Libertarian law/economics thinker Richard Epstein has been prescient on the law’s challenges and likely outcomes.
He finishes with:
‘Politically, it seems clear that the American public will not tolerate yet another round of healthcare reforms that cannot shoot straight. The real question is whether the Democrats in Congress will come to their senses and realize that Obamacare is DOA. It is possible to think of all sorts of mid-level fixes that might moderate the damages, but none has a prayer of success so long as this president remains in office. Deregulation and tax cuts are dirty words to Obama, but they are the only source of relief to a nation. The ACA has already done enough harm. The time to start over is now.’
Hopefully some changes can be made before the employer mandate, already delayed, kicks in.
How our politics looks usually depends on where you stand, but it’s been clear the moral arguments for collective action, health-care-as-a-right, and redistribution of wealth have driving this legislation from the get-go. Some folks are as close as they ever have been towards realizing some sort of workable nationalized and/or socialized medicine.
The fact that they’ve designed and/or supported such an impossible, disruptive, and ambitious pieces of legislation won’t ever awaken some true-believers.
The rest of us have to figure out what to do, and fast.
‘SCOTUSBlog is currently hosting an online symposium devoted to this year’s 50th anniversary of the publication of Yale law professor Alexander Bickel’s influential book The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics.’
So are we drifting to a more “European” lifestyle in America? Should we question…if not resist….such a trend?
“I have two points to make. First, I will argue that the European model is fundamentally flawed because, despite its material successes, it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish–it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness. Second, I will argue that twenty-first-century science will prove me right.”
Murray is quite libertarian, and he outlines what he dislikes about the European model on a recent visit to Sweeden:
“In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.”
As Murray suggests, the prevailing European secular habit of mind (which shuns overt religious faith) has also transposed a lot of Christian metaphysics (and a lot Marxist/Communist leftist thought) into the modern European state. Many religious values continue of course, but are also, in part, maintained by that state. That state, in turn, can limit much dynamism and freedom we take for granted here in the U.S.:
“The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality–it drains some of the life from them.”
This isn’t a bad point to make. I would also agree with Murray that many many people busy importing such influences to America know not what they do (especially prescient right now, during the economic crisis). I suppose he’s also implying that despite our depth of religious idealism, our constitution is able to handle it in its pursuit of the negative ideals of life, liberty and happiness.
He also suggests that Europe can’t keep this old model going:
“The European model can’t continue to work much longer. Europe’s catastrophically low birth rates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that.”
I suppose we’ll see.
Is Murray’s point really is to wrest happiness from the standard models of social science and current social trends that point Europeward, progressive and liberal?:
“The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it is: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the earth, and immeasurably precious.”
Something to think about.
See Also: Murray has more here in the Washington Post. He argues that there is a deeper philosophical, but mostly, scientific influence that will change the social sciences in the next 50 years or so, and thus, public policy.
Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working. Check out his series at The American Interest. He has a big vision with some holes in it, but it’s one that embraces change boldly.
‘We are in a painful transition period. Our government is crushingly expensive, failing at its basic functions, and unable to keep its promises. It does not work and it cannot continue as it is. But the inevitable end of big government does not mean the end of America. It only means the end of one phase of American life.
America is poised to enter a new era of freedom and prosperity. The cultural roots of the American people go back at least fifteen centuries, and make us individualistic, enterprising, and liberty-loving. The Founding generation of the United States lived in a world of family farms and small businesses, America 1.0. This world faded away and was replaced by an industrialized world of big cities, big business, big labor unions and big government, America 2.0. Now America 2.0 is outdated and crumbling, while America 3.0 is struggling to be born. This new world will bring immense productivity, rapid technological progress, greater scope for individual and family-scale autonomy, and a leaner and strictly limited government’
Predictions are hard, especially about the future.
It’s pretty safe to say that technology is certainly changing how we live, work, think and arrange our lives. Whether or not you think the rate of technological change is increasing, these changes are naturally affecting our institutions, politics, economy & political economy.
