On classical liberalism

Matt Yglesias:

An idiosyncratic intellectual project of mine is trying to rescue classical liberalism’s good name from the clutches of contemporary libertarianism. A big issue here is that classical liberals were very concerned with binding resource constraints. In their day, that meant primarily arable land. John Locke, for example, famously noted that individual appropriation of land as property was legitimate “at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

The particular problem of arable land isn’t a big deal in a modern rich democracy. But the basic issue that individualistic solutions don’t work when you have binding resource constraints is applicable to a lot of modern day issues. The atmosphere has a finite ability to absorb carbon dioxide emissions before we hit some kind of devastating climate tipping point. It’s striking that seven of the world’s ten highest revenue firmsare in the oil business. And a huge share of the recent action in the high-tech space is intimately bound up with the finite quantity of radio spectrum. Tim Lee, who identifies as a libertarian but who I see eye to eye with a huge range of issues, has a thoughtful post about the application of these Lockean issues to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.

Meanwhile, for the countervailing forces ledger note that the Communications Workers of America are strong proponents of the merger because AT&T is unionized and they think this will help them organize T-Mobile’s workers.

This is something of an idiosyncratic intellectual project of mine as well, though I haven’t settled on whether I’m trying to rescue classical liberalism from contemporary libertarianism or rescue liberalism from the clutches of technocratic progressivism. Maybe both.

It’s also quite possible that I’m just in it for the money.