Arnold Kling  

Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey Get the Finger

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Interpreting Fed Policy... Wish You Lived in Europe?...

from Ed Kilgore, of the Progressive Policy Institute.


Certainly, few self-conscious libertarians have much tolerance for racism, but they are encouraging a point of view about "welfare" that has long been catnip to racists. And that's a problem for liberals. How can an alliance last in a climate where a progressive think tanker has to look down the rostrum at that nice Cato Institute colleague and wonder if he or she privately thinks the poor are "looter scum";

People like Wilkinson, Lindsey, and myself have indeed spoken out against "welfare" of the auto bailout and the "looter scum" of the bailed-out financial industry. On the other hand, when people criticize my pro-immigration stance on the grounds that we will be adding to the welfare burden and thereby enlarging the state, my reply is that welfare is not the state enlargement that I fear. What I fear is the state's control of education, health care, the financial industry, and so on.

Ed Kilgore exemplifies what Thomas Sowell calls "using the poor as mascots." That is, when a libertarian opposes a statist agenda, Kilgore comes back and accuses us of being racists and hurting the poor.

I am disappointed but not at all surprised to see this attitude expressed. In fact, I am glad to see this rhetoric out in the open. If the rest of the Progressive movement wants to rally to this flag, it helps clarify the situation for libertarians.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
coyote writes:

The minimum wage,the Davis-Bacon Act, and trade protectionism have been "catnip" for racists for years. Can I assume progressives have stopped supporting these programs?

CVD writes:

Professor Kling,

You say:

"On the other hand, when people criticize my pro-immigration stance on the grounds that we will be adding to the welfare burden and thereby enlarging the state, my reply is that welfare is not the state enlargement that I fear. What I fear is the state's control of education, health care, the financial industry, and so on."

But we live in a democracy. Immigrants, especially those from south of the border, tend to be highly supportive of increased state control of education, health care, and so on.

If you support said immigration, then given our current political system you are - of necessity - supporting ever more government intervention in these areas.

dWj writes:

I've been accused of "tolerating racism" for not supporting substantial state penalties on racists.

Drea writes:
...a Nietzschean disdain for the poor and minorities that tends to dovetail with the atavistic and semi-racist habits of reactionary cultural traditionalists. After all, it is only a few steps from the Tea Party movement's founding "rant"—in which self-described Randian business commentator Rick Santelli blasted “losers” who couldn’t pay their mortgages—to populist backlash against all transfer payments of any type, complaints about people "voting for a living" instead of "working for a living," and paranoid conspiracy theories about groups like ACORN.

This was an interesting chunk. I don't read Santelli, but I think of "losers" as people who used their high-priced house as an ATM, and "voting for a living" as public sector employee unions. Neither of those are poor and minorities.

JamieNYC writes:

I second CVD's post. More broadly, the sad reality is that one has to ask why are the countries like Haiti poor in the first place? Not endowed with natural resources? Neither is Denmark.

By letting the immigrants in (I'm one), we also import their political culture. For most poor countries, that translates into tolerance of corruption, lack of respect for the law, sectarianism etc.

I do have sympathy for libertarianism, but the broad ideological statements, such as free immigration, simply do not translate well into the real word.

Kunal writes:

How can an alliance last in a climate where a libertarian has to look down the rostrum at that nice New Republic colleague and wonder if he or she privately thinks it is a good idea to have sexual relations with a dog against its will?

agnostic writes:

It's actually worse. Suppose we allowed in immigrants who we knew would vote for more government in education, healthcare, and finance. To make this palatable, this was done on the condition that we wouldn't allow them to vote -- we'll let you come here and enjoy a higher standard of living, but we're not going to let you vote in bigger government in health, finance, and education.

*Still* there would be the result of bigger government in those sectors. Why? Because the majority culture, especially the more educated people who are more likely to actually vote, would vote in such bigger government on the immigrants' behalf -- providing "a voice for the voiceless," as all Progressives fantasize about.

Unless we only allowed in smart immigrants, there would be a larger gap between Hispanics (say) and whites in educational outcomes -- so there would be even more clamoring among whites themselves for government intervention to close an unclosable gap.

And since IQ is one of the strongest predictors of health outcomes, we'd see an even bigger gap between Hispanics and whites in health -- and therefore more clamoring that government do something to correct the inequality.

And we saw what happened in finance when lots of low-skilled immigrants poured in -- the government forced the financial sector to make a bunch of lousy loans in the name of equalizing homeownership outcomes.

I repeat: these bigger-gov agitations all came from the native educated population itself, and from Democratic as well as Republican politicians Given how crippled our minds are by the cultural devotion to "equalizing racial disparities," an increase in low-skilled, low-education immigrants would cause government to get bigger in ed, finance, and health.

The flipside is that it would be OK to let in immigrants who wouldn't themselves vote for bigger gov, or whose outcomes wouldn't worsen the efforts of whites to "close racial gaps" and cause those whites to vote in bigger gov on the immigrants' behalf.

david writes:

Now now, we've known since last year that you've been hoping that the liberaltarian project fails. But there's no need to be crudely provocative.

At least, if you want to quote someone out of context, next time remember to remove the closing semicolon. Kilgore is bemoaning the willingness of libertarians to align themselves with crude Tea Party rhetoric, of which "looter scum" is typical. Here, have some context:

Despite some expressed concerns about the crudeness and cultural conservatism of many Tea Party activists, it has become clear that most self-conscious libertarians are willing to participate in, and cheerlead for, the Tea Party movement as though their political futures depend on it.

And Kling is, of course, one such libertarian. As far as I can tell from his columns, Will Wilkinson is not.

Sorry, Kling. Wilkinson didn't get the finger. You did.

But don't worry: as you've probably already noticed, there is a horde of self-proclaimed libertarians on your blog who are quite willing to condemn education, condemn immigration and condemn international free-trade agreements. This stance seems to have become fashionable suddenly. Which was always the problem with buying into Tea Party anti-intellectualism; you indeed get anti-intellectuals, but the xenophobes and racists come with them.

Which is possibly a tradeoff you are willing to accept in your endorsed "TeaPartarian" libertarian-populist alliance, and that is what I read Kilgore as bemoaning.

shecky writes:

Catnip to nativists, apparently. Out they come whenever you even mention the word "immigration". Whoda thunk it?

MernaMoose writes:

Whoda thunk a Lefty would be in favor of bringing in loads of immigrants who will most assuredly vote for more Lefty politicians?

I mean whoda THUNK such a thing? Utterly inconceivable.

Snorri Godhi writes:

my reply is that welfare is not the state enlargement that I fear.

No? but without welfare, the Kilgores of this world could not "use the poor as a mascot". (Excellent expression btw: I must use it more often.) Not that corporatism in education, health care, finance, etc is not to be feared; but when was the last time that someone was accused of racism for proposing vouchers for education or health care?

(See also Tocqueville's Memoir on Pauperism on the consequences of welfare.)

Similarly, by far the strongest reason that I see for opposing open borders is that the "progressives" use immigrants as a mascot.

Joe Kristan writes:

So the scorpion stings the frog. Liberaltarianism is always and everywhere doomed because big government is what progressives do.

Mercer writes:

"Kilgore comes back and accuses us of being racists and hurting the poor."

From Peter Brimelow's immigration book:

A racist is defined as "anyone who is winning an argument with a liberal"

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