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A response to a Progressive article on Libertarianism

May 23, 2015

This post is a response to this article:

I’m going to use “libertarian” to describe “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”, which is a tremendously awkward phrase. It seems like the target audience of the article is progressives who want to make themselves feel better about hating their political enemies, as the author did not think to ask what libertarians actually think about these issues before writing the article.

The author brings up seven issues.
1: Poverty, and the cycle of poverty.
2: Domestic violence, workplace harassment, and other abuse.

These points only make sense if you assume libertarians are pro-poverty. We’re not. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to alleviate it and help the poor. It’s just that our solutions don’t involve regulation and handouts. Disagreement on the solution to a problem is not the same as being in favor of the problem. If you disagree with our solutions, fine, let’s have that discussion. But writing an article saying that is equivalent to being “pro-problem” is unhelpful.

3: Disenfranchisement
Blaming a powerless political group for what the established political system does is idiotic. Electronic voting machines aren’t some libertarian conspiracy, they are created by the mainstream Democrats and Republicans. Who do you think gerrymanders? Some secret libertarian conspiracy? Whoever holds political power decides what the districts are. That means Democrats and Republicans. If you want to solve a problem, step one is figuring out who caused it. The author apparently couldn’t be bothered to spend 5 minutes figuring that out.

4: Racist policing
5: Drug policy and prison policy
I will simply note that libertarians agree with the far left on these issues. Who does the author think run the police? If you want to scale down the prison industrial complex, you are fiscally conservative, because prisons are the government and you want to make them smaller. And does the author really think libertarians are in favor of the drug war? Libertarians have been fighting against the drug war a lot longer and a lot harder than the left, thank you very much.

Ok. We’re finally at some points where there are actual points of disagreement. Let’s take these one at at time.

6. Deregulation
Regulation is not homogenous. It is a list of rules that people have to follow. The rules can be good or bad. In general, if someone either says “we need more/less regulation” without specifying exactly what rules should be added or removed, or even for that matter saying what the goals of the regulation should be, they are saying an empty platitude rather than a meaningful thought.

“Do I need to remind anyone of what happened when the banking and financial industries were deregulated?”
Oh my. You probably should remind me, because based on everything I’ve read on this subject, such an event never occurred. Banking has been either the most regulated or the second most regulated industry (depending on how you measure it) for at least the last hundred years. By my count, there are 11 Federal agencies currently tasked with regulating the banks. Maybe you think there should be 12. Maybe you think there should be 100. But to pretend like banks are unregulated is just absurd.

And who, by the way, do you think writes banking regulation? The banks! Congress doesn’t come up with these 10,000 page behemoths. It’s not about more or less, primarily. It’s about good vs. bad. Regulation should encourage competition, not solidify monopolies and hand out billions of dollars of free money. Small government does not necessarily mean pro-business. Many people are fiscal conservatives because they want to limit the amount of corporate welfare. Lumping people into one big “fiscal conservative” category does not allow you to distinguish between anti-corporate welfare people and anti-poor people welfare types.

7: Free trade
The author is wrong about free trade. Countries that are poor do not have free trade. Rich countries have free trade. Countries which change their policy from closed trade to free trade rapidly become rich. Countries which close off trade rapidly become poor. Economists from the far right to the far left are all in favor of free trade. Why could this be? Perhaps because even a cursory review of the evidence would suggest that freeing trade is the second best way of alleviating poverty. What’s the best? you might ask. Moving from a country without free trade to a country with free trade. That’s right – immigration to a freer trade area.

Sweatshops and poor worker conditions are a symptom of a generally bad economy. You don’t see them in rich nations. Why? Because we can afford not to have them. We can afford to send our kids to school instead of working them in the fields or the factory. To deny free trade to developing countries is to trap them in their poverty.

The author asserts that ” the whole damn point of “free” trade: by reducing labor costs to practically nothing”. Where, might I ask, are labor costs rising the fastest in the whole world. China. Why are they going up so fast? Because China opened up to free trade and they are now reaping the benefits. Labor costs are lowest in poor countries. Opening poor countries up to trade makes them rich, which in turn raises their labor costs. So in fact, the whole point of free trade is precisely the opposite – to raise labor costs, or as we economists like to say, raising the living standards of workers.

The author concludes: “This list is far from complete. But I think you get the idea.”
Yes, I get the idea. The idea is you’re an idiot who didn’t bother to look up a single fact in your whole article. You preferred to stream-of-consciousness spew hate at a group whose members you’ve never met.

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