Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Weekly Radley - Libertarian Utopia Edition

The piece from New York magazine that I linked yesterday (The Trouble With Liberty) is getting kicked around The LibertySphere, and will probably continue getting kicked for a while. 
Here's part of Radley Balko's take on it, mostly about a statement that libertarians promise an unrealistic utopia just like every other political animal does:

No, they don’t. People use the utopia canard to make libertarianism seem creepy and cultish. Look, politics is a dirty, corrupt profession that rewards people who display the characteristics you least want in someone in whom you entrust important decisions about your life. The general premise of libertarianism is that people should be free to make their own decisions about their lives—that as much of our lives as possible should be kept within the sphere of civil, voluntary society, and out of the sphere of political society. There would still be problems in a libertarian society. There would still be crime, income inequality, acne, nu metal, and reality TV. Most libertarians merely believe that in a libertarian society, most people would be better off than they are now—that being free to make more of your own choices is preferable to having politicians make them for you. Most conservatives and liberals also believe that most people would be better off if their own policy preferences were implemented. That isn’t in the same ballpark as promising utopia. People will still make bad decisions. They should be free to do so.

If anything is utopian, it’s the idea that the world would be much better off if only we put more of society in the hands of a few very smart people who somehow know all the answers. And that somehow the political process will ensure that those all-knowing people always end up in a position to make all the decisions.

I wish I had said that. 


Nick Rowe said...

Part of the problem is that "libertarians" come in many varieties: left-leaning, right-leaning, anarcho-capitalists, objectivists, etc.

There is a libertarian basis for being both for and against abortion.

There's a libertarian basis for and against wars of foreign liberation.

A libertarian can support civil rights laws to protect people from discrimination that removes freedom, or he can oppose those laws because people should be allowed freedom of association and contract.

I think it was Reagan who said something to the effect that the heart of conservativism is libertarianism.

It's relatively easy to attack libertarians because there is always a fringe view that can be outvoted under the median voter theorem.

You're loved and hated because you're on both sides of the middle. Your angst comes from the feeling that this somehow averages out to a median position which should have wider appeal. You also have the virtue of being right much of the time, which really pisses off the entrenched interests on both sides who see views contrary to their dogma as heretical.

Goldwater was a conservative, and I think you'd welcome most of his views.

As for utopia, I think many libertarians would find it untenable to live in the world of their dreams. While many of our laws and forms developed through statist ambition and rent seeking, some measures of security, government finance really are necessary and evolved from freer forms that failed miserably.

I can take the view that our Constitution prohibits a large standing army but believe that in this world we really need one. If we reverted to a militia system, we might find out too late the folly of that belief, and the consequences would be severe and irreversible.

Our founders did not want us to be "ruled by our barbarous ancestors."

The Whited Sepulchre said...

What I liked most about this from Balko is that I ALWAYS run up against the "But what about the orphan with AIDS who is addicted to heroin"? argument.
There is NO political solution to every potential problem. There are things that are better, and things that are worse.
Any unholy compromise worked out by Boehner and Pelosi will usually go into the "worse" category.

Anonymous said...

The utopianism in libertarianism lies in the belief that most people want to be free and that they're willing to leave their neighbors alone.

Nick Rowe said...

Yes, Stephen, and most people will do exactly that too.

Except me. If my neighbor's dog keeps barking his head off all day, I'm going to toss chocolate bars over the fence or pour antifreeze under it!

I'm glad they extended the tax cuts and fixed AMT, but the other wasteful spending was completely unnecessary. If it buys us two years until we can make these permanent, it will be worth the cost. Extended unemployment benefits isn't the worst of boondoggles. The other subsidies, credits, deductions, and incentives were outrageous.

Oh well, at least I get another year to get the rest of my energy efficient tax credit. So long, and thanks for all the fish!