Oh, If Only

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Michael Lind at TPMCafe explains how the Democratic Party turned libertarian. Sort of.

Matt Welch spotted an opening for "Deadwood Democrats" last summer—forvive me if I'm not persuaded they've walked through it yet .

Update: Nathan Newman is similarly unconvinced.

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  1. That analysis is out of touch with reality.

    I work in Congress and everyday I hear about this and that that needs to be regulated and about the dangers of “free-wheeling” capitalism. The rhetoric from the left continues to be about evil business and the down-trodden worker.

    One need only look at the records of the would-be Democrat chairman in the House. John Dingell, Charlie Rangel, George Miller, David Obey, etc. These guys are the creme of the crusty-liberal-dinosaur pot.

  2. wow. I’m reminded of the Late Lamented Suck’s dual Suck Evil Genius Grants (Suck EGGs) presented to Michael Lind and David Horowitz. My favorite line – “…a pretty unlovely image: the ambitious young beltway ass-kisser scribbling Pat Moynihan’s Jameson-fueled skylarks on the nearest napkin.”

    http://www.suck.com/daily/98/10/16/daily.html

  3. I would be thrilled with even a sort-of libertarian Democratic Party, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    Cut taxes? Nope.

    Cut spending? Nope.

    Shrink the regulatory state? Nope.

    End the Drug War? Nope.

    Shrink the redistributionist state? Nope.

    I mean, they’re not even trying to lie to me about wanting this stuff.

  4. I’m not normally one to demand political perfectionism. As a libertarian, I’m willing to compromise if that compromise gets me a step or two closer to liberty.

    However, the Democrats have a lot of statism to make up for. Until I see Chuck Schumer smoking a joint while doing a press conference where he states that the National Firearms Act should be completely repealed, I will not believe there’s anything libertarian about the Dems.

    (Not that there is about the Republicans, either.)

  5. Even if everything that Lind said was true, the Dems’ economic stance would best be described as favoring the interests of the upper class, which is not the same as favoring a free market.

    Conservatarians, take note.

  6. A more reasonable take on the situation, one that is still consistent with Lind’s piece, is that the economic stances of the Dems no longer fit quite so neatly into their traditional paradigm of favoring the poor over the rich, but culturally they are still a party of the left. (Which is not exactly the same as being a civil libertarian party.)

    Which is no real surprise. After the last two presidential elections we’ve been told that church attendance is now a better predictor of voting behavior than income. Income is still a good predictor, but not as good as it used to be, and church attendance is a significanty better indicator.

    Being a secular party that sometimes favors the rich over the poor doesn’t count as being libertarian. Not even quasi-libertarian.

  7. There’s a large group of people who are relatively libertarian in most of their views. Neither party is very libertarian in their economics. The Democrats tend to be slightly more libertarian on social issues.

    It seems to me that the Democrats would have a leg up if they paid lip service to libertarian economic views. Sure, they wouldn’t deliver, but neither do the Republicans. But it scares me that they are so entrenched in their left-wing economics that they aren’t willing to budge a little to grab a significant number of voters.

  8. Of course, Lind used it as an epithet,not a compliment. Funny, that.

  9. Seth,

    Sounds like you’re starting in a good place with Smith & Hayek. I would suggest Bastiat for a nice encapsulation of why many (most?) libertarians consider most taxation and regulation not just counterproductive but immoral. As for practical applications of economics to concrete situations, I’d encourage you to do searches at the CATO, CEI, PERC, or similar websites. Since they’re trying to be persuasive (as opposed to libertarians you may talk to who are just being confrontational) you’re likely to get a good flavor of the libertarian argument without being insulted. That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree, of course, but it will give you a good notion of where we’re coming from.

  10. Seth/Smappy

    A link to this was posted on an earlier economics discussion…

    http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC32/Gilman.htm

    It argues for a different way of looking at economics that goes beyond the traditional model that supports much of the libertarian argument. It would be a good place for a libertarian to start for those serious about a two-way discussion rather than simply tutoring non-libertarians regarding their immoral ways.

