We are all conservatives now

I recently finished Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism and Charles Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism.  I’ll have more to say about those books later, but I wanted to comment on something that became very clear to me upon reading them.

By way of brief summary, Kolko’s thesis is that the Progressive movement, at least from 1900 to the beginning of World War I, was actually conservative in its economic policy.  In the wake of the transportation and communication revolutions of the new century, large firms–in the steel, oil, cattle, and banking industries, to name just a few–were desperate for Washington to centralize power to itself in order to facilitate growth, eliminate small and mid-size competitors, escape local controls, and safeguard control over their respective markets. Despite repeated attempts in the private sphere, the large firms were unable to achieve monopolies and hegemony in the marketplace.  Thus, they turned to the federal government.  TR, for all his trustbusting notoriety, was all too happy to oblige, as were Taft and Wilson after him.

In addition to technological progress, Kolko claims that what facilitated this economic revolution was the lack of an alternative school of thought.  Austrian economics, the basis of modern libertarian political theory, wouldn’t reach a critical mass until later in the century. As Kesler points out, by the time the political ideologies as we now know them would arrive, FDR had put economic protectionism on steroids, rebranded the conservative Progressive movement as modern “liberalism,” and forced proponents of liberty to qualify themselves as “classical” liberals.

Today, classical liberals are accused of trying to “return” us to a laissez faire economy of 100 years ago (which, as Kolko shows, did not exist), which left FDR with no choice but to centralize control in an all-powerful national government (a project that, as Kolko shows, had begun at least three decades earlier).

The reality is that free markets have never been attempted in the modern U.S.  Instead, we have always fumbled with clumsy regulations written largely by the very industries they mean to regulate.  TR, Taft, and Wilson each admitted they didn’t understand how banking worked, and their administrations let the banking industry write their own rules.  But this has been tolerated because, for at least the last 100 years, stability has trumped liberty.  Transparency, arms’ length dealings, fairness, these too are unimportant compared to economic stability.

What struck me is this: If the reason this economic “conservatism” exists is because there was no viable alternative when it was first rolled out, surely there is an alternative now.  Hayek, Friedman, and Von Mises, and hordes of free market economists and political theorists, make a compelling case for a classical liberalism that has yet to be tried.  It promises a liberty that none of us have seen in our lifetimes.  Sure, it also entails some discomfort, some insecurity as the creative destruction process plays out.  But it also promises an end to the political capitalism that the left and the right both abhor.  It promises prosperity.  And it promises fairness.

So what say you?  Are you in favor of decentralization?  Or are you conservative?

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at gmail.com.


  1. I am actually quite conservative.
    Defined as one who sees value in tradition and order and stability. Who is skeptical of radical change without powerful evidence in support.

    First of all, have you done your homework?

    This newfangled radical program of yours- can you define, it, and provide a rough verbal sketch of what it would look like?

    Secondly, aside from textbooks, where is the empirical evidence of it working? I know it hasn’t been tried, ever, anywhere, but even in small pieces?

    What causes you to have such faith in it?

    Why should we?

  2. Ahh, the No True Free Markets theory.

    Well played, Tom, well played!

    • Jeff,

      Just because you’ve been taught that the industrial era was totally laissez faire doesn’t mean what you were taught is true.

      Liberals (and I) love the book Lies My Teacher Told Me, but when it comes to the gilded age and the Great Depression they can’t grasp that maybe that standard story isn’t quite the whole truth and nothing but, either.

      • AFAIK, you had some places with actual monopolies and cartels, half the time enforced by the government (which is emphatically NOT to say that this didn’t occur earlier).

  3. I value tradition, order, and stability. That’s why I force my child to wear a 30-pound lead sack on his head to keep him from experiencing radical growth that outstrips the ability of his clothes to cover his body.

  4. I think there is probably a more appropriate term these days for conservatism.
    In the old days of our first crossing paths between Mike Dwyer & myself, it was adherence to the traditional (pre-1950’s) term “progressive”– a thing which largely does not exist any more. (I see the Port Huron Statement as the marker of contemporary progressivism, which is a very different beast. Perhaps Hanley or Jason or someone more knowledgeable on historic matters than myself can set me straight on this.)
    Also, I think the term “liberal” is now worn-out and insufficient, as Murali’s posts on Rawls would indicate.

