kuznicki,
      That’s what I was saying earlier, that the alliance between most libertarians and liberal is social. And I agree that true conservatives are too righteous in their Christian-influenced beliefs, but I detect a new strain on the right which is tolerant of gays, fed up with wars and really wants to get back to the business of America which is business — they are compassionate for the pligt of the poor and will help in any way they can — they are not as political as the partisan conservatives. I converse with them just fine. It’s like on the left, there are leftists who are closed reason due to partisanship.Report

    • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, I agree whole heartedly with your second paragraph and I think you would be suprised how much we agree on other things. What is your opinion of farm subsidies? What is your opinion of the 45 billion dollar tax break for the oil depletion allowance to the big oil companies? What is your opinion of the heavy diesel used to transport cheap goods from China? What is your opinion of tax breaks to the corps that move jobs to China? Now where we probably differ, what would you do with the money saved?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to dexter45 says:


        There was a time when farm subsidies were pitched as a way of saving the American family farm. This is a sick joke nowadays, when farm subsidies shovel money toward already wealthy corporations, while impoverishing the developing world. Abolish them all.

        The tax break on the oil depletion allowance is a subject I’m not familiar enough with to have an opinion. Same with the heavy diesel in China.

        Tax breaks for corporations that move jobs to China aren’t automatically a bad thing — an unstable China is a dangerous thing for the United States, and the amount of trade we do with them is only going to increase in the future. And when jobs are destroyed in favor of cheaper consumer and/or intermediate goods, there is a tradeoff that we aren’t likely wise enough to rule on. Let the market decide. But I’d like an example to have more to go on.

        Ideally, and speaking strictly a priori, taxes are as uniform as possible across industries and from one corporation to the next. Tax breaks suggest favoritism.

        Should we save any money, what would I do with it? Money is fungible. It will be done with as the deficit demands. But I suspect that I could and would cut more spending than I would lower taxes at the moment. It’s not politically popular, but the long-term problem is more on the spending side in my understanding.Report

    • @Jason Kuznicki, I would tend to agree with Mike Farmer that there is some strain of the right that is not as uptight about gay marriage as one would expect. As another gay guy married to a dude, I have met conservatives who don’t like me, but I’ve also met others that don’t care. I think we conflate the Tea Party to be conservatism itself when there are many conservatives that don’t toe that kind of party line.Report

  9. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    From my perspective, the “libertarianism” project seems to strike only superficial connections between libertarians and the left. As I explained a bit further here, conservatives and libertarians tend to find a lot of common ground in their respective theories of jurisprudence. Not a perfect fit, of course. But at least they each have a theory of jurisprudence.

    And Jason, I’m a little surprised to find you complaining about being “demonized” by the right after you accused me of racism and sexism simply for engaging in discussion about originalist jurisprudence. I’m still waiting for a response to my question posed to you, by the way. After all, I’m always looking for a “sane conversation”—even if it may only be “remotely” so.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      @Tim Kowal,

      I merely pointed out one very direct implication of your post, as it was written. If the 14th Amendment applies only to the people its framers had in mind, then many sexist and racist laws (but not those against blacks) become constitutionally defensible.

      The implication was so correct that you even posted a retraction, which I promptly and graciously acknowledged. So don’t come back crying now about how mean I was.

      And you’re waiting for what, exactly? Checks on the judiciary? Do you need me to walk you through these? The reason I didn’t bother replying to your “I’m still waiting” bit was that I thought any answer I gave might appear patronizing. I presume you don’t need a high school civics lesson.Report

      • @Jason Kuznicki,
        Your earlier comment complained that you had been personally “demonized” by conservatives—for example, conservatives accuse you personally, by virtue of your same-sex marriage, of “destroying civilization.” If this is true—and I do not question your sincerity—I find such personal “demonization” by conservatives, or anyone else, to be lamentable, uncharitable, and wrong. For my part, I am an advocate of traditional marriage, but I would never, ever make any such grotesque implication to anyone personally. Ideas have implications that are often unintended and undesirable. It is the job of discourse and debate to expose such implications such that the idea’s progenitor may determine whether the idea should be clarified, amended, or abandoned. This process would be stymied by over-heated emotions if, instead of attributing unintended implications to the idea, discussants attributed the unintended implications to their opponents directly.

