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More Liberal-Libertarian Lovefests

December 4th, 2006 · No Comments

Like awkward teenagers on a couch, libertarians and liberals continue edging closer on the sofa in nervous anticipation of a kiss. Brink Lindsey makes his move in a New Republic essay on “Liberaltarians,” which has the healthy distinction of gesturing toward actual compromises, whereas Markos “Kos” Moulistas’ overtures had consisted largely of explaining why libertarians should get a clue and become Democrats (with “Libertarian” as an inert qualifier). I’m more or less on board with this: I’d suggested a similar compromise back in 2004, where we’d agree to a rollback of tax cuts in exchange for real commitment to limits on spending. And I’ve observed that one of the great perversities of Social Security is that liberals and libertarians would presumably both prefer to just have a means-tested safety net for the elderly poor that wasn’t embedded in a wasteful universal “insurance program” that cuts checks to people perfectly capable of saving for themselves. The problem is that liberals don’t trust us not to try to kill the more politically vulnerable means-tested version once we get there.

On the other hand, there’s something disheartening about the summary of this we get from Sebastian Mallaby in The Washington Post, where this alliance involves libertarians just abandoning the pipedream of actually shrinking government and reconcile themselves to managing its inexorable expansion. I’m hoping the Social Security example I mention above might be a model for a more satisfying sort of compromise, where progressives are able to accept smaller and more targeted kinds of social programs with some confidence that we won’t immediately take advantage of the new narrower constituency to wipe them out entirely.

Maybe the thing to do here is to pass the ball to progressives: Pretend for the moment that you think it’s important to control entitlement spending. And suppose you were confident you could get libertarians and fiscal conservatives to support a plan that involved smaller total outlays, but more tightly concentrated on the genuinely poor instead of the middle class. Ignore for a moment how easily it could be sold to the public at large: What would you propose?

Tags: Libertarian Theory