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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kos: The Case for the Libertarian Democrat

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, writing at Cato Unbound, makes "the case for the Libertarian Democrat":

The Case for the Libertarian Democrat, by Markos Moulitsas, Cato Unbound: It was my fealty to the notion of personal liberty that made me a Republican when I came of age in the 1980s. It is my continued fealty to personal liberty that makes me a Democrat today.

The case against the libertarian Republican is so easy to make that I almost feel compelled to stipulate it and move on. It is the case for the libertarian Democrat that has created much discussion and not a small amount of controversy...

[S]urprising (and unexpected) to me [is that] ... there’s a whole swath of Americans who are uncomfortable with Republican/conservative efforts to erode our civil liberties while intruding into our bedrooms and churches; they don’t like unaccountable corporations invading their privacy, holding undue control over their economic fortunes, and despoiling our natural surroundings; yet they also don’t appreciate the nanny state, the over-regulation of small businesses, the knee-jerk distrust of the free market, or the meddlesome intrusions into mundane personal matters.

Like me, these were people who didn’t instinctively reject the ability of government to protect our personal liberties, who saw government as a good, not an evil, but didn’t necessarily see the government as the source of first resort when seeking solutions to problems facing our country. They also saw the markets as a good, not an evil, but didn’t necessarily see an unregulated market run amok as a positive thing. ...

The modern libertarian (and conservative) view has been that government is an evil, perhaps necessary, but still a grave threat to personal liberties requiring the utmost vigilance against its instincts for perpetual expansion. ...

Hence, there was (and is) a natural tension between liberals who see government as a benign force for good, and those who can point to plenty of history showing otherwise. ... Republicans, out-of-power for much of the 20th century, and livid at the Democrats’ expansion of government, spoke of shrinking government and limiting its power. Libertarians, while not exactly perfect allies of the GOP, where likely to get more of what they sought by making common cause with conservatives than liberals.

But that began to change as the power of corporations grew. ... The fundamental reason that "libertarian" has become "libertarian democrat" is that corporations are becoming more powerful than governments. This fundamental fact has created a union between those with libertarian tendencies and those with those who believed all along that government can be a force for good. ...

A cabal of major corporate industry is, in fact, more powerful than the government of the most powerful nation on earth–and government is the only thing that can stop them from recklessly exploiting the people and destroying their freedom.

That, in essence, is why I am a Democrat...

The Conservative War on Freedom

We can fondly look back to a time when Republicans spoke a good game on libertarian issues. They professed fealty to state rights, spoke of shrinking the government, preserving individual liberty, and embracing fiscal responsibility.

A report by Cato’s director of budget studies Stephen Slivinski highlights the truth about GOP efforts .

President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years. ... The Republican Congress has enthusiastically assisted the budget bloat. ...

This spending is all the more remarkable given that Republicans control all three branches of government. ...

On social issues, we are seeing a government aggressively seeking to meddle in people’s bedrooms, doctor’s offices, and churches. They want to dictate when life begins, when life ends, and which consenting adults can marry. They want to pass a new Amendment eliminating the non-existent threat posed by flag burning—a serious effort to limit the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. And the long-time Republican dodge on such issues—that it merely wanted to let the states decide such issues—was exposed as hogwash by the Schiavo fiasco. ...

The nation’s current wars have given conservatives yet more excuses to make a mockery of the protections we supposedly enjoy under the Bill of Rights, from the PATRIOT Act, to the NSA spying on American citizens, to violations of habeas corpus. Republicans seem to have even abandoned even more fundamental Constitutional principles, such as “separation of powers.” ...

This isn’t a party committed to anyone’s personal freedoms.

Embracing the market

In the waning years of the Clinton Administration, the Justice Department waged a massive anti-trust battle against Microsoft. At the time, Microsoft seemed unstoppable, a monopolistic behemoth ... I cheered the Justice Department on, thinking its efforts would be the only thing to dent the prospects of a Microsoft-dominated world. I was despondent when Microsoft emerged victorious. Innovation seemed dead. But I was dead wrong.

What a difference a few years made. As the Internet came on the scene, first Yahoo then Google transformed the technological landscape leaving Microsoft in their wake. The market shifted, and Microsoft wasn’t able to make the transition. Despite being a dominant player in PCs and office software, no one fears Microsoft anymore. It is a remnant of a different era... The market worked on its own.

My libertarian tendencies have always found a welcome home in the Silicon Valley culture... This is free market activity seemingly at its best, and it works precisely because these individuals are able to take risks and be judged by the results of their work, rather than be judged by who they are, where they’ve been, or who they know.

But there are other reasons why this outpost of libertarianism works. The government has put in an infrastructure to support the region including, among many other things, roads, the Internet, government research grants, and the most important ingredient of all: education, from the lowliest kindergarten to the highest post-doc program. Such spending, while requiring a government bureaucracy that makes a traditional libertarian shudder, actually provides the tools that individuals need to succeed in today’s world. If our goal is to promote and champion individual liberty and the free market, we need government to help provide those tools to all Americans, not just a privileged few. This isn’t a question of equality, it’s one of opportunity. ...

There is also no individual freedom if corporations aren’t forced to provide the kind of accountability necessary to ensure we make proper purchasing or investment decisions. ... If investors can’t trust the information given by corporations, the stock markets couldn’t function. ... Matters such as deceptive advertising, labeling, and some safety regulations are also important. Does anyone doubt that requiring food companies to label ingredients and nutritional data doesn’t enhance our liberties by giving us the information we need to make informed decisions?

On the flip side, much of what’s known as “corporate welfare” is not designed to protect personal liberties. Rather it rewards inefficiencies in the market and the politically connected. Intellectual property law protections ... have created a corporate stranglehold over information in an era where information is currency. Patent law allows companies like Amazon to patent simple and obvious “business processes” like “one-click shopping,” which they protect with armies of lawyers and deep pockets. In the non-virtual sphere, cities use eminent domain to strip property owners of their rights on behalf of private developers.

So a “free” market needs rules (“regulation”) in order to function. And such rules should be welcome so long as they are designed to enhance and protect our personal liberties.

The Rise of the Libertarian Democrat

In the fierce battle in this year’s Montana Senate race ... Democratic challenger Jon Tester reminded me why I’m excited about the rise of the libertarian Democrat.

...Mountain West Democrats are leading the charge ...[but] it’s not just the Mountain West... It is no coincidence that most of these transformative candidates are emerging in conservative areas. The Mountain West, in particular, has a individualistic libertarian streak that has been utterly betrayed by the governing Republicans. State legislatures in Alaska and Montana proudly voted to defy the PATRIOT Act. But even in places like Ohio and Virginia, many traditionally Republican voters simply want to live their lives in peace, without undue meddling from unaccountable multinationals or the government.

For too long, Republicans promised smaller government and less intrusion in people’s lives. Yet with a government dominated top to bottom by Republicans, we’ve seen the exact opposite. No one will ever mistake a Democrat of just about any stripe for a doctrinaire libertarian. But we’ve seen that one party is now committed to subverting individual freedoms, while the other is growing increasingly comfortable with moving in a new direction, one in which restrained government, fiscal responsibility and—most important of all—individual freedoms are paramount.

Chris Dillow has "A left libertarian reading list".

    Posted by on Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 12:30 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (25)


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