What “Conservative Reformers” Can Learn From Libertarians

Who counts as a conservative reformer? The Washington Monthly recently offered a list—complete with superhero-playing-card-style power rankings and reformer scores—which sparked some follow-up between, among others, Michael Tomasky, Mike Konczal, and Paul Krugman. The discussion started on the left, but yesterday New York Times columnist Ross Douthat weighed in, attempting to separate out several strains of “reform conservatism”—a slightly awkward phrase that has cropped up in various conversations about policy-minded attempts to reform the agenda of the conservative movement and the Republican party.

Part of the awkwardness comes from how many disparate sets it tends to include; as Douthat notes, it has the potential to include anyone from Bush-era compassionate conservatives like Michael Gerson, to critical centrists like David Frum, to libertarianish populists like Tim Carney, and even to what Douthat calls “pragmatic libertarians” like myself and my wife, Megan McArdle.

But the core of reform conservatism, as Douthat sees it, is a group of wonks and political writers like Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review and AEI, as well as Douthat and Reihan Salam, who in 2008 coauthored Grand New Party.

That book served as a sort of proto reform conservative manifesto, arguing that Republicans should gently abandon Reagan-era reforms in order to refocus on policies designed to help create economic and social stability amongst working class Americans. And it helped set the tone, if not always the particular agenda for much of today’s reform conservatism; the policy specifics the book argued for ended up being less important than its broader argument that the GOP could revitalize its prospects for electoral and policy success by adopting an economic agenda slightly wonkier and more apparently focused on middle class woes than simply cutting marginal tax rates allowed.

Conservative reformers in the Grand New Party mold are still trying to figure out how, exactly, to do that. Douthat outlines a basic policy agenda, some of which looks good (repeal Obamacare, and move toward a system of universal catastrophic insurance, an “attack on explicit subsidies for powerful incumbents”) or at least preferable (a Wyden-Ryan style reform of Medicare) to the status quo, and some of which will come across as perhaps a little too hung up on social conservative priorities (tax reform that not only lowers rates and caps deductions, but also “reduces the burden on working parents and the lower middle class”) or too willing to play along with what can look like working class nativism (immigration reform that “doesn’t necessarily seek to accelerate the pace of low-skilled immigration” and offers legal status only following the implementation of E-Verify).

In some ways, what it adds up to is conservative wonks looking for ways to say, “Hey, we do too care!” while gently promoting some familiar conservative social goals. For anyone with libertarian impulses, it’s a mixed bag, one that both recognizes limits on the government’s capability to carry out large-scale social plans, and yet still pins too many of its hopes and goals on tax-code tweaks and bureaucratic management of the labor supply. It’s an agenda informed by many practical libertarian critiques of government in a narrow sense (Douthat has become more libertarian in his approach to certain policy areas, like health care) but still relies on government to carry out, or at least encourage, its broad goals of shoring up middle class economic stability and social cohesion.

Still, it’s an important conversation to have, and one that should be of interest to libertarians.

Because in the bigger picture, the question at the heart of reform conservatism is not really about precisely how to reorient the GOP toward a (perhaps more than a little symbolic) middle-class policy mix. Instead, it’s simpler, and more fundamental: What should the GOP’s domestic policy agenda be? Because right now, the party doesn’t really have one.

wikipedia/bloggingheads.tvwikipedia/bloggingheads.tvOh sure, it has Paul Ryan’s budget, and it has a zillion and one votes to repeal Obamacare, and a vague notion that tax reform would be nice. The Ryan budget is the closest of these to a full-fledged policy framework, but it’s a framework the GOP tends to like much better in theory than in practice. Which is why, even after selecting Ryan to be his running mate last year, the GOP’s presidential nominee Mitt Romney never quite owned his ticket-mate’s budget plan. Romney liked the fuzzy idea of Ryan, the wonk, the man, and the plan, but didn’t quite want to commit to all the details.

Or, for that matter, any details that could possibly be left for later. Indeed, Romney’s Wiffle ball of a campaign is perhaps the best and biggest illustration of the GOP’s ongoing combination of timidity, confusion, and essential blankness on domestic policy, and there’s little sign that the party has figured itself out in the months since the campaign has ended.

That’s part of the reason why conservative reformers of various stripes have gotten so much attention recently—eventually, something will have to fill the void. The agenda Douthat outlines is perhaps one possibility, and simply because it's a basically coherent policy outlook might even be preferable in a lot of ways to the sort of short-term thinking that grips the GOP right now. But although it has a number of high profile supporters, so far it doesn’t seem to be having much success in the actual halls of power. Indeed, if there is an upstart reform movement in the Republican party that actually seems to be gaining traction at the moment, it’s the one that draws more from the libertarian side of the right than from Douthat’s brand of lightly technocratic soft-social conservatism.