        And yet, in responding to my post about originalism, Jason, you did just this by suggesting that I, personally, was a racist and a sexist by adhering to originalism, in that I “would be very happy to defend” racist and sexist laws. I do appreciate the opportunity to clarify that I adhere to the far more common subset of originalism that adheres to the original public meaning, rather than the more unusual strain that adheres to subjective intent. I simply point out that, given your admitted distaste for personal attacks from conservatives, it was odd that you would dole out personal attributions of racism and sexism against me. Not only was it unordinarily ungentlemanly, it apparently does not meet even your own admitted expectations of civil discourse.

        At any rate, I’m happy to leave the whole thing alone, as you wish.

        Finally, as to my outstanding question, I will agree to your stipulation that I do not need a high school civics lesson, and will thus consider my question as to the limits of the Court’s interpretive power —however meager the proposed limits might seem—as having been answered.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          @Tim Kowal,

          I also accused you of being willing to support laws against “organ donors, Israeli-Americans, and anyone who has ever worn polyester,” among many others.

          The silly examples, along with several qualifiers — words like “apparently” and “perhaps” — established the tone of the piece, I thought, as jocular. I am sorry that it did not come across that way.Report

  10. Avatar Lee says:

    I think this post inadvertently demonstrates the problem with “liberal-tarianism” (apart from its horrible, horrible name): it’s that it seems to be entirely a creation of bloggers and pundits. Who is the electoral constituency for such an ideology? And who is going to fund the liberaltarian thinktanks, etc.? The reason Cato and the like get so much money is because businessmen hate taxes and regulation more than they care about “social” issues.Report

  11. Avatar Jon says:

    Vote Dem – fewer lies, more liberties and real goodies for you

    Libertarians have been kept on board the GOP since Reagan by Big Lie. He could get away with it because he was one of you. But that didn’t keep him and his successors from lying bigtime. Frum has just pointed out that Romney’s trouble was that he couldn’t lie well – while Obama only needed to exxagerate. Some selected lies:

    o GOP small government and low taxes: the GOP reality, checkable by google, has been gummint just as big or even slightly bigger than (D). The tax cuts were strictly short term, and needed paying with, gee, still higher taxes due to bond interest. There is no small government party – just one that pays the US’ credit card via higher taxes, and one that doesn’t.

    o More GOP Freedoms: consider the actual record of the Obama and Clinton Administrations vs Bush’. Which started Gitmo, tortured, and started treating you like a peasant at the airports? Notice, neither Clinton nor Obama were into regulating firearms, contra to the GOP lies. We dems aren’t perfect, but do have a better record on liberties.

    o Economics I: GOP ideas of letting elites be free from regulation is tempting to libertarians, of course; but, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. This very crisis was far worsened by elite moneyed misbehavior. Countryside saw nothing wrong with a bizplan that needed real estate to always rise. Wall Street failed to keep reasonable margin ratios. The very same Wall Street failure helped start the Great Depression, hmm…. No, real people need real accountability.

    o Economics II – If regulation’s bad for business, why are the most-regulated regions of the country also the most prosperous? That’s because a well regulated market can have higher value by being more trusted and having better goods that sell for more.

    o Building Up Little Enemies – The GOP’s always on about how minor enemies and threats are about to blow your house down so you’ll keep voting for the Big Mil Spenders and not mind giving up liberties Terror’s a real threat, but less so than driving. Iran and North Korea are, of course, small countries, with small attached threats. And there’s nothing to be gained in the fight against terror by giving up freedoms. I felt Bush’ security theater and talk about how Americans need reassurance was an insult to the actual record of thorough American bravery on 9/11. But our real biggest enemy is US, for building up big debts for the future and having made so many choices to take away American liberties.

    o Racism: the GOP’s been catering sadly to racists deniably since Nixon, saying things that stoke racists like about the non mosque not actually next to the exWTC. But, they can’t even deliver on moving antiracism back much because they’d lose their moderates ;-).

