David Friedman on Barack Obama

I’ve already had a number of posts on both the libertarian aspects of Barack Obama’s views and on libertarians who are supporting Obama. By libertarians here I don’t mean the Republicans who have adopted the libertarian label because it sounds cooler, and especially not the more fanatic and unhinged Paul supporters who haven’t a clue as to what libertarianism is really about. I mean libertarians who think and are aware of the great heritage of pro-freedom philosophers and writers who were libertarians before the label included everyone from supporters of social conservatism to even some supporters of the Iraq war.

With this criteria in mind, I should not have been at all surprised to see that David Friedman prefers Obama over both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Besides, if anyone understands the significance of the influence of economists from the University of Chicago on Obama it would be the son of Milton Friedman. David wrote:

A number of commenters asked why I preferred Obama to McCain; nobody seemed surprised that I prefer Obama to Clinton.

McCain strikes me as a nationalist, likely to be comfortable with retaining and even expanding on the increases in executive authority claimed by Bush. He is also the one pro-war candidate. War, as observed long ago, is the health of the state. While there may be circumstances where all other alternatives are worse, I do not think this qualifies.

Perhaps I am too optimistic about Obama, but I do not think he is going to turn out to be an orthodox liberal. There is a group of intellectuals connected with the University of Chicago who have accepted a good deal of the Chicago school analysis but still want to think of themselves as leftists. They are, as I see it, trying to construct a new version of what “left” means. Examples would be Cass Sunstein and Austan Goolsby, both at Chicago, and Larry Lessig, who used to be there.

Sunstein describes himself as a libertarian paternalist, meaning that he wants to take advantage of elements of irrationality in individual decision making to nudge people into making what he considers the right decisions, while leaving them free not to if they so wish. Goolsby, judging by webbed pieces of his I’ve read, is a pro-market economist who happens to be a Democrat, rather like Alfred Kahn, who gave us airline dereguation under Carter. He is also Obama’s economic advisor. I do not agree with all his views—for details of one disagreement see an earlier post—but I like them better than the views usually supported by Democratic politicians and their advisors.

Obama himself, while obviously constrained by the fact that he is trying to get nominated, has occasionally let things slip that suggest a more libertarian view than typical of liberal senators. At one point he said something mildly favorable about school vouchers, retreating rapidly under pressure from the teachers’ unions, and similarly with marijuana decriminalization. His most visible disagreement with Clinton is over her plan to force everyone to buy health insurance. He appears uncomfortable with that degree of coercion, even though he is willing to use the less direct version—taxation to subsidize the insurance that he thinks people ought to have.

Bush was elected on a pro-market, small government, platform and proceeded to greatly expand the size of government—and not only in the form of military spending. His view of the legitimate power of the executive branch, including the authority to deliberately violate federal law, I find frightening. Perhaps, if we are lucky, Obama will turn out to be the anti-Bush.

No Comments

8 Trackbacks

Leave a comment