Sunday, September 21, 2008

WHY I'M NOT A LIBERTARIAN, AND NEITHER ARE YOU. The magazine Reason and its blog Hit & Run are libertarian outlets. Of course, purity being not our lot in this life (to paraphrase Jake Gittis, they have to swim in the same water we all do), some contributors might reasonably be called left-libertarian -- that is, devoted to personal liberty to an extent that mostly pits them against the law and order obsessions that are the turf of today's conservatives; and some might with justice be called right-libertarian -- that is, devoted to economic liberty to an extent that mostly pits them against the social-equality obsessions that are the turf of today's liberals.

Brian Doherty I have long considered one of the latter class. He's the author of Radicals for Capitalism (from descriptions a celebration of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman's dynamic I-got-mine-ism), as well as of Reason items on the corruption of Al Gore, censorship among foreign Muslims, Cathy Seipp, the joys of fast food, comics as capitalist signifiers, and contempt for Kurt Vonnegut, teachers' unions, and old hippies, and of reliably anti-Obama articles -- in other words, a good resume for an editor at National Review but for the occasional off-message message which, given his overall tendency, could be handled in orientation training.

But Doherty had the other day a revelation on the recent short-selling ban that must be shared:
As someone who had been saying for the past few years that things like Nixonian wage and price controls would be considered beyond the pale in a world that, I thought, understood and appreciated some basics of free markets more than it did 35 years ago, well, it's a good thing my jaw has dropped so much on the past week's news that I have room to fit a lot of crow.
As someone who has for years heard gags about liberals "mugged by reality," I have to wonder how many more cycles of this it would take before we got similarly used to hearing jokes about right-libertarians mugged by conservatism.

If you involve yourself in national politics, however tenaciously you hold an alterna-indie-position, you will inevitably be drawn into what simply is. And in that horrible place there is not much room for libertarianism.

It reminds me of New York during its crime-crisis days. When Giuliani confiscated 90,000 guns there was no visible groundswell of opposition, because it was perceived to be the medicine New York needed. Liberal and libertarian civil-liberty arguments were swept aside by the demands of the moment.

In the recent Presidential campaign, crime was not a pressing issue and Giuliani saw his previously popular gun-authoritarian argument become a liability in the provinces. He tried to suck up, but to no avail, and he was rebuffed by people who saw no reason to give up their own guns, and apparently could no longer understand why anyone else would.

Does that mean the country turns out to be more libertarian that Giuliani anticipated? Sure, when it doesn't cost anything. The candidate who had become "America's Mayor" and the long-time front-runner for the nomination went down because his authoritarianism no longer captured the public's imagination, but it had worked, and worked well, for him in a climate of fear and reaction that dwindled before he could ride it all the way to the White House.

Now we have a new crisis. I notice this has not brought new attention to the libertarian policies of Bob Barr and Ron Paul -- though Paul was on TV this morning advocating a "return to sound money" to which no one is likely to listen. America's finances and priorities badly need reorganization, but from what I can see, the energy is all on putting some expensive patches on the tires of the economy we have and pushing it back on the road.

Doherty thought he was living in a libertarian country where "price controls would be considered beyond the pale." But most voters are not devoted to concepts, and I doubt many of them worried that the market was less pure than it might be when it was giving them a good return. When panic strikes, they'll accept the fastest route out of danger. Shock therapy may be alright for Chile, but not for us.

Much was made of Obama's comment about Americans "clinging" to guns and religion. But Americans are clingy in lots of ways, and it would take a lot to pull them away from a system that has been rewarding many of them handsomely for decades. If you're a libertarian, you might consider this a kind of false consciousness, and believe that Americans yearn for a truly free market which none of them has ever really seen, and would prefer to a money machine which has long been rigged in their favor.

But most of us, to say the least, are not libertarians, at least not when it comes to this. Maybe when the wheels come off the economy entirely we'll consider it, but more likely something resembling a second New Deal -- one not limited to large financial institutions, I mean -- will be what we go for.

If the spit and sealing wax hold, we'll go on calling our market a free one, and holding it up as a signal blessing of liberty. We are after all Americans, and freedom is important to us, at least until the next hard time.

No comments:

Post a Comment