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December 05, 2006


Great Post - I so appreciate it when somebody puts in to words what I feel.

I used to be a libertarian. But I couldn't understand what a corporation is. Finally, when I figured out that a corporation is a license to not be personally responsible, I became a liberal.


I do think that some of the post-New Deal (i.e., Great Society) legislation was misguided, if well-intnetioned. Figuring out how to alleviate poverty and improve education are VERY hard issues, VERY hard, and interwtined. In many areas reporting requirements may have been onerous. OTOH, how else can you have self-regulation?

There is a real chance to set a new standard or paradigm with the kinds of legislation that will be needed tobegin to reverse global warming. I think there are enough in the Biz community who see the need for at least some cooperation. But fundalmentally, capitalism needs to be regulated because there are too many people whose greed outstrips their sense of community. Way too many. We need a combination of regualtion and less stress on materialism. Unfortunately, I suspect it will come about involuntarily when the Bush bubble bursts, but it will hit hardest the people who have the least, and if we are going to continue this soceiety, that will need to be addressed through more progressive tax policies.

John, that is great. My father explained corporate fiduciary responsibility to me at a young age. He built a career on it, but it is now a lost idea, to say the least.

Great essay. You nailed it. Libertarianism is glorified selfishness. Hardly much else to add. It sums up Milton Friedman's philosophy of life, and fingers what was so objectionable about him, despite his true genius as an economist. Scratch a libertarian deeply enough and you will find a racist. When pushed, they will retreat to a position based on inherited genetic differences; some when pushed a little harder will even go back to the point that this is all part of God's plan.

Thanks again. Your essay is a gem.

As a Small Government, Civil Libertarian that actual enjoys having a functioning society, I realize that compromises in my idealogy must be made. Since it's much easier to pay a little tax than regain a little lost freedom, I see no problem supporting Democrats.

I do try to:

1) Support government programs where the government can be more efficient/equitable in providing the service than the free market. i.e. Defense, Roads, Public Safety, Education, and yes, Health Care.

2). Support free markets where they more efficiently supply services i.e. almost everything else.

3). Oppose the anti-libertarian aspects of liberalism i.e. Nanny State initiatives, Speech Crimes, criminalization of voluntary behavior.

Within these general guidelines, I have no problem being a Liberaltarian.


I like that, Liberaltarian.

The other problem with these discussions is that there is no way to put self-identified liberatarians onto their island so they can really understand just how much benefit they derive from government. Ed, to his great credit, recognizes that the government really does provide a handy thing called security, of all sorts. But most libertarians I know believe they actually would prefer a world with no cops, no militaries, and no road upkeep. I guess they haven't traveled to places where such a condition exists.

And then there's the little issue of mortgage deductions, the sacred item that all three--conservatives, liberals, and libertarians like to presume comes with the state of nature. For liberals, it ought to be a subsidy of the middle class that is unavailable to the poor (it works as a regressive entitlement). Conservatives somehow tend to forget the mortgage deduction when they call for a flat tax. And libertarians (well, many of them) just think it's their due, to be able to buy a bigger house than they otherwise could.

Most of the self-decribed Libertarians I encountered in a graduate program that included some economics were sheltered, mostly upper-middle-class, largely ignorant of history, and therefore didn't really understand the interconnectedness either of history or community. They embraced the "efficiency of the free market" they learned in introductory economics and somehow overlooked lessons of externalities, market power, imperfect information, other market failures, etc. Nobody who actually studied economics, or was familiar with government or history, took them at all seriously.

And as to "liberaltarians," I guess there's no point in arguing labels with someone who's mostly a political ally, but in my experience there is a serious reluctance on the part of self-described Libertarians to cede ANY role to the state except perhaps national defense. Education, transportation, even law enforcement, are all better performed by the private sector (private schools, toll roads, private security services) than by government, since private organizations are even better than government at taking advantage of economies of scale. Letting the camel's nose under any of those parts of the tent is apostasy.

The Solution! Liberals and libertarians can unite as soon as some genius builds a time machine, goes back in time and makes Adam Smith live 5 years with the poor of London before he writes The Wealth Of Nations.

Lizard, Smith would not identify with staunch libertarians of today. His writing has to be taken in the context of early modern England. If you don't know much about the period, Emma Rothschild's book, "Economic Sentiments", is a good place to get a better understanding of Smith in context.

Smith's entire reasoning was based on a fallacy (the efficience of the so-called Invisible Hand and it's ability to govern and guide markets in a direction that benefits, in ANY way, society as a whole) that was as erroneous when it was written as it is today (altho the presence of a functioning middle class renders it completely absurd in today's world) but this probably is not the place for that argument. :-)

Economists always assume away any real problems. Hence the old joke about the scientist, engineer and economist stranded on a desert island with a case of canned goods. How to open them? The scientist and engineer struggle with the problem. They finally ask the economist for his ideas. He says, "Assume a can opener. Then . . . ."

