"Libertarians may be ripe for the pickin'"

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Markos Moulitsas' "Libertarian Democrat" manifesto (blogged here yesterday) has inspired some credulous head-scratching over at the Cato Institute's blog, Cato@Liberty. Gene Healy (read his take on President Geena Davis) thinks the idea has potential, as long as the GOP keeps its eye off the ball.

Does the Libertarian Democrat exist? It's doubtful, though Kos has a few examples, including the impressive James Webb, Vietnam war hero, former Secretary of the Navy, and current Democratic challenger to Virginia Senator George Allen. But then the Libertarian Republican has been an elusive creature of late as well, judging by the GOP's constitutional amendment fetish. The last time the flag-burning amendment came up for a vote in the House, only an even dozen Republicans voted against it, and only a couple of those could reasonably be described as "libertarian." Neither party is a reliable friend of liberty, but any effort to move either party in the right direction ought to be applauded.

The Democratic party is quite unlikely to evolve in the direction Kos's post suggests. But if it did, for all its flaws, it would still beat "Big Government Conservatism" any day of the week.

Will Wilkinson (read his take on happiness and taxes) looks at the data and says "show me the libertarianism."

As Gene did, it really is worth pointing out common ground between libertarians and the left. Nobel-winning libertarian heroes such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman have supported a tax-funded safety net, and so would I, if it was sanely designed. Now, if Democrats like Kos really meant it, and started thinking about market and government institutions in anything remotely like way Friedman and Hayek were thinking when they proposed their minimum income policies, or started thinking about environmental policy like PERC, or threw away their silly vestigial Marxist model of agonistic employee-employer relationships—which is just to say, if Democrats actually become more recognizably libertarian—then I think the psychological evidence supports the hypothesis that personality-compatible libertarians would flock to the Democrats in droves.

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  1. I’d like to be the first to advance the theory that Dave Weigel is a mole from Kos-ick-stan.

  2. It can’t happen. The entire progressive/democratic/liberal platform* is in conflict with libertarian ideals/ideas.

    *Please note the use of the word “platform”, thanks.

  3. Half the US budget is social, half is military and it is pretty much all waste.

    Accordingly, there is as much room for leftwing libertarians as rightwing.

    David Weigel is here to stay, I reckon.

  4. This is interesting. Two of the leading lights of libertarianism support or supported a tax funded safety net, albeit in a different form from the ones we have now (and even though I consider myself a liberal I have no problem with recasting the safety in ways that two of the leading free market economists of the 20th century would recommend). But judging from the comments on the other note about Kos, the libertarians here dismiss a tax funded safety net out of hand.

    I’m guessing both Friedman and Hayek also acknowledge that property rights are utilitarian constructs, not derived from natural law. If this is the case they would also likely acknowledge that not all the things one does on one’s land, or in the air above one’s head or the water in front of him, affects only the owner of the land in question (and as I said on the other note, where do you decide ownership of the air above your head starts and ends?); therefore, one does not have an absolute right to property. If an individual, a corporation, or the government pollutes, and health damages are caused, how do we determine the causal agent in a court of law? This is why regulation concerning pollution makes some sense. I’m wondering if Friedman and Hayek would buy into that, if not H and R readers.

  5. If libertarians were particularly concerned about social issues like drug laws and civil rights, I could see an alignment with the Democratic party occurring, especially on the West Coast. However, most libertarians I have met cared more about laissez faire economic policies that (supposedly) encourage the growth of capitalism, so no dice.

  6. If libertarians were particularly concerned about social issues like drug laws and civil rights, I could see an alignment with the Democratic party occurring, especially on the West Coast.

    But the Democratic party enthusiastically supports drug laws and didn’t most Democrats sign the Patriot Act?

  7. But the Democratic party enthusiastically supports drug laws and didn’t most Democrats sign the Patriot Act?

    Annnnnnd, refer to my asterisk above.

  8. Both major parties are in the hands of anti-libertarian forces. So how does one advance to positions of influence without first supporting the statist candidates that the parties are running? Around where I live, you couldn’t even become a committeeman without kowtowing to a) the unions, particularly the teachers, or b) the corporate welfare seekers. Is the only solution to be a “stealth libertarian” until one is invulnerable to being purged? If so, once you
    “come out,” those who supported you feel betrayed.