Part of the reason the Rand Pauls of the world have had some success recently is that there’s space for an anti-establishment faction within the Republican party, and a growing frustration with the arrogance and ineffectiveness of the old guard. But that faction has also—though not always consistently—drawn from two important, and related, libertarian insights: that government, especially large and complex government, is not a very effective tool for doing lots of things, and that, as a result, it’s not a terribly useful tool for achieving big-picture social goals. I’m tempted to say that it embraces a politics of difference, but that probably goes a little too far. Instead, it embraces a politics of privateness, one that assumes, as a given, that the public realm, and public policy, can only accomplish so much, and that they should be limited accordingly. It’s another, still-evolving brand of conservative reformism, one that also says it cares—not by what it tries to do for you (or to you), but by what it promises it won’t.

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  • sarcasmic||

    alt-text without an image. That's new.

  • sarcasmic||

    There it is!

  • ||

    Suderman is not as drunk as we were lead to believe. So much the better.

  • Ted S.||

    I visit H&R with only cached images set to load. I'm used to getting the alt-text without getting the images.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What “Conservative Reformers” Can Learn From Libertarians

    How not to market your ideas.

  • Tonio||

    An appreciation of exploitation cinema?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    This.

    Perhaps this go-around, liberty-friendly folk could try marketing their ideas in ways that don't make them sound like nuts or Confederate sympathizers.

  • Libertymike||

    Should they market themselves as idolaters of Lincoln?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Hell yes. They should also market themselves as fans of mom, apple pie, and the American way.

    The complexity and proximate causes of the Civil War have essentially nothing to do with practical politics, libertarianism as a governing philosophy, and things which motivate American voters. The issue is an albatross.

    *And to be perfectly frank, the antiseptic gloss that some libertarians cast on that particular war is frustrating when one considers the enormous number of wars for which there really were no freedom issues at stake and which are relevant to modern warfare.

  • Tonio||

    Or maybe, just maybe, they should focus on current issues, and not get caught in the sticky traps of historical arguments.

  • Zeb||

    Everyone should just shut the fuck up about the civil war and Lincoln.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I'm not as familiar with the history of libertarianism as some here might be and am genuinely interested in what you are referring to (the Confederate sympathizers part...the nuts things I think I get).

  • Irish||

    There are weirdo Confederate sympathizers who call themselves libertarians. They tend to congregate at LewRockwell.com.

    I believe one of them claimed that all of America's current problems could have been solved if the South had won the Civil War.

  • Tonio||

    There are weirdos of all stripes who claim to be libertarians. Many are simply agents provocteurs for other causes.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    There's a large part of the libertarian movement (Llew Rockwell and his contingent, as well as the more conspiratorial fringes of the movement) which preoccupy themselves with sanitizing the South for a variety of reasons -- some innocent (the modern South certainly is better on many freedom issues than its northern counterparts, and some want to extrapolate that to a prior tradition of freedom in the South), and some bizarre (a general hatred of the federal government which has gone past reasonable into the irrational, for starters). These folks intersect with "race realists" and other unsavory folk and did a good job of torpedoing Ron Paul with the racist newsletters, and they swim in the general mileiu of crazy which keeps the Libertarian Party cordoned in the political wasteland.

    It'd be nice not to have that become an issue for libertarian candidates and ideas.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I hear you. Names mean something. I tell people I lean pretty libertarian on most issues, and things usually go straight to the gold standard and Ron Paul who, as much as I agree with on lots of things, I strongly disagree with on others. So I end always qualifying my libertarianism with some modifier, which means that people have even less idea what I believe in.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    There are some racist goofs (claiming to be libertarians) who make the following claims about the Civil War:

    1. The Southern states had the right to secede in whatever manner pleased them, including seizing federal property located in their states without compensation because it was located within their states (sort of like Hugo Chavez).

    2. Property rights are sacrosanct, especially it deprives other people to their right in property to their own labor.

    3. Lincoln was bad because he suspended habeas corpus (except that the Constitution allows the President to do so in cases of war or rebellion).

    4. Lincoln was a racist because he didn't support abolition as soon as he tumbled from his mother's vagina (because no one is ever allowed to change their views on anything ever).

    5. The Confederates would have EVENTUALLY freed their slaves at some unforeseen point in the future. For the interim, it was right and proper for them to just suck it up and be slaves.

    6. The Civil War was caused by the Morrill Tariff, even though the Southern states had spent the last 30 years lowering the tariff and the Morill Tariff only passed AFTER the southern states seceded.

  • SIV||

    D-

    Ya damn Yankee

  • Jayburd||

    Good name for a drink-"Vagina Tumbler".

  • MoreFreedom||

    "government, especially large and complex government, is not a very effective tool for doing lots of things, and that, as a result, it’s not a terribly useful tool for achieving big-picture social goals. ... it embraces a politics of privateness, one that assumes, as a given, that the public realm, and public policy, can only accomplish so much, and that they should be limited accordingly. ... one that also says it cares—not by what it tries to do for you (or to you), but by what it promises it won’t."

