The Great Libertarian-Populist Roundup

A reading list.


As Nick Gillespie mentioned this morning, he and I and two guests will have a panel discussion about libertarian populism at Reason's Washington office tomorrow. If you're coming in late and wondering what this whole "libertarian populism" thing is supposed to be, here's a long, detailed, and probably excessive reading list that'll get you up to speed:


* Timothy Carney, "GOP must woo working people chasing American dream" (The Washington Examiner, November 7): The ur-text. "It's time for free-market populism and a Republican Party that fights against all forms of political privilege," Carney argues. Carney will be one of the panelists at tomorrow's event.

* Ross Douthat, "Libertarian Populism and Its Limits" (The New York Times, June 4): Contains one of the better definitions of the libertarian-populist impulse: "a strain of thought that moves from the standard grassroots conservative view of Washington as an inherently corrupt realm of special interests and self-dealing elites to a broader skepticism of 'bigness' in all its forms (corporate as well as governmental), that regards the Bush era as an object lesson in everything that can go wrong (at home and abroad) when conservatives set aside this skepticism, and that sees the cause of limited government as a means not only to safeguarding liberty, but to unwinding webs of privilege and rent-seeking and enabling true equality of opportunity as well."

* Ben Domenech, "The Libertarian Populist Agenda" (RealClearPolitics, June 5): A Republican expresses interest in the libertarian-populist label. Domenech will be one of the panelists at tomorrow's event.


* Ben Domenech, "Three Challenges to Libertarian Populism" (RealClearPolitics, June 6, 2013): Ponders potential tensions between populist- and libertarian-leaning Republicans.

* Mike Konczal, "Can libertarian populism save the Republican Party?" (The Washington Post, July 6): A leftist looks at libertarian populism. Makes the novel argument that "Mitt Romney arguably tried this…in his 2012 presidential campaign."

* Paul Krugman, "Delusions of Populism" (The New York Times, July 11): The column where many people read the phrase "libertarian populism" for the first time. Notable for never bothering to describe what libertarian populists actually believe.

* Conn Carroll, "Economic populism, not Gang of Eight immigration reform, will boost GOP's future" (The Washington Examiner, July 13): The term "libertarian populism" doesn't actually appear here, but there's some obvious overlap.

* Timothy Carney, "Libertarian populism: The economic prescription for the right" (The Washington Examiner, July 15): Lays out a libertarian-populist economic agenda.


* Ramesh Ponnuru, "Libertarian Populism, Trashed by Krugman, Won't Save Republicans" (Bloomberg View, July 18): A conservative makes the case that libertarian populism won't win elections.

* Nick Gillespie, "Paul Krugman's Nasty and Inane Attack on 'Libertarian Populism'" (The Daily Beast, July 19): My Reason colleague takes on Krugman's column.

* Will Wilkinson, "Unpopular and impolitic" (The Economist, July 20): It's too bad Wilkinson no longer calls himself a liberaltarian, 'cause I'd really like to advertise his critique as a liberaltarian/libertarian-populist cage match.

* Jeremy Kolassa, "Libertarian Populism and Basic Income" (Quantum Matrix Scribe, July 20): Asks what sort of safety net is most compatible with libertarian populism.

* Jesse Walker, "Three Lessons for Libertarian Populists" (Reason, July 23): My contribution to the debate. Introduces the ugly term "LibPop," which has mostly (and mercifully) failed to catch on.

* Josh Barro, "Republicans Shouldn't Get Sidetracked By 'Libertarian Populism'" (Business Insider, July 25): Argues that "Libertarian populism aims to fix a messaging problem that doesn't actually exist."


* Will Wilkinson, "Tell it to the widows" (The Economist, July 26): Argues that Chris Christie's "explicitly anti-libertarian fearmongering probably remains the more potent populism."

* Ross Douthat, "Going for Bolingbroke" (The New York Times, July 28): Combines the concept with the old Court Party/Country Party idea.

* Scott Galupo, "'Libertarian Populism' Is a Stepchild of McCainism" (The American Conservative, July 29): NOW THAT'S HITTING BELOW THE BELT.

Bonus reading, in case you just can't get enough: I wrote about the larger populist tradition here and here. And to see how far a libertarian critique of corporate power can go, check out this book edited by Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson. Not to go out on a limb or anything, but I have a feeling the GOP isn't going to look there for its next platform.

