On libertarian vices
Friday, August 11, 2006
Tyler Cowen explains the Libertarian Vice succinctly for us. (This was something that has been going on in my mind for some time now, and I am glad I didn't have to clumsily express it myself. ) Libertarians tend to treat all governments with the same broad brush of lack of incentives and lack of information - which is not very faithful to reality, because there are occasions when govts have got things done right.
But the bigger libertarian vice, imho, is something else - one that was also pointed out by Tyler.
Another conservative and libertarian vice is come up with some better means of helping people — usually involving markets — and if that doesn’t happen, to be content with doing nothing.(link)
I think there are a whole lot of things that can generally help shift the balance against governmental power, like siding with more mainstream virtues such as accountability and transparency. Free markets arent going to come about by magic and until such time we must limit governmental damage in whatever way we can. In general, I think, a wider alliance with left liberals is possible. I think it is fully libertarian to be against the Narmada Dam, e.g. and the Right to Information Act is also something libertarians should be happy with. (I mention these not because Indian libertarians dont hold such opinions, but because the contrarian left liberal /activist types are more strongly identified with such stances.) If you send out signals that you too are strongly in support of such issues (as the RTI Act, i.e.), then fewer people will be freaked out with libertarianism and stop assuming all kinds of blather about it. I first began to think about this when Will Wilkinson wrote some time back (although in the American context) a brilliant post that I think is a must-read for libertarians:
The cause of classical liberalism as a really existing possibility for political reform has been harmed by bundling free markets with a ban on transfers. This package deal has influenced people who think justice requires transfers to eschew free markets. If we had spent the last forty years hammering away at liberal fundamentals like transparency and generality instead of the natural right to not be taxed, our society would now be closer to the free market, limited government ideal.
Update: Will Wilkinson has yet another beautifully articulated post on this subject.