Matt Yglesias makes tons of sense with his latest foray into an ongoing debate between him and John Quiggin and others. I think Matt operates in that awkward position of being not-progressive-enough for much of the American left, and not-libertarian-enough for the libertarians. So he’s constantly defending himself from both flanks, with many libertarians nodding along with him when he discusses barber shop cartels or the D.C. medallion nonsense, but then crying foul when he talks about carbon caps or universal healthcare. Meanwhile there’s some sort of purer-than-thou thing going on with the left-blogosphere which is attempting to paint Matt into the neoliberal corner or run him out of town or something. I’m not exactly sure what the point of all of this is anymore.
In any case, I am certainly sympathetic to Matt’s predicament. When it comes to issues like the taxi medallions, or other regulations that create barrier to entry and establish monopoly rents, or similar issues of economic planning, protectionism, and so forth, I tend to sympathize with libertarians. When it comes to matters of basic welfare I’m much more sympathetic to more traditionally liberal policies. When it comes to making public services work better, I think it gets very complicated. School choice is one such arena. The current model is decent but not great, and the status quo is both hampered and incentivized to do very little about the worst schools, the worst teachers, and so forth.
I’ve written along these lines about healthcare as well. I support universal healthcare. I’d just prefer to build that system by creating a competitive, largely deregulated market. Get government out of healthcare as much as possible, except to pay the bills. Otherwise you get ridiculous protections for drug makers and other supply-side actors, not to mention insurers, that are deeply regressive in nature and cause costs to spiral out of control indefinitely. Utilizing markets and what we know about the limits of our own knowledge and ability to plan can result in good governance. It doesn’t have to result in the Republican Party.
I suppose that even if I agreed with just about every smart critique of government I could find (and I mostly do, the state is a creature of violence almost by definition) I would still have trouble buying the libertarian line on welfare. We can make welfare more efficient, less bureaucratic, less expensive, but we can’t simply strip away the state and expect all the hungry bellies to be filled. We can strip away those worst aspects of the state that make belly-filling harder, such as corporate welfare, barber-shop licensing, patent-trolling, unnecessary and expensive wars, the maddeningly regressive War on Drugs, and so forth, but we can’t just stop paying poor people’s doctor bills and expect them to suddenly motivate themselves to be healthy or never get harmed or contract a disease.