Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views

With August generally being a slow news month Arnold Kling has set up a discussion which could keep bloggers busy for the next several days. Kling asks what progressives believe and gave a few ideas. Tyler Cowen took the bait and gave a much longer list which presents views which I doubt very many actual progressives will identify with. See, for example, the responses by Matthew Yglesias, Tristero, and Ezra Klein.

Kling defined progressive beliefs around views of the market:

1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.

2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

3. Technocrats know how to improve outcomes in many areas.

4. Therefore, it would be wise to cede authority to technocrats in many areas.

5. Conservatives and libertarians disagree with (1) and (2)

I might be the wrong person to respond with regards to progressive beliefs as I personally avoid that term. One problem with defining political labels is that a wide variety of people tend to fall under the handful of labels in common use. I tend to divide liberals and progressives into at least two groups (with considerable overlap and some who this division doesn’t work well) as I discussed in this post.

In general I would use progressive more for those on the left who are stronger proponents of big government projects (and market intervention) while I use liberal for those of us who concentrate on issues such as individual liberty and turn to government more as a necessity than something we inherently support.Therefore my first problem with the definitions by Kling and Cowen is with making views on intervention in the economy as the defining factors. Other areas, such as protecting civil liberties, limiting the power of government (as opposed to dwelling on size of government), and protecting separation of church and state are of greater significance to me.

Besides a stress on liberty (while allowing for some restrictions which libertarians might not support), I would also define liberalism as primarily a reality-based view of the world which encompasses a wide variety of views in contrast to the anti-scientific biases of the current conservative movement which relies upon religion as opposed to science and reason to explore the universe and solve problems. While conservatives are often blinded to reality by their fundamentalist theological views and other delusions,  many libertarians treat the free market in a similarly religious manner.

With regards to markets I view the entire issue different from how Kling attempts to divide progressive and libertarian views. Kling seems to lean more towards the Adam Smith invisible hand view of the market in opposing government intervention, thinking markets work just fine on their own. Liberals and progressives are more likely to see markets as being a human creation, not something with mystical powers of its own.

Liberals and progressives believe markets require a certain amount of regulation to work. Of course this isn’t purely a liberal belief. For example, some conservatives such as Richard Posner have realized that the current economic crisis is a result of insufficient regulation of the financial sector. While markets are the best way of handling most tasks, there are areas where markets do not work. While the most extreme libertarians would turn the police and military over to the market, most of us fear that this would lead to abuse of power and would prefer to leave these functions in the hands of government (while also monitoring the government closely for abusing their power). Health care has provided another example of where the market has failed requiring the government to step in. Markets have led to a situation where insurance companies increase profits not by providing service but by finding ways to deny claims and eliminate their most costly beneficiaries, requiring government action to reform the system.

Tyler Cowen concluded his off target attempt to describe progressives with this challenge: “It would be interesting to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism.” This is difficult not due to a lack of understanding of libertarianism but because of the the wide variety of views which fall under that label.

Classically libertarians could be defined as opposing the initiation of force. To the most extreme/consistent libertarian this included taxation which is seen as theft. Such libertarians were divided between anarcho-capitalists who would rely on the market for everything and limited government libertarians. Many limited government libertarians continued to oppose taxation, turning to everything from user fees to lotteries to finance the very limited government functions they supported.

The problem with supporting limited government once you support some degree of taxation and restrictions on the individual (beyond restrictions on the initiation of force) is that it is possible for many to support a wide degree of government action while justifying this as libertarian. Those who use the libertarian label tend to concentrate more on economic issues as Arnold Kling and Thyler Cowen did in their posts. Many libertarians were fooled by Republican free market rhetoric, leading to the stereotype of libertarians as Republicans who have smoked marijuana. Other libertarians have seen through this rhetoric. This includes Will Wilkinson who wrote, “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

Over the past few decades I have noted a wide range of acceptance of (generally) limited government activity by different people who call themselves libertarians. In general libertarians tend to support limited, if any, government intervention in the economy while (sometimes as a secondary position) also support civil liberties. Some who might be called libertarian stray further from a pro-liberty position. This was seen during the Ron Paul campaign as Paul, and to an even greater degree many of his supporters, backed portions of the agenda of the religious right. An even greater divergence from classical libertarian views is seen with some who call themselves libertarian while supporting the Iraq war and the associated restrictions on civil liberties in the Bush “war on terror.” The most extreme example of this are the “Libertarian Republican” views of Eric Dondero (aka Rittberg) who supports what would amount to a military dictatorship with elimination of civil liberties in order to fight the threat to liberty from “Islamo-Fascism.” (To be fair to libertarians, most libertarians I know laugh at the idea that he is a libertarian).