    Meanwhile, Dems are better for the little guys, like the many farmers and ranchers who need lots of help. We’re also better at delivering the current tech frontiers, notably the GOOD education needed there today.

    Let me repeat – vote Dem, I say – fewer lies, more liberties, and real goodies for you.Report

  12. Avatar 62across says:

    E.D. –

    I think you hit it there at the end as I also would challenge the idea that liberaltarianism requires an ontology or that there needs to be anything more than a loose coalition. I believe the question is quite simple and the answer lies exclusively with those who consider themselves libertarian.

    Libertarians can’t get anything done by themselves. There simply aren’t enough of them. Their political influence comes from swinging between the predominant forces in American politics. So libertarians will have three choices:

    1. If dogmatic, they’ll align with the right. Though there is every indication that libertarian influence is waning on the right as it trends toward greater militarism and greater corporatism, they’ll accept that in order to secure the lower tax rates and deregulation they consider paramount.

    2. If pragmatic, they’ll align with the left. Though there is ample evidence that libertarian influence is gaining on the left (see the link to Scott Sumner in your earlier post that Michael commented on), they’ll have to accept that the left will still push government solutions at times in order to achieve their shared economic and social goals.

    3. If purist, they’ll stand alone. Though they will be mostly irrelevant, they’ll at least feel principled as they stand around naysaying everything.Report

    • Avatar Bubbaquimby in reply to 62across says:

      You forgot a 4th option.

      Align with both the left and right when it’s convenient. Align with the left on civil liberties, foreign policy and social issues. Align with the right on economic policies and most judicial decisions.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Bubbaquimby says:

        @Bubbaquimby, if they want to achieve their economic goals, that is stable, freer markets, they’ll align with the left on economic policy as well. The corporatists are a greater impediment to freer markets than the leftists are.Report

        • Avatar Bubbaquimby in reply to 62across says:

          @62across, I just don’t see that. Sure bloggers on the left might agree here or there but what about politicians and Democratic strategists?

          I know what you’ll say, that GOP is controlled by corporatist. While that is true, I can at least point out ones that aren’t. The Dems however have corporatists, union backers and wide-eyed idealists.

          Hell, I used to be a DLC Dem. That’s why I don’t think the left-libertarian alliance on economic policy will work. That’s the group that is supposed to be more respective of libertarian views. But it’s mostly corporatists who have to also go along with the expanded state.

          Although in some ways ED’s version is kind of like Clinton’s old Third Way policies with added libertarian foreign and civil liberties policies.Report

          • Avatar 62across in reply to Bubbaquimby says:

            @Bubbaquimby, please understand I’m not talking about aligning on economic views, but on goals like economic freedom and freer markets.

            Shrinking government spending in any meaningful way would require massive cuts to the military/security budgets and substantial entitlement reform. Which party is treating military and Medicare spending like it is sacred these days?

            Both parties have their share of corporatists, but which one considers today’s robber barons “captains of industry”?

            As I said, the dogmatic libertarians won’t find any friends in liberal circles, but the libertarians who actually want to get some of things they desire done are going to find common cause on the left.Report

    • Avatar Mike Farmer in reply to 62across says:

      There’s a third possibility, an it has to do with the 40-50% who don’t vote, and independents in general. If the libertarian philosophy can win the hearts and minds of a good majority of that 100 or so million, we can get representatives elected who will limit government — or start a viable third party.Report

    • Avatar Jon in reply to 62across says:

      they’ll have to accept that the left will still push government solutions at times in order to achieve their shared economic and social goals.

      …but, the right uses government solutions at least as often, in practice, as we lefties do.