Does it necessarily follow that these changes will be aligned with a libertarian/conservative political philosophy?
I’m partial to the idea of protecting the core unit of the family with a kind of Jeffersonian liberalism & limited government. This is catnip for libertarian conservatives. After all, collectivism, progressivism, and perhaps even the rights-based individualism derived from top-down (R)eason which can lead to anarchy, pose challenges to such a vision.
From the website:
Mr. Kling’s review provides a very good summary of the book. He concludes by noting:
The vision that Bennett and Lotus put forth is not the technocratically-run national system that most contemporary politicians and pundits presume is ideal. Nor is it the philosophically-driven rights-based society that libertarians might prefer. However, if the authors are correct in their cultural anthropology, then their idea of America 3.0 is what fits best with our culture.
Our antipathy toward a “technocratically-run national system” is common to most American Conservatives and Libertarians, whether capitalized or not. Mr. Kling is astute to note our vision is not one of a “philosophically-driven rights-based society” which many libertarians hope for. We do believe in a rights-based society, but we believe such a society will work, and that certain rights will be understood and respected, not due to any universally derivable philosophy, but due to a historically grounded set of cultural attitudes, orientations and practices. Our assessment of America, its history and its future, is indeed based on cultural anthropology, with economics, law and politics as superstructure on that foundation.
Thanks for the link.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome, especially if you’ve read the book, as I’ve got little time but to link these days.
Walter Russell Mead’s theory, in part, posits that liberalism 4.0 needs to become 5.0 and start to creatively solve the problems we’re faced with, including globalization, the decline of manufacturing and industry, and the rise of technology. The ‘blue’ model is behind the times:
Exploring the libertarian/conservative divide. Will is always a pleasure, and as he terms it, a Henry Clay/Abraham Lincoln Whig from Illinois.
He puts his finger on a lot of things in the video, but this stuck out. The regulators and the regulated:
“We have produced an enormous number of people who think they’re entitled to rule, who are trained to rule, which is to say, trained to administer the regulatory State, and arguably, absent the New Deal, we wouldn’t have had the regulatory state, which gave rise to this class…“
I’m sure there can be philosophical disagreement, especially about that last part, but with an anemic 1-2% economic growth and many young people living at home, we’re pretty much arguing more about less at the moment.
Addition: Another quote from Will, which highlights something I think many libertarians and conservatives can usually agree upon, and where the divide between libertarians/conservatives and liberals can be striking (he obviously doesn’t mean that percentage accurately):
“98% percent of the what the government does is for factions, or what the founders called factions, which are those who are not public-spirited, but private spirited, who are trying to bend public power to private advantage.”
The refrain I hear most often from frustrated libertarians/conservatives is that ideologically, progressives pursue aims which naturally lead to an enormous public sector and State. Individual “rights” are not there to be safeguarded, but rather conferred by membership in a group of activists and ‘community’ members, the better of whom will lead the government.
This puts progressive interests in charge of the public power while they pursue their private interests. There are good and smart people among them, of course, but this model came with many unelected czars, an army of rent-seeking bureaucrats (focusing on the environment, health-care & education especially), union cartels potentially free-riding on the public good and various other hangers-on looking for money, power, and influence.
Whatever your views on your moral obligations to others, and what kind of society you’d like to live in, this is a particularly inefficient and often corruptible way to go about it.
Considering the fact that we’ve had a steadily growing government for awhile now, with ever more questionable and complex legislation coming from both sides of the aisle, along with a public making conflicting and sometimes incompatible demands upon elected officials, it’s no wonder there’s such frustration all around.
Of course, we can all be guilty of overlooking our own interests and justifying our actions with noble purpose and lofty ideals. but that’s one of the beauties of our system: Many of our founders knew this all too well.