    The promise of what it won't do, is take from you only to give to someone else, be it a corporate-crony billionaire, or someone who finds living from government confiscated wealth, rather than working, to be more to their liking.

    Does that sound like nuts or Confederate sympathizers?

  • Paul.||

    Hmm, I used to date a girl that looked a lot like that one on the bottom. And she threatened me with a kitchen knife once, so the scissors in her hand are oddly reminiscent.

    I almost miss the crazy.

    No I don't.

  • Lord Humungus||

    crazy is good. And then it's bad.

    I had a GF who used to chase Ravens around the park. My god she was a lovely creature, but bat-shit crazy.

  • sarcasmic||

    I had a gf who washed her entire body with shampoo since it's all covered in hair, and sometimes cried because she didn't have a tail. Great in bed, but crazy as hell.

  • Irish||

    I had a gf who washed her entire body with shampoo since it's all covered in hair

    YOU DATED STEVE SMITH?!?

  • sarcasmic||

    STEVE SMITH is a short brunette with big tits?

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH HAVE HORMONE ISSUES.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Great in bed, but crazy as hell.

    You rarely get the one without the other.

  • Paul.||

    So true.

  • Ted S.||

    I had a GF who used to chase Ravens around the park.

    I'd be leery of people who chase after Ray Lewis, too.

  • Agammamon||

  • Pro Libertate||

    She reminds me of Joanie Cunningham.

  • Paul.||

    *ding*

    I remember having a crush on her ... this iteration.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I wonder what ever happened to her? Lifetime? Retirement? Voice work? Prostitution?

  • sarcasmic||

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0602844/

    2013 The Mob (pre-production)

    2010 Not Another B Movie

    2009 The Bold and the Beautiful (TV series)

    2008 Mother Goose Parade (TV movie)

    2008 Broken Promise

    1998 Diagnosis Murder (TV series)

    1986 Murder, She Wrote (TV series)

    1980-1985 The Love Boat (TV series)

    1974-1984 Happy Days (TV series)

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, there's a ten-year gap in there. Prostitution?

  • sarcasmic||

    Maybe. According to this she's living in a trailer park and when she flashed her tits at the local bar no one knew who she was.

    http://radaronline.com/exclusi.....iler-park/

  • Paul.||

    But to look at Erin today you’d never know she was once one of TV’s biggest stars. Her peaches-and-cream complexion is a maze of wrinkles and crow’s feet. She’s aged terribly, " [said a family friend]

    With friends like that...

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    “No, they weren’t all happy days, like the time Pinky Tuscadero crashed her motorcycle, or the night I lost all my money to those card sharks and my dad Tom Bosley had to get it back."

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Her name wasn't Ellen, by any chance was it? In my case though, it was a butcher knife. And a ruined barstool that I used as a chair.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    For a second I thought you were talking about the picture of Douthat.

  • Agammamon||

    Everybody hates crazy when its around and then misses it when its gone.

  • XM||

    What the fudge, Megan Mcardle marreid Peter Suderman? Man, she settled.

  • Paul.||

    Definitely married down. Which means "Bravo to Suderman!" I mean, credit where credit's due. The man deserves a handshake.

  • GILMORE||

    He got her drunk.

  • Paul.||

    I suspect they were both drunk. I'm seeing a kind of Knocked Up scenario here, with Suderman being a less successful version of Seth Rogan's character.

  • ||

    Sarcasm?

  • Paul.||

    Hardly, we libertarian men always take notice of a woman willing to date down.

    It gives us hope.

  • ||

    She's really not that attractive, especially compared to the competition in D.C.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe they actually like each other and aren't in some sort of competition to see how well they can do in finding mates.

  • Brett L||

    That's not very libertarian. Next you'll tell me they don't wear monocles.

  • Virginian||

    The GOP would be retarded to articulate a platform. Obama won and secured a huge majority by repeating two ambiguous nouns.

    If you give them details, they'll attack you on it.

  • ||

    They really perfected the playbook didn't they? Not only do you utilize vague platitudes for the entire party's platform, but you nominate a relative nobody from the party with a brief political history which helps them avoid the many positions and pit falls that are bound to be a part of a long career.

    Clinton and Obama came essentially from nowhere. Hell, even having a long term politician with the vague party platforms, like with Kerry and Gore, will get you half way there.

    Bush's 2000 platform was a pretty similar play book too as I recall. He was the long odds favorite at the beginning of the primaries and not terribly robust in his vision. Clearly they've gone away from that strategy with all the old farts who can't keep their mouths shut long enough.

  • GILMORE||

    This is a good point.

    The problem with the "Wonks" debating GOP "agenda reform" is that they seem to labor under the false presumption that Politicians care about something more than just selling a line of bullshit that will get them elected.

  • Paul.||

    The GOP would be retarded to articulate a platform. Obama won and secured a huge majority by repeating two ambiguous nouns.

    Se se puede!

