Arnold Kling  

Libertarianism's Crisis

Tyler's Crisis Mentality... Mission Crisis?...

I am going to disagree with Bryan's criticism of Tyler.

What I would say (and Tyler seems to be saying) is that libertarians currently lack a rallying point. From the 1930's through the Nixon Administration price controls, the forces of central planning were on the march, and libertarians had an important mission to fight them. But that fight has been won.

Starting with the Carter Administration, deregulation reigned in transportation, communications, and--eventually--energy. These victories for market-oriented policies stimulated growth and allowed us to have the luxury of an enlarged welfare state without crippling the economy. Meanwhile, the trend on social issues since World War II has been mainly libertarian.

For libertarians, I think it is going to be difficult to try to tell the average American that he or she is less free than her predecessors and what we need is radical downsizing of government. It is comparable to the Left trying to tell the average American that the economy has gone downhill since the 1970's, and what we need is stronger labor unions.

Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism is the book-of-the-month for March. (Does anyone have a suggestion for April? It might be nice to get a book-club discussion going on this blog and perhaps others.) He cites Milton Friedman's view that libertarian policies are adopted when politicians get desperate--as Nixon became desperate to reduce the adverse reaction to Vietnam and became willing to abolish the draft.

For libertarians, the problem is that American politics is in equilibrium. In spite of the welfare state, the private sector is vibrant. In spite of the nanny state, people are a lot more free in the dimensions that they care about.

The Left is mostly a paper tiger at this point, as symbolized by the "nonbinding resolution" that they passed on Iraq. Kyoto and its successors are likely to be nonbinding resolutions. I expect a nonbinding-resolution approach to single-payer health care--I'm betting that the Left prefers whining about our health care system to taking responsibility for it.

Libertarianism's crisis is that there is no crisis.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Matt writes:

The volatility caused by the welfare state is proportional to the energy libertarians should devote to fighting it.

Jeff Hallman writes:

No crisis? I was not aware that government spending had been drastically reduced, drugs legalized, and the police reined in. Did I fall asleep?

anon writes:

[Comment deleted and commenter banned for repeatedly supplying false email addresses. To request reconsideration, contact the Econlib webmaster.--Econlib Editor]

Lord writes:

that the economy has gone downhill since the 1970's

Of course it hasn't gone downhill, but it's rate of growth most definitely has. One can argue the 60s weren't sustainable, but one can't argue that progress has been made since then by that measure.

Scot writes:

Seems strange to cite the nonbinding resolution on Iraq as indicative of the Left's impotence. Didn't realize that libertarians generally supported the Iraq war.

sglover writes:
The Left is mostly a paper tiger at this point, as symbolized by the "nonbinding resolution" that they passed on Iraq.

Golly, I know all you libertarians are self-declared geniuses, but last I checked, it's been maybe two months since the new Congress convened, and the reason that the opening act was a disappointing nonbinding resolution is that measures with more teeth need to withstand a veto, and that requires 60 votes. On the other hand, if you bothered to, y'know, read the papers, you might note that there isn't a week that goes by in the Congress without maneuvering and coalition-building around -- the question of Iraq.

Maybe you ought to bone up on the Constitution, and pay special attention to the bits about Congressional majorities, vetoes, and the like. Or maybe, since after a whopping two months you're disappointed that the whole mess hasn't been fixed yet, you're too devoted to instant gratification to bother.

PrestoPundit writes:

Taxes will go up massively over the next 30 years -- and the gulf between rich and poor will widen. In other words, the political environment we live in today ain't going to last -- the constant mistake of intellectuals is to image that the world is in stasis.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

Rallying point?

Ron Paul is running for the GOP Presidential nomination...

anonymous writes:

Just a small note.

1930's is possessive.
1930s is plural, indicating all of the years in this decade.

Your blog entry (and previous ones as well), should be the plural form, not the possessive - unless, of course, you mean the year 1930, or the year 1970


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