NEXT: NSA Revelations Flesh Out Years of Hints from Sen. Wyden

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  1. Scott Galupo, “‘Libertarian Populism’ Is a Stepchild of McCainism” (The American Conservative, July 29): NOW THAT’S HITTING BELOW THE BELT.

    I LOL’d.

  2. …what sort of safety net is most compatible with libertarian populism?

    Private charity, churches, and significantly higher personal savings from significantly lower taxes on wages, income, savings, investments and capital gains?

    1. And the absence of a central bank whose only purpose is to siphon wealth from the lower and middle classes to the financial sector and government.

      1. These two pages are all anybody needs to know about the Fed:



        Doesn’t take a genius to notice two clear events: when the Fed started manipulating money, and how there were little transient bubbles during wars.

    2. I’d be happy with a guaranteed minimum income to replace the current rats nest of tax breaks, food stamps, and Medicaid programs.

      1. Negative income tax.

        1. Yeah, something like that would be fine. As long it is in the form of direct cash transfers with no strings attached on how it’s spent.

          1. I did a back of envelope calculation last year on a “revenue neutral”* negative income tax where a zero income household would receive enough to put them at the poverty line.

            I think the flat tax rate was something like 37%, but the point where you started to pay was very high too. Im sure there were losers under that system, probably upper middle class with a large mortgage interest deduction, but it worked out better for most. Also, federal employees in the programs that disappeared would be hurt, but fuck them.

            *not technically revenue neutral, as I assumed the government cut out all transfer payments so that revenue didnt have to be replaced. Call it deficit neutral, I guess.

            1. Depends on how you define “upper middle class” because right now the 25th – 10th income percentiles are the ones who are really getting screwed over when you look at effective tax rates

            2. As Instapundit says, “Not enough opportunity for graft.” Or social engineering.

  3. Reason: Come for the libertarianism, stay for the paleo-tentacle porn.

    1. Cthulu likes this

      1. +(DEEP)7

      2. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

    2. Better than the cosmo-tentacle porn.

      1. They just want to be invited to the right undersea parties where they are crushed to paste by the enormous pressures.

    3. Hey SugarFree, do you think Luke ever got to Beggar’s Canyon with Leia? And if so, do you think he managed to bullseye her womprat?

      1. Dude, thats sick. They are brother and sister.

        Leave the twincest to Game of Thrones.

        1. Would have been a much better trilogy with twincest 😉

          1. With a hard R rating

            1. Weiner alert!

          2. Who’s to say what may or may not have happened at Rebel Camp?

            1. Surely, there is a porno of this?

              Star Whores, perhaps?

              My backpack’s got jets!

        2. What’s the incest threshold? They showed some unsisterly kissing and Han seems to accept that they are together until Luke fucks off to Degobah because he’s hearing voices.

          Which is worse, having sex with your brother or cheating on your brother with his best friend?

      2. But did he do it in his T-16 back home?

      3. I honestly don’t know. She was a princess after all, she might have been saving her sweet thang for a political marriage. Or she might have gone full revolutionary and been into free love.

        If she didn’t give it up for Luke, he’s a chump for hanging around all those months on Hoth. But I’d say rescuing Leia from and subsequent destruction of the Death Star rated at least a blowie, and maybe some backdoor action.

        1. So Luke, Han and Chewbacca?

          1. Maybe even a tame Wampa.

  4. I hope this pulls people to libertarianism, rather than convincing them that this time the GOP is really going to let them kick the football.

  5. Josh Barro, “Republicans Shouldn’t Get Sidetracked By ‘Libertarian Populism'” (Business Insider, July 25): Argues that “Libertarian populism aims to fix a messaging problem that doesn’t actually exist.”

    Exactly right. The GOP don’t give a shit about free minds, free speech, free markets, or free people. Just vote for your betters and shut the fuck up. Note: GOP and Democratic party could be swapped here, but the focus is the out of power party.

  6. It’s too bad Wilkinson no longer calls himself a liberaltarian

    No it isn’t.

    ’cause I’d really like to advertise his critique as a liberaltarian/libertarian-populist cage match.

    The ‘match’ was had. When the whiny liberals in need of special attention ie liberaltarians didn’t get enough of that special attention, their little… ‘movement’ ended. You can’t base an ideal on whining for attention. At least shithead Wilkinson has the honesty to not call himself a libertarian anymore.