    Which as we all know, was the administration's response to the protesters holding signs reading, "You can't court us and deport us!"

  • MoreFreedom||

    The proper response is that you should expect the worst from those lacking details in their plans. It turns out that those making ambiguous promises, are usually lying anyway.

    Besides, you correctly assume that voters will listed and vote on rhetoric rather than looking at one's record.

    If voters examined Obama's or Romney's record, then they would see both were big statist liars (e.g. Romney said he was going to cut the budget, then he endorsed the Ryan budget (with some unstated changes he wanted to make) that INCREASES government spending by 3.1% each year).

  • radar||

    Jesus...David Brooks? David Frum? Bruce "I'm so pissed about the GOP abandoning fiscal conservatism that I became a Keynesian!" Bartlett? Most of that list is comprised of milquetoast people advocating run of the mill Dem Lite policies. If this is what passes for "reform" in the party, it's breathing its last for sure. There are a few that are occasionally worth reading like Pethakoukis or Carney, but that's about it.

    Seriously, at this point in what way is Bruce Bartlett not a mainstream Democrat?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    It's concern trolling. Now Democrats have another group they can use to berate Republicans.

    "Why can't you be more like the reasonable reform Republicans?"

  • Paul.||

    The fact that David Brooks is still referred to as 'conservative' will be the headscratcher of the Aughts.

    NPR sticks him on with EJ Dionne, and I swear I can't tell which one is talking.

  • GILMORE||

    To NYC liberals, he's like a prototype Reagan Republican (in their eyes)... which is an acceptable version to have as the resident Republican Piniata for the NYT

  • Brett L||

    It reminds the NYT reading boomers of their youth "when Rockefeller and the other Republicans knew how to lose gracefully."

  • Paul.||

    And still to this day, people haven't realized that Rockefeller Republicans weren't republicans. They were only (not) Democrats because Democrats were associated with dirty working class minorities.

    They should check out a book called "Up From Conservatism" where a wealthy, northeast Republican "discovers" he's not one.

  • Voros McCracken||

    The Iron Mike Sharpes of politics.

  • Tony||

    David Brooks is a pundit of minor intellect trying desperately to hang onto a worldview that has rejected minor intellects such as his in favor of a dumber version.

  • ||

    Part of the awkwardness comes from how many disparate sets it tends to include; as Douthat notes, it has the potential to include anyone from Bush-era compassionate conservatives like Michael Gerson, to critical centrists like David Frum, to libertarianish populists like Tim Carney, and even to what Douthat calls “pragmatic libertarians” like myself and my wife, Megan McArdle.

    Gerson: neo-con puke
    Frum: pure statist
    Carney: decent
    McArdle: good compared to the rest of The Atlantic

  • Marc F Cheney||

    McArdle: good compared to the rest of The Atlantic

    *cough* Conor Friedersdorf *cough*

  • SIV||

    McArdle doesn't work at The Atlantic anymore. Conor Friedersdorf is libertarian like Davids Frum and Brooks are conservatives.

  • Brett L||

    Friedersdorf is better than that. I find myself agreeing with his columns at a worrisome rate.

  • ||

    Just making sure everyone was paying attention. Yes, Friedersdorf is the best on offer over there.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    McArdle: good compared to the rest of The Atlantic

    The backhanded compliment of the day.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    NIXON'S THE ONE!

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Hey, I've got a great conservative reform. How about conservatives try preventing having men with guns point them at people and demand they either do the bidding of or give their money to, favored constituencies? That at least fits fits what conservatism CLAIMS to be be about and would be about the best social reform I can think of.

  • John||

    from Douthat’s brand of lightly technocratic soft-social conservatism.

    I think the first thing Conservatives need to learn from Libertarian is to purge themselves of any alliance to anything "technocratic". There are no top men and there is no "soft" or effective way for government to change society or culture. The culture changes itself. And it does through trial and error generally self correct.

    So step one needs to be to tell well meaning concerned and motivated people like Douthat to go fuck themselves. Government is a necessary evil that does a very few things, enforce contracts, maintain order, defend the country and that is it. Everything else is the road to ruin.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Government is a necessary evil that does a very few things, enforce contracts, maintain order, defend the country and that is it. Everything else is the road to ruin.

    I never took you for a minarchist.

  • John||

    I very much am. I would like to have the government of say 1870 back with a larger standing army to deal with a more complex world. But the rest of it can go, outside of the border patrol and ICE and the federal courts.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Libertarians and conservatives would do well to brand themselves as avenging angels for accountability, good government, and common sense -- as partisans for boring government that works, leaves you alone, and stops giving rich elitists power over your life.

    Americans have a unique predisposition to hate people who think that they are better than others, and the people running government, its bureaucracies, and the people benefiting from them are good targets in that regard. Personalize the hell out of government with the names and faces of those bastards and watch the fucker sink.

