Should-Read: Jerry Taylor (2016): Is There a Future for Libertarianism?

Should-Read: Jerry Taylor (2016): Is There a Future for Libertarianism?: “The Rand Paul campaign and its (admittedly uneven) agenda of social tolerance, military restraint, and fiscal conservatism is little more than a very small pile of smoking embers…

…Paul was crushed by candidates caught up in a bidding war to meet voter demands for nativism, know-nothing economics, know-nothing Dr. Strangelove foreign policy, and bigotry. Libertarian-minded Americans have every reason, once again, to cry in their beer. Why is the oft-prophesied libertarian moment in American politics so elusive?… Bryan Caplan… consumers in the marketplace of ideas… demand comfort and entertainment, not strict morality or empirical truth. While there is some validity to what Caplan says, he is too quick to conclude that libertarian ideas are true but simply too vexatious to bear….

Years ago, libertarian political theorist Jeffrey Friedman… a devastating critique. The bundled libertarian product…is an incoherent vacillation between a theory of rights that most people do not accept and lazy, unpersuasive utilitarian arguments for laissez faire capitalism. And he’s right. Moreover, the kind of libertarianism that is hostile to social insurance sits uncomfortably with our moral intuition. So much of who we are and where we end up is due to chance…. How morally compelling is it for libertarians to say: Tough!… Were libertarians to ungrudgingly accept the case for a more adequate social safety net (a case, after all, accepted to some extent by libertarian heroes F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman) and give up on their blanket, dogmatic opposition to all regulation and market intervention (a perfect example is their remarkable hostility to mainstream climate science), they’d find a ticket to intellectual respectability. They would also find a ticket to political relevancy—something that is being well demonstrated by the Bernie Sanders campaign….

Libertarians are right to cringe at Sanders’ regulatory zeal, his romanticization of governmental power, and his domestic-spending plans…. Were we to leaven Sanders’ commitment to civil liberties, his anti-interventionist foreign policy, and his instincts regarding the social safety net with a proper respect for the wealth creation produced by free markets—someone, after all, has to make enough money to pay all the bills that Sanders would impose—we would have an agenda that would be entirely consistent with social and economic liberty. Libertarianism thus repurposed is the creed of honest, thoughtful liberalism. It is a creed that can appeal to the intellectually rudderless center-left and center-right… in stark contrast to the stale tribal dogmas that dominate the two parties. That’s the future of libertarianism. And it’s a worthy and powerful contender for being the future of America.

December 15, 2017


Brad DeLong
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