Saturday, January 12, 2008

Liberal with healthy helping of the Market

Brink Lindsey has a great post that echoes thoughts I have long had about libertarianism: "Illiberal Libertarians". I've always been uncomfortable with the cozy relationship libertarianism seemed to have with conservatism. I am not a conservative. As Brink writes "I’m a libertarian because I’m a liberal."

I like the label "market liberal": it denotes that I am a liberal who views the problems of social and political life as best left to free individuals to resolve. Free markets and limited government are important political goals because they are the means by which individuals can best live free and flourish.

Conservatism, by contrast, seems more to be about limited government as means towards more social control. In order for the family, local community, and/or religious institutions to exert their power over the individual, the government needed to be limited.

One sees this in Paul's views: his misunderstanding of federalism to allow states to violate individual rights; his views on abortion, homosexuality, religious freedom; his vies on immigration and trade. On all these (see my post analyzing these positions), Paul uses, paradoxically, the rhetoric of liberty as a means to less freedom in our lives.

(And this is why Paul is not a libertarian. Check out Timothy Sandefur's tally of libertarian repudiation of Paul.)

I am less hopeful than Brink that those on the left--modern or statist liberals--are coming around to market liberalism. I do agree, nonetheless, with him that "making the case that economic liberalization is of a piece with overall social liberalization" is the best way forward in terms of helping the cause of liberty. This is because social and economic liberalization have their foundation in the same source: the individual's moral right to life and liberty.


Fry said...

I'm just curious. I am also a liberal who believes in the ideas of smaller government and freer markets, but where do you stand on the safety net (medicare, Disability, Unemployment, Etc.)?

Shawn said...

Hi Fry,

Thanks for your comment.

I do not think that a government safety net is justifiable. Many of these functions are best (more effectively and at lower costs) performed by private individuals. When government run/supported, they create perverse and corrupting incentives in society and within government itself. Government, even with the best intentions, usually does more harm than good when it tries to solve social problems.

But, at the base of it, other individuals do not have a right to demand that other individuals pay for their own mistakes or misfortunes (this goes for corporate welfare as well). Thus, it is immoral to use taxes to fund these programs.

I'd like to see these services transferred first to the States and then ultimately to the private sector.

Shawn said...

In addition, I would suggest an excellent book on this matter:

David Kelley's A Life of One's Own

Fry said...

Do you think that government welfare is crowding out private charity?

I ask because according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University ( last year's total charitable spending was 253 Billion Dollars with 15% going to basic needs and 20% going to medical care. Yet our federal medicare/medicaid budget alone is 500+ Billion dollars.

Of course, much of this could be waste and fraud. Can private charity effectively take the place of a safety net?

Also, wouldn't these ideals be considered Libertarian and not Liberal?

Shawn said...

Yes, I do think that government welfare crowds out private charity and that much of the government's costs are waste and/or fraud.

Can private charity replace the government welfare system? That's one of those, "well, it depends" questions. Could private foundations and individuals merely just take over all the different welfare functions of the state as they currently are? I doubt it. But I also think that the need/demand for these welfare functions is not static. A freer economy where individuals have to take responsibility for their own lives would require less of a safety net.

And yes, these are libertarian ideas, and they are also the original (classical) liberal ideas.

Fry said...

I promise this is the last time I will bug you.

I am curious, do you think that primary education (K-12) should be wholly privatized?

Wouldn't it be in our best interests to have a publicly (not necessarily federally) funded education system? It would benefit all equally both directly and indirectly and give both poor and rich children equal opportunities for success. An educated electorate benefits everyone and helps the job market by making sure more people have the basic skills needed. I'm not talking about state-run only schools, but just public funding.

Shawn said...

Education is an important value, for all the reasons you raise and many more. This alone, however, doesn't mean that it must be or should be publicly funded.

Public schools don't seem necessary for education. One might note that political participation and civic knowledge was more widespread in the colonies and states in the 18th century before public schooling. Literacy rates were quite high. One might note contemporary examples of private schools doing a better and more efficient job at education.

One obvious concern is that the poor will be left out. Privately run schools would likely be better managed and so costs would be much lower (parochial schools spend a fraction of the amount per students but get much better results). Scholarships, charity would seem to cover a lot of the remaining gaps.

Private education allows for much greater variety and adaption to the needs of different populations of students. Not everyone needs or wants the same education. People learn differently and seek an education for different reasons.

Lastly, your comments are no hassle. I am enjoying the discussion.

Fry said...

Well, If I'm not being a hassle I have a few more questions.

Why is it that the government cannot use public money to aid a "common good"?

Why is it acceptable to use public money to pay for defense but not schools?

How is classical liberalism different from libertarianism?

Again, I hope you do not take offense. I am honestly trying to learn more and you have been a great help.

Shawn said...

I can't really do justice to those questions in a blog comment.

It would have to start with a discussion of why we need and form governments in the first place. The reason is, very basically, that we have a need for objective law and punishment and national defense. These unique needs give rise to political organization. Education, health, and other human needs/values are not the same kind of thing as law and defense and don't require the kind of organization that law and defense do.

As I said, this is a quick and blunt answer; one requiring much more by way of elaboration and justification.

As for your last question, I don't think there is substantive difference between classical liberalism and libertarianism. Classical liberalism tends to refer to thinkers within a certain time frame (roughly 17/18th Centuries) and following an intellectual tradition often associated with Adam Smith and John Locke. Libertarianism is term arising in the 20th Century as a way of describing essentially the classical liberal view in contradistinction to what had become known as liberalism (progressivism, watered-down socialism).