Arnold Kling  

TeaPartarians?

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The Bush Administration, particularly in its final year, discredited the Republican Party as a proponent of free markets. What should come next?

One idea, promoted at Cato by Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, is liberaltarianism. The idea is to approach liberals and say, "we're with you on social issues and we're also dovish on foreign policy. Let us persuade you that markets are good for the economy."

The problem is that liberals tend to affiliate themselves with Harvard types, and Harvard types believe that they are smarter than markets. And, at this moment in history, the Harvard narrative is that the financial crisis was caused because of blind faith in markets regulating themselves. According to this narrative, the election was a mandate to Harvard to deal with huge market failures in finance, health care, aggregate demand (hence the stimulus), and climate/energy. Based on this narrative, Harvard is absolutely committed to expert control over the economy, liberaltarians be damned.

Another reaction to the Republican cratering has been the Tea Party. The Tea Party is, if nothing else, strongly resistant to the Harvard narrative. Is that where libertarians should be making our overtures? Should we be trying to be TeaPartarians?

The Tea Party poses a problem for libertarians in that the Tea Party is going to stay pretty far to the right on issues like immigration and gay marriage. But the bigger problem is one of social and educational class. The Tea Party does not have a liaison office with the Ph.D crowd. Unfortunately, it seems to me as if libertarian intellectuals would rather deal with Democrats than with the Tea Party because those intellectuals are socially more comfortable with Matt Yglesias than with Glenn Beck.

I think it might be good to have some TeaPartarians, meaning intellectual supporters of free markets who are comfortable working with the Tea Party folks. I worry that an electorally successful Tea Party movement might not have the focus and ideas to take on entitlements and other major contributors to fiscal problems. If the Tea Partiers are electorally successful and all they give us are a few symbolic budget cuts, the long-term trend toward concentrated government power will continue.

My worry is that the Tea Party movement will be satisfied with taking some Democratic scalps and restoring some of the sense of group status that the Tea Party demographic feels that it lost in 2008. Instead, I wish that the Tea Partiers would read the last chapter of Unchecked and Unbalanced and get some ideas from that book. I would like them to be less satisfied with achieving ballot-box validation along with status revenge and instead more interested in reforms that would make government more competitive.

[UPDATE: Will Wilkinson responds.]


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (25 to date)
Kevin Donoghue writes:

By all means approach the Tea Partiers. I suspect your reception will be similar to that accorded to the hapless sales rep in the old advert:

"I don’t know you.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s products.
I don’t know what they can do for me.
Now, what was it that you wanted to sell me?"

What makes you think the libertarian vote is worth chasing so far as the Tea Partiers are concerned? They can't count on you when it comes to abortion, war and (I hope) torture. You might even want to cut spending on weapon systems and agricultural subsidies. So what's in it for them?

Wilmot of Rochester writes:

The Tea Party people are basically the Ross Perot people.

I think they're no more friends to libertarians than any other group is. But they seem to be the rising tide of populism.

SydB writes:

"those intellectuals are socially more comfortable with Matt Yglesias than with Glenn Beck."

That's because Glenn Beck is a shock jock entertainer.

"The problem is that liberals tend to affiliate themselves with Harvard types, and Harvard types believe that they are smarter than markets. "

More ad-hominem stereotyping.

Paul Zrimsek writes:

The TeaPartarian you're looking for is named Glenn Reynolds, if memory serves.

Lord writes:

Who needs divided government when we have the Democrats? There is plenty of room for everyone there. Moving to a one party state would improve governance immeasurably.

SydB writes:

"Who needs divided government when we have the Democrats?"

Good one. I've often said that the republicans are headed in the wrong direction and the democrats are directionless. Take your pick.

Colin K writes:

I see no reason for the liberals to change their minds--they're winning quite handily on the economic side these days, and have won, almost without interruption, on the social liberalism side for the past hundred years. Political movements usually rethink their foundations when they have their ***es handed to them, not when they have 60 votes in the Senate.

If you are satisfied with ongoing incremental gains on the social front, just sit back and wait, because it's going to happen no matter how loud the Christian Right howls. They've made abortion their signature issue, and the US for the most part has significantly more liberal abortion laws than most of Europe. Even when conservative candidates win, nothing changes.

As such, I see no reason that progress won't continue unabated. I do, however, see millions of ways in which economic statism will continue to grind away at us unless it is met with overwhelming opposition. So I think that we are in much the same foxhole as the TP crowd.

It's not just libertarian intellectuals who don't like the Tea Partiers, I've learned. It's almost all libertarians, at least those in the LP.

But they have expressed displeasure with the GOP, and that's going to be an opportunity for someone. It makes more sense to me to try to get them on board with the libertarians than to let a Pat Buchanan-type end up in charge of them.

At the same time, there are differences.

Still, I am running for State Representative here in Texas as a Libertarian against a Republican (no Democrat on the ballot), and I am hoping I can make a coalition of Democrats, Ron Paul Republicans, and Tea Partiers. We'll see how that works out.