Addition: The American Conservative Blog isn’t convinced by Will’s libertarian bent:
If you substitute “pointy heads” for big government, Will’s intellectual evolution begins to make perfect sense. His newfound libertarianism isn’t theoretical so much as it’s personal. He’s basically the same George Will—just older and crankier.
Updated: Clink on this link to explore the ideas of David Friedman, and his brand of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism for yourself. Many of his positions are well-reasoned and should be considered on their merits. Few people make such a compelling and clear argument for private property: Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’.
‘Childs was the autodidact with the nerve to tell Ayn Rand that Objectivism implied anarchism and to tell Robert Nozick that his “invisible hand” argument for the moral creation of the state collapses around itself. The essays in which he does this are both contained in Anarchism and Justice.’
Worth a read as Reason revisits libertarian thinkers of note.
And now, just to shake things up a bit: Briton Roger Scruton answers (45 min long) a series of questions about libertarianism, individualism, the State, Hayek, free markets, conservatism, our moral obligations to one another, contractualism, Christianity as he sees them etc.:
“It’s the safeguarding of a traditional order that is the real concern of conservatives“
Scruton mentions this quotation a la Edmund Burke. Such is an order that stretches across time, full of more spontaneously and freely entered into arrangements and contracts between people, but also duties and moral obligations that people have to one another, and sometimes to the State. Such arrangements often form institutions which are much stronger than any planned institution on Scruton’s thinking (and I’d argue often stronger and more stable than institutions defined with positive definitions of justice upon a rationalist framework, as I think promising to distribute and redistribute wealth is an over-promise that overlooks human nature and limits our institutions’ real world effectiveness. Such a view wants to extend liberty to ever new groups of people by granting “rights” to them, often without the duties and moral obligation).
Our constitutional republic, too, grants ‘rights’ to people, and they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Clearly, people in the U.S have quite differing views on what the role of the State ought to be, in relief especially at the moment as we wade through the effects of excessive individualism through modernism, postmodernism, moral relativism, certain strains of Continental thought (Neo-Marxism in the academy) and those who define freedom, the individual, and the State in very different ways.
Some thoughts on conservatism, its limitations and challenges, its blind spots and strengths.
‘In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system, and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses–ones outside glamor industries like tech or design.’
I’m still thinking some of those people in ‘the ruling class’ are going to need some support if the public backlash gets too strong (Washington D.C. is the ‘Hunger Games Capitol City‘). To some extent they are us, after all, elected to do the necessary evil of hashing out our business within our Constitutional framework, even if many in our society’s vision of leadership is a group of insulated scholar-bureaucrats. The sausage still needs to get made, and we’ve got to get the incentives right.
I wouldn’t exactly call tech ‘glamour,’ either, especially as it can be a kind of white collar wage slavery for coders and programmers. Design, too, you know, has to work. Usually, that isn’t glamorous.
‘Why then would the government take steps to cut back on charitable giving? The most obvious explanation is both insidious and dangerous. It is to shrink the size of its main competitors in the private sector in order to increase the dependence of ordinary people on the federal government.’
This administration has actively pursued getting people to sign up for benefits, in many cases.
Interestingly, old-school Democrat and poor Brooklyn kid Daniel Patrick Moynihan made a similar argument to Epstein’s about making charitable giving easy. Beware the encroachment of government into such areas of our lives.
‘But Dr. Buchanan contended that the pursuit of self-interest by modern politicians often led to harmful public results. Courting voters at election time, for example, legislators will approve tax cuts and spending increases for projects and entitlements favored by the electorate. This combination can lead to ever-rising deficits, public debt burdens and increasingly large governments to conduct the public’s business.’
As an economist, Friedman has explored the idea of what transferring functions of the State to private agencies might look like. In the video he presents an outline of his thinking about what would happen if the legislature, the courts, and the police (drafting, legislating, passing and enforcing laws) would all be handled by private agencies instead of government. You would become a customer of a private enforcement agency amongst other agencies competing for your patronage in areas now covered by the criminal and civil law. There would be no more State, or perhaps just a Nozickian “night-watchman” State overseeing the National Defense.
