Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Brink Lindsey, a genuine Cato Institute libertarian, makes the case for liberal-libertarian fusionism in the New Republic. It's great to see this defense of Social Security reform in one of the bastions of reactionary leftism:

Entitlement reform is probably the most difficult problem facing would-be fusionists. Here, libertarians' core commitments to personal responsibility and economy in government run headlong into progressives' core commitments to social insurance and an adequate safety net. Yet a fusionist synthesis is possible nevertheless, for the simple reason that some kind of compromise is ultimately unavoidable.

With millions already dependent on the current programs, and with baby boomers beginning to retire in just a couple of years, libertarians' dreams of dramatically shrinking federal spending are flatly unrealizable for many years to come. But liberals must face some hard facts as well. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is now projected to increase from about 9 percent of GDP today to approximately 15 percent by 2030. Already, spending on the elderly consumes more than a third of the federal budget, and the fun is just getting started. If a fiscal crisis is to be averted, if economic growth is to be sustained, and if there is to be any money left to fund domestic programs for people under 65, the federal safety net is going to have to be recast.

One possible path toward constructive compromise lies in taking the concept of social insurance seriously. Insurance, to be worthy of the name, involves the pooling of funds to protect against risky contingencies; "social" insurance fulfills the same basic function but makes the government the insurer. Unemployment insurance is a species of legitimate social insurance; wage insurance, much talked about, would also qualify. But Social Security and Medicare as currently administered are not social insurance in any meaningful sense, because reaching retirement age and having health care expenses in old age are not risky, insurable events. On the contrary, in our affluent society, they are near certainties.

We can have true social insurance while maintaining fiscal soundness and economic vibrancy: We can fund the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for the poor; we can fund unemployment insurance and other programs for people dislocated by capitalism's creative destruction; we can fund public pensions for the indigent elderly; we can fund public health care for the poor and those faced with catastrophic expenses. What we cannot do is continue to fund universal entitlement programs that slosh money from one section of the middle class (people of working age) to another (the elderly)--not when most Americans are fully capable of saving for their own retirement needs. Instead, we need to move from the current pay-as-you-go approach to a system in which private savings would provide primary funding for the costs of old age.

Whether liberal-libertarian fusionism is possible depends on whether libertarians place more value on economic freedom or on the more paranoid and/or libertine aspects of libertarian culture. There are two issues that don't belong on the libertarian agenda at all: gay marriage and abortion. Abortion and libertarianism are ships in the night: if the fetus is a person, his/her life must be protected regardless of the rest of one's philosophy of government; if not, there is no call to intervene; so one's position on abortion should depend on a quasi-scientific judgment and not on political philosophy. And gay marriage should be anathema to genuine libertarianism: it is Big Government imposing a cultural change on an unwilling populace. (The whole point of marriage, of course, is that it is not just between the two people, but it draws in the whole community, demanding and having a right to its approval: this is why people want it, and this is why the community should get a say in whether it's granted.) Those for whom (support for) abortion and gay marriage are paramount issues have no legitimate claim to be part of the tradition of Locke, Jefferson, Adam Smith or Hayek. Yet the "libertarian" label is sometimes applied to people with those priorities.

It's a little bit silly, though, when libertarians rant and rave about George Bush's betrayal of conservatism, then think that an alliance with the Dems is a way out. Bush is basically a centrist on spending. Libertarians' preferences in this area are, unfortunately, far to the right of America's political center of gravity. That's why they can't get what they want.

The Republican coalition fell apart in 2006 because power made its constituents greedy: personally greedy in the case of the Abramoff crew; ideologically greedy in the case of conservative/libertarian intellectuals. It's easier to hold a coalition together playing defense. If-- when-- the Democrats overreach, the Republican coalition will come back together easily enough.


  • Obligatory gay-marriage comment:I would expect that libertarians could not simultaneously laud the legalization (by judicial fiat!) of interracial marriage in the 60s and oppose legalization of gay marriage today without considerable cognitive dissonance. I believe that the "official" libertarian heirarchy is: 1)remove government recognition of marriage qua marriage entirely or, failing that, 2)legalize all marriage arrangements or, failing that, 3)allow any two people to marry.

    Ironically, I agree with and and disagree with libertarian purists that the government has an interest in encouraging the peculiar binary of marriage. Further, if I didn't think that gay relationships share all the important hallmarks of heterosexual conspecifics, I wouldn't support gay marriage*. But I do, so I think denying them that is an arbitrary and awful cruelty at least as bad as anti-miscegenation laws.

    *For example, if being gay was more or less equivalent to having a certain inborn sexual fetish, I would not support the farce of reifying false analogues in homosexual interactions.

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:25 AM  

  • Libertarians who advocate linking up with Democrats need to answer one simple question:

    How is it that more libertarians were elected to public office this year than ever before running on the Republican ticket?

    The Republican Liberty Caucus (libertarian wing of the GOP), just had one of its most successful years ever. 80% of RLC-backed candidates won.

    The results for libertarian Republicans this year are astounding! 4 libertarians were elected Governors: Palin in AK, Otter in ID, Crist in FL, and Sanford in SC.

    Former Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Ron Paul easily won reelection to Congress with 65% despite being heavily targetted by the Dems for defeat.

    Where are all the elected "libertarian Democrats"? Answer: They don't exist. They're a mythical species.

    Where are all the elected libertarian Republicans one might ask? List at

    By Blogger Eric Dondero, at 10:21 AM  

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