Tag Archives: E.D. Kain

Stoner Utopia?

E.D. Kain has been a long time critic of the Drug War in the United States and brings up the case of Portugal as proof that legalization will not bring hell and damnation in the United States.

Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. One decade after this unprecedented experiment, drug abuse is down by half:

Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal’s decision 10 years ago to decriminalise drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.

Other factors had also played their part however, Goulao, a medical doctor added.

“This development can not only be attributed to decriminalisation but to a confluence of treatment and risk reduction policies.”

Many of these innovative treatment procedures would not have emerged if addicts had continued to be arrested and locked up rather than treated by medical experts and psychologists. Currently 40,000 people in Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time.

None of this is possible when waging a war.

Walter Russell Mead agrees that the Drug War has been a waste of resources, but thinks legalization won’t be so simple:

I’ve never really said much about the drug war and drug laws because, I’ve never really been a drug user. I’ve never smoked (tobbaco or marijuana), I don’t drink much and I’ve never done any other drug. That said, I’ve roomed with folks who did toke every now and then, I didn’t really mind that much.

I tend to think that the drug war isn’t working, and I do favor decriminalizing marijuana. But, I don’t know if ending the drug war and legalizing all drugs is going to lead to social peace or even to the result that we see in Portugal.

The conservative in me (and I mean that philispohically, not politically) is wary of change. I don’t think making all drugs legal is going to make everything wonderful. It might even bring about problems we never thought about.

Also what works in Portugal may not always work in the United States. Can we compare the inner city of Lisbon to say Chicago? I don’t know.

I agree with E.D. that our current drug policies aren’t working, but I have to side with Mead on this whole issue. Legalization is mostly likely the least bad option. What I don’t know is if it will be the best option for our society.

Turning more plagues loose in society seems like a bad idea — yet we may have reached the point where some form of negotiated ceasefire in the war on drugs is our least bad choice.

If we go down that road, we are going to have to find ways to discourage drug use more effectively than anything we now do. We cannot simply open the floodgates; for one thing, if a large legal market exists we will soon see people developing new designer drugs at a rapid pace. We will then find ourselves in an interesting position: will we say that drugs intended for medical purposes must pass rigorous testing before they can be prescribed, but recreational drugs can just be unleashed on the market? Is the FDA going to test drugs like ecstasy, crack cocaine and methamphetamine for purity and safety? Will new drugs be illegal until the FDA approves them or can any fly by night chemist cook up a batch of something in the basement and sell it on the street?…

The new policy would keep a lot of people out of jail, but the increased availability and greater variety of drugs under a legal regime would expose young people in particular to a series of waves of new drug addictions. Given the bleak landscape that many inner city residents face — unemployment rates at Depression levels, weak or non-existent family ties, the constant presence of affluence that is right in your face but completely out of reach — a modification of the drug laws is likely to lead to increased abuse of powerful and destructive drugs. The consequence of that drug abuse will be to further reduce peoples’ ability to get out of poverty themselves or to provide stable homes for their children.

One should also note that the collapse of the illegal drug business is going to destroy the one industry in this country which gives low income, uneducated inner city youth significant opportunities. The transfer of this business and this income stream to legitimate channels (whether private or public) is going to take money and jobs out of the inner city. By dramatically reducing the incarceration rate of young Black men and closing down illegal enterprises (both good things in and of themselves) we will be dramatically exacerbating the problems of unemployment and poverty among a very volatile group of people. It is not entirely clear to me that the result of these two changes will be a fall in the crime rate and an outbreak of social peace.

The Ryan Budget

These days, I tend to get a little intimidated by all the super-smart bloggers who can spew all these facts and stats when it comes to budgetary issues.  So, I’m never going to be the next Ezra Klein or Tyler Cowen, but I can at least give a basic layman’s view on Paul Ryan’s plan on the budget.