Wow. We live in a mixed economy, a mixed society. Why is it inconsistent to recognize the fundamental innefectiveness of government and also believe in fairness? Do I have to be a "liberal" to understand that we're all better off if none of us lives in poverty? Do I have to be a "libertarian" to understand that the engine of progress is self-interest? Why the need for labels? Why the need for ideologies? Don't we all want the same things ultimately -- a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and a million dollars?

No. I want YOU to have a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and a million dollars TOO. I want to suck down the wine and gorge on the bread guilt-free, and not look at the starving faces of the children of the grape-stompers, the grain-grinders. Liberals are about US, while libertarians seem to be simply about a multitude of ME's. There is a difference.

The engine of progress is self-interest? Oh my. Let me just repeat that once again to groove on the sheer, cold, mercinary vibe of that. The engine of progress is self-interest. Wow.

You've made an excellent point. Libertarians are almost idealistic --- or blind, ‎‎believing we've all been born into an economically fair playing field just like our ‎‎wealthy parents. The irony of course is that they purport to be big advocates of ‎‎capitalism when in truth they support oligopolies and monopolies by opposing ‎‎legislation that protects small businesses from huge corporations with unfair ‎‎advantages. Libertarians are the poster children for an anti-capitalistic society.

Adam Smith more or less invented economics, but for exactly that reason he was not an economist himself - he was a moral philosopher. He had the 18th c. upper-class blinders you would expect, but there's a lot in The Wealth of Nations that you won't find in the American Enterprise Institute version.

For example, Smith argues that a vibrant market economy is characterized by high wages and low profits. Wages are (or should be) bid up by demand for labor, while profit is pushed down because there is so much of it sloshing around. Low wages and high profits are the sign of a stagnant economy, and the profits are largely illusory because they are merely asset inflation.

Libertarianism has the same flaw that Communism does - both would work fine if humans were angels, but neither takes much account of humans as they are.

I think there is a nacent natural political alliance between libertarianish types and liberalish types in this country. As was pointed out above, the problem is really about taking ideologies too seriously, or rather, too literally. We humans are stupid that way. An ideology is an imaginary thing (a American libertarian is most definitely an imaginary thing). An ideology is a convenience, like latitude lines on a map. It's a tired analogy, but a perfect one: in cooking, you don't eat the recipe - you use it as a guideline in making the actual food. A recipe/ideology is always an approximation, a tool - strictly speaking, impossible.

I think an alliance is natural because liberalism - in practice - has come to mean 'doing what works'. Modern Republicans and some Libertarians lately disdain American liberalism for this very reason - saying it doesn't adhere to principles rigidly enough. I think that's its operational strength, actually (as well as its sometimes-political weakness - this alliance would make it politically stronger). Self Interest and the Common Good are both essential. They are in tension, and probably 99% of Americans basically agree with that. The Tories were called the 'Stupid Party' because they believed in the recipe more than the physical food. There's no reason for Liberalism to be the same kind of stupid. Issues of personal freedom, individuality and privacy are only going to loom larger and larger in coming years. Libertarianism is/ought to be a subset - an essential one - of Liberalism.

I don't disagree with Mimikatz' analysis, but I do think that the libertarianism she and Lindsey posit - of Rothbard, Rand, Cato, et. al. sells libertarian ideas very short - it's just one version. Not their fault, since they're fighting this rhetorical war with the libertarianism we have...etc. But what makes the idea of a liberal-libertarian political alliance vital and recurrent is the fact that the libertarianism we OUGHT to have is as bedrock-American as baseball. And it isn't just about 'victimless crimes' or what you should be able to do with your own land. I think it's about radical individuality, identity. The practical Liberal argument would be that there is no freedom of mind, of personality, of individuality, without a very strong conception of the common good. No advanced: artist, entrepreneur, inventor, innovator - can emerge from a 'state of nature'. Progress is impossible without deviation from the norm, and you can't do it if there's no norm to deviate from (or if you're starving).

American Libertarianism (ie Cato) is kind of a hobby horse, but the ideas of libertarianism as a whole aren't going away, nor should they. I see American libertarianism as kind of a self-defined strawman.

Libertarians aren't necessarily advocates of capitalism, they're advocates of markets. I personally see the concentration of capital as one of the problems we must address to keep markets working. The basic tenet of the libertarian view as I understand it is that governments are both inefficient and dangerous. That doesn't seem idealistic to me, it seems grounded in real-world experience. I mean, doesn't the experience of the last six years serve as pretty strong evidence? Of course there are hypocrites out there using a libertarian ideology as cover for their mendacity. And yes, my parents were wealthy. But that doesn't make me blind to the problems of the world, and it doesn't make me heartless either.

Sorry for the rambling nature of my comment. Also, great point by al-Fubar: like any fundamentalists, Heritage, et. al. are rather selective about which parts of Adam Smith they choose to bible-ize.