    I also want to point out that, from my vantage, one big issue with “small government conservatism” or even libertarianism is that it requires each part to function at near-optimal process; which I believe is somewhat unrealistic, present state of things considered.

    • The labels are horrible, no doubt. Conservatism and Progressivism are both empty terms. Conserve what? Progress toward what? Liberal is the only label that has any content, but it’s misapplied to modern liberals who prioritize stability and several other values ahead of liberty.

      • One could argue that stability allows a set of liberties that would not exist without that stability.

        In times of chaos, typically you’re going to have many of your decisions constrained by necessities, when times of stability don’t have this same burden.

        I’m not sure I think there’s a perfect tradeoff between stability and liberty. They’re loosely coupled to a degree.

  5. Starting the history of US banking at 1907 is like starting the history of Star Wars with Episode IV. The story is good if you only know the good parts of it.

    • and the backstory is just one unmitigated disaster after another.

  6. Are you in favor of decentralization? Or are you conservative?

    To me, the best definition of a liberal in the most full sense is that he is not for either of these across the board or to the others’ exclusions. Definitely, modern liberals have conservative strains in the their value systems. They’re often in favor of decentralization but not always. Generally, they’re in favor of liberty, stability, and prosperity – and some minimum degree of fairness and equality. It’s only one particular viewpoint that says only one or maybe two of these can be embraced consistently at one time. The liberal doesn’t think he can maximize each one of these, but then he doesn’t remotely want to. He thinks, or wants, to balance them to optimize overall conditions. (People have different ideas about what’s optimal, that’s why liberals favor democracy.)

    Most liberals still haven’t seen a convincing argument as to why this isn’t a workable view, though every liberal understands that some people prefer, entirely legitimately, to maximize, or exclusively emphasize, one or two of the stated values above.

    • Michael, are liberals actually in favor of liberty? I truly wonder. Sexual liberty, of course. Free speech, certainly, if it’s the right kind. But economic freedom? I think most liberals’ eyes involuntarily roll at the very idea. “Oh, gawd, here it comes. Economic liberty, blech.” But liberty isn’t worth much if you strip away the right to earn a living. I’m not talking about the right to a regular stipend. I mean the right to search out among your community for an enterprise beneficial to your fellow man, to apply yourself to that enterprise, and derive a profit from it that is a function of your skill and effort and its value to others.

      Economic liberty is a vital organ in a free individual. Let me try it this way. If a state official puts you in an empty room and offers to allow you to speak your mind, that is not freedom of speech. The freedom to talk is not the freedom of speech. Speech involves an audience. If the official muzzles your audience so it cannot react to your speech, that likewise is not freedom of speech. Free speech bleeds over into free association with one’s audience. Speech involves a give and take, your audience hearing AND reacting to you, and you reacting back, and so on.

      In the same way, liberty is missing something vital when the state strips consequences away. My business profits are not the product of voluntary transactions between free individuals when the state grants me a monopoly or similar privileged status, or forces individuals to buy my products. It’s also not a free society that tries to prevent outsourcing where jobs can be done cheaper offshore simply for the sake of “creating jobs at home.” An individual does not have a “right to a job” and when we pretend there is, it takes something important away. We deny ourselves a society in which we each try to our utmost to give value to our communities rather than mark time until our next paychecks.

      But I digress. I’m actually more curious how you come up with the ordering of values (liberty, stability, prosperity, and then “some minimum degree of fairness and equality). As for why we can’t have all these things, liberty by its nature is unstable and unequal. But we most definitely can have liberty, prosperity, and quite a deal more than a minimum of fairness and equality, so long as we are talking about procedural fairness and equality of opportunity, not of outcomes.

      • I don’t have my value order figured out yet.

        Are liberals for liberty? To the extent they are, yes they are. Do you honestly feel most of them exhibit complete indifference or antipathy to liberty? I would say you’re wrong to if you do. Or do they just fail to meet a threshold that’s important to you? Why should that particular one be important to them?