    1. No it isn’t.

      I’m always surprised I don’t see more bitching about his various essays in this neighborhood.

      Are any nerds with crushes upset that he’s marrying Kerry in October?

  7. Libertarian populism: only slightly better than liberaltarianism.

    1. Eh. At least they have finally exposed some people to the idea that libertarians oppose both big government and TBTF companies that have used regulatory capture and cronyism to insulate themselves from the free market and the benefits of competition.

  8. No such thing as libertarian populism.

  9. Since populism is inherently collectivist, there is no such thing as “libertarian populism”, and the continued push to convince people there is is weird and fucked up.

    1. But if we collectively agree that liberty is the answer, wouldn’t that be libertarian populism?

      And, I think when we get to that point… we win.

      1. I don’t care about “collective agreements”. My point is that populism is inherently collectivist, and therefore is anathema to libertarianism.

        1. What if the collective agreement is to be libertarian?

          HOWEVER, in accordance with the following definition, I agree.

          Populism- the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.

          Is that the point you are making?

          1. Huh? Looks to me liked you picked a definition that does not agree with Episiarch.

    2. That’s according to just one meaning of “populism”. More broadly, it just means appeal to “the people”.

  10. And here I thought anti-corporatism and rent seeking was just plain old libertarianism not some form of populism.

    1. It is part of libertarianism, problem is libertarianism also includes a bunch of other stuff that too many people would reject out of hand to ever be an effective large scale political movement.

      So the goal here is to take the elements that most populists and libertarians would actually agree on and make a political movement based on those ideals, then if we’re lucky and can get them implemented and woven into the fabric of society the libertarians and populists can split and go to war over whether we should have open borders or legalize all drugs.

      1. Is it the libertarians who would choose open borders and the populists legal drugs, or vice versa?

  11. So, in short, a gigantic strawman was created. He was then kicked around and eventually set on fire. Hurrah for the pundits!

    1. Remember, Remember the 11th of July/ Strawmen, treason and Pauls

  12. As long it is in the form of direct cash transfers with no strings attached on how it’s spent.

    The dumb ones can drink and smoke and fuck themselves to death, the smart ones can work and save and invest without being punished. I like it.

  13. Jeremy Kolassa, I remember that kid from back when he was in high school posting on the Libertarianism and Talk-Politics boards of LiveJournal, now he’s getting linked to from reason magazine, looks like he’s moving up in the world.

  14. Nothing on this list seems to me to be all that popular with the general public right now:

    1.Break up the big banks, and/or place stricter safety and soundness rules on them
    2.Cut or eliminate the payroll tax
    3.End corporate welfare
    4.Cleaner tax code
    5.Health-care reform
    6.Kill anticompetitive regulations
    7.Address political privilege
    8.Rollback the surveillance state
    9.End the Drug War
    10.End deportations
    11.Return infrastructure to the states
    12.Return education to the states
    13.End student loans

    1. No, the real problem with it is those vague platatudes might get you a lot of attention because they “sound good” the problem is when you start getting into specifics.

      Lets take #3, #4, and #5 for example.

      No one is really for corporate welfare, right up until they realize that corporate welfare pays for their job, or their mothers job, or their best friends job, etc. Why are you trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

      A cleaner tax code, again sounds good. Who could be against it? What’s that I won’t be able to write off my mortgage interest any more? You mean people won’t get a huge tax break to buy my product any more? Whoa nelly, lets not be so hasty here.

      Now health care reform. Everyone knows it is needed because what we have now is bankrupting us. Most people even recognize that Obamacare is a bad idea that won’t work so the need is obvious. Problem is what do you mean by health care reform what is the plan. Oh you’re going to cut my Medicare, kick my sisters kids of of chip? well that just won’t fly.

      The problem with all of these is that while most people agree with the platatitudes of the name when it comes right down to it they or someone they care about personally benefits from the things you want to cut which makes it far too easy for your political opponents to demagogue your positions and distract from the somewhat abstract and diffuse benefits if the changes you want to make and focus on the specific personal harms that will result.

      1. OK, so go for something else.

  15. That dude seems to lknow whats going on man. Wow.


  16. I’m sensing a really anti-cephalopod vibe here, anyone else?

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