Both governments and corporations are inefficient, and both can be dangerous. The issue is the animating purpose, whether it is more wealth for the few or something that is not equality, but includes a basic level of income and opportunity for everyone, and some restraints on the rapaciousness of the few.

GOP government was both inefficient (and incompetent) and designed to benefit the very few at the expense of the very many. But not all government has to be that way, and throughout most of my lifetime it was much more benign, if not benificent. Corporations aren't all Enrons either. But the dominant ETHIC of the last 25 years has been much more skewed towards individual material rewards (especially for those at the top) and much less concerned with the common good and general welfare than in the first 60% of my life, and this is reflected in the corruption in both government and corporations. Of course it was equally bad if not worse in the Gilded Age, but only for Karl Rove and a few corporate robber barons is that something to aspire to.

Bravo Mimikatz! I can't imagine any Liberal reading the Libertarian party platform and being the least bit interested in their philosophy.

Here, check it out.


This isn't a essay about them by Cato it is actually what they believe in enough to make it their platform. I can't imagine that there are very many Liberals that would sign on to it.

The LP platform makes no sense at all. That doesn't mean that all libertarian ideas don't either. Imagine if the Kraft company patented or somehow monopolized the word 'cheese' in the US, and that word mean only Velveeta. I could understand a lot of people deciding that they either really hate or at least don't like 'cheese'. But of course the tradition of libertarianism and anarchism (of which it is an offshoot) is much bigger than the hobby party known as the American LP.

Of course Mimikatz is right that an alliance of the LP with progressives/liberals is far-fetched. Who cares about the LP? I don't, and neither do plenty of people with some libertarian bent.

I agree completely that, if we insist on focusing on the areas of disagreement, cooperation will be impossible.

Then again, no coalition agrees on everything. Libertarians and Reeps have plenty of ideological differences, too. The question is, is there enough common ground to constitute an agenda?

And I think it does make sense numerically, because an agenda that preserves majoritarian liberal principles and addresses (also majoritarian) libertarian concerns will manage to attract a lot of conservatives, if it's done the right way.

I don't think it's accurate to say corporations are inefficient, although their underlying profit motive may make them poor tools for social justice. On the other hand, as you point out, Mimikatz, it does seem that profits and a social conscience are somehow seen as incompatible in today's business world. I personally think that this is short-sighted on the part of the corporations, but they do what they will. A more fundamental problem is the corruption of our government institutions by the resources these capitalists control (whether it's campaign money or media outlets). It's like what we used to joke about back in the sixties -- the corporations running the world. Doesn't seem so far fetched any more. Once they've fully co-opted both major parties (and left us with nothing but the illusion of a choice), what do words like "liberal", "libertarian", or "conservative" really matter? And I think it's closer to complete than we imagine. How do we retake control of our government (short of a revolution, and who has the heart), when our representatives are coopted by the system they serve?

``Figuring out how to alleviate poverty and improve education are VERY hard issues, VERY hard, and intertwined.''

The Scandanavians, and some other Europeans, don't seem to have had such a hard time of it. What is different about the US?

Libertarians, it seems to me, are of two sorts: those who have tendencies towards anarcho-syndicalism, and those who have tendencies towards being ``propertarians'' (to use the colorful term from Ursula Le Guinn's The Dispossed). I have encountered both sorts, whereas some of the descriptions above consider only the latter sort.

The Scandanavians, and some other Europeans, don't seem to have had such a hard time of it. What is different about the US?

Ah....Not to mention that their tax burden.

I love this liberal and libertarian alliance idea. It's perfect.

I don’t support reforming social security—I support abolishing it. I mean, give me a break to the whole 12% payroll tax on anything you earn along with federal income tax!

I don’t know why I should pay for others, who don’t save and don’t invest wisely. I am going into workforce and I know that ‘I’ need to invest to help myself. Why don’t ‘other people’ get the same idea? Why are freaking baby boomers so stupid to the whole idea of saving your money for yourself?

If you want to call me—liberal—selfish, then so be it. But, keeping my money for myself and spending it as I please is my natural right. People and not government should be in charge of spending their money.

I also support free trade. It works for New-England, Southwest and Pacific states and that is where the future of Democratic party is and we in California love our free-trade and whole technological advancement and we like to keep it please.

The geolibertarians have found the magic key to combining the liberty libertarians advocate with the economic justice liberals advocate. It's very simple: in order to not be wrong any more, libertarians have to accept that the economic rent of natural resources is neither earned nor deserved by the resources' private owners, and liberals have to accept that the product of one's labor is rightly one's own property, and society has no claim on it.

Once you accept that the products of private labor are rightly the property of the private interests that produce them, and that the publicly created economic rents of natural resources are rightly recovered for the purposes and benefit of the pubic that creates them, everything else falls into place: liberty CAN be joined with economic justice, and social responsibility CAN be joined with economic prosperity. It's real. It's true. It's possible. Libertarians just have to give up their assumption that landowners should get rich for doing nothing, and liberals have to give up their assumption that the most productive should not get rich commensurately with their contributions.

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