  • John||

    I think they should definitely brand themselves as the party of the little guy, because they should be. I am not sure "good government" is such a great idea. Doesn't that set the precedent that government can do all of these great things for you?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    By good government I mean that the few things the government decides to undertake will be done better because conservatives/libertarians will understand that the people running and staffing government are not angels and will thus manage these departments better. Maybe "better government" would be more accurate.

    People won't trust you to cut government if you constantly trumpet your own incompetence or venality, and a lot of conservative/libertarian discussion of how they would act in power gives that impression.

  • John||

    Very true.

  • GILMORE||

    Americans have a unique predisposition to hate people who think that they are better than others,

    (polishes monocle with silk scarf)

    Yes. Well, that's very nice for them, as long as they keep slaving in my salt mines.

  • Tony||

    Bullcrap on a stick. Since there is no example of such a minimalist government functioning in a way that can be described as anything other than "a failed state," and all the best places to live in the world are quiet little technocratic quasi-socialist states, this is just a wish upon a star, not a substantial claim.

    Yes culture evolves, and one primary tool it uses is government. For most matters, there is no such thing as no policy. You don't want some technocrat drawing a red line three feet from the subway rail? Fine, then you are for a policy of no red line. Doesn't have anything to do with freedom, it's just a preference you have. I simply think you should have to defend even laissez-faire policy preferences on their merits. Why are they good for people? That they are good unto themselves is not sufficient.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Hong Kong.

    Now kindly shut up.

  • Tony||

    The same Hong Kong where the government owns all the land?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    You really are a moron, Tony. Whatever theoretical construct Hong Kong's legal system employs, protection of property rights in Hong Kong are top-notch and virtually the only practical outcome of this theoretical construct is in Hong Kong's taxation system.

  • Tony||

    So laissez-faire works in practice, provided we make a few exceptions, such as: there is no private property, government owns it all and inflates the value in order to maintain low taxes. Oh and those taxes pay for public works and social welfare programs. Sign me up, I guess.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    So laissez-faire works in practice

    You should have stopped there. There is very little in Hong Kong's claimed ownership and "leasing" of its land which is in practice different from that of other countries' "public use" laws. As for social welfare programs, Hong Kong has gone without them for most of its existence and there are very few public works programs relative to other nations.

    You have no idea how to think comparatively or with an eye for how things work in the real world, and you think that this is an advantage.

  • Tony||

    You're just brushing aside the very un-laissez-faire aspects of Hong Kong's system that make it all work out. You cannot claim the property system resembles a free market in any way, and this system bleeds into all other aspects of the economy.

    Furthermore, wages for most were quite low (as should be expected in a relatively laissez-faire system) which is the very reason it implemented a minimum wage and other social welfare programs (including putting 50% of the population in government housing!)

    To summarize: the laissez-faire aspects of Hong Kong's economy were not adequate, and indeed failed to meet the needs of most of its people, and the low taxes and low intervention free marketeers celebrate were only possible because of the intervention on property in the first place. You can do a lot of social engineering with a light touch if you own all the land.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    You cannot claim the property system resembles a free market in any way

    Except that it does in all the important ways. You can do essentially whatever you want with your "leased" property, you can transfer ownership of your "lease" to others, you can earn income from your "lease", and the Hong Kong government will protect the exclusivity of your "lease". IOW, your "lease" is property and the market for such is quite competitive in all important respects.

    The primary difference between HK and others in this respect is that the government has a land value tax.

    You know nothing, Jon Snow.

  • Paul.||

    What Tony fails to understand is there is no property "ownership" in this country. You lease the property from the government.

    Here, try this, stop paying your property taxes. No, seriously, stop paying them. See how quickly you get evicted.

  • Jordan||

    Furthermore, wages for most were quite low

    Prove it.

  • Paul.||

    The same Hong Kong which refused to even keep statistics on corporate earnings because they knew it would only end up being a tool for little petty technocratic socialists to wield arbitrary power.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Yes culture evolves, and one primary tool it uses is government

    You understand that government policy follows culture, right? That is why the drug war is such as abysmal failure, but gay marriage is making progress.

  • John||

    Tony, you are assuming that you even know what the common good is. You don't because you can't. You think the government's job is to go out and do good. You think that because you are a well meaning idiot. You think the government should be doing good because the idea that it is impossible for the government to know with certainty what the "good" is for an entire society has never entered your mind.

  • Tony||

    And you don't? You presume it's good to provide for the common defense and enforce contracts, don't you? Isn't it simply the case that you lack the requisite imagination to add to your list of government functions a few others to deal with the complexities of the modern world?

    Better a government that tries to do the common good than one that actively ignores it. The democratic process is about determining what that is--it asks the people what they need and want. Government is simply the means by which people pool resources and implement shared tasks, which is perhaps the most important tool humans have ever devised.

  • John||

    No Tony, those are not necessarily "the good". They are the bare minimum things necessary to have a country. Anything beyond that can't be determine. And even that is a blind guess. But we have to do something, so we do the minimum necessary in hopes of causing the least harm.

