Arnold Kling  

Cultural Contradictions of LIbertarianism?

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Kay Hymowitz writes,


libertarians depend on the family--an institution that, in crucial respects, is unfree--to produce the sort of people best suited to life in a free-market system (not to mention future members of their own movement). The complex, dynamic economy that libertarians have done so much to expand needs highly advanced human capital--that is, individuals of great moral, cognitive and emotional sophistication. Reams of social-science research prove that these qualities are best produced in traditional families with married parents.

Family breakdown, by contrast, limits the accumulation of such human capital. Worse, divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing leave the door wide open for big government. Dysfunctional families create an increased demand for state-funded food, housing and medical subsidies, which libertarians reject on principle. And in courts all over the country, judges who preside over the manifold disputes occasioned by broken families are forced to be more intrusive than the worst mother-in-law: They decide who should have primary custody, who gets a child on Christmas or summer holidays, whether a child should take piano lessons, go to Hebrew school, move to California, or speak to her grandmother on the phone. It is a libertarian's worst nightmare.


She is reviewing Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism and Brink Lindsey's Age of Abundance


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Buzzcut writes:

You're just going to put that out there without comment?

She makes a lot of sense. You can't help but notice that the black community, where the family has broken down completely, is one of the biggest constituencies for big government. Places like Newark and Gary are bastions of socialism as well as family breakdown.

But which came first? Maybe socialism breeds family breakdown.

Arnold Kling writes:

Should I have self-linked again? Here:
The Family vs. the State

General Specific writes:

So what do the facts on the ground tell us? How do famlies thrive differently in socialist versus non-socialist countries?

Regarding African Americans, as mentioned above, I've always wondered: Conservatives focus on the family, at least rhetorically (e.g. New Gingrich, Giuliani). Liberals probably speak about it less so--but seem to succeed in marriage and raising of children. The family is important. Family traditions are important. So my question is: what family traditions existed in the African slaves after they were brought to this country? Where were the traditions when mom and dad ripped from their homeland separated and then traded like property? I've long wondered. It would be biased to not consider this aspect of "human capital."

Finally, is the family the root source of human values? Or the community? I think humans are communal animals more than familial animals. I believe the preponderance of our evolutionary history strongly argues for this perspective.

8 writes:

The black family unit was intact and doing well, with the huge factor of racism against it, for the first half of the 20th Century.

John writes:

Other examples of libertarian's contradictions are your thoughts 4 and 5 in the "Thoughts on September 11" post.

Kling, you should revise your thinking before calling yourself libertarian again!

General Specific writes:

8 writes: "The black family unit was intact and doing well, with the huge factor of racism against it, for the first half of the 20th Century."

I would like to see analysis on this topic. Any references?

If family is an important source of values and traditions, then I would expect a major distruption such as slavery to potentially wreak havoc on those traditions.

dan writes:

I think the argument is more or less incoherent. First, just because libertarianism is improved by a given model of the family does not mean that such a model is "the libertarian way." Libertarians can and do disagree with state planning of family structure, even if it might "hurt the economy."

However, it is not essential for a libertarian to disagree with paternalism for children anyway. An essential point in libertarian philosophy is that adults are responsible beings capable of handling individual liberty; children are simply not eligible. Whether this means the state should force people to subsidize child care is a matter, but the supposed liberty violations of children by their parents or even the state are not prima facie a concern for libertarians. Unless the writer believes that we should treat adults like children, she probably suffers from a similar "inconsistency." (She may well be a libertarian actually, I don't recognize her name and didn't bother to read the full piece, which may make this entire post somewhat off topic.)

8 writes:

The question is how many libertarians are in fact libertines? I think Nick Gillespie has discussed this in another way: Kansas is more libertarian economically but he prefers the culture in NYC, so he accepts the restrictions.

8 writes:

General Specific,

I can't find anything at the moment, but I've heard Walter Williams describe the Harlem of his youth, and Thomas Sowell I believe has written about how companies like DuPont used to hire black engineers because they could pay them far less, so human capital accumulation was taking place even though the government reduced their return. Here's a link from a book stating that
black out of wedlock births were 12.6 percent in the 1920's versus 1.4 percent for whites.
So while slavery may have been responsible for that difference, the explosion in the 1960's across all races was caused by other factors.

caveat bettor writes:

Families are little communist networks. But the thing about healthy families, members are more capable of putting other's interests ahead of their own. And the relational interests often outweigh the financial interests.

Government should not disintermediate family members from each other, but incent healthy families and provide a safety net for those without family. Instead, there's a lot of destructive policy out there, in taxes and entitlements, in education and in healthcare.

TGGP writes:

General Specific, read Thomas Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

Troy Camplin writes:

From a political libertarian perspective, there is no contradiction, since government is to have no say in either the economy or in family structure. From an economic standpoint, those family strucutres that didn't work well would be punished, and those that did work well would be rewarded -- economically, socially, culturally, and psychologically.

Since Walter Williams was brought up, let me paraphrase something I heard him say once. He said that Marxism works: so long as you can keep up with the names. Thus, he runs his family according to general Marxist principles: he expects more from his wife, who can do more, and he gives more to his children, who need more. And he knows who can do what and who needs what because he knows them all extremely well. Which is also why Marixsm (socialism, welfare statism) fails -- it cannot keep up with the names. Thus, it has to treat unequal things as equal. To quote William Blake: "One law for the lion and the lamb is tyranny."

So while a libertarian might prefer that people have the kinds of families that produce the most efficient people to work in a free market system, they are not going to transfer that preference to force. And those of us who understand just how social a mammal humans are also recognize that unofficial social/cultural pressure can also encourage people to do what is right regarding their families.

If we consider the fact that humans evolved as small (up to 150 members) familial tribes and that we are social at that level, then one could consistently encourage a kind of communitarian libertarianism -- where the communitarianism occurs at the local, community level, and the libertarianism occurs at the governmental level. We should ideally have communitarian values combined with libertarian governance. And if we consider the fact that history has shown that the more communitarian the government, the weaker communities become thorugh the weakening of social bonds at the local level to ensure reliance on governmental social programs, then we should consider the distinct posibility that, in a world that increasingly proves itself to be balanced between order and disorder, a libertarian governemnt would in fact create much stronger social bonds at the local level, and thus in fact strengthen the family and communities.

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