Will is absolutely correct to note that the success of the Anglophone and Northern European governance models (and their Asian counterparts who have emulated and innovated with these models successfully) rest a great deal in inherited cultural values, and that this makes a strong case for small-c conservatism. After all, if we can never hope to identify all the cultural, political, and economic factors which have led to this success, we certainly don’t want to inadvertently shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot by steering our economy wildly off course. Certainly relying too much on technocratic and centralized solutions in a nation as big and diverse as our own only strengthens his point. This is one reason I’ve pointed to the Swiss model as perhaps the best example of how Americans can take full advantage of our bigness and diversity by using competitive federalism to our advantage. In an ideal world, I would suggest redrawing state boundaries and making states much smaller in order to keep politics even more localized.
Still, I wonder what Will means when he writes:
But I’m also suspicious of ambitious, technocratic governance at home, particularly when political ambitions collide with established interest group politics. Erik suggests that the index of global governance vindicates liberal-tarianism, but I think that’s a rather strained reading of the results. Germany, Japan, and France don’t strike me as bastions of neoliberal thought (neither does the United States, for that matter), but they’ve managed to keep chugging along.
I agree that ambitious, technocratic governance at home is probably not a good idea – though at times we have required nation-wide reforms and federal programs and those programs have largely been successful even if many of them need to be reformed in order to be sustainable in the long haul. I’m not sure what technocratic plans Will associates with neoliberalism or what he’s referring to specifically here.
Sumner breaks down neoliberalism into three categories:
1. Hyper-egalitarian neoliberalism (Denmark)
2. Hyper-economistic neoliberalism (Singapore)
3. Hyper-democratic neoliberalism (Switzerland)
I think a country like the United States is still fairly neoliberal economically. We are not as egalitarian or as economistic or as democratic as the three examples above, but if I had to guess I’d say we score fairly well in each category, even if we don’t come out on top of any. Germany and Japan would fair similarly well in some categories if not all three (indeed, all four of the countries Will lists make Sumner’s final cut.)
So while I think that Will is right that drastic change, radical reform, and so forth are probably more dangerous than helpful – especially in a very big country – I’m uncertain as to his reading my point as ‘strained’. One could argue that this is merely a case for libertarianism without the ‘l’ – but I think that where libertarianism has gone off the rails in America is in its outright hostility to government. What I think liberalism of the liberal-tarian variety adds to the mix is more of an acceptance of the proper role of government. In any case, none of the countries listed have implemented libertopia, even if some have radically deregulated economies like Hong Kong and Singapore. Even these city-states have realized the value of government intervention into things like healthcare coverage and don’t merely allow markets to do their thing even if they do use market-friendly ideas like HSA’s.