        I’ve learned I face a similar problem in relating to how skeptics think about democracy. It’s slightly different because, I’ve learned it’s not that I’m so much more committed to it, it’s that we have very different reasons for supporting it. (Here I think liberals and …other liberals simply do differ in the importance they place on a commodity that they largely value for the same basic reasons…). But I’ve learned that when skeptics say that, however reluctant their support for democracy, it’s still support, I need to accept that it really is.

      • I think the issue is that liberals and conservatives tend have different emphasis and meanings for liberty.

        I am still confused about how conservatives think they are going to end pornography and all other social ills they despise with a radically small government.

        I am for liberty in the sense of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Freedom of Speech/Expression, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.

        How can a person feel free and at liberty if losing a job means losing health insurance? How can a person be free and at liberty if society permits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and gender non-conformity, physical/mental disability, creed, nationality, etc?

        I care much more about the freedom to be free from bigotry and oppression than I do for the freedom to be a bigot. It is much more important, moral, and ethical to allow minorities full participation in civil and economic life than it is to allow a person to run their business in a bigoted and discriminatory matter. Calvin Trillin had a great story during the Civil Rights Era about a Greek dinner owner in the South who wanted to have integrated seating but knew that local costume and Jim Crow would drive him out of business.


        Freedom from Want and Fear requires a civil society to agree upon a certain level of dignity and decency for all citizens. This includes food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and old age/disability pensions.

        I think that a single-payer/universal health care system can encourage more economic risk taking and entreupenorship because people will not be afraid to lose coverage.

        I disagree with the conservative notion that has been around since the Gilded Age that economic freedom is kowtowing to whatever the so-called Masters of the Universe/Captains of Industry want. I disagree now and forever that a welfare state and being a civil and decent society is a great tyranny and oppression.

        • NewDealer, this is going in a lot of directions, many of which I don’t think I touched on. I’m not crying over spilled milk here. I’m simply saying, ok, we got here however we did. Kolko says it’s because we didn’t know any other way. A hundred years or so later, are there any good ideas on the table present an exit strategy from the same dogma of more and more centralization we set out on several generations ago? Not saying we need to pull the rug out and start over. We can be more conservative than that. Yet it seems that even talking about eliminating some federal agencies is decried as radical. But the worst part is that it’s decried as something that’s been tried before when that’s just not true. What’s been tried before is the same stuff today’s liberals (and many conservatives too, unfortunately) want to do: centralize more to make large interest groups feel secure.

          • Economies of scale, sir, will dwindle as the cost to transport resources increases.

            Oh, were you not talking about monopolies and centralization of industry?

          • “Yet it seems that even talking about eliminating some federal agencies is decried as radical.”

            The question is: which ones? NOAA? NASA? Food Stamps? NIH / CDC? NEA? Head Start?

            We see the Mittster claiming he’s going to get trillions of dollars from agencies that use millions, possibly billions in the aggregate, and we wonder, why, and what replaces them.

        • Actually, New Dealer, I am not comfortable with the Four Freedoms approach, if only from a politically strategic point of view.
          It is like the “pro-life” v. “Pro-choice” naming disputes; framing the obligations and regulations and restrictions that are necessary for a civilized society as “Freedoms” accepts that freedom is inviolate and we can never allow for its restriction.

          Its a bit like asserting that traffic lights increase driver freedom. Yes, I understand the argument that they do, but I think its better to hold that freedom is merely one among many good things and we should not accept that freedom should be maximized.

          I have no trouble with the notion that a well ordered and civilized society is created when we place boundaries and limits to freedom. And I would challenge anyone who wants to say otherwise to put forward something more than an appeal to Hayek and Philosophy 101 platitudes.

      • This is a good comment Tim. I’m gonna re-read this more carefully, too. It’s a good challenge to modern liberalism.

        • I don’t see a challenge at all.

          What is being proposed here?

          What is being opposed, and what is being supported?

          • You’re right that it’s not specifically a challenge to liberalism. It’s more that if liberals claim to support economic liberty along the same lines as speech liberty, then they – we – are failing. The challenge part, if there is one, is that liberals need to admit that they don’t believe in economic liberty as a process, but rather – to kind of cut to the chase, I suppose – as an outcome. As a state of affairs. It’s not a new argument, of course, just a freshly phrased one. One that I think has more bite than others I’ve read.