    The democratic process is about determining what that is--it asks the people what they need and want.

    So you think a collective vote can determine the "good"? That is another way of saying the mob knows best. This is why you are such a dangerous person Tony even though you don't know it. Actually, especially because you don't know it. You honestly believe that the majority can all get together and decide what is best for all and by force enforce that. This is why people like you always end up digging mass graves, and putting people in ovens; inevitably the good doesn't turn out to be so good and the people who objected to it are the ones to blame and are just an obstacle to be eliminated on the way to Utopia.

  • Tony||

    Anything beyond that can't be determine.

    Why not? What is with you conservatives being such relativists lately? It's bizarre.

    People need food, water, clothing, shelter, justice, medical care, and education. These are just off the top of my head. Nobody but a psychopath would dispute these things. If you want to argue that we should deny some portion of the population it's basic needs because low taxes are more useful, fine, but you have to defend that policy on the merits. It's certainly not because we just can't figure out what people need.

    You honestly believe that the majority can all get together and decide what is best for all and by force enforce that.

    Better than a minority or an individual doing it, wouldn't you say? What is your alternative? You're right because you say so, and we should all just shut up and take what you offer?

    Some things need to be done collectively. Some things people want to do collectively. This will be the case even if you're a group of 10 people. And the fairest way to decide the way things are done is by voting. It goes without saying that you institute certain means to participate in the first place, like individual and minority rights, but this ridiculous diatribe against majoritarianism always neglects to offer an alternative. Because the only alternative is real tyranny.

    mass graves

    Do you have a daily Hitler quota or something?

  • Jordan||

    If you want to argue that we should deny some portion of the population it's basic needs because low taxes are more useful, fine, but you have to defend that policy on the merits.

    "Not forcing others to provide something" != "not providing".

    What is your alternative?

    Beyond parody. You are entirely incapable of conceiving of liberty.

  • Jordan||

    "Not forcing others to provide something" != "not providing".

    Should be: "Not forcing others to provide something" != "denying"

  • Tony||

    Liberty, apparently, is only "stealing" money from people to pay for national defense and a couple of other things. Sounds suspiciously like freedom is the label you give to your specific policy preferences. Like a gold star on a retarded child's homework.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Liberty, apparently, is only "stealing" money from people to pay for national defense and a couple of other things.

    That's not what libertarians define freedom as, you moron. No result of government is achieved through liberty; in some cases a restriction of liberty is considered to be inevitable.

  • Tony||

    So what's wrong with universal healthcare, which by any measure is a net increase in freedom?

  • Jordan||

    which by any measure is a net increase in freedom?

    Beg the question much?

  • Jordan||

    Better a government that tries to do the common good than one that actively ignores it.

    No. That road leads to tyranny, as should be obvious by the death toll racked up by communist governments in the 20th century.

    Government is simply the means by which people pool resources and implement shared tasks

    Witness the mind of someone to whom the use of force is so central to their philosophy, that they are incapable of conceiving of voluntary cooperation. Government is the means by which people force others to give them resources for tasks that they deem important.

  • Tony||

    Do you guys not get that lurching immediately to totalitarian holocausts is a giveaway that you're an idiot? Nobody wants a totalitarian holocaust. Sorry if that wasn't clear before.

    Force is a fact of nature. The question is whether you want force in the hands of a democratically instituted government acting on behalf of its constituents, or do you want it distributed to various illegitimate gangs and mafias?

  • Jordan||

    Do you guys not get that lurching immediately to totalitarian holocausts is a giveaway that you're an idiot? Nobody wants a totalitarian holocaust. Sorry if that wasn't clear before.

    Intentions are irrelevant. I'm sorry that it's inconvenient for your philosophy that people do bad things with good intentions.

  • Tony||

    Better put only those with bad intentions in charge, just to be safe.

  • Jordan||

    Better give people massive amounts of power and little accountability, just to be safe.

  • Tony||

    When did I say I was against accountability?

    You seem to be articulating the usual libertarian fallacy, that it is possible to remove power from the world and not merely transfer it to someone else.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I don't think it's a fallacy. Why is power over others a conserved quantity?

  • Tony||

    What are you doing when you remove a government regulation (i.e., a government power to command a corporation to do or not do something)? You are giving the power back to the corporation to decide and implement. You remove the force of a stop sign, you empower drivers who want to cross the intersection without stopping. You remove the police, enforcement of rules transfers to whichever mafioso has the biggest goon squad and the most desire to have his rules enforced. People interact and there are always power relationships among people. Indeed it is only through modern complex institutions, especially governments, that the rough edges of normal human interaction has been smoothed over and people can live in relative peace in their daily lives.

  • LynchPin1477||

    What are you doing when you remove a government regulation

    In many cases, you are giving power from a few select people in government back to the people who are actually directly affected by the decisions they make. And by distributing that power, you diminish it.