My real point in discussing the difficulty in defining libertarianism by noting the wide variety of views which it encompasses is to demonstrate the problems with such labels in a way which libertarians such as Cowen might acknowledge. Just as libertarianism contains a wide variety of views, the same is also true of progressivism and liberalism. To define liberal and progressive views based upon intervention in the economy misses gist of what liberals and progressives really believe in.

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  1. 1
    Abe Day says:

    » Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views Liberal Values

  2. 2
    Personal Wealth Guru says:

    » Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views Liberal Values

  3. 3
    b-psycho says:

    One thing I’d say is it depends on what your definition of “unfettered” is w/r/t “unfettered market”.  No, I don’t personally think everything should be up for sale, and wouldn’t want to live in a society where everything is a matter of money.   My preferred term would be voluntary society, since it’d include not just entrepreneurs but syndicalist organizations, mutual aid groups, alternative monetary/credit systems — the entire point being no force, no concentrations of power.
    In a way, you could almost argue that there isn’t Libertarianism but libertarianisms.  The wide range of views that claim it is amusing when you think about it: Rand-quoting  virtue-of-selfishness types, paleos like the denizens of Lew Rockwell’s site, Cato/Reason people, to left-anarchists.  I’ve argued with people in comments at other blogs who’ve ended up saying at the end “you can call yourself what you want, but I don’t recognize your POV as particularly libertarian” because I’m anti-corporate & staunchly pro-labor on top of being anti-state.  Frankly, I don’t blame them, since (unfortunately) pot-smoking right wingers get all the attention.
    How’s this for a label twist: I’m a libertarian, but depending on your definition you could also say I’m a socialist.

  4. 4
    Abe Day says:

    » Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views Liberal Values

  5. 5
    Personal Wealth Guru says:

    » Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views Liberal Values

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “How’s this for a label twist: I’m a libertarian, but depending on your definition you could also say I’m a socialist.”
    My baseline ideal system is anarcho-socialist. I believe that society should be able to provide for the needs of its members without dominating their lives, and the purpose of ‘government’ is to provide the means and medium for society to do so rather than to ‘compel’ society or its members in anyway. Naturally, pure anarcho-socialism and pure anarcho-capitalism are equally impossible utopian fantasies which can be aspired to but not truly achieved. My political philosophy is to use anarcho-socialist ideals as a starting point but to focus on the realities of the world we live in rather than to attempt to force the world to utopia or to fantasize that it already conforms to those ideals and we simply have to get everyone to recognize that fact. I would say the majority of politically active libertarians (at least those associated with the Libertarian Party, based on my experiences with same when I was looking for an alternative to a Republican Party not compatible with my personal views of ‘individual rights over group rights’) are focused on the idea of their own complete freedom to do as they please within their economic means and that they extend this to the economic sphere itself as if business was another sphere of individual activity.
    They are genuninely greatly influenced by the principle of classical liberalism that defines property rights as inviolate and makes the right to own property the fundamental human right. Generally speaking, they take this to mean the rights of those who already own property should be protected from those who do not, as the classicists did. However, American conservatives/British liberals focused on the need for government to protect property rights, libertarians focus on the individual’s right to protect his property from everyone, including the government.
    That is my attempt at coming up with an ‘intelligent definition of libertarianism’ as it mostly exists now, in my experience.

  7. 7
    Eclectic Radical says:

    As for the given definition of ‘progressive’, I have to say it is a fairly accurate depiction of the original, intended meaning of the philosophy of the majority of progressives of the ‘Progressive Era.’ Proponents of managed efficiency, social Darwinism, the corporate society, and public reform of government on social and civic engineering models fit that list of definitions very well. However, it’s worth noting that many ‘neoconservatives’ embody the economic and political ideals of the Progressive Era far more than liberals who have taken to calling themselves ‘progressive’ because of their fear of the l-word. This is just another case of words meaning what people say they mean rather than what they do mean.
    The progressives of the Progressive Era could be divided, roughly, into those seeking a society that could better serve individuals and be more inclusive of all individuals through technocratic means (John Dewey comes to mind most strongly) and pure utiliatarianists who believed strongly in principles of social Darwinism in which everyone found ‘their’ place in society and remained in it to maximize social happiness and order.
    Modern American liberals have basically descended from the Dewey model of ‘progressivism’, which valued civil society and valued government as the means by which civil society mantained itself while moden American neoconservatives have basically descended from the Herbert Hoover model of ‘progressivism’, which believed government had a role to play but that the primary mover of societal reform was the corporation.
    During the Progressive Era, most members of both groups agreed on a wide range of programs: public education, public health, public regulation of morality, etc. Many liberals have moved more firmly back toward’s Dewey’s ‘new individualism’ in opposition to public regulation of morality and individual freedom of choice, while neoconservatives have abandoned government management of society in favor of a model in which business manages society and government pays for it.
    The real theories and programs of the Progressive Era are why I hate the word ‘progressive’ and prefer to call myself a liberal or a radical. In the sense that I do not completely agree with classical liberal views of property and government’s specific role in protecting the owners of property from those who do not own it, I choose to use ‘radical’ more often than ‘liberal’ in a philosophical/economic sense. In the sense of the American political sphere, I use ‘liberal’ and think the ‘progressives’ should too.
    They are only calling themselves ‘progressive’ because of their fear of a word, not because of a difference in philosophy.