            {{I don’t have time right now to get into it right now Tim, but I’ll try to get to it in the morning. }}

          • Still,

            Are yu saying you accept the view that it’s an either/or – either a person supports economic liberty, and if he does he doesn’t do so *any* more or less than ayone else who does, and if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t *at all*, or at least not in any meaningful sense?

            I certainly think liberals are right to claim that they support economic liberty and that they’re not failing to do so. This can be true even if they see good reasons to place limits on it in places that others who also support economic liberty don’t.

            This doesn’t just seem like a conversation that’s necessary for liberals; it seems like something we need to get straight for the purposes of any discussion about supporting or “not supporting” economic liberty, or any other liberty, really.

      • Let me also make clear that this is where my idiosyncratic take on this word does come into play here. To me, it is definitional to liberalism that you fiercely support some critical kernel of liberty – and I would say that kernel has to have an economic component for all the reasons you eloquently give here, Tim. Liberals can be distinguished from other leftists in this way. Some leftists will be liberals, others not. Some progressives will be liberals, others not. (Some conservatives will be liberals, otthrs not!) But some liberals are leftists and/or progressives. It’s a core commitment to some important degree of liberty, possibly very broadly defined, but still retaining, as I say, a kernel of the traditional negative definition, that makes someone a liberal – that’s where the word comes from.

        Definitely some progressives and leftists dismiss liberty or don’t remotely follow through on any claim to support it. They aren’t liberals. Where you think ones who I think aren’t are failing to follow through on the claim, we differ on that it’s because we differ about how much the definition of liberty can be legitimately expanded beyond the traditional negative one, or I suppose just about what specific policies violate the core zone of negative liberty that must be respected in order to claim to “support liberty” or “favor liberty.”

        • In my view, liberalism is about negative, pre-political liberty. Once we try to mix in positive rights, we interpose the state, and we’re suddenly talking about post-political, government granted liberties. I had a series of posts about this earlier this year, asking if anyone could explain how a negative liberty document like our Constitution could be made to comport with a positive rights view. It’s always seemed to me like its forcing a square peg in a round hole, and that discussion reinforced that impression.

          That’s another reason liberalism seems a misnomer as applied to the New Deal iteration.

      • “[A]re liberals actually in favor of liberty?”

        Duh, yes.

        Ask Russell — he’s right there for crying out loud. Ask him if the liberty to love, to live as a family with the man and children he has is important. Ask my wife if the ability to shop where she wants, live where she wants, marry who she wants, are important liberties.

        But the banks aren’t “free” to screw us over any way they want, so we’re not truely free? Boo fishing hoo.

        Libertarians almost always **SEEM** to put money before people. That’s why I can’t stand it.

        • Further: Women’s rights — is this not a facet of liberty? Who has stood with women, fighting for equal rights, equal pay, the right not to be sexually assaulted by her doctor? It ain’t the conservatives, my friend.

      • The problem with economic liberty is that it allows someone I think of as rich to refuse to give money to someone I think of as poor.

        • Yeah, I think that’s pretty much Tim’s point. It goes the other way, too: the liberty to find a job for whatever wage rate in whatever working conditions that person would agree to do the work in.

          I think it’s an interesting challenge to liberals in the sense that liberals can’t justify lots of their economic positions on the grounds of economic liberty. If those policies are justified on liberty grounds, then it’s gonna have to be a different argument. So, take welfare. It seems to me that welfare is (or can be) justified on liberty grounds, but not economic liberty grounds. The argument (the one I like best) is that in order for individuals to be able to act on the full suite of political and other liberties that generally apply to everyone, they must have their basic needs met (food and shelter, say). So welfare would be justified on liberty grounds, but not on economic liberty grounds, since government funding of welfare is a taking from those who earn income (which is inconsistent with a more general principle of economic liberty, of course).

          So the question which Tim is asking as I understand it is: how can liberal’s claim to be in favor of economic liberty along the lines of say, speech liberty, when their policies are clearly not analogous to speech liberty?

          And at that point, I think the liberal has to concede that they aren’t analogous. The liberal is effectively advocating for policies that violate economic liberty in order to achieve greater total liberty (or whatever the argument ultimately is). But that means, it seems to me, that Tim is right that wrt certain economic policies liberals are more concerned with an outcome (wrt to those policies, mind, not in total) than they are the principle.