  • Jordan||

    When did I say I was against accountability?

    Whether you are for it or not is irrelevant. Accountability is not possible with a government of the size and scope you advocate.

  • Tony||

    Sure it is. Just needs the size and scope to provide accountability.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Nobody wants a totalitarian holocaust. Sorry if that wasn't clear before.

    True, nobody ever wanted one, but many have gotten just that.

  • GILMORE||

    "" you lack the requisite imagination to add to your list of government functions a few others to deal with the complexities of the modern world""

    ...

    http://endoftheamericandream.c.....g-money-on


    #1 The U.S. government is spending $750,000 on a new soccer field for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

    #2 The Obama administration plans to spend between 16 and 20 million dollars helping students from Indonesia get master’s degrees.

    ...

    #5 The federal government has shelled out $3 million to researchers at the University of California at Irvine to fund their research on video games such as World of Warcraft.

    #6 The Department of Health and Human Services plans to spend $500 million on a program that will, among other things, seek to solve the problem of 5-year-old children that “can’t sit still” in a kindergarten classroom.

    ...

    #13 The U.S. government once spent 2.6 million dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly.

    ...

    #18 The federal government spends 25 billion dollars a year maintaining federal buildings that are either unused or totally vacant.

    ....

    ...

    #25 The National Institutes of Health paid researchers $400,000 to find out why gay men in Argentina engage in risky sexual behavior when they are drunk.

  • Paul.||

    and all the best places to live in the world are quiet little technocratic quasi-socialist states

    You do know what technocratic socialist states tend to become? Or was the history of WWI and WWII not taught in your school?

  • Tony||

    Someone better warn Sweden.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Warn Sweden about what? They *like* being an authoritarian uni-ethnic state just fine, and employ mechanisms to that effect all the damned time. The government-funded Swedish Institute for Racial Biology was alive and kicking into the Reagan administration.

    Charming that a white, racist Nazi-assisting country somehow became the go-to model for leftists.

  • Tony||

    Nobody's perfect.

    But don't tell fat bucktoothed inbred gun toting American hillbillies that, I guess.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Don't tell them what? That leftists' favorite state is a POS authoritarian nation with little regard for its citizens' propriety? I'm pretty sure they can figure that one on their own.

  • Paul.||

    But don't tell fat bucktoothed inbred gun toting American hillbillies that, I guess.

    Why do you hate poor people, Tony?

  • Tony||

    I don't hate them, I just don't like being around them.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Yeah, because Sweden is doing just fine.

  • ||

    Pete, you wrote that

    Douthat outlines a basic policy agenda, some of which looks good (...move toward a system of universal catastrophic insurance...)

    Wow. It makes me wonder, 'how would Mussolini do it?'. Well, it just so happens that I have an idea:

    The new [Italian] law which goes into effect in July 1936 provides a uniform system of compulsory accident and sickness insurance for employees, administered by a state accident insurance company. This insurance must be provided by all employers, and it is unlawful for them by wage reductions or any other means to pass any part of the expense on to their employees.

    -p. 143 of Chapter VII, "The Fascist State and Italian Culture" in The Fascist Government of Italy, (1936) by Herbert Schneider.

    So, what will be your "practical libertarian" solution to posing as a caring person without looking too much like a Fascist (or a Progressive, for that matter)? Will you and reform conservatives disdain the Fascists' example of "a state accident insurance company" in favor of clamoring for private accident insurance companies to profit from Douhat's engineered "system of universal catastrophic insurance"? If so, then how will you save face when accused of being an advocate not only of Fascism, at least in economic terms, but also of crony capitalism, too?

  • John||

    move toward a system of universal catastrophic insurance...

    The problem is that once you advocate for that, then how do you tell liberals they can't get their pony? If we can do universal catastrophic insurance, why can't we give people some kind of minimum income? Why shouldn't we have universal insurance for people whose homes are destroyed by natural disasters?

    Unless you can show me that there is something special and different about universal catastrophic insurance, there is no way to argue against the others beyond "well I like this better". You have to argue for the principle that the government is not responsible for making good on people's misfortune no matter how horrible or you are screwed.

  • LynchPin1477||

    You have to argue for the principle that the government is not responsible for making good on people's misfortune no matter how horrible or you are screwed.

    That's fine in principle, but in practice I don't see how you could possibly get elected while advocating for the complete dismantling of the social safety nets. Not without major cultural shifts that would include far greater support for private charities. And you need a way of getting from point A to point B, assuming you can even reach B in the first place.

    This is why I'm OK with some sort of refundable tax credit for the poor, or a voucher system for certain basic needs. It isn't ideal but it may be the best we can realistically hope for.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Agreed. TBH, if the government dismantled its regulatory apparatus and scaled back welfare systems to something that could truly be considered a safety net for the destitute or the newly-impoverished, I wouldn't have a big problem with it.

