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November 24, 2003

libertarians and socialists have something in common

I see libertarianism and modern democratic Socialism as flawed for similar (or parallel) reasons:

  • Libertarians believe in markets, which they consider just and free as well as efficient. They see politics as a threat, because masses of people may decide to interfere with markets by taxing and spending or by regulating industry. To libertarians, such political interference is morally illegitimate as well as foolish. It means that some individuals are robbing others of freedom.
  • Democratic socialists believe in egalitarian politics: in one-person, one-vote. They dont trust markets, because unregulated capital may exit a locality or country that chooses to impose high taxes or tight regulations. Even in the US, the bond market will fall if investors suspect that the federal government is going to borrow and spend, no matter how popular this policy may be. When investors discipline democracies by withdrawing their capital, socialists see a morally illegitimate constraint on the peoples will and interests.
  • For what its worth, I think that markets and politics are both inevitable. Theres much that we do not know, and its always wise to remain skeptical and open to new possibilities, yet I doubt very much that we can ever escape from a few basic laws that govern the political and economic spheres. A study of politics tells us, for example, that great masses of people have power. They can be suppressed temporarily by dictators, but tyrants tend to meet grisly ends. They can be restrained by constitutions, but complex systems that frustrate popular will usually get changed. If politics is inevitable, then libertarians have no practical way to attain the minimal state they dream of, unless one day most of their fellow citizens come to share their values (which is highly unlikely). Meanwhile, markets are obdurate too. Even a popular, legitimate, democratic government cannot create a supply of goods unless consumer demand produces a high enough price to motivate producers. Thus, when markets discipline governments, this is not corrupt or illegitimate interference; it is reality coming into play.

    All this explains why every successful country in the modern world is a mixed economy, with a substantial public and private sector, majoritarian institutions and free markets. But the successful models differ in important respects, and there is room for debate about whether the US approach is better or worse than that of Germany, Sweden, Japan, or Canada. The criteria of excellence would include efficiency, sustainability, liberty, and quality of life (broadly defined) for the poorest as well as average residents.

    November 24, 2003 9:44 AM | category: philosophy | Comments

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