At first glance, I think it’s pretty good.  One of my chief complaints with Republicans is that they either don’t have a realistic budgetary plan or most of their plans are just slash and burn without any purpose.  Ryan’s plan does have a lot of slashing of budgets, but I think he at least tries to keep the safety net somewhat intact.  For those on the Left like Klein and E.D. Kain, anything that changes the current understandings of social programs like Medicare and Medicaid is basically throwing the old and the poor on the street.  I don’t think it has to be that way.  I think some of the criticism about privatising Medicare by giving people vouchers is valid (it doesn’t at least on the surface try to rein in costs).  That said, it is a starting point and it’s good to see a Republican come up with an innovative idea.  I also think that while Ryan is willing to “go there” when it comes to entitlements, folks like Kain are correct in saying that the military also needs to be reigned in. 

Which leads me to a side issue.  David Brooks notes in his column today that America needs to re-envision its welfare state.  The system we have in place for the most part has been the system we have had for 50-70 years.  We are pushing the limits of the old welfare state model.  It’s becoming unsustainable.  This means that we have to create a new social contract that can carry this nation forward.  I think Ryan’s proposals are a good starting point.

That said, we also need to take a good look at what some call the “warfare state.”  Our defense needs are based on what those needs were back in the 1950s.  The Cold War with the Russians has been over with for 20 years and we need to design a military for our current world.  That means a smaller footprint around the world when it comes to bases and troops and that means cuts.  The world still needs the United States to take part in military action when called for, but we can’t do it with a military designed for the “Red Dawn” era.

So that’s my simple take on the Ryan plan.  I’d like to hear others viewpoints.

Is Democracy At an End in Michigan?

Michigan is on the verge of passing legislation that would grant some new powers to Emergency Financial Managers or EFMs.  These managers are basically people appointed by the state when a state, city or school district finds itself in dire straights.  From what I’ve been ready among some on the Left, including E.D. Kain and Rick Ungar, this is the end of democracy as we know it in the Wolverine State.

Since I’m a Michigan native and my hometown of Flint fell under state control in 2002, I decided to read up on what’s going on.  Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Radio lays out what’s going on:

Nobody in Lansing was neutral yesterday when the Michigan senate completed passage of new, tougher Emergency Financial Manager legislation on a straight, party line vote.

State Senator Phil Pavlov said this is needed to maintain “vital services, such as public safety and education,” when a city or a school district is in desperate financial straits.

This reform, he said, is necessary to allow steps to be taken “to protect public interests and the public’s money and strengthen local control and accountability.” His fellow Republicans all agreed.

But if you talked to any of the Democrats, they sounded like this was the equivalent of Mussolini seizing power.  “An unfair and unjustified power grab,“ Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer called it. One of her colleagues said it went way too far, “and was going to damage our communities and our schools.”

It’s also frustratingly clear that in the past, some emergency  managers in places like Pontiac and Hamtramck could have used  more authority. Robert Bobb needed to be able to tackle academic reform in the Detroit district; the courts said he couldn’t.

Now, his successor will have that power. Democrats are mainly afraid of provisions in the bill that would allow emergency managers to void contracts and ignore collective bargaining agreements if necessary. EFMs can even dissolve a municipal government.

Democrats rightly fear this could be the death knell for public employee unions in such cases. To be sure, the majority Republicans seemed uninterested in even attempting to compromise or win over Democrats. However, here’s something we might ask the indignant minority party: Where have you been for the last several years?

What’s clear is that a lot more school districts and municipalities are likely to have to endure emergency financial managers, or EFMs for short.

This has been clear to everyone for some time, and it has also been clear that the old law was inadequate. Did the Democrats propose changes last year, when they controlled the governorship and the state house? Did they suggest conducting a review of Detroit’s troubled finances?

They did not, clearly for political reasons. They did nothing, any more than they attempted to address the state’s deep-seated financial problems. Now, the balance of power has shifted.

Crain’s Detroit has a good overview of the law.  There is a current law on the books that has been used in the past.  As I said earlier, it was used on City of Flint in 2002.  The Crain’s article sums it up:

Here’s how the existing law works: A review of a city or school district’s finances is triggered when one of several events happens, like payless paydays or a failure to meet pension obligations. The state treasurer puts a review panel in place to evaluate the local government’s fiscal health, and if there’s a financial emergency, an emergency manager is appointed.

This is what happened in Flint.  A New York Times article from 2002 explains that the state came in and in effect, stripped elected officials of their power:

Even in a city used to hard knocks, this has been a bruising year.