      After all, the unfree airport checkpoints and higher NSA scrutiny are all GOVERNMENT solutions, aren’t they? The bigger security patronage than we lefties like to have is still more government, and plenty of it.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Jon says:

        @Jon, I agree the limited government rhetoric is categorically hypocritical on the right. That’s why you can never get a Republican to name specific cuts in spending instead their typical calls for across the board cuts.

        On the other hand, I find the true libertarians desire for limited government to be sincere. Still, as E.D. is saying, if libertarians can come to grips with where strong government is necessary to enable freer, stable markets, there is progress to be made.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to 62across says:

          @62across, I just noticed the odd counterpoint at play.
          Late 70’s – early 80’s, there were more people I knew that self-identified as ‘Mormon’ than as ‘libertarian;’ and those libertarians tended to be more of the anarchist strain.
          Over the past 30 years or so, that libertarian base moderated as the movement grew.
          Meanwhile, the conservatives seemed to take this as a sign that it was time to go off the deep end. I attribute a lot of this to the ascendancy of talk radio, which FOX news and their talking heads are somewhat an extension of.
          That is, the libertarians grew more sane while the conservatives were losing their sanity.
          I’m talking about the mainstream conservatives here. Most paleos tend to feel disenfranchised and are more receptive to libertarian ideals.Report

  13. Avatar Koz says:

    There’s at least two issues here. #1, the supposed lack of philosophical coherence for liberaltarianism, and #2 the wisdom of it (or lack thereof).

    A quick note wrt the second: liberaltarianism (and conventional liberalism) both flounder on the ground that the fundamental nature of our society is a product of public policy. It’s not. If anything it’s our culture that determines that, and especially if we intend to change things for the better.

    Erik speculates that liberals and libertarians can agree on the basic contours of what that society should look like. Furthermore libertarians might be willing to softplay their objections to statism to get there, because for the moment that’s more appealing for some libertarians than association with the Right. Because they’ve come to this agreement, both parties overlook the question of whether the liberaltarian program can do what Erik wants. Specifically, that we could choose to have Euro-style social democracy here if we chose to.

    I don’t think we can. In particular, one big lesson of our current economic problems is that we’ve run into pretty hard limits in the amount of control we can collectively assert over the capital base. The sort of thing Erik wants to try will require more assertion of collective control.

    For example, take the health care bill. No matter what Yglesias thinks about barber regulations, he was cheerleading the health care bill with all the other liberals. The idea that it wasn’t the bill they really wanted is completely hollow considering that it’s overwhelmingly likely that they couldn’t have passed anything else.

    Just because we might be willing to trade away property rights for the sake of accomplishing some supposedly worthy goal doesn’t at all mean that if we will accomplish said goal.Report

    • Avatar JFM in reply to Koz says:


      Culture always wins, but policy can affect culture. But the big things that effect culture are the most unsexy, like infrastructure.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to JFM says:

        Really? I’d say culture affects culture. Or to put it another way, if we want to change culture we ought to try that directly.

        But for the most part that requires forgoing the coercive power of the state, so liberals tend not to like it.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Koz says:


          Sure. Think of how radically different out culture would have been without interstate highways, or without the Federal Communications Commission. Geography is part of culture, changing the geography is changing the culture directly.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to JosephFM says:

            I’m not trying to say that public policy has no effect on culture. I’m saying we can’t create cultural change to our specification like we can pick the color of our car. This is in specific reference to the overall shape of economic/social relations.

            For example, I’d guess Erik would like to advocate for things like “the gap between the CEO and the lowest-paid employee should be 15:1 instead of 500:1.” Or, “we ought to make actual stuff instead of shuffling paper around.” These things are very resistant to change by fiat, especially change for the better.

            Therefore, in arguing for this or that end, we should bear closely in mind what [i]can[/i] be done.Report

  14. Avatar Bob says:

    Frank Rich,writing in today’s NYT, has this to say regarding the Libertarian vice presidential candidate David Koch positions in 1980:

    “When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed.”

    My question, is that an accurate description of Libertarian positions c.1980, and if so, to what extant do libertarians still advocate for those positions?