  8. 8
    Cheryl Jones says:

    » Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views Liberal Values

  9. 9
    Eric Dondero says:

    I support a “Military Dictatorship” huh?

    I am one of the strongest opponents of the Military Draft in the United States. In fact, one of my good friends – Paul Jacob – was sent to Federal Prison for 6 months, for refusing to register for the Draft. I myself – as an honorably discharged US Navy Veteran – was threatened with jail time, cause I refused to sign the Selective Service card back in 1986, after I had gotten out of the Military (but still under the required age of 25).

    Similarly, I am opposed to forcing fellow Americans to fund any War if they do not believe in that War. I support a tax check-off box on all income tax returns, which says something to the effect of “I do not wish for my tax dollars to support X Military Intervention overseas.

    Like Rand Paul, I prefer Congressional Declaration of War.

    And I am one of the strongest advocates of lowering the Drinking Age to 18: Old enough to fight and die for your country – old enough to drink a beer.

    Note – 99% of all Democrats oppose lowering the drinking age, even for Military Personnel.

    I fail to see how those views constitute “Military Dictatorship”.

    Eric Dondero, Publisher
    Libertarian Republican

  10. 10
    Eric Dondero says:

    I think you have your terms all messed up.

    “Classical libertarian,” to me would mean an originalist libertarian, someone for example, who was there, at the founding of the modern libertarian movement.

    Well… the modern libertarian movement was founded out of the Very Pro-War Barry Goldwater for President Campaign in 1964. Some of the earler 1960s founders of the libertarian movement were similarly very Strong on Defense, particularly, Dana Rohrabacher (YAF Libertarian Caucus Chair 1966-69), first Libertarian Presidential candidate Dr. John Hospers (who backed Bush in 2004 over the LP’s candidate because Bush was in favor of fighting Islamo-Fascismt), Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Dr. Jack Wheeler.

    It was only in 1974 when the black-armed ban wearing Murray Rothbard Leftwing Anarchists infiltrated our movement, whitewashed libertarian movement history, took over the Libertarian Party platform committee, and turned the Party and the Movement into an “Anti-War” group.

    Note – The original Libertarian Party platform, adopted in 1972, was explicitly non-commital on foreign policy issues, specifically because the majority of attendees at early LP conventions, mostly Ayn Randians, were very Strong on Defense.

    All we Libertarian Republicans are attempting to do today, is return our movement to its originalist Hospers/Goldwater/Rohrabacher roots of Strong on Defense.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:


    I did limit the discussion of different types of libertarians primarily as it would be boring to non-libertarians and I would hope that most libertarians are aware of this. As Kling and Cowen were approaching this from a capitalist perspective and libertarianism is generally associated with such views I intentionally limited this to such forms of libertarianism but you are clearly right that the label is also used by people with socialistic economic views.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:


    Opposing the military draft is irrelevant to my characterization of your beliefs as being comparable to a military dictatorship. What is significant is the comments you have made in the past with regards to special rights for those who have served in the military while supporting the restriction of civil liberties for those who have not. In previous discussions you have also supported suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of the press for those who oppose wars you support. In the past when I have discussed such civil liberties you have written them off as boring and not what matters.

    With regards to the drinking age, I love you just throw out claims about the views of other groups which have absolutely no validity.

    Your “history” of the libertarian movement is similarly fictitious. As we have gone over this many times in the past I’ll sum it up by saying what you see as the libertarian movement has little relationship to actual libertarians who generally reject your views.

  13. 13
    Eric Dondero says:

    They are boring issues, and not what matters.

    What in the hell do you liberals have this obsession with issues like CIA crap, or FBI “spying on citizens,” when every day the greatest threat we Americans face is some cop pulling us over on the highway, and giving us a $200 fine for not wearing our friggin’ seat belts?????????!!!!!!!!