In March, Mayor Woodrow Stanley was recalled by voters frustrated with the city’s deteriorating finances, and racial tensions simmered as the Rev. Al Sharpton came to rally support for the mayor, who is black.

In May, unemployment rose to 8.3 percent, far higher than even beleaguered Detroit to the southeast.

Since then, Flint’s municipal debt has climbed to nearly $40 million, alarming state officials, who began a review of the city’s finances in the spring. Gov. John Engler, a Republican, said the city had no credible plan to turn itself around. Darnell Earley, the city administrator who became acting mayor when Mr. Stanley was recalled, went so far as cutting public ambulance service to try to bring the city’s finances under control.

The denouement came on Monday when the state took control of the city’s government, stripping elected officials of much of their power. Flint, a city of 125,000, is the largest municipality that has ever been run by the state.

So, what does the new law do?  Back to the Crain’s article:

Amendments to state law under discussion include expanding the list of events that can trigger the state review that leads to installation of an emergency manager, changing the powers of local elected officials during the emergency financial manager’s tenure, giving an emergency manager the power to modify or terminate labor contracts, allowing an emergency manager to consolidate or eliminate departments and allowing a current or recent elected official to serve as emergency manager.• Under the existing law, an emergency manager can renegotiate union contracts but not break them. The amendment would place some restrictions on the emergency manager’s ability to break contracts, namely, to prove it’s necessary, based on the financial emergency and the good of the public. Contract modifications would be temporary.

The article goes on to say that some policy experts wonder if the proposed law could run afoul of the state constitution, though the State Treasurer says that it can be backed up with a competing provision.

This blog post does a good job of looking at the current law as well as the new law.  It does have its own spin, but it’s still informative.

My own take on this is that from what I’ve read, the proposed new law could do things like break union agreements or even dissolve government entities, but that it doesn’t say it would do that. I also think that what is lost in some of the talk of power grab is that some Michigan cities have been prennial problems in the state.  Flint is in danger of going back to state control only ten years after going through it again.  Andrew Heller, a columnist for the Flint Journal notes that my hometown is acting like the cartoon character Wimpy from Popeye, saying it would pay someday for some money today:

Imagine you have a brother who is a, well, we won’t call him a deadbeat because he’s family, but he does have a nasty habit of spending money he doesn’t have.

In fact, a few years ago – much to everyone’s embarrassment – he ran up so many bills around town that the sheriff threw him in the clink and had a judge appoint someone to run his finances for him.

The idea was, “If we show him how it’s done, he’ll become smarter about how he spends his money and then he will no longer run up bills that he can’t pay.”

Except it didn’t work. The court-appointed money manager paid off your brother’s staggering bills and got him back on the financial straight and narrow. In fact, the turnaround in his finances was remarkable.

“Surely, he has learned some valuable lessons and will be able to run his own finances from here on out in a responsible, adult fashion,” you thought.

But the second the money manager left town, your brother went right back to his spendthrift ways.

“I can’t help it,” he cried. “I’ve always spent money like it was going out of style and I guess I can’t stop.”

So he didn’t even try. He kept right on spending money hand over fist on things he didn’t need and luxuries he couldn’t afford, and before long he had IOUs floating all over town.

That was when he came to you.

“Brother,” he said. “I’ve proven once again that I have all of the self-discipline and impulse control of a sailor on shore leave. But I’ve changed this time, I swear it. And if you can see your way clear to give me permission to borrow $20 million, I promise I will pay the money back later on with interest.”

Would you trust him?

Now, I totally understand what cities like Flint have gone through in the last 30 years or so.  But I also think that after a while a city that has been on hard times has to get itself cleaned up- it can’t just think that it can go to Lansing anytime cash runs short.

It’s hard to see my home state struggle like this.  But I also know that Michigan has been living in a state of denial for decades that somehow, someway the good ol’ days will come back.  There are people in my homestate who still think that King Auto will come back and the state will be rolling in the dough once more.  We don’t want to think that hard decisions have to be made, and there has to be a willingness to move forward towards new industries and ideas.

Maybe, the EFM bill goes to far, I don’t know.  But then, I’d like to think that a city that’s had to go through the embarassment of having a state-appointed manager try to get you back under control would be enough to scare said city straight.

