Wednesday, February 9, 2011

LIBER(AL)TARIAN - Not an Oxymoron

First, a disclaimer.  I'm not a libertarian. 

I consider myself a pragmatist with a left-lean.  I am registered Independent, because even though I mostly grok the Dems more than the Republicans, I'm fed up to here with power politics, rhetoric and manipulation of the public by whatever means money can buy.

Having said that, I'm enamored with a potential movement that's been labeled "liberaltarian."   Liber(al)tarians are folks who believe market-based approaches to social problems do, sometimes, offer the more favorable outcomes, and would like to see government step back from a significant number of its endeavors.  This perspective creates a veritable venn diagram of overlap between the liberal and the libertarian positions - hence, liberaltarians.

I personally find a lot of common ground with my libertarian friends.  I can agree with them whole-heartedly that we need to withdraw the corporate subsidies we've been handing to the forestry, mining, agriculture and ranching industries since our country's early days.  While once it may have required an incentive to get men to head out to the big wild to dig mines, run cattle, fell trees or tame the fields for food crops, now these industries are pretty much owned by big corporate money-makers.  They don't need taxpayer charity. 

But that was the libertarian argument.  The liberal argument says that these mega-industries are negatively impacting ecosystems, and plundering our natural resources.  And getting paid to do it.  Instead, these industries should have to (1) pay market value for their leases, and (2) the price of those leases should include one way or another the costs of careful stewardship of our land and resources, to preserve its availability both to future generations, and as an essential part of the earth's dynamic ecosystem.  These two requirements to internalize the costs of using natural resources would balance demand as real costs impact consumerism.

I can also agree that we need to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.  Loss of jobs and consumer buying power has converted this country from a mecca of the common man where people who hold down a job had a chance at the middle class, toward third world status.  But that's the Libertarian argument.

The liberal argument has also historically been an environmental argument.  Local and regional production reduce CO2 gases associated with transporting goods from far away places to the U.S.A.  And, when we export manufacturing, we also export the pollution that goes with production to countries with less rigourous environmental regulations.  And since pollution travels via air and water, it doesn't stay put.  Exporting simply makes pollution more difficult to control.

Of course now, most of us would also aspire to have the job base back.  So we even have an ideological venn overlap.

There are similar arguments to be made for the elimination of high tech tax loopholes, bad laws that make corporations into "persons" for legal purposes, and so on. 

The term "liberaltarian" was coined by some folks in D.C. prior to Obama coming on the scene - there were liberals and libertarians meeting to discuss whether something could be done about corporate welfare, overseas jobs bleed, etc.  Click this sentence for a great article by Bruce Bartlett explaining the potential of these two groups to find common ground and push policy. 

I'd always just assumed that the two groups are simply strange bedfellows - with very different ideological bases for wanting similar change.  But I recently read an excellent historical piece about the leftist tradition among libertarians, and was moved to drop a link to it into this blog post. "Libertarian Left: Free-market Anti-capitalism, the Unknown Ideal," by Sheldon Richmond, spins out the leftist roots of the movement, including a strong soft spot for the un- and underemployed in our midsts.  A quote from this article is below, but I urge you not to be satisfied with my little blurb on liberaltarianism, and to read his entire piece:

"These authors [Kevin Carson and Roderick Long]—and a growing group of colleagues—see themselves as both libertarians and leftists. They are standard libertarians in that they believe in the moral legitimacy of private ownership and free exchange and oppose all government interference in personal and economic affairs—a groundless, pernicious dichotomy. Yet they are leftists in that they share traditional left-wing concerns, about exploitation and inequality for example, that are largely ignored, if not dismissed, by other libertarians. Left-libertarians favor worker solidarity vis-à-vis bosses, support poor people’s squatting on government or abandoned property, and prefer that corporate privileges be repealed before the regulatory restrictions on how those privileges may be exercised. They see Walmart as a symbol of corporate favoritism—supported by highway subsidies and eminent domain—view the fictive personhood of the limited-liability corporation with suspicion, and doubt that Third World sweatshops would be the “best alternative” in the absence of government manipulation."

I'm not a libertarian.  But the liberaltarian model is a really nice model, in my mind, for demonstrating the ability of two quite different factions to find common ground and make progress. Perhaps had Obama not arrived on the scene, this group would have emerged with some ideas and made some progress. 

Perhaps it's not too late. 


  1. Interesting, and proof that the political
    spectrum is a circular: the more and more left winged you get, you end up meeting up with the right-wing extremists.

  2. You might find my Upper-Left ideas a better match than the radical left-libertarianism of Carson and Company.

  3. Carl, I'll check your website out, but I'm not really looking for a good match, so much as I'm looking for a political opportunity for movement in some areas where a movement conversation has not been possible with conventional Republican leaders.

  4. I'm trying to build all sorts of bridges. Though I must admit I'm getting far more traction with the currently unaffiliated than with the core activists of the active political parties.