          Tim likes to distinguish these things as being process oriented vs. outcome oriented, with liberals often on the outcome side. Liberty is process oriented because the principle doesn’t entail any specific outcomes. I think he’s probably right about that wrt some liberal economic policies. On the other hand, I don’t think that argument undermines liberalism, since I think certain liberal policies can be justified independently of their denial of liberty. But it’s good to get clear on which are, and which ones aren’t, I think.

          • I should add that my conception of modern liberalism (ie., US political liberalism) is that it’s ultimately an effort to maximize actionable liberties. So it shares that with classical liberalism. The challenge, then, is for liberals to show that any particular policy will increase total liberty. Of course, doing that ultimately gets very murky given competing values and whatnot.

          • ” I think the liberal has to concede that they aren’t analogous.”

            I proclaim, loudly, from the rooftops, that they are NOT analogous. Compared with the social liberties won by liberals, what are the comparable economic liberties?

          • Compared with the social liberties won by liberals, what are the comparable economic liberties?

            See, that’s where I think Tim is onto something that liberals aren’t quite hip on. Or at least, I’m not hip on. I think for Tim, economic liberty is just an end in itself, just like speech liberty. Generally speaking, liberals are opposed to any restriction on speech liberty (I know that’s not entirely true, but let’s suppose it is). But liberals aren’t opposed to restrictions on economic liberties. We impose minimum wage laws, minimum safety standards in the work-place, redistribution of tax revenues to the poor, etc. So we advocate policies that restrict the expression of economic liberty. But we do so because doing so is – from our pov – a justifiable means to another end. What is that end? Well, it’s not to maximize economic liberty. (I mean, that’s pretty clear.)

            So I concede to Tim that certain outcomes are valued by liberals more highly than the processes by which economic liberty would be expressed. I tend to think we’re justified in doing so, but it puts a burden on us, I think, to justify “why” we are. Especially on the assumption that liberals are trying to maximize total liberty.

            So, what would be some economic liberties that liberals have achieved? I’d say things like regulation of externalities (tho our libertarian friends would dispute how effective that is) would fall in that category. So would some of the free-trade policies which some liberals support. (I’m actually ambivalent about free trade – I’m not sure my arguments against are any good tho.) There are probably others I can’t think of right now. But the point is: there aren’t that many, I don’t think. Liberals trade economic liberty for other values, it seems to me. But that’s not to say we aren’t justified in doing so.

          • Jeff, I think I misunderstood you comment above. You meant “what economic liberties that conservatives champion are comparable to the social liberties liberals champion?” or something like that, right?

            Yeah. I get that. I’m certainly not in a position to speak for conservatives about that,. but Tim’s argument upthread kind of makes that question moot. Adopting so-called “liberal” policies thru the early and middle 20th century was, he’s arguing, actually an expression of conservatism, and the liberal economic policies he’s arguing for haven’t really been implemented yet.

            I mean, he’s accepting a libertarian argument wrt economics in the OP, so the comparable economic liberties are yet to be realized in practice.

          • This is an interesting comment, Stillwater. “Total liberty.” That’s an interesting notion. Kind of Rousseauian, a “forced to be free” kind of thing. The basic problem with it is it’s still post-political; it depends on the group deciding what liberty is.

            “The truth of the whole matter is that our only concern with rights is not to protect them but to create them. Our efforts are to be bent not upon guarding the rights which Heaven has showered upon us, but in creating all the rights we shall ever have…. [As] the group process abolishes the individual right, so it gives us a true definition of liberty. We have seen that the free man is he who actualizes the will of the whole. I have no liberty except as an essential member of a group…to obey the group which we have helped to make and of which we are an integral part is to be free because we are then obeying our self. Ideally the state is such a group.”

            Mary Parker Follett in The New State, 1918.

          • I don’t quite know what to say about the quoted piece. It’s interesting, but doesn’t strike me as being a view that I hold. (Need to think about it some more.)