I’d like to see what those who are talking about the end of democracy in Michigan would do when there are cities that are financial basketcases.

The Republican Waterloo?

About a year ago, David Frum said that the refusal of Republicans to negotiate with Dems on health care reform was their “Waterloo.” E.D. Kain argues that it wasn’t health care that will be the Waterloo for the GOP but the recent overreach by Republican governors:

In Wisconsin, Democrats are already promising to step-up recall efforts. But the recalls are only a small part of what is likely going to be a huge anti-Republican backlash across the nation, as working Americans finally realize what that party actually stands for: an playing field heavily tilted toward the rich and powerful, toward corporate power, and against worker rights…

…conservatives have chosen public-sector workers and teachers as their hill to die on. They have followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and elected Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and various other Tea Party candidates. Heavily funded by big campaign donors like the Koch brothers and other corporate interests, the Republican party has made a concerted effort across the country to take on unions, public pensions, and social services for the poor…

The healthcare debate gave Republicans a chance to capture the narrative, spin the entire debate into one about fiscal ruin and deficits. Now Scott Walker has given progressives their chance. This is the Democrats chance to recapture that narrative, to turn the discussion back to the dignity of the middle class, to the importance of policies that do not simply push power and capital ever upward. This is the Republican’s Waterloo.

So, what do you all think?  Is this the GOP Waterloo?  Will it galvanize Democrats and progressives in general?

How’s the Middle Class Doing?

Professor James Hanley has a great post from a few weeks back comparing the middle class circa 1950s vs. the middle class of today.  It has touched off a quite a debate at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen after Jason Kusnicki picked up on it a few days ago. Here’s part of what Hanley said in that January 5 post:

it seems to me that part of the problem is that as the country becomes wealthier, it doesn’t seem to become easier to live a middle class life. And it seems to me that this is because the material standard of living that defines the middle class today is higher than that which defined the middle class in past generations. For example, in the 1950s, a middle class lifestyle meant a window air conditioner and some fans to move the air around; today it means central air conditioning. Back then a single car family was middle class; today most middle class families are two car families. A single television set was sufficient to be middle class back then; today–even though televisions are much cheaper–most middle class families have multiple televisions, many pay extra for a television that’s much larger than what their (grand)parents had, and most pay extra–sometimes a lot extra–for cable or satellite (i.e., once upon a time three free channels was middle class; now 100 pay channels is middle class). They didn’t pay for microwaves and computers (and internet access) in the 1950s, while we do now. We also eat out a lot more today than they did back then. One of the biggest changes is the size of American homes. In the 1950s, the average home size was just under 1,000 square feet; today it’s over 2,300 square feet. As importantly, a house back then most often had a single bathroom; now homes regularly have 2 1/2 baths or more.

All this extra material wealth is a good sign, from a strictly economic point of view,* because this means our middle class can afford more than our grandparents’ middle class. Our middle class has a higher standard of living, is better off, than our grandparents middle class. But as commenter E.C. Gach’s question, “Will we (human race) ever have competed enough in the rat races to have a future where our children can have their needs met while only working part time at the “low end” job?”

Like I said, it’s created a lot of debate. As of today, there are 353 comments. This is what E.D. Kain, once a heterodox conservative and now newly-minted progressive, had this to say:

Jason,

I’m well aware that leisure items and material goods are in many ways more fun and more advanced than in the past. But this says absolutely nothing about retirement security or healthcare – two far, far more important issues. Furthermore, it doesn’t speak to the preferred changes libertarians and many conservatives would like to make which would, on sum, make retirement security even less reliable. And frankly, if left to just libertarian and conservative ideas on healthcare – without the pressure liberals place on the issue – I don’t think you’d ever see anything like healthcare security for the poor and working classes. Just look at the efforts to cut people off the Medicaid rolls across the country.

