Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Libertarians: are they back from the dead?

One of the main concerns of the Cato Institute, and a number of other branches of the Libertarian Movement, over the last few years has been to reduce the role of government regulation. With the financial crisis two years ago, this policy seemed to have come a cropper. Not necessarily, though, for today the President has said that he is reviewing the huge corpus of government regulations to see what might be dropped. Well, I am not sure that this is possible--at least not without hundreds of thousands of researchers working for forty years or more--such is the vastness of this behemoth. It is also not certain that Obama really means it--any more than Sec'y Gates really means to reduce appropriations for the military.

The fact that such a thing can be discussed, though, shows that the resurgence of governmental regulation is not inevitable--though we are probably stuck with the huge number of items we already have.

There is also renewed attention to Ron Paul and his son Rand. To be sure, they are often seen through the lenses of the Tea Party. Still that very comparison may be useful to Libertarians, who can assume the mantle of a sane alternative.

UPDATE (January 21, 2011)

Yesterday's edition of the Daily Dish contains Andrew Sullivan's useful summary of some pertinent remarks by Tim Lee (Timothyblee.com). I reproduce these comments in part:


Tim Lee says that despite their complaints, libertarians are on an impressive winning streak over the last several decades. I think he's dead-on:

"Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized. Simultaneously, the intellectual climate has shifted to be dramatically more favorable to libertarian insights. Wage and price controls were a standard tool of economic policymaking in the 1970s. No one seriously advocates bringing them back today. The top income tax bracket in the 1950s was north of 90 percent. Today, the debate is whether the top rate will be 35 percent or 39 percent."

[Lee] goes on to note that "what’s happened is that liberalism in general has internalized key libertarian critiques of earlier iterations of liberal thought, with the result that a guy with a largely Friedmanite policy agenda can plausibly call himself a liberal. And actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, because Friedman called himself a liberal too." The fact that Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson are no longer afforded the platform of the Cato Institute doesn't mean their ideas won't win out in the end.

The truth is: the Thatcher-Reagan revolution endured because their critiques of welfare-liberalism and foreign policy drift had real cogency. But the flipside is that to recreate the passion of the 1970s today is to fail to acknowledge one's own successes. It is to see libertarian ideas as an ideology, not a useful way to critique excessive and counterproductive government intervention, when appropriate depending on the circumstances. Again, Reagan did not say "government is the problem," he said, "In our present crisis, government is the problem." The present crisis of 2010 is not the present crisis of 1981. And the failure of the conservative imagination in understanding this is one of the right's deepest current problems.

[END of Sullivan excerpt.]



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