  9. Will Wilkinson’s right, this is a no-brainer. That paragraph on “Libertarian Dems believe…” is a joke. What part of free markets don’t the Kossacks understand? Major cognitive dissonance, I’ll leave it at that.

  10. If libertarians were particularly concerned about social issues like drug laws and civil rights

    Spend much time here, Ship Erect?

    paleolib: Much as I like Friedman and Hayek, I’m not actually very well read in their works — but I think they’d support regulations of activity that affects others (whether neighbors or the general public). I may be more eco-friendly than the average libertarian (not sure), but I know there’s been a lot of effort to craft policies I’d support — tradeable emissions rights (which require regulation of both the emissions and the credits), limits on noise pollution, etc. And several of these are actually up and running — power-plant emissions credits are the clearest example.

    As for Kos, who knows? I don’t have much use for him, but I’m happy to have him supporting some of the same policies (and even principles!) I do. And while I won’t hold my breath, maybe his manifesto will lead a few Kossacks to look at our ideas in a better light.

  11. If libertarians were particularly concerned about social issues like drug laws and civil rights, I could see an alignment with the Democratic party occurring, especially on the West Coast. However, most libertarians I have met cared more about laissez faire economic policies that (supposedly) encourage the growth of capitalism, so no dice.

    Idiot…we bitch about civil rights to republicans and we bitch about capitalism to democrats…gee so you are a democrat, which one do you think a libertarian is going to bitch about to you?

    again, idiot.

  12. paleolib – Part of the disparity in reactions may be due to the fact that Kos was trying to appropriate the libertarian label, rather than just pointing out grounds for cooperation between libertarians and liberals. Read up on free-market environmentalism to see some libertarian approaches to enviromental problems other than torts. There is a split among libetarians between Rothbardian (torts based) and Coarsian (markets-for-pollution based) takes on environmental issues, but even those who favor torts-based approaches typically will prefer Coarsian methods to top-down regulation.

  13. Even if he’s an inconsistent libertarian Democrat, it’s good to see someone else describing himself as such. As a former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee (1985-87), I made the transition from left liberal to libertarian over the past 20 years, and wrote my own libertarian Democrat manifesto, published in February 2005, available at my blog: “www.terrymichael.net — thoughts from a libertarian Democrat”

  14. Idiot… …again, idiot.

    joshua – paleolib and Ship Erect obviously didn’t come here to troll, but rather to have an actual conversation. Could you save your venom for those who really deserve it, like the Jerseys & drxs of the blogosphere?

  15. Both major parties are in the hands of anti-libertarian forces.

    There is a name for those anti-libertarians — they’re populists, with a small p. Their philosophy is straight foward. The government should be activily involved in improving all aspects of your life. Protect me from the evil corporations. Keep my kids off drugs. Take care of me from cradle to grave.

    In my opinion, the real political debate should be between libertarians and populists. Progressives and conservatives are confused about whether or not the government should play a role in our lives.

    The Republican and Democratic parties take turns courting the populists. I watched with amazement in 2004 as all the progressives wailed about how stupid those “low-income” families were for voting against their self-interests by going for that whole “church” thing that Bush had going. He was just doing what Reagan did by appealing to the populist’s sense of right and wrong.

    There are a lot more of those populists out there then there are libertarians. Don’t expect either party to ever turn their backs to the progressives to court us.

    Carrick

  16. Don’t expect either party to ever turn their backs to the progressives to court us.

    Even proofreading doesn’t help some days.

    Don’t expect either party to ever turn their backs to the populists to court us.

  17. An example of a free market environmentalist model for pollution in bodies of water would be to make the ownership of the body of water private and require permission of the owner to be granted for hazardous runoff in its watershed. The owner of the body of water would balance the various benefits of it (potable water, swimming, retaining pollution, fishing, etc). Owners would manage the body of water to return maximum value from it. For Coarsian approaches, it doesn’t matter that much (only insofar as transaction costs are an issue) exactly how the rights are structured, as long as they are clearly defined. This is in contrast to the Rothbardian approach, where you can dump in the watershed, but if you do any damage to the body of water, it’s owner can sue you for it, so potential polluters should be detered or work out agreements ahead of time with the affected parties.