Furthermore, while this does a fine job at explaining how things have improved in society (and I don’t think most people are arguing that we should return to the 1950’s or the 1800’s – the idea of progress is well-rooted in the collective psyche) it says nothing at all about how things should have improved. Would we trade our high-tech middle-class existence for the low-tech middle-class existence of the 1950’s – maybe some die-hard nostalgiaits would, but most people would not, even if they believed that there was a crisis in the middle class. Asking to pick the present over the past and then using that as an example of how things must have improved is pretty paper-thin as far as arguments go. Nor does it say why things have gotten materially better. Perhaps some of these much-loathed government programs are to blame; and perhaps, too, the liberalization of markets and the lowering of tax rates have helped as well. Perhaps it is a very mixed bag with no simple explanation, just as the gains made across the board don’t tell the whole story either. But I suspect that the usefulness of libertarian economics has reached its peak. Civil liberty issues are the next frontier for libertarians who want to improve the lives of Americans – not attempts to privatize public libraries or fight for more tax cuts.

Anyways, this argument also says nothing about how things will be in the future if we maintain the current course. I don’t trust that the nation as a whole will be very good with its 401k investments, or that the investment bankers who just thrashed the economy will be very wise stewards of our money. Pointing out that the middle class can afford more leisure and better toys than it used to, and that we live in more material comfort, ignores the chaos in the system, the rapidly shifting industries, the rough and tumble ride that middle class workers face, and how very important things like health insurance are for people who have none, or who lose it when they lose their jobs.

The argument that is going on about the middle class could be summed up in another comment:

Being middle class isn’t just the ability to buy stuff… it’s security: knowing that if you get sick you’ll get health care, when you retire you will be comfortable; etc.

One of the main defenses of the globalization of labor is that this decreases the cost of consumer goods. Well, we have that now.
Maybe it’s time to focus on the other side of the equation… finding ways to drive up the costs of labor so that the middle class can have both cheap TVs and a decent retirement.

The debate boils down to what the middle class can do: are they able to buy certain consumer items or are they able to afford retirement and health care.

Since, I tend to lean to the right, I tend to resonate with Hanley’s argument.  But I don’t know if some the anxieties that the middle class feels is just due to higher living standards.

What do you all think?

Assault on the Middle Class?

E.D. Kain thinks that the current mess in Wisconsin is proof a sustained assault on the Middle Class by conservatives and libertarians:

So why does Wisconsin matter? Because this is a pivotal battle in that fight. What happens in Wisconsin could be a bellwether for things to come. If Walker wins, expect other like-minded governors to attempt the same thing, and many of them will likely win. If he loses, organized labor may have bought itself a bit more time. But the new class war will continue. Unless the public narrative can be recaptured from the Tea Party and the austerity now crowd we won’t see it end. Unless Democrats wake up to this threat, the party itself could be undone.

Now Erik has clearly picked a side in this debate.  I think personally, he is missing the larger picture that people like Chris Ladd are picking up on; that we changing from a society where there was something like “labor” to a society of entrepenuers.

That doesn’t mean that I think folks like the Tea Party have the answer, but does it mean that they want to weaken the Middle Class to favor the rich?

I’m interested in everyone’s ideas and opinions on this matter.

The (Im)Possibilities of Reforming Conservatism

E.D. Kain’s “Up from Conservatism” post had me thinking about something that I’ve seen over the years.  You take a guy who was a conservative that starts to see some of the problems.  They start to see them grow bigger and bigger and start to take on a crusade to reform conservativatism.  However, they continue to focus on the issues plauging the movement, until the problems are all they see.  At some point, they write a post renouncing their ties to conservatism and citing how awful the movement is.  They either choose to become independent or go over to the liberal side of the political spectrum.

On the surface, one can look at this as proof about how messed up conservatives are.  I don’t doubt that.  The current state of conservatism has caused many to pull up stakes and move towards greener pastures.  But I am also bothered by another concern and that is: why are there so few folks committed to reforming conservatism?  Why is there not an effort to make conservatism more modern in the way it has been done in the United Kingdom?