GU writes:
"But the bigger problem is one of social and educational class. The Tea Party does not have a liaison office with the Ph.D crowd. Unfortunately, it seems to me as if libertarian intellectuals would rather deal with Democrats than with the Tea Party because those intellectuals are socially more comfortable with Matt Yglesias than with Glenn Beck."

Yep. That describes me well (except that I'm part of the "J.D. crowd"). Whenever I speak with tea party types about politics, two things run through my mind: (1) "I agree that we should shrink the size and scope of the government, but man, you are unsophisticated," and (2) "I hope no one from my social class overhears this conversation and assumes I'm a tea partier."

The Milder Despot writes:

Arnold,

How morally ambiguous does your theory run? What about a class of "intellectual libertarians" using the Tea Party movement as a populist groundswell for, at the very least, the revival of smart pro-market policies, in a "useful idiots" sort of way?

If that's too immoral of a thought, you could frame it as trying to give a more coherent vision to what is a populist anti-intellectual movement. There could be a give-and-take: Tea Partiers, help us intellectual libertarians kick out the bums out of power, and in return, we'll help you really understand the economics of what's going on!

Alternatively, you could bind this pro-market alliance with something else Will Wilkinson has written about: on some social issues, a liberal victory is demographically inevitable (gay marriage, for example). So, given that the "liberal" side of "liberalterianism" is going to win out eventually, let's make an alliance with the pro-market Tea Party movement to get to work on what those in power are really resistant to: markets.

stephen writes:

Associating with "tea baggers" (the only gay slur you are allowed to get away with in polite society) lowers one's social status. Even if a set of intellectuals agree with the partiers, the hit to their status makes it an unlikely union.

Matt C writes:

From what I've seen, the Tea Partiers are the remnant of what I liked about the Republicans, back when the word Republican did not urge me toward uncontrolled vomiting.

I get what GU says. I don't want to identify as a TPier because they come off as kind of dumb and kind of nutty. But their hearts are in the right place--and guys like Yglesias, however much more able they are to give and take in an argument, theirs are not.

My worry is that the Tea Party movement will be satisfied with taking some Democratic scalps and restoring some of the sense of group status that the Tea Party demographic feels that it lost in 2008.

You got it buddy. If the TP movement starts getting real traction, I expect it to get co-opted by Washington aspirees before very long.

David C writes:

The Tea Parties primarily emerged as opposition to the bailouts and stimulus package. Given that this was an exceptional circumstance, it hardly has much to do with normal government operations. They seem to me to have turned into a hardline populist/conservative movement since then.

When looking at specifics, their main opposition to health care reform appears to be that Democrats are cutting Medicare too much and giving too much money to poor people. On financial regulation, they'd probably cheer if Congress passed a bunch of laws regulating how banks operate and dismantled the FED, especially if Obama opposed the measure. I don't think such banking reforms would be an improvement on the status quo.

It's easy to say a group is generally opposed to growth in government spending, but what about specifics? They're opposed to Medicare cuts and they're opposed to military cuts. I'm guessing they'd also be opposed to cuts in social security and there's been many hints they're opposed to cuts in agricultural subsidies. Outside of Medicaid, how exactly are they going to reduce government spending? Glenn Beck seems to be big on privacy concerns, so maybe that'll have some momentum.

I still think trying to get Democrats to make a big push for immigration reform is the easiest way to increase liberty in the current political system.

Ryan Vann writes:

Intellectuals highly misscalculate their relevence when it comes to politics. More often trite slogans and personable candidates carry the day, credentials and well articulate arguments are often ignored, as are facts. This is a predictable consequence of demographics. Let's not kid ourselves, the governor of California is Conan the Barbarian. If the goal of libertarians is to become politically relevant, intellectuals be damned, capitalizing on the Tea Party is a decent start.

Simon K writes:

If you could do this - and I don't actually think you can, because the Tea Partiers think you're as much of an intellectual snob as the liberals, and also because they won't be electorally successful anyway - wouldn't it amount to reassembling a dysfunctional Republican coalition? It would result in a movement that could cut taxes, but would be unable to cut spending on the most expensive programs

Considering who the Tea Partiers are, you'd be able to cut spending on the poor, on minorities, and on subsidies to banks and other white collar businesses. 50-50 you might just be able to cut industrial subsidies. But Medicare? Social Security? Anything even vaguely associated with terrorism? Agricultural subsidies? No chance - they don't want to cut these things because they benefit (in the short run) from them. So that's 99.9% of the federal budget right there.

Now you might say "that wouldn't happen because they care about deficits". I say they don't really - they care about their taxes going up or their savings being eroded to pay for deficits. Its not the same thing - provided they can be sure any burden will be borne by others, they don't care. That's why they were just fine with voting for Bush, who promised to postpone actually paying for anything.

Doc Merlin writes:

You are a bit behind the times, Arnold. For example with the school voucher movement (a huge increase in competition in government) the main bigwigs have been Al Sharpton (extremely leftist) and Newt Gingrich (quite right winged).