  18. I’m on the libertarian right–I have a hard time thinking of anything good to say about taxes. …But even I don’t see the developmentally disabled, the old and poor and unadopted orphans starving on their feet in the streets of Libertopia.

    It’s hard to talk about the way safety nets should be without getting a gut reaction from libertarians about the way taxation is now.

  19. How would it work say, if you live on a lake, but building something on the lake leads to run-off into the water?

    Who owns the lake and water?

    Count me among those who are open to dealing with problems that affect an inevitable commons like the atmosphere in ways that don’t adhere perfectly to libertarian scripture. But at the same time, I think we should limit the commons to areas where there’s little choice. The less commons there is, the less we have to deal with the messy situations they create. And it’s probably feasible to assign property rights to bodies of water. They’ll be interdependent with each other, but I think it a manner that would be negotiation between the parties perfectly feasible, whereas I agree that negotiating with billions of automobile drivers is another matter.

  20. I find it hard to believe that the Democrats would abandon their decades-long love affairs with high taxes, Publik Skools, and gun control long enough to whisper a few sweet nothings into the ears of libertarians.

    This is just more self-delusion by Kos.

  21. paleolib – Try the Wikipedia article on it for a good jumping off point. You could also look at the

  22. MattXIV, if you mean “Coasian,” please stop writing “Coarsian.”

    It makes you look dumb.

  23. Damnit – I feel pretty dumb too now. I suck with remembering names.

  24. Both major parties are in the hands of anti-libertarian forces. So how does one advance to positions of influence without first supporting the statist candidates that the parties are running? Around where I live, you couldn’t even become a committeeman without kowtowing to a) the unions, particularly the teachers, or b) the corporate welfare seekers. Is the only solution to be a “stealth libertarian” until one is invulnerable to being purged? If so, once you
    “come out,” those who supported you feel betrayed.

    Politics at the committee level (which, after all, is where most participation takes place) is primarily personal. You can appear to “kowtow” to the people you need to simply by being friendly with them. You don’t even have to discuss policy; just let them understand you’re interested in politics or “public service”, shut up and listen, and they’ll consider you to be sufficiently on their side to advance you to the committee level.

    On top of that, most politics is local, and at that level, most policy matters on the agenda have no obvious libertarian or authoritarian side to them. Your radical libertarian ideas are so far from the agenda that they’ll practically never come up anyway. However, if you do want to discuss such things, without being a nudge about them, you’ll find that your fellows don’t think of you as a dangerous nut just for having them. Just don’t let them get in the way of business.

    The main problem libertarians have in conventional politics is not others’ intolerance of them, but their own intolerance of others. Radical libertarians, like radicals of most other types, are so in thrall of a good-vs.-evil view of things that they feel as if they’re sitting down with the Devil when just doing normal politics with normal folks. If you can get over that feeling, then you can participate effectively.

    When you get right down to it, practically everybody in politics is a “stealth” something. They all have some way-out-there ideas, but they aren’t nudges about them.

  25. Matt XIV, Fyodor, Ventifact,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments and the links. I’ll look into it. Fyodor, you’re right, the negotiation with billions of automobile drivers would still be a problem – one reason I can think of that some regulation would still be necessary.

    I must say that I’m a little uneasy over the idea of not having a commons altogether, with equal public access to all regardless of income. I realize there are problems with the commons, but I fear that not having it available to all, would present bigger problems. But I’m not someone who is opposed to free trade (I don’t support protectionism at all as I believe the poor in other countries has as much right to compete for our dollars as workers here ) and free markets, in general. Like Kos, I think small businesses need more tax relief. But if people like Kos and I would have trouble with eliminating a public commons then I think this would be an even harder sell among the rank and file Democrats…or even many Republicans for that matter.

  26. make the ownership of the body of water private and require permission of the owner to be granted for hazardous runoff in its watershed.

    But suppose that the owner decides to use the lake as a pollution dumping ground for the next 50 years to make a big profit over those who have to properly dispose of their waste. Sure it’s great for the owner he has his short term profits, but all economic value in the lake is lost forever.

    And to keep up, other pollution producing industries do the same thing. Eventually a couple of centuries down the line all land and waterbodies will lose all economic value – hardly a sustainable solution when compared to government mandated clean up by owners and/or regulation.

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