I’m surely no expert, but I do have a few theories as to why this is the case, so here goes:

  • It’s Harder to Reform than it is to leave.   Reforming something takes far more energy than it is in trying to walk away.  We humans are creatures of habit, and we don’t change long held opinions easily.  That can get rather frustrating for folks who want to see change happen now.  Walking away is a lot more immediate.  That leads to the second reason:
  • Reform takes a long time. If you think about it, the effort to reform the Conservative Party took a long time to come to fruition.  The Tory Reform Group came into being in 1975, when future Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was eight.  It took years for ideas which were dissemenated through new think tanks could take root within the party.  Even here in the United States, it took many years for the Goldwater-Reagan insurgency to take flower.  Ideas are hard to change and new ideas take a long time to develop.  In the age of everything-instant, that can be translated as failure.
  • Accentuate the Negative; Eliminate the Positive. It seems fairly common that the wider culture, be it the media or even close friends, always focus on the most negative aspects of conservatism.  The anti-gay conservative looking to block gay marriage is highlighted and given a podium to shout their view, while the pro-gay conservative toils away in near obscurity.  Blogs on the left , right and center will focus on the person that wants all Muslims sent to work camps, but tend to ignore the other conservative that says otherwise. This gives the impression that all of conservatism has gone loco. In my years working with Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection, I’ve noticed how these groups don’t get the attention they deserve from the larger media.  It also doesn’t help that its imbeded in people’s minds that conservatives hate gays, so that when people meet a gay conservative, they assume that person is self-loathing if they think of that person at all.  This flows into the next reason…
  • All politics is social.  I’ve learned this one because of my being autistic and having issues relating to other socially.  Politics, is a social activity.  If you’re someone that is witty and urbane and on top of that, a conservative- well, you feel rather lonely.  Most humans tend to seek groups to be a part of and can only be on their own for so long.  It takes energy to swim against the current.  It would make sense that someone who has been against the grain for so long, would want to just give up and become part of a larger group.  Many former hetrodox conservatives get tired of trying to be different and stand out.  After a while they just give up to join the crowd because they need and crave social contact.

Like I said, these are just off the cuff theories.  So can conservatism be reformed?  I tend to think so, but it will take folks who are patient and willing to be alone and ignored for a while.  Like Conor Friedersdorf said recently, I want to see a conservatism (and a liberalism) at its very best.  I’m willing to wait to see that happening.

E.D. Kain “Jumps”

I’ve seen this coming for a long time: the formerly prolific, hetrodox conservative blogger E.D. Kain has abandoned the conservatives, passing the liberaltarian lable and going full on liberal

Not that being a liberal is a bad thing.  Living in the liberal bastion of Minneapolis, I have a lot (and I mean a lot) of friends who are liberal Democrats.  And I also happen to sleep with a certain liberal gentleman of Scandanavian descent.

That said in some ways, this is sad, because the American center-right needs more people like Erik.  And yet, this is not surprising to me, though it is quite confusing.  I don’t know if it’s age or what, but it has always seemed to me that Erik was trying to figure out who he was and where he fit politically.  One moment he’s a Ron Paulite, the next moment he’s supporting Scott Brown, the next moment he’s writing the ultra-liberal blog Balloon Juice.  Maybe he’s finally found out where he fits.  If so, then I am happy for him even though it is the conservative’s loss.

For me though, I’ve chosen to remain where I am.  I have been tempted, but maybe I’m too old to be changing political stripes.  It was about ten years ago that I made the switch to the conservative column, though with much more emphasis on the center than on the right.  I’ve also decided, at least for now, that it makes sense to stay and be the voice of reason, the voice of reform, the voice of inclusion.

I’m not so full of myself as to think that I alone can change things.  I can’t fight off the creeping know-nothingism of the Tea Party.  I can’t take on Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann.  All I can do is be who I am and present another way. 

And maybe at the end of the day, that’s why this blog is here.  To be a quiet presence.  There’s already a lot of shouting from everywhere, and maybe here- we can be a place where we can have some coffee and just converse and create a better future.

I wish Erik the best, but I just hope he stays his wonkish self.  What concerns me about Balloon Juice is how hackish it tends to be.  I prefer sites that are more interested in discussion than just shouting and that blog basically tends to be more about yelling than anything else.

So, What Is Liberaltarianism?

