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.

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