Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should Libertarians Hate Government?

Will Wilkinson has a link to an interesting piece on libertarian self-defeating habits by William Eggers and John O'Leary, formerly of the Reason Foundation. I'm underwhelmed. Some scattered thoughts:

1)As some of Wilkinson's commenters point out, what he calls libertarian schizophrenia is actually quite common to other movements. I'd go further and say that schizophrenia between incrementalists and radicals is actually a positive good. I came of age among The Dartmouth Review crowd (although I never wrote for them). Dinesh de Souza once said that he thought that the Review was good for Dartmouth's more moderate right in that it helped moderates say, "Oh, yes, I'm a conservative, but I wouldn't go as far as those guys. Here's why you should listen to me." It helps to have some extremists dragging the spectrum of public opinion out to one side, and other, more practical-minded people bringing them back to earth.

Also, I suspect whether you're an incrementalist or a radical is largely a matter of personality. I have sat through my share of turgid seminars on MARKETING libertarian ideas and BRANDING them, and also maybe having a TWITTER or some FACEBOOKS, about them. Because, you see, libertarian ideas are totally not scary, and we could totally get our friends and other grandmothers excited about them, if we were just pragmatic enough! These seminars frankly make me want to spend the next eight years hiding in a closet re-reading Ayn Rand novels. I'm much more comfortable just shouting my crankish ideas into the wind and hoping I move the center of the debate libertarian-ward. Yet there are people who seem to like "pragmatic" seminars like these and think them valuable. We all serve, in our different ways.

2)Relatedly: I can't tell to what extent Eggers and O'Leary are talking about a mere communications strategy -- "Look! Libertarians don't have to be scary!" -- or about actual changing our policy ideas. They say "Our Founding Fathers, fondly quoted by limited-government advocates, didn’t view government as evil, but as a flawed institution with some important jobs to do." Yes, but... most libertarians think of government this way. I don't know many serious libertarians who don't.

3)I don't really disagree with any of their points about why market-based reforms aren't self-executing.

4)Regarding their #4 about government bashing alienating those whom you want to reach: yes, that's true up to a point. But the stupidity and inefficiency of government also resonates powerfully with the not particularly ideological. See, e.g., the pleasant and highly efficient process of hanging out at the DMV to get one's license renewed. And, yeah, many people might love police officers and teachers. But many people have also gotten pulled over by police officers who run speed traps, or fought absurd battles to remove a public school teacher who wasn't performing in her job. This message is more intuitively attractive than O'Leary and Eggers think.

5)The moon landing as an example of good government: This example may be more complicated than Eggers and O'Leary think. Yes, the moon landing was a visually stunning achievement and an unparalled demonstration of technical prowess. At the same time, we'll never know what benefits the millions (billions?) of dollars invested in the private sector might have yielded. True, private investment probably wouldn't have gotten us the moon landing in 1969. But all that cash freed up might well have gotten us different and interesting products instead. We'll just never know.

6)I was a Koch Summer Fellow in 2007. And I, uh, work for the federal government now. So we are out there.

Also, I worked for a public interest law firm my Koch summer, but there was at least one young woman in my class who worked for the Department of Commerce. There may have been one other. So maybe someone was listening to Will after all.

2 comments:

  1. Ayn Rand expressed views of people and how they function, both as herd members and individuals, showing a preference for individual freedom. America was founded on individual freedom, simply because there was no other choice at the time to follow the Old World herd model. Our Founding Fathers gave us a definition of what Americans created, then a system to keep it going. We had three constitutions to define the limits of the national system, as we kept our individual governance close, starting between the ears and in the heart up to the County level that was supposed to be no further than a days horseback ride. In the 21st century, our elected representatives took an Oath to keep what was established, yet turned on it immediately and trashed it in order to reintroduce the Old World system rejected almost 400 years ago, by force just over 200 ears ago. They moved government away from the individual to a distant city and founded it as the center of organized crime, as if it were just an extension of Haiti. Then, they picked our pockets and destroyed our economy. Claysamerica.com

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