    Stop worrying about arcane BS that doesn’t have an affect on ANYONE’S LIFE! except for maybe a tiny cadre of Islamic extremists in Buffalo, Miami, or Chicago, and start worrying about issues that matter.

    I ask you Ron Chusid: When will Liberals support real Civil Liberties, such as:

    1. Lowering the Drinking Age to 18

    2. Repealing all Smoking Bans

    3. Allowing States to decide on Marijuana legalization

    4. Legalizing Gambling

    5. Ending the Federal Government’s insane policy of forcing States to enact Seat Belt law enforcement as a primary offense.

  14. 14
    Eric Dondero says:

    So Chusid, can I get you on record as saying that you do not believe that Veterans should have special rights?

    Do you wish to go on record in support of abolishing all VA hospitals, and repealing health services for Veterans?

    How about VA benefits for college education?

    After all, those are all “special rights” that are not available to male non-servers such as yourself.

  15. 15
    Eric Dondero says:

    Can I similarly get you on record as saying that the issue of the Military Draft, is “not a significant issue”?

    This is what it appears you are saying above, and I’d just like to get a little clarification and confirmation. My buddies in the Anti-Draft movement would absolutely luuuuuuv to see a quote from a prominent Liberal such as yourself saying that the Draft issue is “not important.”

    But hey, after all you have to spin on that one these days, don’t ya? With the threat of America-corp under your beloved Obama becomming mandatory?

    Gotta just downplay that nasty Draft issue, and all, cause it puts you Liberals in an “uncomfortable” position.

  16. 16
    Eric Dondero says:

    You say, “Libertarians generally reject my views…”

    I’d refer you to my blog which lists numerous compliments from top Libertarian Party activists, for example fmr. LP Political Director Sean Haugh, who called me one of the greatest Libertarian activists for 2008, and fmr. LP Vice-Chairman Chuck Moulton who said something to the affect that I was one of the most valuable of Libertarian activists in the entire Nation.

    Here’s one from a Chicago Libertarian:

    “Eric Dondero is simply the most effective, reliable, and consistent Libertarian political petitioner in the country.” Jake Witmer, Libertarian Party of Alaska

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:


    These are all legitimate issues, but when dealing with civil liberties the issues you have considered boring (freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom or religion, limitations on executive power) are what most people would consider the real issues. Many liberals agree with you on most or all of these points, but these are not the key civil liberties issues and these are not the issues which define libertarianism.

  18. 18
    Ron Chusid says:


    No, you cannot get me on record for saying this because it is not what I said. I am not speaking of Veterans benefits such as education and health benefits (which liberals support but conservatives such as yourself and libertarians often oppose). I am referring to your previous comments that veterans have the right to use force against those they disagree with.

  19. 19
    Ron Chusid says:


    No you can not get me on record with regards to the draft as again this is not at all what I said. I said absolutely nothing about whether the draft is a significant issue. I am saying that your opposition the draft, which I agree with, does not change the fact that you support what would amount to a military dictatorship.

  20. 20
    Ron Chusid says:


    Also do a Google search for Faux Libertarian Eric Dondero and see how often this is used, along with all the other comments from libertarians who laugh at the idea that you are a libertarian (or who often request that you stop disgracing libertarian views by claiming to be a libertarian).

  21. 21
    Cheryl Jones says:

    » Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views Liberal Values

  22. 22
    Fritz says:

    One major concern with government messing with and guiding the market is that the “creative destruction” of technological progress scares government almost as much as it scares companies with large investments.
    We will see the government now propping up CFL long after it should have been shitcanned, for instance.   And, well, ethanol from corn.  And all sorts of other technologies.  Because they will have been mandated and subsidized.

  23. 23
    Ron Chusid says:


    Yes, government can make a number of mistakes, often due to political pressures who look after what is best for them as opposed to what makes the most sense. That is one reason why I would rely upon the market whenever possible. Unfortunately sometimes there are things which the market can’t handle, or for various reasons screws up even more than private companies do.

    Perhaps this sums up the difference between the actual views of liberals/progressives and how the libertarian bloggers view liberal/progressive views. They tend to believe there is far greater love for government (as opposed to turning to it out of necessity) than is actually held by many liberals. (This also depends upon which particular liberal/progressive we are speaking of as there is a wide variation in views on government messing with the economy). Of course libertarians will often disagree about areas where the market is failing, and often fail to recognize the areas where government has been more successful.

  24. 24
    Fritz says:

    I don’t actually view it as “mistakes”.  Creative destruction is incredibly brutal.   And governments don’t like all that boat-rocking for perfectly understandable reasons.