  11. When we have to abandon the word “libertarian” and make up a new one, it is going to be because the guys on the right have stolen it. Mallard Fucking Fillmore is claiming to be a libertarian, for FSM’s sake.

  12. I think the dude without a dog is correct. Sure, there are lefties who want to call themselves libertarians to be hip, but conservatives have persuaded some that everything they do is for freedom. When they bring in the camps for dissidents they’ll call them “freedom camps.”

  13. MainStreamMan,

    I can’t say that I’ve carefully read the article in that link, but I perused it. It was written in 1992 and there’s a reason it hasn’t caught on in the Econonomics profession. Most of it is breatheless exasperation at the simplicity of economics models and an insistence that if we break out Land, Labor, Capital and Utility into enough subcategories we’ll all realize that neoclassical economics is wrong. Newsflash: economists have developed more complex models, but they haven’t come to conclusions counter to foundational economic theory.

    There are rigorous economic arguments for regulation, subsidies, and the like (public goods, monopolies, adverse selection, etc.), but they have been posed by neoclassical economists. (There are, of course, rigorous arguments against those things posed by neoclassical economists as well.)

    Finally, I posit that anyone who can say the following cannot be trusted as a reliable source for information on economic theory:

    If I borrow $10,000 for 10 years, JAK [a non-mainstream lender] won’t charge me any interest (although they will charge me a modest fee)

    Well what the hell is interest if it isn’t a fee for borrowing money?

  14. Seth,
    I would also recommend reading Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarok’s blog Marginal Revolution ( http://www.marginalrevolution.com/ ). They’re both libertarian leaning economists who I think are sensitive to the potential downsides of free markets, as well as the benefits. Nothing confrontational or doctrinaire about them. Cowen’s book Creative Destruction is particularly good.

  15. I’ve found more and more people I talk to these days cozying up to the “libertarian” label, even though I find on closer inspection that it doesn’t fit. It’s easy for someone on the right to cast their anti-tax sentiments as “the government shouldn’t have the power to redistribute wealth based on ones income” when they haven’t the least bit of discomfort with government having the power to redistribute wealth based on whether you’re married or if you have kids. And don’t even get them started on who should be able to get married. Likewise, it’s easy for someone on the left to cast their social liberalism as “the government shouldn’t have the power to tell consenting adults what they can do in the bedroom” when they haven’t the least bit of discomfort with government having the power to tell consenting adults what they can do in the workplace. Bottom line is, all these people are doing is hiding their particular brand of authoritarianism behind their contempt for someone else’s. It certainly doesn’t make the libertarians in any meaningful sense of the word.

  16. Even if everything that Lind said was true, the Dems’ economic stance would best be described as favoring the interests of the upper class, which is not the same as favoring a free market.

    thoreau have i told you i love you today…in a platonic way only…cuz i am not gay…it is ok if soemone is gay but it is really important for everyone to know i am not gay.

    but yeah i love yah thoreau.

    not gay.

  17. the Dems’ economic stance would best be described as favoring the interests of the upper class

    I may have to give them a second look, then.

  18. I agree with Mr. F. Le Mur, nothing brings out the statist in an alleged libertarian like the environment or workplace discrimination laws.

    I appreciate the dream, that Democrats may be moving more toward Libertarianism, but I don’t buy an ounce of it. In fact it makes me sad. It’s like the kid who keeps trying to fool himself after he’s seen his dad in the santa suit, he wants SO BAD to believe…

  19. I think it’s appropriate to repost this bit of brilliance:

    Re: Mythological status of the Libertarian Democrat.
    [David Attenborough Voice] Finding themselves so utterly out of power, some Democrats are beginning to spew libertarian rhetoric out of desperation. Thus the Libertarian Democrat is less of a myth than the Libertarian Republican which has been extinct, save a handful of infertile specimens, since 1996. What is curious, is how many continue to speak of the Libertarian Republican as though it yet thrived and might be encountered outside the laboratory.

    Forensic science has now revealed is that the Libertarian traits once found in Republicans, were not genetic markings, but merely affectations applied for display proposes when attempting to woo power. Once successfully mated with power, the Libertarian rhetoric having served its purpose, has been discarded.

    Returning our attention to the appearance of a seemingly novel breed, the Libertarian Democrat, we may reasonably conclude that this too is not a true breed. More likely, the Democrats have picked up the discarded Libertarian decoration which served their rivals when the situation was reversed. In the event that the Democrats can woo power back away from the Republicans we can expect that they will be equally eager to rid themselves of the uncomfortable and restricting Libertarian cloth.

    Never the less, there is a small but thriving population of pure Libertarians which makes their home deep in the foliage of the Lunatic Fringe. It is not uncommon for members of this tribe to leave the safety of the Fringe and seek out mates from amongst the sheeple. Thus, genuine half-breed Libertarian-Democrats, and Libertarian-Republicans do exist and are regularly replenished. However, they are continually swallowed up by faux-Libertarians and therefore unable to establish themselves as a true and viable breed within the species poloticius.

    Comment by: Warren at December 21, 2005 10:41 AM

    Warren, that was fucking brilliant!

  20. I have to say that libertarians remind me a great deal of the commies of yesteryear–same doctrinaire attitudes, same dogmatic economic determinism, same contempt for heresies. I suspect libertarians–like the communists–will always remain a marginal sect in American political life because Americans are pragmatists par excellence.

  21. Guido-

    Heretic! Traitor! Statist!

  22. Cut taxes? Nope.

    Cut military spending? Nope.

    Shrink the vast and highly regulated economy of the military industrial complex? Nope.

    End the regulation of AIDS drugs sold to Africa? Nope.

    Even taxes across America’s wealth base? Nope.

  23. Cut taxes in a way that retains progressivity of the taxes? Nope.

  24. One big difference between communists and libertarians is that the communists got to try their theories out on a large scale. We can’t even advocate libertarianism with a human face. But why does something as mystifying as economics inspire so much true-believer devotion?

  25. I agree with Mr. F. Le Mur, nothing brings out the statist in an alleged libertarian like the environment or workplace discrimination laws.

    I don’t get it. Most libertarians aren’t real fond of the heavy hand of the state in these areas.

    Cut taxes? Nope.

    I’m all in favor of cutting taxes, ICU.

    Cut military spending? Nope.

    Bet we could, if we were smart about it.

    Shrink the vast and highly regulated economy of the military industrial complex? Nope.

    I’m all for deregulation, ICU. Not so big on shrinking the economy. As for the “military industrial complex,” well, it will shrink to the degree we smarten up our military spending.

    End the regulation of AIDS drugs sold to Africa? Nope.

    No idea what this means, ICU.

    I’m all for a free market in AIDS drugs in Africa, which is not the same at all as expropriating those drugs by stripping patents.

    Even taxes across America’s wealth base? Nope.

    I’m wide open to tax reform, ICU. “Wealth” taxes have a nasty history of being double and triple taxation for the purpose of redistributing wealth, but lets hear your proposal.

  26. expropriating those drugs by stripping patents

    Patents end at the US border. Coercing African nations to adopt patents is a form of trade regulation. A form u like.

  27. Cut taxes in a way that retains progressivity of the taxes? Nope.

    In that case, ICU, then I would say I’m probably not a big fan of progressive tax rates. They tend to create a system where the majority of low rate payers have an interesting in fleecing the minority of high rate payers.

    Nearly any thing other than a head tax will result in those with more, paying more, of course. Flat rate taxes on income will mean that someone making more will pay more, for example, so even flat rates are progressive in that sense.

  28. but lets hear your proposal.

    I think people get benefits from taxation in proportion to their wealth, not their income. The US army means more to Warren Buffet than me because he has more to lose. Low gas prices and good highways mean more to Warren Buffet than me because he has more to lose.

    Taxes should switch from income to wealth. In other words, me and Warren each pay an even proportion of our respective pools of wealth, rather than in proportion to the small fraction of our wealth that is denominated as “income” or “realized capital gain” in a given year. This is the true, fair flat tax. RCD backs this proposal and I will eat my freaking hat.

