Science & Technology

Slate Goes Libertarian. A Little.


I'm the average American: Take 30 percent of my paycheck and I'll shrug. Nationalize the car companies and I'll change the channel to cartoons. Add 10 cents to the cost of my Cherry Coke and, so help me God, I will start a revolution.

It doesn't make a lick of sense, but that's the way people are. Tea parties notwithstanding, trans fat regulations, smoking rules, parental advisory stickers, and light bulb bans have long been some of the best recruitment tools libertarians have.

For a handy case study, take a look at what happened to the folks over at Slate. The 2008 staff voting record went like this: Obama-55, McCain-1, Bob Barr-1, Not McCain-1. But suddenly, editor Daniel David Plotz finds that his beloved Fresca is being nonsensically threatened by the nanny state, and everyone starts feeling awfully…libertarian:

For a long time, the only discernible libertarian around here was Jack Shafer, a man unable to wean himself from speech, guns, and other annoying constitutional amendments. But lately, other folks seem to be getting a bit Ayn Randy. On Saturday, Jacob Weisberg blew the whistle on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for trying to ban outdoor smoking in public parks ("First They Came for the Marlboros"). Yesterday, Daniel Engber went after the hypocrisy and overreaching of soda-tax advocates. And I've become such a knee-jerk defender of burgers and fries that I'm tempted to seek funding from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

These shifting sands make William Saletan nervous. He writes:

What's going on here? Most of us used to be good liberals. Are we getting conservative in our old age?

I'd say it's the opposite. We're what we were five or 10 years ago: skeptics and fact-mongers with a bias for personal freedom. It's the left that's turning conservative. Well, not conservative, but pushy.

Read the whole thing, a tidy summation of why of the use of phrases like "market failure," "distributed costs," and "time-inconsistent preferences" should—and do—make liberty-lovers nervous.

A couple of soda tax rants do not a full-fledged libertarian make, of course. But we'll take allies where we can.