On being liberal
Matt Yglesias argues that the modern left is the proper heir to Locke and Hume.
There’s a commonly held view that modern day American liberals aren’t “really” liberals and that the “real” heirs of the classical liberal tradition of Hume, Smith, and Mill are conservatives or libertarians. I think that’s honestly nonsense. There’s just nothing in the liberal tradition to suggest that there’s anything wrong with the welfare state, social insurance, redistributive taxation, or environmental regulation.
There is much truth to this. I do wonder whether either the people touting "The Road to Serfdom" or dismissing it have actually read it. One my favorite outtakes:
That the ideal of justice of most socialists would be satisfied if merely private income from property were abolished and the differences between the earned incomes of different people remained what they are now, is true. What these people forget is that in transferring all property in the means of production to the state they put the state in a position whereby its action must in effect decide all other incomes.
That is, as Hayek goes on to explain, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with communal ownership of the means of production. The mistake is to think that the government could facilitate such ownership because then the government is effectively a monopolist and that would give the government almost unlimited power.
The idea that in principle it would be okay to completely redistribute all capital wealth is far to the left of anything proposed in modern America.
On the other hand it is not correct to suggest that modern American liberalism does not have a stronger regulatory bent than either conservatism or libertarianism. It’s also hard to argue that the goal of government-run health insurance -- very popular among progressives -- could be defended on classical liberal grounds. Though huge transfers to the poor, which they could use to buy health care if they so choose, could be.
At the same time, obviously conservatism is very supportive of the permanent military state that classical liberals truly feared, and modern libertarianism often makes a fetish of taxation that is not supported by the original arguments.
Karl Smith is an assistant professor of economics and government at the University of North Carolina and a blogger at ModeledBehavior.com.
| November 10, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Save & Share: Previous: The drawbacks of the GOP's all-or-nothingism on health-care reform
Next: Mitch McConnell shouts from the sidelines
Posted by: MosBen | November 10, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pmcgann | November 10, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dollarwatcher | November 10, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: justin84 | November 10, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 10, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 10, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 10, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: happyacres | November 10, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 10, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: karlsmith | November 11, 2010 1:08 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dollarwatcher | November 11, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 11, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 11, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 11, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gregransom | November 11, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse