Pragmatic Libertarianism

The following post was inspired by these two articles.

Joseph Stiglitz: The Evils of Unregulated Capitalism

Anthony Gregory: Why the Left Fears Libertarianism 

The above two pieces are not necessarily diametrically opposed to one another, but reading them on the same day made me reflect on the sorry state of discourse between contemporary liberals and classical liberals. If you boil it down to a single defining characteristic, it is the socialist welfare state that divides the two, and nothing more. I look at the development of the modern social welfare state as a centuries-long process of negotiation and compromise between the classes of society. The current socialist democratic makeup of the developed world is the result of this (often violent) negotiation process, and it represents a sociopolitical equilibrium that will continue to shift as time marches forward. I say all of this without making any normative statements as to whether or not such a equilibrium is preferable to any other hypothetical states of equilibrium. Libertarianism makes the case that an equilibrium can exist at a point with much less government power and less consolidation of authority, and that such an equilibrium would be a “better” place to be as a society. Essentially, Libertarians are making the argument that Pareto-efficient social outcomes exist at some point where there is dramatically less government intervention in society. I am not going to comment on that statement for now, and instead go back to the articles that inspired this post, but keep this sociopolitical equilibrium model in mind.

Gregory makes some interesting points about how much the popular left has maligned libertarianism since the onset of the Obama presidency and subsequent rise of the tea party. He also does a great job of pointing out the Obama’s failures: not ending the wars, selling out to the big corporations in both health care and financial system reform, and just generally being more of the same (what else should we expect from a major party candidate?).

Joseph Stiglitz, fighting from the other corner, has a remarkably simple and coherent plan for fixing the economy: end the wars, rein in military and drug costs, and raise taxes on the rich. I can get behind that 100%. Maybe that doesn’t really make me a “real Libertarian” like I purport myself to be, but the fact of the matter is that such policy would be much more libertarian than our current policy of corporate welfare and endless intervention in the affairs of other countries.

Yeah, the rich should pay some more taxes… they have been sucking off the public’s teat forever, maybe its time for them to give a little back. I am not ideologically Libertarian because Libertarian is the best political ideology and all other ideologies are inferior; I am Libertarian because I believe that people should be free to live their lives unencumbered by the constraints imposed upon them by political, religious, and cultural institutions. I believe that, as long as we are not depriving other people of their own right to be weird, we should be as weird as we want to be. My personal philosophy is actually inherently progressive. Maybe I am really a Marxist; if you know your history, it is kind of hard not to be. I think there is a mountain of evidence that the monied classes have been systematically abusing our democratic system for their own personal benefit… for at least 30 years, perhaps closer to 300, or 3000… its hard to know exactly how far to go back, but if Libertarians were to look at the tenets of Liberalism that inspired their own philosophy of freedom, they would see that Liberalism and the Enlightenment were about giving power and choice to the people. The Liberal revolutions that brought us the American Revolution, French Revolution, and countless other political and social movements were an inherently democratizing and enfranchising process. It is a process that has been taking place all over the world, and has yet to reach its culmination.

Today’s libertarians need to consider their end game: is a libertarian utopia, even if hypothetically achievable, even sustainable? Can the equilibrium that they believe in even exist? I unabashedly believe we need more libertarian-minded reforms in this country, but I also am skeptical that a pure libertarian equilibrium exists. If we are only concerned with Pareto-efficient outcomes, I think there are a number of things that can be accomplished within the democratic socialist framework of our countries institutions. This is where I have an ideological split with “fundmentalist libertarians”, who would never use the corrupted means of government power to establish an end that is marginally more libertarian. Would it be worth it to spend $1 trillion dollars on a national project that delivered clean and cheap fusion energy to every household in North America? If it guaranteed that we wouldn’t need a foreign policy centered around the invasion of energy-rich countries, I say such a project is a net-gain for Libertarianism (as well as practically every single person on Earth).

The reality is that there is no such thing as a free market, and consequentially there are a huge number of goods and services that are misprovisioned. If you accept the hypothesis that “pure libertarianism” is unfeasible, or at the very least unworkable (and I actually think most people who identify as Libertarian recognize the futility of their ideological affiliation, but are like me and stick to their guns because they believe marginal steps towards libertarian principles are what this country and the world need), it is only a logical extension that such an aforementioned “Manhattan Project” for energy is a good idea.

Ideology is always a mistake. It blinds us to the facts. It doesn’t really matter from which angle you are coming from; if you believe in an idea in and of itself as an end in and of itself, you are abandoning any pretext of objectiveness. You are using bi-variable equations to explain phenomena that take place in four dimensions, and your model will ultimately fail.

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