            But wrt the term “total liberties”, I means something a little different: the largest consistent set of actionable liberties. It might be the case that restricting the expression of one liberty (or even imposing a positive obligation) will permit the expression of a different liberty. I think that’s the challenge of politics, actually: to determine the largest set of actionable liberties. And – being a liberal and all – I think practical constraints factor into determining what that set will in fact be in any particular context or time frame.

  7. I;m going to re-read this more carefully, but I wanted to say that Kolko is a huge figure in modern thought. Even tho most people haven’t heard of him.

  8. So Stipulated: Economic Liberty is teh Shiznit.

    Ok, now what?

    Something argle bargle about Friedman, Hayek and Von Mises, and if we only listened to them we would be better off than we are now.

    But why would that would be?

    And how can we reach a conclusion as to that?

    • LWA, actually, as soon as i finished kolko, i was inspired to finally start reading hayek’s Constitution of Liberty. You can take that as an admission that i don’t presently have a ready answer to your challenges, but I’m working on them.

      • Hayek is great. He’s sort of the Jesus of Economics, that is to say, it is profitable to read what the man actually said. But pay no attention to what any of his followers had to say about him.

      • Tim, it isn’t just you, it is the entire contemporary conservative movement that doesn’t have an answer.

        The movement is – literally- asking the American public to give them the keys to the Presidency and control over the economic and political machinery of our society.
        And the assertion is made over and over again, that “if only we had more economic liberty/lower taxes/ less government, things would be better”;

        But when asked for something beyond that broad assertion, you, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and every single other conservative waves the question away with a variation of “There isn’t time to get into it” or “We will tell you after you vote us into office”.
        And when we ask, “Why should we believe in this theory?” the answer is essentially “Because Hayek has crafted a beautifully phrased logic argument on page 247 , thats why!”

        Hayek/Friendman/Von Mises did their theorizing about 40 to 60 years ago; but apparently, after all these decades, no one ever got around to actually thinking through the implications of how to get from “MOAR FREEDOM IZ KEWL” to “ok, lets change this, that, and the other thing”.

        You could have just as well titled this “We Are All Occupy Now”.
        This thread would be right at home at a General Assembly- “Be it resolved, we the 99% support FREEDOM!”

        *twinkly fingers here*

        Fine. Now when you guys get serious about governance, come back and we can have a discussion.

        • Occupy might have gotten something done if it weren’t drunk with class warfare. Larry Lessig pleaded with Occupy to partner with the Tea Party, recognizing they were both saying fundamentally the same thing.

          The left and the right both have some righteous causes. But the right is typically more concerned about the problem of centralization and other process issues than the left. As Lessig acknowledges, the conservative Tea Party blocked earmarks in 2011 , and there is an Office of Congressional Ethics—the only independent watchdog ensuring that members live up to the ethical rules—because the Tea Party insisted upon it. I’d put that up against Occupy’s accomplishments any day.

          • The New Dealers were drunk on class warfare, and they rebuilt the entire American form of governance in less than a decade.

            Occupy couldn’t get anything done because they were unwilling to move beyond dorm room bull sessions about arcane political theory, and establish a vision of what sort of society they wanted.

          • “ensuring that members live up to the ethical rules”

            That worked SO very well in the debt ceiling debates! “Ethical standards” and “Tea Party” do not coincide to any great extent.

        • I remember seeing some serious posting about alternative currencies. That’s following Friedman. It sounded pretty cool, and seems rather bright and promising.

          Naturally, the Conservatives aren’t actually talking about it. Liberals like restaurants issuing bonds (good for 10% more hero, after Moe moves into his new digs)

  9. “Sure, it also entails some discomfort, some insecurity as the creative destruction process plays out.”

    I’m all for it if we all start from scratch, but I doubt anybody’s proposing that, nor do I think it is feasible.

    Meanwhile, the casualness with which we propose to ruin lives in the pursuit of an economic wonderland that might be more Somalia than Shangri-La when we get there? I find that concerning.

  10. TR, Taft, and Wilson each admitted they didn’t understand how banking worked, and their administrations let the banking industry write their own rules.

    When death is the alternative you suddenly discover a LOT of people willing to not do their jobs.

  11. That is, modern conservatism consists, not of a return the the values of the past, but of a radical plan that has never before been attempted, but which promises to lead to a Golden Age as the entrepreneurial class is freed from its chains and the state withers away. Damned if that doesn’t remind me of something.

