Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tim Lee on Liberaltarianism

I want to associate myself with this post by fellow Minnesotan Tim Lee, on which I posted the following comment:
Sign me up for the emerging Lindsey-Lee-Sanchez-Wilkinson School of Libertarianism!
Will Wilkinson has it right that the liberaltarianism thing is best understood as a longer-term project- an effort to convince people with liberal impulses that a lot of libertarian insights are genuinely liberal, and to build a broader liberal coalition in years ahead. I think some progress has been made in this direction, insofar as people like Matt Yglesias seem to at least take libertarian arguments seriously. Remember, 40 years ago libertarians were MUCH MORE of a crazy fringe group.
My vision for the future is a worldwide coalition of pragmatic, bottom-up focused epistemologically cautious liberals who understand that markets are a force for progress.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What's a libertarian to do?

Reason has an interesting debate on the topic "Where do libertarians belong?" featuring Brink Lindsey, Jonah Goldberg, and Matt Kibbe. I have a few thoughts (again, scattered):

Lindsey is seems to be making two arguments: one about political strategy and one about ideological affinity. These arguments overlap a bit, but I think they ought to be handled separately. I'll put it as a Q and A:

Will libertarians achieve more if we disassociate ourselves from the right?
I've never felt a particular affinity for the right. But Lindsey is probably addressing politically active/ influential libertarians, of which I am neither. I imagine he's also trying to push Cato a bit away from it's association with the Republican Party as well.
Anyway, I would answer "Yes", because I don't really see the point in blanket political alliances Lindsey's suggestion that libertarians should make alliances on a case-by-case basis seems obviously right. Associating yourself with a political party for it's own sake is stupid.

Are libertarians more ideologically affiliated with modern American liberals?
Depends on the libertarian and the liberal in question. Many libertarians are basically, to use Will Wilkinson's phrase, "liberals who like markets". But then there are the Randian leave me alone types, who, though I may agree with them on many specific policy issues, don't seem to care a lot about promoting human welfare (that's probably an overstatement).
But both of these put together represent maybe 5% of the American population. There are a lot of Americans with libertarian beliefs, but, in my experience, they have plenty other very non-libertarian beliefs.
I guess where this is leading me is that ideology as a way of categorizing a large group of people is a pretty big abstraction from reality. My feeling is that it would be enough for Lindsey to point out that republicans, and the Tea Partiers, have a lot of beliefs that libertarians probably disagree with. From there, individuals can make up their own minds. Isn't that the libertarian solution?

Not really related to the above, but I see this kind of debate as being largely about identity. A lot of libertarians may feel the need to associate themselves with other, larger movements or subcultures.

Scattered thoughts on morality

  • We should face the difficult reality that there are no moral facts. The best we’re going to do is to reach consensus among a sufficient number of people. Luckily, there is a lot of room to achieve consensus.
  • One reason for this opportunity is the growth in opportunities for positive-sum interactions. There are more chances for people to get what they want, in a way that can benefit everyone.
  • Rising standards of living make people seek higher goals. This makes moral discourse- rather than rule of the strongest- possible.
  • There’s a lot of truth to economic determinism- a lot of social changes are emergent. Moral discourse is tinkering at the margin.
  • Taleb’s tinkering concept (as I understand it) suggests to me that we want differing moral viewpoints. They function to diversify social practices, making society more robust to unforeseen changes.
  • So we don’t want one all-encompassing moral vision for everyone. We do need some basic principles, but they should be minimal (a case for negative rights at the state level?). This minimalism allows for a diversity of moral convictions, positions and actions.
  • This does not rule out the possibility of irresolvable moral conflict, which may be inescapable under any circumstances. Some conflict is probably beneficial. We can hope to avoid the most destructive conflict (creative destruction, however, should be allowed to thrive).
  • We should clearly acknowledge the limits of our understanding. Tinkering and diversification are ways to deal with the ever-present possibility of error, as well as unforeseen changes