Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » The Case for the Libertarian Democrat

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » The Case for the Libertarian Democrat by Markos Moulitsas

Of all the people I would least expect to utter the "L" word, it would have been Markos (Kos) Moulitsas, so I was somewhat stunned to be referred to a Kos essay at Cato Unbound(!) by Andrew Sullivan(!?!) in his own rather transgressive short entry on "Goldwater Democrats."

In this essay, Sullivan posits this:

Well, we've had Reagan Democrats. And we've had Goldwater Republicans. Why not a new version: Goldwater Democrats? By Goldwater Democrats, I mean old-style libertarian conservatives who actually believe in fiscal responsibility, small government, prudent foreign policy and live-and-let-live social policy. After being told we are completely unwelcome among Republicans, should we shift to the Dems?
Shift, shmift. I, along with many others, have seen the Republicans shift so far to the right that they have come all the way around to the radical LEFT, advocating policies and attitudes not very different from Collectivist totaltitarian states in which the individual serves the state or is dispensed with as an irritant to the Greater Good, as arbetrarily defined by some idealized strong strict father-figure. There was nothing "Republican" about Stalin or Mao and there's little to distinguish either from the position of power George Bush and his ilk seek, other than perhaps sheer lack of competence in translating vision into reality, for which we may all give thanks.

Kos opens his case this way:
"The case against the libertarian Republican is so easy to make that I almost feel compelled to stipulate it and move on. It is the case for the libertarian Democrat that has created much discussion and not a small amount of controversy when I first introduced the notion in what was, in reality, a throwaway blog post on Daily Kos on a slow news day in early June 2006.

Like all really good site moderatiors, Kos knows the value of throwing something out there for people to write about. It's like a good editorialist - the first thing is to get people talking. Then you can get them talking about something. But first, they have to talk, and that means obaying the first dictate of the editorialist: "Say Something Contraversial."

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Clearly, he did. And it sparked, either a new movement, or perhaps more accurately, a new name for a long-simmering reality.


Like me, these were people who didn’t instinctively
reject the ability of government to protect our personal liberties, who saw government as a good, not an evil, but didn’t necessarily see the government as the source of first resort when seeking solutions to problems facing our country. They also saw the markets as a good, not an evil, but didn’t necessarily see an unregulated market run amok as a positive thing. Some of these were reluctant Republicans, seeking an excuse to abandon a party that has failed them. Others were reluctant Democrats, looking for a reason to fully embrace their party. And still others were stuck in the middle, despairing at their options—despondent at a two-party system in which both parties were committed to Big Government principles.

That blog post on libertarian Democrats, imperfect as it was, struck a chord. But it wasn’t written in a vacuum. It stemmed not from theory or philosophy (I’m neither a theorist, political scientist, nor a philosopher), but from personal experience and from my excitement at the growing ranks of Western Democrats who aren’t just transforming the politics of the Mountain states, but will hopefully lead to the reformation of the Democratic Party and a new embrace of the politics of personal liberty.

I sometimes call myself a "neolibertarian," when I'm not speaking to Canadians. In Canada, I would be counted a "Progressive Conservative" or "Red Tory."

As a libertaraian, I want government to stay out of my private affairs - but I do not limit that objection to government alone. George Washington observed that "Government is Force," nothing more or less. It is, in it's simpest form, a gang of like-minded people staking out their turf.

Well, that makes being held up (or down) by a gang of robbers no different in essence from being shaken down for "protection money" by the federal government.

Well, when you pay your money - as we do - do you not expect some return beyond not being beaten up? Some positive effect? Canadians demand that - but clearly, here, that idea has been lost, so in the minds of Libertarians, government is restricted to doing little or nothing - depending on how close to utter Anarchism one's flavor of Libertarianism approaches.

But it's impossible to have meaningful liberty if one's freedom to act is circumcribed, and it matters little if it's by government fiat or by the lack of profit in providing the means of free action.

In the United States, we are not nearly as free to live as we wish, nor practicly speaking, free to contribute to the general welfare as we should due to limitations placed upon us by governement, and by some particular refusals to govern either fairly, or at all.

Liberty requires infrastructure and some degree of co-operation. Indeed, both of those things are inherent in the idea of a truly free market. As part of that, government regulation should foster competition and minimise transaction and participation costs.

Kos has observed - to the outrage of many more doctrinaire Libertarians and Republicans - that in a practical sense it matters little whether you are being screwed with by a government agency or a corporation. If the net effect is that you have to pay more money, take more time, or fulfil more requirements than an irriducable minimum as a means to restrict you or prevent you from claiming services you are owed, it's a tax, or an infringment, or theft.

It's something I pointed out to my doctor, actually. He has a medium-sized practice and in order to support it, requires three people who's primary job is to deal with varying insurance agencies. He doesn't even take Medicaid because Medicade pays less than it costs to do the work and process the paperwork.

In Canada, the same job is done by one receptionist. There is universal access to medical care, through the same mechanism although the question of who pays and how much varies a great deal from province to province and individual to individual.

For the patient and the doctor, it's immaterial who pays - you present your card, it's swiped, and the computer takes care of that while calling up your full medical record. Doctor-shopping for prescriptions is precluded - but shopping for a doctor that you are compatable with is very simple.

I should point out that the cost savings in this model are tremendous. No paper records are needed. No time is lost looking for records, or transferring them. And catistrophic costs due to misdiagnosis have been significantly lowered. If you happen to be in another province, you can walk into any doctor's office and be seen as quickly and as transparently as in your own.

If you are VERY poor, you pay nothing. If you are able to pay, you do, on a sliding scale. But nobody loses coverage if they lose their job, even if when you had a job, the premiums were paid by the company you worked for.

The approach here is not socialist in the sense people think. Rather, the approach is to create a standard for information sharing and require that everyone use the same one. So rather than a hundred different forms for various insurance providers, the same information is input once, and routed where it needs to go. Nobody is required to have coverage. Nobody is told to do this or refrain from that as a condition of coverage. That sort of socialism becomes very costly, requiring small armies of busybodies to implement, while achiving little in the way of positive gain.

This lazzez-faire attitude toward individual choices saves everyone involved an absolute ton of time and money, without sacrificing private enterprise initiative. Indeed, it makes it more possible for doctors to go into private practice, and it's funded by a more regular income, as people are more likely to go to the doctor more often for regular mantainance.

This makes the underwriters happy - the higher regular costs are more than offset by the prevetion of catistrophic health costs and the costs of long-term disabilities they cause.

To me, this is a very useful model of pragmatic Libertarianism; regulating a market in such a way that getting into the market, doing business and leaving is as effortless and as secure as possible.

It seems to me that this is exactly what a government should be doing - concentrating on governing the markets we all must operate within, rather than trying to govern the individual actions of people. Aside from being intrusive, it's largely futile and tends to create unregulated black and grey markets as people network around government.

For the last hundred years or so, US governing philosophy has been focused on the idea of compelling people to do the "right thing" and punishing them if they fail to agree. Rarely, in spots, it tries a more Canadian approach of enabling people to do things the Government would like to see happen. But these can be seen almost as anomolies, and are usually charactorized as "welfare state" approaches, if not outright socialism.

What our style of government has most in common with the dreaded "socialism" and demon "communism" is the control-freak aspects, where it's considered the role of government to regulate every tiny step of the process, even when doing so will almost certainly preclude a cost-effective outcome, much less any innovation that might not fit within comprehention of procurement officers.

For instance - it used to cost something like five hundred dollars apiece to provide submaranes with ashtrays for submarine wardrooms. It was not an unfair price, either, because in their wisdom, the Naval procurement officers had specified that it be a certain mass, as shatterproof as possible, with the stipulation that if it did break, would break in large, non-jagged pieces - and be made of GLASS.

Had they simply said, ashtray, large, shatterproof, suitable for officers they could have gotten them wholesale for five bucks a pop, with a range of tasteful alternitives.

Government is not itself immune from the price of interefering with free markets, and in a very real sense, this is what Jefferson was speaking of when he said "The government that governs least, governs best." In many ways, the drive to control and manage is incompatable with effective governtment, and to the degree that things are controlled, they cease to be governed at all. So the less government tries to control specifics, the more it can effectively achieve positive outcomes.

That's true of any organization, when you think about it. In fact, The Daily Kos is a living example of what can happen when you don't excercise strict control over every little thing at the expense of innovation and unexpected outcomes... like, say, the idea of "Democratic Libertarianism."

The right wing is not about liberty, or freedom. It is about control, and paradoxically, freedom from being controlled - by means of controlling, destroying or forbidding anything that might control them - or confront them with the truth of their own imperfect self-control.

But nobody and no group can control everything, and when we try to control ourselves and our own private nightmaares by forbidding them to others, we put ourselves at risk of catistrophic irony.

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1 comment:

Dr. T said...

Some good stuff here. I'm thoroughly disgusted with the Republicans too, who are acting and spending like Democrats. Makes one nostalgic for the Clinton White House when there was a Republican Capitol Hill. So far we have found that a R. WH with D. CH spend us to death (with Reagan and Bush I), that a D. WH with D. CH will definitely spend us to death, and that a R. WH with a R. CH is indistinguishable from having a Democratic government. BTW, you might be interested in my blog at


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