  29. Patents end at the US border. Coercing African nations to adopt patents is a form of trade regulation.

    Property doesn’t shed its ownership when it crosses a border, ICU. If I ship a bunch of T-shirts to Angola, they’re still my T-shirts until someone buys them from me at the price I am willing to accept. Same deal with Novo Nordisk’s drugs.

  30. Hats, that’s an interesting theory. Two quibbles:

    Many benefits of the state inure to all citizens equally, so I think there’s a theoretical flaw in your ointment.

    On a more practical level, wealth these days is very portable. You start confiscating 10% of American’s wealth every year, and you will see a sudden and mysterious drop in how much of that wealth can be found to tax.

    Finally, the kind of wealth tax you propose may be more economically damaging than an income tax. The estate tax, a form of wealth tax, famously costs the country more than it collects, as it forces the breakup and liquidation of viable businesses.

  31. Property doesn’t shed its ownership when it crosses a border, ICU.

    Property is whatever a nation chooses it to be. that is part of the fun part of ruling a nation. You get to decide what is property and who owns it in the first instance.

    Using trade law to try to influence how other nations make their laws is called trade regulation and mercantilism. It is not surprising that you favor this policy when you think it benefits the class of people you most identify with. But don’t kid yourself that this is a free markets or libertarian way to be.

  32. On a more practical level, wealth these days is very portable. You start confiscating 10% of American’s wealth every year, and you will see a sudden and mysterious drop in how much of that wealth can be found to tax.

    1. That sounds like a bluff. One the US should be more willing to call to make sure it is true.

    2. This is good because it would dovetail nicely with the cuts to military spending that your leftwing libertarian doppelganger luvs as much as you luv cuts in social spending.

  33. Or, to put it more succinctly and with reference to the article they just linked to here at HnR:

    You are the Jacksonian libertarian and I am the Jeffersonian one.

    That means I win.

  34. I agree with Mr. F. Le Mur…
    That’s not supposed to happen! I’ll just move a little further out on this limb…

    One big difference between communists and libertarians is that the communists got to try their theories out on a large scale.
    The U.S. was a mostly libertarian country for over a hundred years; imperfect, as is anything created by humans, but it worked pretty damned well: people were dying to get in, so to speak. Ya can’t say that about communism.

    We can’t even advocate libertarianism with a human face. But why does something as mystifying as economics inspire so much true-believer devotion?
    Economics is only part of it.

    I’ve been able to rather closely observe the workings of, er, the underground economy for well over 20 years.
    It’s largely stateless – no taxes, no police enforcement, and completely “buyer beware.” And it works!
    Sure, people get ripped off every once in a while, but losing the occasional $20K is a lot cheaper than paying taxes.
    Also, living in gold-rush country, I’m quite amazed at the engineering marvels those old-timers created so quickly, especially without using electricity or gasoline engines (telephones, etc, etc, etc). And yeah, I’m sure more people got ripped off by phony mining claims and contrived strikes, had serious injuries, etc., than would happen now, but the overall productivity and well-being was enhanced by the lack of regulation rather than hurt by it.

  35. “Property is whatever a nation chooses it to be.”

    I find this statement…curious, particularly as a response to “Property doesn’t shed its ownership when it crosses a border, ICU. If I ship a bunch of T-shirts to Angola, they’re still my T-shirts until someone buys them from me at the price I am willing to accept. Same deal with Novo Nordisk’s drugs.”

    So there is no theft, as long as you steal from foreigners? Nations define citizenship, too, as I recall…

  36. So there is no theft, as long as you steal from foreigners? Nations define citizenship, too, as I recall…

    yeah, like when the US refused to grant foreign authors US copyrights. that was not a form of theft by the US. Furthermore, the Constitution makes it clear that the US does not have to grant any patents or copyrights at all. If the US chose to repeal the patent and copyright acts, this would not be theft either.

    Now there are some acts that are so heinous or evil that we are willing to condemn them with trade regulation: slavery, genocide, aggressive warmaking, apartheid, murder, etc.