Anyway we need to quit with the class warfare and take our own ideas seriously. We think knowledge is distributed and that elites are bad at making good decisions. The tea party movement is about as disorganized and distributed as one can get.

Bob Murphy writes:

Arnold Kling wrote:

I think it might be good to have some TeaPartarians, meaning intellectual supporters of free markets who are comfortable working with the Tea Party folks.

Recalculation Argument : Austrian business cycle theory :: TeaPartarians : Ludwig von Mises Institute

Nick writes:

The Tea Party movement is funded and supported by GOP PACs (front groups). It is a way to re-brand the same failed policies and dupe slow witted people into voting for the same failed neo-conservative ideologies. Friction between the GOP and the Tea Party is an elaborate farce. Aside from a few "Ron Paul Republicans" types that may be involved superficially there isn't much more libertarians have in common with the Tea Party groups than they do with the GOP.

Jody writes:

Hmmm...

I have a PhD (Electrical Engineering).

I've voted Libertarian for President more than for any candidates for any other party.

I've attended every Tea Party in my area (along with some letter writin' and town hall attendin')

I don't see the contradiction.

I have several friends with similar characteristics (though also all engineers... hmmm.... )

Greg Ransom writes:

Glenn Reynolds has a JD.

Close enough.

"The Tea Party does not have a liaison office with the Ph.D crowd."

Sisyphus writes:

I'm a tea party coordinator for a Tea Party group that got more than 10,000 people to our July 4 event. I am also a J.D. and a philosophical libertarian (though never an LP member).

In my experience, Tea Partiers are considerably more informed about politics than the average person (perhaps irrationally informed, I suppose Prof. Caplan would say), and they tend to be more libertarian-leaning than the average Republican. There's a strong "leave us alone" coalition-type crowd. At least one of the major, national Tea Party coalitions (Tea Party Patriots) only campaigns for 1) limited government; 2) fiscal responsibility; and 3) free markets. That sounds pretty libertarian to me.

Ryan Vann writes:

Sisyphus,

I can vouch for the narrative you give, as I was involved in a couple Tea Parties myself before much was made of them.

At least in it's infancy, the Tea Party Movement was exclusively an off-shoot of the Ron Paul campaign. The constituency of that group generally included libertarians (the whole gamut of libertarian thought was represented) as well as some Green Party folks, a few hardcore conservatives, and antiwar people's with no discernable political leanings. I wouldn't say that members were necessarily intellectual (which, perhaps falsely, I ascribe a bit of ostentation to), but they were certainly informed and relatively bright, if not a bit fervent.

However, I don't believe the Tea Parties then, have the same demographic makeup of todays Tea Parties.

At some point, the lovely folks at Fox seemed to co-opt the movement, and there is now a pretty obvious neo-conservative bent to the parties, or so it is spun by the media. There are definitely still libertarian undercurrents, but, as usual, the conservative voice is a bit more booming

Several of those who posted really do not understand the Tea Party movement ... I suggest some of your followers read "Tea Party Revival" to learn how fiscally conservative and libertarian leaning the Tea Partiers are.

Dr. B Leland Baker, author
www.outskirtspress.com/teapartyrevival

Kevin J Jones writes:

"The Tea Party poses a problem for libertarians in that the Tea Party is going to stay pretty far to the right on issues like immigration and gay marriage."

Same-sex marriage will expand government power, will create new burdens on businesses and will enable many, many lawsuits as progressives target their conservative opponents for enlightened eradication. Perhaps this has been noted before.

Why some libertarians want to support that experiment in falsity is opaque to me.

Larry Doffman writes:

The Libertarian intellectual you're pining for is Ron Paul. Unfortunately, most blue-collar independents couldn't understand what he was saying, so they chose style over substance in a bunch of hope and change nonsense. They can understand slogans and (presumably) benefit from unjustified redistribution.

It's equally disappointing to read some of these comments, demonstrating that some people don't understand what the point of the Tea Party movement is. It's not to benefit the Libertarian Party or the Republican Party; it's all about the role of the government in the lives of private citizens. This SHOULD be a non-partisan issue, but some on the left have caught a case of Euro-Envy.

There is clearly something (different) in our DNA than our European counterparts to avoid collectivism, and desire for freedom. European socialism is collapsing under it's own demographic weight, and it will be interesting to watch this unfold over the coming decades.

-----
@GU
you are unsophisticated," and (2) "I hope no one from my social class overhears this conversation and assumes I'm a tea partier."

-yeah, we know the cool kids like obama, but how successful were the in-crowd in the long-run? Your smug comments underscore the silliness of herd mentallity. As "unsophisticated as Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin are (in your minds), they were able to expose obama for the Marxist he is. And that gets under the left-leaning skin. The funny thing is, I think you're smart enough to see the folly of the liberals, but afraid they won't let you sit at their lunch table anymore if you do the right thing.

--------
As it is, I consider myself to be a libertarian within the Republican Party, and by the next presidential election, we will see if a viable 3rd party can enter the fray. I consider the Tea Party movement complimentary to my political views, and not an either-or proposition.

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