1. As a consumer and customer of an agency, you would have more say than when you vote now, because you have the freedom to vote with your feet and choose a different agency. Your agency would be more responsive to you than the government is now (if you’ve paid your dues, I presume).
2. You would have more access to information about the performance of an agency, because more agencies would be able to compete and offer alternatives, and presumably have more incentive to provide information about their performance for consumer choice.
3. Criminals aiming to make their own agency (having the freedom to do so if not incarcerated by an agency) would find themselves unable to stay in business because of the overwhelming market forces that victims’ agencies would create. The harm done the victims and the right to be free from violence would still be central, but handled by the market. Friedman also makes the argument that there may be less crime overall because certain moral reasoning that has led to, say, the War on Drugs (drug use he considers a victimless crime) actually creates more crime, much as Milton Friedman argued that State welfare programs creates poverty by restricting access to the market (e.g. via minimum wage laws).
4. The National Defense is a public good for which Friedman’s thinking doesn’t fully have answers, but he does go into charities, the U.S. militia system (as back when we organized to fight the British) and because of the our wealth, the possibility of not maintaing a standing army. He rather naively (in my opinion) suggests letting people play and practice war games as they saw fit, but overall having a more martial, Spartan approach to play (a little totalitarian, and he points to Kipling). He suggests that because of our numbers and GDP, when the threat to our Sovereignty appeared, we would then organize and respond to it.
I do wonder how far the free-market will go and how legitimate moral authority is possible on this view. Justice, and the feelings of fear, anger, mistrust revenge etc. that grip victims of the wake of many crimes (especially violent crimes) would be handled by those working for a paycheck, a promotion, or the incentives offered at a private firm without a Federal structure (though these are all are incentives for cops, lawyers and judges now). How fierce would the competition get between agencies? Would it be up to consumers themselves to form agencies to oversee the agencies and maintain private property rights? What other social institutions would unite Arizonans under agency B with New Yorkers under agency A? Would a form of soft despotism with a ring of price-fixing, oligopolic agencies develop?
A Hobbesian reponse might highlight that the rational interests of man in Nature given the State of Nature that would compel individuals to eventually declare their loyalty to one entity, compelling the creation of one large, authoritarian structure anyways, especially for security from within and without. There are many concerns in abandonding some of the rich heritage of British empiricism found within the common law for another set of principles that are assumed to be universal. Life liberty, and property might be harder to secure.
Friedman asserts that people who once identified as classical liberals are now closer to ‘classical libertarianism.’ Most libertarians I know, as well as many conservatives, believe they are observing something similar: Modern American liberalism seems much more comfortable with many forms of collectivist political philosophy and principles of political organization (partially on the backs of postmodernism and moral relativism) that can lead to Statism and great intrusion into the lives of individuals. It has meant more freedom for some (especially against the injustices of slavery), and morally there are deep reasons and much good done as a result of these ideas, but it is not clear at what cost these changes have had on our educational, social and political institutions as well as our political stability and the dynamism of our economy. It’s up for debate.
Of course, all people aim to draft law according to their own principles while claiming their preferred laws and policies will serve the common good. On this view, though, modern collectivist liberals are pursuing their own self and group interest and overlooking what classical liberals once maintained, and what libertarians are maintaining (and being attacked for maintaining, often by liberals), namely the autonomy of the individual, the importance of open markets and an open society and a small government in maintaining liberty.
I’ve often wondered if the libertarian attempt to resuscitate classical liberalism isn’t chimerical from the conservative point of view, as some conservatives I know see libertarianism as a continuation of the Straussian slide into hedonism and relativism under the pursuit of post-enlightenment Reason alone (away from Natural Right), others see a slide away from from Natural Law, and others still simply an excessive pursuit of freedom that libertarians share with liberals, away from the doctrines of the Church and the clubs, associations, families, and institutions which maintain civil society.