    However, to argue that failure to legally recognize intellectual property as property is evil and heinous like that other stuf would be ridiculous. Rather, it is simply economically advantageous for the US if other nations choose to have a patent system and the trade regulation of Africa is done for these merely economic reasons, not out of some concern about the special value of human life. That is why what is going on with the patents in Africa is mercantilism and is not the same thing as the boycotting of, say, an apartheid nation or a genocidal nation.

  37. If the New Democrats were, and are, really economic conservatives, closer to Robert A. Taft than to Harry Truman…

    HaHaHa!!!! That was funny, Mr. Lind!

    Seriously, neither party has been anything like the late Mr. Taft in many decades now.

    When the Democrats start sounding like Calvin Coolidge (the last great American president), then I’ll start believing that they have any remotely libertarian beliefs. Seriously, Democrats talk about liberty in a few small contexts, but their overall urge to regulate and administer most aspects of our lives, economic and otherwise, utterly destroys that.

    As far as economics, I find that excessive reliance on economic analysis is an Achilles’ Heel of libertarians. Liberty is a moral imperative, not an economic one, and would be equally valid even if it were economically counter-productive.


  38. If I ship a bunch of T-shirts to Angola, they’re still my T-shirts until someone buys them from me at the price I am willing to accept. Same deal with Novo Nordisk’s drugs.”

    The analogy of T shirts breaks down because T-shits are a physical manifestation of a process. The argument at that point becomes, the T shirts remain your property, but you have no right to stop someone else from manufacturing their own T shirts.

    My issue with patents, thus becomes, patents are a way of regulating ideas and processes rather than material objects. Which is something a government has no right to regulate.

  39. As far as economics, I find that excessive reliance on economic analysis is an Achilles’ Heel of libertarians. Liberty is a moral imperative, not an economic one, and would be equally valid even if it were economically counter-productive.

    Randians need to lay off the crack…if liberty was not an econimic imperitive there would be no liberty.

    Liberty would be just another fatal mutation.

  40. I don’t consider myself a Randian, and I really don’t think that humans seek liberty primarily because they think it will benefit them economically. Just my opinion, though.

    Let me put it this way–if liberty WAS an economic imperative, there would probably be a lot more of it than there is.

  41. Smappy,

    The idea behind considering alternative models is they allow you to examine the underlying assumptions you are using when you examine an issue. There is nothing inherently correct about the traditional (or neo-traditional) ways of thinking about these issues. But, if you adopt the traditional way of thinking about the issue, and assume that it is the “correct” way to think about the issue, then it is easy to find evidence that fits your conclusion (in social sciences, most things are correlated to some extent with most other things, so the choice of underlying assumptions and method of measurement have a big impact on results).

    It is important to note that the model on the 1992 link (which is just posted as an example, easily available on-line) does not simple simply propose that we haven’t been considering “enough subcategories,” it posits a different relationship between the existing categories. It proposes viewing economics from a different perspective, not through a better version of the same lens.

    Dialogue about complex issues has to take place with an assumption that no participant has the fully correct veridical answer. Otherwise, there is no interaction and positions don’t change.

    As for the credit/interest thing, the distinction between a fee and interest depends on strict definitional criteria. If you want to consider “interest” a type of “fee,” that is fine, but there is a meaningful distinction that warrants having two distinct terms. A flat fee for a loan, no matter the size, is different in meaningful ways from interest that is calculated based on the amount of money. If you don’t recognize this, then maybe I shouldn’t take you as “a reliable source for information on economic theory.”

    Just saying…;~)

  42. Could someone please ask Michael Lind WTF position on economics he would define as even “moderate” if he thinks the Democrats are “libertarian”??

  43. I’m a registered Democrat … I don’t know much …

    Indeed.

  44. As far as economics, I find that excessive reliance on economic analysis is an Achilles’ Heel of libertarians. Liberty is a moral imperative, not an economic one, and would be equally valid even if it were economically counter-productive.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. If we talk about morality and freedom, we’re ideological nuts. If we talk about pragmatic benefits, we’re nerdy economists. Rinse, repeat.

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