    • It is kind of amusing how much Randians seem to take from Marx in terms of style.

      The cry of the Galt wannabees is very close to “Workers of the World unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”

      • I like the Wobblies, they’re kinda cool people.
        Marxists, on the other hand…

      • It no coincidence. Rand wrote her theories in response to Socialism.
        Except like an oppositional adolescent, she just took Marxism and inverted it.

        Oh, you want everything public? Well I want them all private!

        Oh you see everything as collective? Well I see everything as individual!

  12. I have to confess I’m more of a “what have you done for me lately” kind of guy. Different sides of the aisle fighting and fussing over what political moniker to attach to popular or failed policies of yore doesn’t translate into anything relevant to me. Everybody claims freeing the slaves, everybody says slavery itself was the other guy. It strikes me as a PR battle, meant more to assure the troops they’re on the right side of history, regardless of how true it might be,

    For example, when I go to the voting booth I care little about which party or followersof a political philosophy were the bigger supporters of equal rights in 1911. I’m much more concerned about which is today.

    • That particular thing reaches it’s peak when you hear Republicans claiming Democrats are the real party of racists because of the Civil War.

      • Or, if we want to reverse that mirror a bit, when friends of mine that are Dems point to the anti-war movement in the 1960s as proof that Obama is a greeter advocate for peace than Bush.

        • Greater, is what I meant, not greeter advocate.

          I was not implying that Obama stands up for the elderly employed at Walmart.

          • I’ll settle for “He scares me less than the guys who keep saying that they want to bomb Iran and invade Syria.”

        • What idiots do that?

          I never really considered Bush much of a warmonger. Not necessarily opposed to it, probably partial to the big stick policy in general, but not exactly chomping at the bit to use the shiny toys of the military at the first excuse.

          Cheney, on the other hand — he had some things he wanted to prove, that could only be proved at the end of a bullet.

          As for Obama — he seems like a cautious, pragmatic sort. Technocrat. Stepping hip deep into war is something he seems to want to avoid — not for love of peace, but hatred of chaos, mess, and waste.

          Doesn’t make Obama a Saint or Cheney the Devil, but I know which guy I’d prefer. Doesn’t have squat to do with the 60s.

          (And bringing in the 80s and 90s with Cheney is fair game. He was deeply involved, after all. Personally).

    • Tod, I agree to an extent. But I do believe that ideas have consequences, and when it comes to political ideas, the consequences often take generations to play out. At any rate, I’m talking about political ideas, not political parties. Neither of the current major parties could plausibly be called libertarian in their approaches to government control over the economy. But one party simply doesn’t accept some of the basic premises of economic freedom of the kind we’re talking about here (negative liberty, the right to be free from interference, etc.). That intellectual legacy stems back at least a century, making it relevant to political claims made today about the economy, jobs, the “rights” and “duties” of workers and small business, and so on.

  13. Tim, economic libertarians don’t ever seem to admit that “free” markets have substantial costs. When the government uses force to defend a property owner’s interests, it’s very often preventing the highest-valued use of the property. This is every bit an economic distortion as when the government tells bakers they can’t work more than 60 hours a week, but you never hear right-wingers talking about it.

    I also find it curious that economic libertarians are deeply skeptical of government distribution of resources, but have no problem with the government deciding which property rights claims are legitimate. I’d like to hear more about how you right-wingers distinguish between these two. Maybe we can have a mini-symposium on this fantastic article from UChicago law professor Lee Fennell about property rights and “resource access costs”: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2154069

    • When the government uses force to defend a property owner’s interests, it’s very often preventing the highest-valued use of the property. This is every bit an economic distortion as when the government tells bakers they can’t work more than 60 hours a week, but you never hear right-wingers talking about it.

      Free market theory presupposes protection against involuntary exchanges. It also does not posit that the highest and best use will be actualized at any given moment. The nature of voluntary exchanges entails an approach to transactions that are not always optimal in terms of the current highest value of property. Can this be considered a “cost”? Sure. I don’t think it can fairly be called a “distortion,” however. And it’s certainly in a different category than rules prohibiting otherwise voluntary and legitimate economic conduct.

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