    • Avatar Mike Farmer in reply to Bob says:

      Relating his positions to his profit and taxes, as if he only cares about his personal business and not about the general principles involved, is ridiculous. It makes Koch, who will be rich under any regime, look like he went to all that effort to increase his personal wealth. Anyone who buys this is not thinking seriously.Report

  15. Avatar Koz says:

    This is an interesting post by Rufus here:

    It probably seems unrelated at first glance but I actually this it’s topical. A lot of the energy behind liberalism for otherwise apolitical people (and liberaltarianism) comes not from the coarseness of our culture, but those who are thought to represent it, ie, guys wearing wifebeaters at the 7-11.

    To a substantial extent I think this is misguided. If you can establish any kind of rapport at all, blue-collar males are the most reliable people in the world. For the most part, they have accepted the responsibility of earning their own living. For that, and the rough edges they sometimes have, they look foreign to us.Report

    • Avatar Katherine in reply to Koz says:

      Out of curiosity, how and why are blue-collar females less reliable or able to take responsibility for earning their living? Or, for that matter, white-collar people?Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Katherine says:

        Hmm, I guess there are a couple different things the way I meant it. Blue collar men are much more reliable, professionally and socially, than women in general. Women have to be somewhat motivated to do something at the time it’s supposed to be done or else they’ll simply rather do something else and do that instead. Blue-collar men are much more accountable about making arrangements, arrangements that you can be confident that will be carried out. Think of it this way: if someone tells you that so-and-so is a flake, do you suppose that it’s a man or a woman that they’re talking about?

        Blue collar men, in this particular economy, have also internalized the responsibility to earn a living better than white collar people, men and women. White collars are more likely to be hiding from the private sector, in graduate school, the government, etc. White collars are looking for refuge in our current economic troubles by finding employment where nobody ever gets fired. Blue collar men either build their reputation at a company or hustle from job to job or both.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Koz says:

          @Koz, i’ll go tell all the doctors, including the female ones, about all their imperfections you have noted. I almost started to list all the examples i have seen of exactly how silly and wrong you are…but i’ve allready spent to much time.

          Divide people into simplistic generalizations and stereotypes much.Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to Koz says:

      @Koz, I appreciate the link, but I’m not sure what you mean here. I come from a blue collar family, so I don’t associate hooliganism with blue collar men, or men with jobs, to be honest. My intention wasn’t to describe specifically blue collar culture, especially since I’ve seen the same behavior in yuppie districts and college towns. Also I wasn’t thinking about the shirts as much as drug addiction, petty crime, teenage pregnancy, drunken brawls, and so forth- which are common where I live now, but not in the other blue collar towns I’ve lived in.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Rufus says:

        It’s kind of a complicated subject, something that I think is related in important but indirect ways. As far as your post goes, I am in substantial agreement with your characterization of the state of things but I think that the consequences are different than where I’m guessing you’re heading with it. Specifically, my intuition is that gentleman-ness as it might have existed 80 or 200 years ago is a lost cause. Therefore, there is an underlying coarseness in our culture that’s not going away any time soon. That’s a loss, but on reflection it’s one we can live with ok. I wrote this in my sporadically-updated blog.

        In America, my sense is that hooliganism is a yuppie thing more than blue-collar, and has kind of comic undertones. For lower classes, it is rarer, more serious when it does happen and not at all funny at least for the people who are involved in it.

        As it relates to this thread, my theory is that a lot of the energy behind liberalism and liberaltarianism is the aesthetic parts of class difference; NASCAR, chewing tobacco, fat people, harsh or unmodulated speaking voices, etc.

