14 April 2011

Another difference

There seems to be a distinction between most libertarians and progressives over economics, and commonly we are lumped together with right-wing conservatives for this distinction. While it is broadly speaking true that libertarians and conservatives share some economic views, this appears to summarize what we lack in common on economics.

"Libertarians generally have two broad types of reasons for favoring a free-market system, which countenances potentially quite large inequalities, without a great deal of redistribution: First, they think the incentives and decentralized coordination this system produces generate much more wealth for the society as a whole over the long run. Second, they think it’s an important way of respecting people’s free choices and agreements (given, of course, a bunch of controversial assumptions about the conditions under which a choice counts as “free” and the scope of our rights over physical stuff, as opposed to the added value human effort imbues that stuff with).

Conservatives will say those things too, but it seems to me they’re far more likely to rely heavily (primarily?) on the idea that wealth is a deserved reward for hard work, ingenuity, prudence, and whatever other virtues they ascribe to the rich—while the poor must similarly deserve their lot by dint of being lazy, dissolute, and so on."

This is why, when discussions about drug-testing welfare recipients comes up, I'm having to fend off these absolutist perspectives that all poor people are inherently vile creatures who don't "deserve" the money that we give to them and thus that somehow instituting a vast draconian system of testing at our expense would, presumably, give us the decreased liability of taking care of the poor and downtrodden. When in fact, most people are poor for structural reasons, and many of those are poor for temporary reasons (job loss in a downsizing field, divorce, newly minted graduate, etc). Drug testing these people serves no purpose and we are now talking about a set of people who are chronically poor for other reasons. Most of those are not Calvinistic predestination any more than people are born with an inherent quality that provides them with wealth and prosperity. Things like poor education systems, broken homes, lack of societal role models, generally poor incentives, lack of job opportunities in poor neighbourhoods growing up, etc. Much of this is beyond individual control and somehow it becomes thus that we are bound to punish people for it by presuming that they are guilty of being poor for other reasons (never mind that people can be quite wealthy or successful and use drugs, alcohol, etc, but that they also acquire and use drugs or alcohol in "approved manners").

And there are a whole wealth of preference sets that conservatives internalise and do not wish to see the public choose, and seek to restrict these while posing as the agency who opposes bigger governments (as a system requiring drug tests of welfare recipients would be, or going back further, as a system requiring state authorities to help seek out escaped slaves or to engage in conquest for an empire of slavery would be, from those former "state's rights" folks). Drug wars, abortion/birth control, religions other than Christianity (or whatever the predominant religious agency is in a conservative's realm of existence), education, use of language, cultural tastes in art or music, expressions of sexuality, forms of sexuality, etc. All attempts to restrict as though such restrictions are best used through governments and would somehow be modest or small intrusions into private preferences of a broad subset of people who are not conservatives and do not share these preferences.

But of course at the same time, I have to beat back the prospect that all wealthy people are inherently scummy people that should have their wealth and prosperity confiscated and provided to the poor. I'm reasonably comfortable with a set of liberaltarian values which might include a welfare state which must be funded, in part, by redistributive or progressive taxation. But the sort of political optics that have to be engaged in do little to encourage people to adopt what appear to be successful models for a prosperous life. And of course neither do our actual policies favor such things where they create barriers to entry for no apparent reason other than to protect or at least insulate market participants from the vagaries of the market system itself. One reason libertarians are fond of freer markets is that wealth can be overcome by new players in the field, new technologies, and so on, rather than it to be used to rig the market against both. Conservatives are often as uncomfortable by the prospect that a market system changes societies very rapidly and somewhat unpredictably just as progressives are. And this leads to half-adoption of things like a market for education or health care, mostly just to subsidize their own choices at preference to those of others however, and not to actually create open markets where their preferences would have to compete. Progressives are fond of somehow concluding that given a choice between the broken systems we have now and more socialized ones, the public will generally choose the more socialized one. And this is correct. But it is not the choice that a libertarian, free market endorser proposes having in play either.

The game is rigged. And it's rigged by both the players toward having their own slightly different flavor of tea. Since I hate tea anyway, I'm not fond of playing by those rules.
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