Arnold Kling  

Libertarian Manifesto

Comment of the Week, 2003-08-2... Australia's Economic Miracle...

Irving Kristol recently wrote a neoconservative manifesto.

It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked.

In response, I have written a critique of Kristol.

If neocons do nothing about the growth of government spending, then I fear we will eventually follow in Europe's footsteps. Neocon tax cuts will have to be canceled sooner or later, because of the pressure of Medicare spending. Neoconservatism will degenerate into what Newt Gingrich once disparaged Bob Dole as being -- "the tax collector for the welfare state." There will be no permanent tax cuts other than supply-side reforms that can increase government revenue.

Update: Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren also question neoconservative fiscal policy.

Both liberals and conservatives happily and without great argument sign off on the purchase of a $2.3 trillion dollar government (with more spending surely to come). But as a matter of high principle, liberals argue that we should put 11 percent of this year's tab on the national credit card while conservatives argue on high principle that we should put 17 percent of it on said national credit card.

For Discussion. Kristol argues that economic progress leads people to appreciate markets. I worry that it leads those who stand to be displaced by progress to run to government. Is there evidence that we are seeing a trend toward more support for free markets or more demand for regulation?

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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Mcwop writes:

You might change the perspective in that there is plenty of supply, and emotional demand for regulation. Most people don’t reflect on the role free markets when computer chip speeds double, or a new life-saving drug comes out. However, if the new life-saving drug is expensive for some seniors, then an emotional market demand arises. Politicians are willing to supply the product to fix it, and that product is regulation. It almost becomes a competing product, which could beat out the life saving drug in the marketplace. Politicians even utilize free market strategies to sell their wares. The most popular is to create demand. They make the public believe there is a crisis or need for regulation.

Eric Krieg writes:

Arnold is not a libertarian. He is MUCH too pragmatic. A libertarian would never acknowledge as many mea culpas as Arnold did in his piece.

Like most Republicans, I have my own libertarian tendencies, but I fall more in the conservative (there is no such thing as a "neo-conservative") realm when it comes to social issues. No drug leaglization for me, for example.

The libertine aspect of libertarianism turns me off. I don't think that libertarians realize that social liberalism leads to economic liberalism. For example, once you create a drug addict, the pressure is on society to provide rehabilitation. I think that the fact that social liberalism and economic liberalism have gone hand in hand, not just in this country but worldwide, is not a coincidence.

Don Lloyd writes:


"...Much of the opposition to school vouchers strikes me as dogmatic: voucher opponents overlook the manifest failures, inefficiency, and inequalities of the public school system and oppose even so much as an experiment with vouchers. ..."

It may be only my perception, but I believe that the libertarian position on school vouchers is in the process of shifting from one of support to one of opposition.

It requires an enormous suspension of disbelief to believe that any money that passes through the hands of government at any level will do so without becoming entangled in the strings of the puppetmaster. Any private school that accepts applicants tainted by public money in any way will likely end up being subject to all kinds of mandated testing of students and certification of teachers. These private schools will be private in name only.

Regards, Don

Bob Dobalina writes:

Eric: "once you create a drug addict, the pressure is on society to provide rehabilitation"

Neither society nor libertarianism "create" drug addicts. They create themselves. Once you criminalize drug addiction, the pressure is on society to build prisons.

I find it utterly bewildering that someone can be in favor of economic freedom (Man deserves to keep the fruits of his labor), while he is opposed to (for lack of a better word) "personal freedom" (Man's body belongs to the state).

You're willing, if you support penalties for drug use, to deprive someone of the fruits of his labor, or his freedom, for a purely consensual act. This is statism at its worst.

Eric Krieg writes:

Drug use is not just a consensual act. Your drug use impacts me, a non drug user. Even legal drugs like alcohol impact nonusers. We as a society have decided that the benefits of alcohol outweigh the costs. For drugs like heroin, it is the other way around.

And lets not get bogged down in the drug debate. There are plenty of "consensual" acts that impact other people. We wouldn't have an AIDS problem were it not for the sexual revolution, for example. No fault divorce laws have taken a horrible toll on children, as another example.

Libertarians are dogmatic when it comes to so called "consensual" acts. I tend to be dogmatic in the other direction, or even utilitarian.

Matt Young writes:

While we are on the drug issue, let me point out the best reason to legalize drugs is to make them easier to get People seem to forget that their is an honest demand for recreational and addictive drugs. The reasons for denying this demand cannot overide the demand itself.

Regarding the growth of goverment, the rule is fairly plain. When total goverment eats over 25% of the economy, then people begin to suffer on the average and variation. Goverment that eats over 50% of the economy will destroy the population. We have a 20th Century of experimental results to prove these stats. It is unlikely that neocon big goverment addicts have solved this dilemma.

Regarding economic models and monetary systems; when government eats substantially more than 25% of the economy, all the free market assumptions go out the window in your models.

Matt Young writes:

Oh yes, their is evidence that the appreciation of free markets is growing. I cite the two countries that won the cold war against the American communists, Russia and China. As near as I can tell, China is basing its economic growth on its ability to keep direct goverment expenditures at the optimum 25%. The Russians (with the flat tax) seem to understand Chinese strategy and Putins economic guru tries to push the same idea.

Don Lloyd writes:


"Kristol's neoconservative persuasion puts economic growth at the center of his goals for domestic policy. My libertarian persuasion shares this view. These days, the anti-growth forces tend to be found on the left, among environmental radicals or economists who think that compressing the income distribution should take higher priority."

When you refer to 'economic growth', what do you mean? Must it be measurable? Is it congruent with 'economic progress'?

If my standard of living were to improve from one year to the next, it would mean that my earnings and/or savings would enable me to purchase a higher quantity and/or quality of goods and services next year as compared to this year.

This could occur because my nominal earnings were higher, or because the purchasing power of my constant nominal earnings has increased, due either to changes of supply/demand balance on the money side or the goods side, or the balance of one side against the other.

It seems highly likely that there is no guarantee that real economic progress will necessarily result in a positive measurement of economic growth that depends on an aggregate of prices paid, for example. Or at the least, larger or smaller measures of economic growth may reflect happenstance (and FED mischief) rather than being of any significance.

Regards, Don

Randall Parker writes:

Eric Krieg comments: "Arnold is not a libertarian. He is MUCH too pragmatic." Well, This is the problem with calling yourself something these days. There are always people who embrace some political category as an ideology. Those who embrace ideas based on purely empirical considerations. are never going to be as consistent in their embrace of some abstract political theory because the theory is always a simplification of reality. Empirical data will always find inconsistencies between any political theory and reality.

So anyone who is heavily empirical is going to be derided by the ideologues as a turncoat and as not a true believer.

Boonton writes:

"Any private school that accepts applicants tainted by public money in any way will likely end up being subject to all kinds of mandated testing of students and certification of teachers. These private schools will be private in name only."

And why shouldn't it be so? As I've argued before vouchers are taxpayers money. Should taxpayers have no say in how their funds are spent? Conservatives are quick to pounce on this logic when the left attempts to apply it to, say, the National Endowment for the Arts.

Regarding the % of the economy that the gov't 'eats', I've noticed that the US Federal Gov't spending seems to be remarkably stable in the 20-25% range. This despite the fact that we have had administrations from both parties. I wonder if this represents some underlying equilibrium between the public's desire for collective spending (i.e. roads, healthcare, welfare etc.) and the public's desire for low taxes?

Al Gutierrez writes:

I consider myself to be a libertarian conservative. To say that all libertarians are libertine is not factual. The government cannot regulate how people behave. That burden falls upon the parents raising their children as well a churches, synagogues etc. As a Roman Catholic there were libertarian thinkers such as Aquinas, Augustine, Lord Acton. The Spanish Scholastics of the University Of Salamanca in Spain were one of the first libertarians. This group was composed of mostly priests. They heavily criticized the Spanish Conquistadores for the way they treated the Indians. The Scholastics considered the Indians as INDIVIDUALS and not slaves. They influenced John Locke in his writings and others. Not all libertarians believe in complete legalization of drugs. I believe in the concept of natural law or natural rights. i believe in reason and government's limited purpose is to protect us from any force such as crimes, and fraud. These early libertarians believed in God. We are given free will by God and thus we have freedom as individuals to live our lives. It depends on how we use that freedom looking at it from a theological basis. Government does not have the right to tell us what we should do,provided we do not hurt anyone else or infringe on the rights of others. The answer is persuasion and not coercion If as individuals we choose to act in accordance to what we as Christians were taught, our religious beliefs indicate that we will be in God's grace and thaqt is the way I choose to act. We get virtue from the set of beliefs that each of us has. There are consequences to any actions we undertake. If someone else chooses to have a different set of beliefs, that is their right and no one in government should interfere provided again they do not infringe on the rights of others. Perhaps one should look at the encyclical written by the Pope called Centissimus Anus. Religion is indeed compatible with libertarianism.

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