Krugman on Libertarianism

I agree with Paul Krugman that we are not on the verge of a libertarian moment, and libertarians who believe we are are dreaming.

That said, note a few things:

Krugman’s claim is that libertarians live in a “fantasy world,” and his support for this is:

  1. You can’t pay for a guaranteed basic income by lowering the administration costs associated with existing welfare programs.  That’s true, and I’m pretty skeptical of the guaranteed basic income myself, but the idea of moving to a flat welfare schedule for reasons other than administrative efficiency has plenty of libertarian cred.
  2. That anti-phosphate laws about detergent apparently have some pretty good science behind them.
  3. That there is not a ton of money to be saved (well, there is, but not a truly transformative amount of money) purely in the realm of cutting the salaries of non-military government personnel.
  4. Some unnamed libertarians confuse the non-monetary financial stimulus that the Fed does with monetary financial stimulus.  And, just to point out that Krugman is a hack, can you imagine in your most comical dreams him taking unnamed liberals to task for the same mistake?

So, uh…  yeah.  That point doesn’t so much seem under-argued as comically, ridiculously under-argued.

Here’s my list of things that, if there were a libertarian moment, and the government were swept up in libertarian change, might come from that:

  1. A more humble, less warlike foreign policy and a gigantic decrease in total governmental receipts due to lowered defense spending.
  2. Sweeping reform of the criminal justice system, the end to federal anti-marijuana laws, lessened or non-existent criminal penalties for possession of other drugs, and concomitant savings due to massively scaling back the drug war.
  3. Gigantic rollbacks of the scope of national security state data collection, especially as aimed at US citizens and residents without specific cases made against them (and some minor savings therein).
  4. Massive cutbacks of agricultural subsides (and, yes, concomitant savings).
  5. Much-loosened immigration (probably not much in the way of savings here).
  6. Tax code reform for simplicity (probably aiming to be revenue-neutral, but there would be minor savings in lowering the amount of government labor involved in collecting and enforcing the tax code).
  7. Sure, changes to welfare to make it more oriented towards giving people money and less oriented towards paternalism (and sure, this wouldn’t save much money and might in fact cost money).
  8. And in general, reforms made to the many government agencies that regulate business practice in the United States with an eye toward simplification and removing arbitrary market-distorting, innovation-stifling regulations (with the acknowledgement that this is such a big and complex project that major reform is very difficult).

And I submit that if the nation really were having a libertarian moment, the above changes would mark a gigantic, substantive policy agenda that would transform governance in the US in a libertarian direction, and none of them rely on any kind of fantasy-land ideas about where the money is.

Taking cheap shots at the uninformed section of any political movement is easy and meaningless.  Tons of liberals — tons! — are strongly against corporate personhood without having any actual idea what the doctrine of corporate personhood means.  Tons of conservatives believe that we spend a significant fraction of the federal budget on foreign aid.  The average joe on the street, it turns out, is not very informed about policy while still holding policy opinions, and those two facts in combination means that you can take cheap shots all day long.

But it doesn’t actually add up to a coherent critique of, well, anything.


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