Arnold Kling  

Morning Libertarian Rant

An Assignment for Mark Thoma... Mark Thoma's Response...

John Shure writes,

Those who are blaming states for their severe budget shortfalls and arguing that Congress shouldn't provide much-needed assistance until states "clean up their act" (here's a recent example) are wrong on both counts.

Pointer from Mark Thoma. Shure argues that state and local revenues are down because of the recession. That is true. Revenues are down at many private firms, also, and that is why 7 million private sector jobs have been lost, compared to about 100,000 in the public sector.

To put this another way, calling for the Federal government to prop up state and local governments rather than cutting taxes for business is really calling for a transfer of power and wealth from the private sector to government.

If my state, Maryland, needs a bailout, it is because it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the teacher's union. As the Washington Post editorializes,

a new law took effect in Maryland that undercuts local control in collective bargaining by giving a significant new advantage to teachers unions, one they had been seeking for decades. creates a Public School Labor Relations Board, which will consist of two members nominated by unions, two members recommended by school boards and superintendents and a fifth to be independent but with experience in labor relations. ..

This new board's decisions on wages, benefits and even what matters can be collectively bargained will be binding. That is a power that the state education board never had in resolving disputes. Local school boards and counties, which opposed the bill, are right to worry that binding awards could force counties to accept contracts they can't afford.

So, just at the point where voters are starting to wake up to the need to curb teacher compensation, we are going to have a state-level unelected board that can overrule the decisions of elected officials on teacher pay.

But what should the public be afraid of? The Post's conservative columnist, Michael Gerson, has the answer.

the ideology of libertarianism is itself a scandal. It involves not only a retreat from Obamaism but a retreat from the most basic social commitments to the weak, the elderly and the disadvantaged, along with a withdrawal from American global commitments.

Reading that, you may be ready to jump on board Brink Lindsey's bandwagon and try to kiss up to liberals. But then read David Ignatius:

President Obama got serious this week about the ticking time bomb in his new health-care legislation -- the lack of any clear plan to reduce costs and improve quality. What he did was install someone who can use our behemoth Medicare and Medicaid programs as laboratories for change -- so that reform doesn't bankrupt the country.

Ignatius is referring to the recess appointment of Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Berwick is an ardent opponent of markets and an admirer of the British health care system.

Enjoy your juice and toast.

[UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg rants. I think that writing Liberal Fascism made him more libertarian.]

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
kharris writes:

Extraordinary. Where did Thoma argue against cutting taxes for businesses? 'Cause if he didn't, you blatantly misrepresented his position. Or merely thoughtlessly misrepresented his position, tossing in a cookie-cutter right-wing complaint as a matter of course.

And, as long as you are aiming at Thoma, you ought to have the courage to address his entire position. You two have been dancing long enough that, is you are using him for anything other than a straw-man, you should be able to represent his views on the likely impact of tax cuts on hiring. I do not pretend to know Thoma's position, but I'm willing to guess. Businesses hold tons of cash, so it seems a bit slick to argue that putting more cash on their books through tax cuts would lead to hiring now. Putting money in the hands of those with a high propensity to spend, rather than a low propensity, is most likely to boost demand. Surely you are aware of that, but somehow you manage to leave it out, time after time. Why?

Arnold Kling writes:

you are confused. Although I got the pointer from Mark Thoma, this post was not addressed to Thoma.

As to the substantive point that states will spend money more rapidly than businesses, that may be the case. But if you want to increase employment, at some point businesses have to hire. The states are just going to fatten up the paychecks of their existing work force.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

First, the new law in Maryland: unions continue to build structures such as this that are brittle and will eventually be broken, as states discover it is not possible to keep the contracts. This reminds me of the stories about societies crashing because no flexibility exists.

However, it is not enough to say government spending money on itself will not prop society up indefinitely. And so, the attack on libertarianism in the Post is the best place to start. While the charge on international relations may not be as easy to address, (this is ideological, after all) the challenge for the weak, the elderly and the disadvantaged should be welcomed by libertarianism. How so? By creating well understood voluntary structures that help all, not just specific groups who, by themselves, only continue to distort economic flows as a whole.

The primary challenge for libertarians at state and federal levels is to make sure that voluntary economic exchanges are not outlawed. When local communities realize what is at stake, as state and federal monies continue to run short, locals might no longer be afraid to trust and accredit among themselves for the work in their own communities.

Thats not much of a rant. You simply present what others are saying (mostly). I know libertarians will see your point, but a little elucidation to non-libertarians should help.

Gene writes:

I think of libertarianism more as a condiment than a full meal, which is to say that we would profit from the generous addition of some libertarian principles to parts of our existing system. (I can't go full-bore libertarian because I can't endorse foreign policy views that are, more often than not, plain old-fashioned isolationism.)

Re the charge of abandonment of the poor and weak, I think it's a poor and weak argument to just assume that libertarians are unfeeling toward human suffering, which is the default starting point for many critics, apparently. But libertarians ought to work harder to flesh out fully formed responses to that charge. Defend yourselves vigorously!! I've seen those responses here and there, but not often enough.

And in a related note, it seems pretty obvious that individuals in a truly libertarian society would need to pay closer attention to a lot of the details of their lives (their retirement plans, their ability to procure health care, etc.) than the average individual does today. IOW, people would need to be a little better focused and tougher, both good things as far as I'm concerned. But that's another point that libertarians need to talk about more.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

How to place libertarianism into social constructs? Because the fact remains, everyone needs agreed upon social contracts just to work and live with one another. What libertarianism could provide to social constructs is a flexibility that has largely been lost. Most importantly, libertarianism could provide flexibility to human services which otherwise might eventually devolve into some of the forced cultural requirements of the past...such as someone forced to work at home with no pay or worse, new forms of slavery.

Taimyoboi writes:

Apropros Jonah Goldberg's column, since when is distrust of elites (which I took to be the thrust of his article) identified with libertarianism?

Conservatives have been waging this battle for decades, and I imagine Jonah Goldberg would agree.

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