Liberaltarianism Dicussed at CATO Institute

Actually, the article titled Liberaltarians by Brink Lindsey was first published in the National Review back in December of 2006 before it appeared in the online publication of the right-wing, libertarian think-tank, the CATO Institute. The author does a good job identifying what liberals and libertarians agree and disagree on. Namely, that they agree on issues of civil liberty, but disagree on the economy. However, his proposed compromise amounts to little more than neoliberalism. That is, the idea that capitalism can be used to create wealth to fund social programming. Besides the many examples of the disastrous effects of this philosophy, such as its forced implementation in South America as a prerequisite for aid or trade leading only to greater disparity between rich and poor with the rich in power and democracy in shambles, it ignores the oxymoron of using the mechanism that causes the problem as the proposed solution. Lindsey does propose some progressive ideas on taxation, in the name of compromise. For example, he seems to promote a fair tax as opposed to a flat tax. He wrongfully asserts that the majority of Americans can pay for their own retirement and health care. However, he is on to something because a living wage that allows the common worker to afford health care and retirement is far more progressive and just than making a person dependent on welfare or the charity of others. Anyway, check out the article and let me know what you think.


#1 Joe Locke on 10.03.08 at 5:01 pm

The article alludes to a Daily Kos article. If you haven’t read it, here is a the link:

I think that liberaltarians are really on to something in a year where Ron Paul, a libertarian-Republican did so well on the internet and Mike Gravel, a Democratic candidate, switched to the libertarian party. He, along with Denis Kucinich, had Ralph Nader waiting to see how they would do in the Democratic primaries, before entering the Presidential race because he considered them of a like mind. As long as I’m name dropping, they both got nods from Noam Chomsky as well.

#2 Liberaltarianism Dicussed at CATO Institute | Right Views on 10.03.08 at 6:58 pm

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#3 Neal Locke on 10.04.08 at 8:13 am

Yeah, I read Lindsey’s article too, and there were parts of it that didn’t sit well with me. The Daily Kos article was closer to home, but still not completely adequate.

I wonder if both are attempts at defining liberal libertarians from the outside — from people who do not self-identify as such. Perhaps in time the best definitions will come from within, from those who actually are liberal and libertarian.

I tried to come up with something resembling a definition for the “About” page of this blog, but kept on getting stuck. In true post-modern fashion, we may have to let our working definition of liber(al)tarianism consist of multiple definitions, some in harmony and some in tension. It will be an interesting exercise, at the least…

#4 pds on 10.04.08 at 9:33 am

i think what all sides will be coming to grip with in coming developments (historical, institutional, and political) is the big elephant that has been sitting in the room for decades: state capitalism.

I do not identify with “liber(al)tarianism” nor anything resembling the moniker. But I am interested in well-meaning and thoughtful efforts to free us from the bureaucratic Leviathan.

I guess the problem is that we have to face up to the fact that dissolving federal power is bound to fail in societies corrupted by the culture of money and middle-class consumption because such dissolve only ignores the very conditions that typically lead to the growth of centralization in the first place. Libertarians haven’t seemed to figure that out yet. Indeed federalism was originally designed to promote self-governance by dispersing political power. But because these arrangements also presupposed decentralized local economies, the concentration of capital and economic power rendered the political schemes of the early republic anachronistic. Federalism has thus had to evolve in order to appeal – if not protect – those who were at the mercy of the whims of market forces. The alleged “business cycles” which many libertarians consider “natural” only increases the vortex of centralization and bureaucracy, public and private.

#5 Joe Locke on 10.04.08 at 10:07 am

Pds- So, what do you advocate? If I understand you, you believe that we have a state capitalist system and you are interested in efforts to free us from bureaucratic government. Do you advocate libertarian-capitalism? It seems that you are cynical about efforts to dissolve federal power because globalization only leads to greater centralization. Could it then be said that, maybe, you see both capitalism and government as threats to liberty? Then, do you advocate libertarian-socialism?

#6 Joe Locke on 10.04.08 at 10:45 am

Neal- I agree Kos and Lindsey are lacking. Kos still believes that the government is the solution and Lindsey still believes that the market is, even though they both admit to some evils caused by each. Some is a gross understatement, we need democracy both in our communities and in the work place. If power is in the hands of the government or the capitalist, then it is not in the hands of the people. These guys combine liberal and libertarian ideas, but only for something that is just a diluted form of what they already had.

#7 Bob Steinke on 10.07.08 at 3:37 pm

I think the CATO institute article is really just proposing a political alliance between liberals and libertarians.

First it talks about how libertarians were traditionally allied with republicans and why libertarians are dissatisfied with that alliance now.

Then it talks about issues liberals and libertarians agree on, civil liberties and social/cultural freedoms.

The big challenge, it says, of forging this alliance will be economic policy, and it suggests a truce. Liberals stop objecting to the free market and libertarians stop objecting to a social safety net. Both “sides” hold their noses and put up with the part they don’t like to get enough votes to pass an agenda that they mostly agree with.

So it’s an interesting political strategy article. It’s not much more than that.

I don’t think the article is even considering the idea that maybe we could make a new system that protects individual freedoms from both governmental and economic coercion.

There’s one paragraph that needs to be chastised:

“Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear that capitalism’s relentless dynamism and wealth-creation … have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction. The civil rights movement was made possible by the mechanization of agriculture … feminism was encouraged by the mechanization of housework.”

I take issue with his “capitalism is great and has no problems” attitude, and the idea that social justice was mainly the result of society having additional wealth is a rather strange non-sequiter. No, it couldn’t have anything to do with individual beliefs and cultural norms becoming more progressive.

But there is one paragraph that needs kudos:

“Translating such abstractions into workable policy doubtlessly would be contentious. But the most difficult thing here is not working out details–it is agreeing to try. And, as part of that, agreeing on how to make the attempt: namely, by treating economic policy issues as technical, empirical questions about what does and doesn’t work, rather than as tests of ideological commitment.”

Libertarians need to give up the idea that capitalism is perfect, and liberals need to give up the idea that government is perfect. We actually need to try different things and see how they work.

#8 Bob Steinke on 10.07.08 at 3:52 pm

Ok, my last comment was getting long so I decided to start another comment to discuss the Daily Kos article.

What I like from this article is nicely summarized by this quote:

“The key here isn’t universal liberty from government intrusion, but policies that maximize individual freedom”

And he seems to recognize one of the ideas that brought me to liberaltarianism, that freedom isn’t merely having the right to do something, it’s having the right and the ability to do something. You have the right to swim in the lake, but if you do you’ll die from the pollution. In that case, you are not free to swim in the lake. We should be trying to create a society that maximizes freedom including the right and ability to do things. Libertarians have a fetish about maximizing the right to do things without any concern for the actual condition of people’s lives.

But it does seem that Kos’ opinion is that these individual freedoms can best be protected by traditional liberal government programs, although he gives lip service to the idea that government isnt always the solution.

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