    The regulatory and entitlement aspects of the modern state are far more noxious than the pennies that it would cost to keep people from starving to death or sleeping in a cardboard box.

  • Tony||

    We have a large homeless population in this country, a large problem of access to basic nutrition, and historically a large problem with access to medical care. We also have one of the stingiest social safety nets in the civilized world and, surprise surprise, very low economic mobility.

    But we do have low taxes on the rich and very, very high wealth concentration, for what those are worth (nothing, as far as I can tell).

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I've worked in helping the homeless since I was 29. In my anecdotal experience, the developed city that had the biggest problem with homelessness was Stuttgart, Germany. The cities I've been to in the US don't come close to the homelessness I saw there. We do not have a particularly stingy social safety net (it's middle of the pack, for what it's worth); most spending in European countries goes to various middle-class entitlement programs, not the poor. The housing projects for Turkish immigrants in Stuttgart had housing that I wouldn't put my dog in, much less another human being. For all the talk about how bad the US is, we have much more concern for the poor here than they do in Europe: they just have more bourgeois welfare, is all.

  • John||

    Trouser,

    It is amazing how stupid and uninformed American liberals are about Europe.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I'd be interested in seeing statistics for all of those. I don't honestly see how anyone could say there is a lack of access to basic nutrition. Finding fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and healthy carbs is as easy as going to, literally, every single grocery store I've ever been in (if you have to hop on a bus or drive 30 minutes to get there, big freaking deal). And by cooking with said foods, I'm able to make healthy meals for a less than or about the same price as a McDonald's value meal. If more people did that and went for a walk in the evening, I strongly suspect demand for health care would drop significantly.

    As for income inequality, I have no real problem with it as long as the rich earn their money in accordance with good (i.e., not cronyist) laws.

  • KDN||

    a large problem of access to basic nutrition

    Wat. Give me a break, the only starving people in this country want to be. FFS, a can of beans costs $0.79 - you can earn that by sleeping in the streets and leaving a cup next to your head.

    historically a large problem with access to medical care

    False; there is no lack of access to health care - the problem is just the opposite. We have a problem of inflation in the cost of care that nobody is willing to tackle (the Euros solved this long ago by actually restricting access - rationing by time instead of by price).

    stingiest social safety nets in the civilized world

    Unlikely. We pay $7.5k per capita in welfare and that doesn't even factor in goodies like the EITC. While you're on the dole things aren't bad - it's that we have an expectation for people to get off that sets us apart.

    surprise surprise, very low economic mobility.

    Also false if you actually look at individuals' movement across their lifetimes instead of just assuming that cohorts remain static. It's getting worse though, thanks to ever increasing regulation.

    we do have low taxes on the rich

    No, not really.

    very, very high wealth concentration

    Meh.

    for what those are worth (nothing, as far as I can tell).

    Oh those damn richers. Just sitting around and watching their money age, never consuming or investing a thing!

  • Paul.||

    I started typing a response, and then I deleted it because I don't know the details of what Douthat is proposing. I suspect it's not the same thing as what Mussolini proposed-- which appears to be a garden-variety single payer healthcare system via 'public insurance'.

    I'll have to do some reading on Douthat's proposal-- details that is.

  • Tony||

    Just a further watering down of the universal healthcare concept.

    You can't get around universality without being called out as pointlessly callous, but you also can't be to the left of Democrats. Obamacare was once the conservative alternative. Now, I suppose, universal catastrophic coverage is the alternative to Obamacare. You can't say they haven't succeeded in moving the line.

  • SIV||

    what Douthat calls “pragmatic libertarians” like myself and my wife, Megan McArdle.

    Douthat just lost all credibility.

  • Tony||

    I just can't picture a Republican party that doesn't foment religious extremism and racial bigotry as distractions in order to loot the country of its wealth and give it to the wealthiest corporations and individuals. What purpose would it serve if it dropped that?

  • Paul.||

    Then picture a Democratic party that does it, and reality will come into focus.

  • some guy||

    How, exactly, is the GOP "giving" wealth to the wealthiest corporations and individuals when they haven't controlled the government since 2006? It seems they have had some help...

  • Tony||

    For one they put a gun to the head of the planet's economy every time anyone suggests raising taxes on rich people, even in the name of dealing with their alleged number one problem, the budget deficit.

  • Jordan||

    In other words, they aren't. Meanwhile, corporate profits are exploding while anyone who tries to save a few bucks or find a job gets utterly fucked, thanks to Keynesian and monetarist clowns.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I just can't picture a Republican party that doesn't foment religious extremism and racial bigotry as distractions in order to loot the country of its wealth and give it to the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

    A million monkeys banging away on a million typewriters for a million years couldn't come up with that.

  • Paul.||

    What're you talking about, they just did.

  • Ray Burns||

    RE: "and even to what Douthat calls “pragmatic libertarians” like myself and my wife,"

    Grammatical Error. It's a tough one though, because it should be "like my wife and me."

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