- More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom.
- A less paternalistic welfare state that puts more money directly in the hands of the recipients of social services.
- Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment.
- Curb the regulatory privileges of incumbent landowners
- Roll back subsidies implicit in our current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy.
- Break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled.
- Much greater equalization of opportunities in K-12 education.
- Reduction of the rents assembled by privileged intellectual property owners.
- Throughout the public sector, concerted reform aimed at ensuring public services are public services and not jobs programs.
- Taxation of polluters (and resource-extractors more generally) rather than current de facto subsidization of resource extraction.
Tim Lee writes:
What’s striking about the list is that about half of them are straight-up libertarianism (less occupational licensure, fewer subsidies for suburbanism) and there’s only one item on the list (“more redistribution of money from the top to the bottom”) that Milton Friedman would have strongly opposed. One way to interpret this is to say that Matt is a moderate libertarian with a redistributionist streak, but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. Rather, what’s happened is that liberalism in general has internalized key libertarian critiques of earlier iterations of liberal thought, with the result that a guy with a largely Friedmanite policy agenda can plausibly call himself a liberal. And actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, because Friedman called himself a liberal too.
Liberalism in the 19th century focused on opposing concentrated power and entrenched privilege, whether it was monarchy, slaveholding, or protectionism. In the 20th century, the American left became infatuated with concentrating power in the hands of democratically-elected governments. The libertarian movement arose to counter this trend and defend the original, bottom-up conception of liberalism. Since the fall of communism, the left has largely (though not entirely) backed away from its 20th century infatuation with central planning. And the result is what critics call “neoliberalism”: a left-of-center ideology whose egalitarianism is balanced by a healthy skepticism of concentrated power.
Tim calls this ‘bottom-up liberalism’. You could just as well call it decentralized liberalism or grassroots liberalism. Or you might call it liberalism minus progressivism. And I think this speaks to Freddie’s complaint: certain influential factions within the left have become more and more disenchanted with traditional leftism, labor unions, central planning and so forth. Tehy retain a commitment to broad egalitarian projects, progressive taxation and so forth, but are not recognizably leftist. Classically liberal thought has made major headway in the intellectual left and in the policies of many center-left lawmakers from Bill Clinton to Bill Daley.
Is this a “neoliberal” program? Well, this is one of these terms that was invented by its critics so I hesitate to embrace it though I recognize that the shoe fits to a considerable extent. I’d say it’s liberalism, a view recognizably derived from the thinking of JS Mill and Pigou and Keynes and Maury “Freedom Plus Groceries” Maverick and all the rest. I recognize that many people disagree with this agenda, and that many of those who disagree with it think of themselves as “to the left” of my view. But I simply deny that there are positions that are more genuinely egalitarian than my own.
Neoliberalism strikes me as a bit of an Orwellian term – “neo” is an odd appendage for a movement dedicated to returning to its own classical roots. Neoconservatism works for the neoconservative movement because its proponents do not trace their heritage back to the roots of conservatism at all. Paleoliberalism makes more sense, but is perhaps also more awkward and unwieldy. And so “libertarianism” has been the word we’ve used for decades now to refer to classical liberalism as distinct from progressive or welfare liberalism.
Some have called libertarianism an offshoot of liberalism – an “extremist cult” of sorts. I think there is some merit to this. Certainly libertarianism’s romance with the right has made it hard for libertarians and liberals to speak the same language or to work together to achieve their similar goals even. This in spite of the rise of ‘neoliberalism’ within the Democratic party and liberal intellectual circles. Not that the progressive movement made the left hospitable territory for classical liberals in the many decades following the New Deal – up until really Carter’s deregulation push and then the free-market friendly New Democrats.
The liberal-tarian project can best be understood by understanding the redundancy of its own name. Really, liberal-tarianism is about reclaiming liberalism from the far right and from progressivism. If right-wing libertarianism is a radical offshoot of liberalism, then left-wing progressivism is similarly divorced from the roots of liberalism. It would not surprise me if social conservatives and economic populists finally ended up on one side of the equation – another uneasy alliance – while social and economic libertarians joined forces on the other. But realignments take time, and this one is not likely so much as it is possible. Politically it seems more plausible than culturally. But stranger things have happened.