        My point is, this apprehension is unwarranted. They will probably remain aesthetically foreign but they are nonetheless completely trustworthy.Report

        • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Koz says:

          @Koz, I have been sitting here for the last five minutes trying to deunmodulate my voice so I wouldn’t sound harsh when I realized my chaw had dripped on my fat ass. But what I really want to say is that blue collar women are very realiable and work as much as their men, and there is not one subgroup of people on the planet where all of them are completely trustworthy. Also, one of the richest people I know is a racist pig who is continually saying things that would be appropriate at a Klan meeting so I have to say that sometimes evil has money. Koz, you are one strange dude.Report

        • Avatar Rufus in reply to Koz says:

          @Koz, Right, well I agree with this actually- people who have jobs are much less likely to cause trouble and particularly those working labor who hardly have the energy to cause any trouble and, besides, have the sort of character that keeps them going to work in the morning. So I’m not disagreeing with anything you’re saying- I just think we’re discussing different things.

          My sense is that you’re alluding to something I’ve been thinking of posting on for a while- the alienation that some middle class liberals seem to feel from blue collar culture- the jokes about “‘murcans” or fat women at Wal-Mart or the like. I have heard those things among some liberals who probably could stand to meet someone like my father- who is, indeed, one of those men who gets up and works very hard every day.

          Instead, what I was thinking of was really just that everyone has something that offends them. To give an example, I saw a woman on the sidewalk not too long ago yelling at her child to “shut the fuck up” because the kid was a “stupid motherfucker”. The kid was about five. So that offended me and was alienating and I felt a tad repulsed. I think everyone, no matter how tolerant they are, experiences things like that.

          My point was just that liberals and libertarians have no way of articulating that repulsion with anything like the explanatory power of the conservative idea of cultural decline: that the culture as a whole is in decline and it’s due to permissive liberalism or 60s culture or secularism or all of the above. Instead, I think liberals and libertarians have to pass over such things in silence.

          But, before Jaybird or Jason points this out, I do think that libertarianism/liberalism is right in the observation that there is no political solution to that repulsion- no matter how many laws we pass or family values-supporting candidates we elect, there are still going to be people who scream at their children or leave their pregnant girlfriend or whatever. Human nature is flawed.

          So I think a small-c conservative answer is just to live your life in as upstanding a way you can and hope your example has some resonance. Really that was all I was trying to say.

          And, incidentally, I didn’t read your praise for working class men as a slight towards working class women.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to Rufus says:

            “My point was just that liberals and libertarians have no way of articulating that repulsion with anything like the explanatory power of the conservative idea of cultural decline:…”

            That’s probably true, but I don’t think they’re looking for a theory with explanatory power. The energy behind liberaltarianism is a visceral gut-level reaction outside of anything having to do with public policy: pure SWPL class solidarity.Report

          • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Rufus says:

            @Rufus, If you think there has been a cultural decline in the last few centuries, I suggest you read “Huckleberry Finn” and pay particularly close attention to the chapters with Pap in them. There has always been groundlings and people who feel superior to them. Also, I find most of the white trash votes republican and most of the black trash votes democrat.Report

  16. Avatar Katherine says:

    Now you’re just confusing me, E.D. Your ideal liberaltarian society is Scandanavian social democracy? I wouldn’t define that as libertarian by any stretch of the imagination, and I certainly wouldn’t consider movement in that direction as making liberalism “less leftist” – rather the opposite.

    What you’re advocating sounds more like pragmatic leftism than any form of libertarianism.Report

  17. Avatar CharleyCarp says:

    The first step in any rapprochement would be Libertarians giving up their propensity to slander Liberals and Liberalism. Based on the forgoing, I don’t see any reason to hope for this.Report

  18. Avatar Matty says:

    Out of interest, how much of this, would you consider liberaltarian in tone? Obviously some of it isn’t (I’m particularly unhappy with the immigration policy) and much is specific to the UK but the tone of cutting spending and regulation while trying to improve civil liberties strikes me as at least aiming in the direction you’re talking about.Report

  19. Avatar mattt says:

    Liberaltarianism has much potential for successful alliance on civil rights issues. However, the social safety net that is an essential (indeed dominating) concern for liberals, and libertarians’ inclination toward flat taxes, and low taxes in general and private solutions to safety net related problems, seem fundamentally incompatible.

    Another point worth noting is EDK’s engagement of comments. If he followed up his posts at B-J like this, he’d get along a lot better over there.Report