E.D. Kain is blogging about the need for a new left-libertarian or liberaltarian alliance.  To which, one of his commenters replied:

For liberaltarianism to “survive,” or even come into existence in a real way, it badly needs an ontology. What is it? I mean what is “it”? A loose coalition? A movement? What are its goals? Is it just an ideological inclination? Does it have to be conscious? Does it matter if you want to be a liberaltarian? If you don’t? A liberal willing to say somehthing good about markets is one? Matthew Yglesias “might as well be” part of the movement? Or is?

And, “Both sides will have to give ground to make it work”? Can you point to single liberal who wants to do that? It’s not like different liberals don’t already hold plenty of positions that coincide with libertarian ones – they always have. But that’s not a statement of common cause – those positions already exist and are sincerely held. Is liberaltarianism just the overlap between modern liberalism and libertarianism? Based on what then are you asking anyone to give ground? To what end? Are we really to believe libertarians are prepared to give ground on core principles not just rhetorical flotsam left over from right-fusionism? I certainly wouldn’t ask them to. This all just sounds like a scheme of persuasion to me. Name me an issue on which libertarians are willing to substantively compromise, not just “adjust the language used,” and give me a reason that liberals should want to reciprocate, and I’ll try to give the project another chance. Otherwise, I still don’t get what it is or what it’s for. It still sounds like it’s basically two things: libertarians highlighting the many places liberals’ positions long have and do overlap with theirs, and libertarians adjusting their language and areas of focus so as to be less scary to liberals.

E.D. dissmisses the guy, but he comes back with this:

@E.D. Kain, Come on. I’ll admit to being skeptical, but I’m asking these questions out of a friendly assessment of what this thing would need to have some meaning. These are questions that need to be addressed before anyone not priorly committed to the project can have any idea how to consider it. What a thing is is pretty important to get somewhat clear if you want to get people to endorse it, to say nothing of subscribing to it. It’s unserious and does a disservice to the project to say these questions are overly literal. If you can’t say what this thing is, then what are you even promoting?

I think the commenter is correct in his questions. What is liberaltarianism? When I hear people like Kain and Timothy Lee talk about it, it sounds like wanting to hitch on the star of liberals than it is about doing some real talking about what each side is willing to give to make an alliance feasible. The cynical part of me thinks it’s a way for left leaning libertarians to become liberals without using the word liberals.

But when Scottish blogger Alex Massie describes it, he is talking about something else entirely:

Libertarians dreaming of nirvana – or conservatives who think libertarians can’t possibly forge any meaningful, if even temporary, alliances with the left – are starting from the wrong place. At some point you have to deal with the world as it is, not how it might be had everything been different from the beginning.

So, sure, you wouldn’t start with something like the NHS. And you might not sign on to every aspect of German labour laws. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be liberal (in a classical, european sense) advances in Britain or Germany. Indeed, both countries are currently governed by socially-liberal, economically-conservative coalitions. If you want to see whether “liberaltarianism” is possible then you might look to these countries.

Germany’s Free Democrats and, to a lesser extent, some Liberal Democrats in Britain would probably come within a US definition of “liberaltarian”. Rock-ribbed libertarians can find plenty to be unhappy with in each instance but these governments are much, much closer and friendlier to what I’d term real liberalism than anything on offer from either party in the US or from any of the alternatives in the UK and Germany.

The difference though is that the Free Democrats in Germany and to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats in the UK are political parties based on an ideology which seems to be different than what people like Kain and Lee are describing. Both parties ( and others in Europe) are classical liberal parties which sometime form coalition governments with parties of other ideologies. In the cases of the Free Democrats and Liberal Democrats, both parties ironically have joined forces with conservative parties.

While Massie and the American liberaltarians are using the same words, they tend to mean different things. For Massie “liberal” means classical liberal. For Kain and Lee, “liberal” means American liberalism which is not classical liberalism. If this project is about strengthening and reviving classical liberalism in the United States, then I’m all for that. If this is about having a conversation with US liberals and basically joining the Democrats, then I might part company.

This is the problem I have with the enthusiasm for liberaltarianism. It’s not thought out. It’s seems at time more a knee jerk reaction to contemporary conservatism than a thoughtful response. The fact is, I am attracted to the idea of a movement that is both socially liberal, free market oriented and interested in limited government. The problem is I just don’t see that when I hear some its leading proponents speak. I don’t see them asking what liberals will give up in order to make this movement work.