  25. 25
    Eclectic Radical says:

    There are liberals with a utopian notion of government. It is important not to forget that. ‘The Great Society’ liberals of the 1960s, in both political parties (whether Hubert Humphrey or Nelson Rockefeller), certainly had a notion that government could ‘make society better’, which is a potentially dangerous view whether you agree with the actual reform package (which I naturally do) they passed or not. I think it is important to recognize that stream of liberal thought, which goes back to Woodrow Wilson and the origins of modern American political liberalism, does exist and is fairly distinct from results oriented ‘New Deal liberalism’, which is actually closer to the Progressive Republicanism of the Teddy Roosevelts and Bob LaFollettes than to the head-in-the-clouds dreams of Wilson.
    At the same time, there are many liberals with a basic distrust and dislike of authority as strong as that of any Republican or Libertarian. The difference is a pragmatic understanding of the necessity of some form of central order in order to get things done.
    I’ve always summed this attitude on the left as the old school British ‘punk’ anarcho-socialism of the 1970s and 1980s: ‘Well bloody hell, someone’s gota be in sodding charge. Just the way life is. But by God they better know their bloody place and do right by the little guy or they’ll bloody well hear from me.’
    There’s actually a lot of this thinking on the American left as well, however. The late Paul Wellstone and Dennis Kucinich are both excellent examples.

  26. 26
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I’m actually going to grapple with Eric’s 5 ‘real’ civil rights issues head on, despite the fact that they are not ‘basic’ civil rights issues derived from natural rights but rather issues of personal liberty. ‘Real civil rights’ are a very different matter, as Ron said.
    “1. Lowering the Drinking Age to 18”
    I support this one. I think it’s ridiculous to say someone is legally an adult at 18 but restrict their freedom to make adult choices for three more years. And while I understand the pragmatic political heft of the military argument, I don’t really care about whether the adults in question are in the military or not. Legal adults should have all the rights of legal adults under the law. If one feels that strongly about the drinking age, make 21 the age of majority, or at least argue that it should be the age of majority, instead of proposing silly bans based on statistical justifications.
    However, I don’t think this is a top priority of any kind. Not compared to real civil liberties issues during a time when the conflict between national security and personal freedom is as meaningful as it has been during the McCarthy Era. Not when there is a war in Afghanistan, a desperate need for health care reform, and a need to unify all the disparate voices arguing for natural rights for all Americans into one coherent whole.
    “2. Repealing all Smoking Bans”
    Everyone should have the right to smoke in their own home or yard. Every business owner should have the right to decide whether they wish to allow patrons to smoke or not.
    Yet I support smoking bans in schools and hospitals and I support municipalities right to ban smoking in municipal buildings. I also don’t have a serious problem with municipal smoking bans in shopping malls, though regulations affecting air conditioning standards is a better solution. Several shopping malls and all the major airlines have used smoking bans as an excuse to use recycled air instead of completely recirculated air, and there have been public health consequences. Air traveler was actually healthier before the smoking ban because the air conditioning systems pumped all the air out of the plane and new air back in. Now they recycle it and the O2 count is much lower and the CO2 count much higher.
    “3. Allowing States to decide on Marijuana legalization”
    How is allowing the states to decide on marijuana legalization a civil rights or personal liberty issue at all? If you want to get on your high horse, argue for the dismantling of Federal drug laws across the board and national legalization. Leaving it up to the states just passes the buck on violation of civil liberties. For every state like California, with a medical marijuana law, there is a state like Tennessee with a broad ban. Pot smokers in TN aren’t having their rights violated any less than pot smokers in CA just because the state is doing it instead of the federal government.
    The genuinely ‘libertarian’ issue is ending the Drug War, not letting the states decide individually whether or not to fight it.
    “4. Legalizing Gambling”
    I’m in favor of this one but, as with lowering the drinking age, I hardly think it is a ‘serious issue’ that outweighs more urgent public issues of the day. It’s an issue of principle that certainly deserves some attention, but repealing the prohibition on gambling is not up there with the drug war. There are more than enough legal choices for gamblers not to feel ‘stigmatized’ or forced to partake in illegal gambling and private, social gambling between individuals has never been criminalized. Gambling bans are much more symbolic than de facto, and there are real issues that should be addressed first. The urgency level is just not high, however correct the principle may be.
    “5. Ending the Federal Government’s insane policy of forcing States to enact Seat Belt law enforcement as a primary offense.”
    I’m against criminal enforcement of seat belt laws when discussing consenting adults, sure. I’m entirely in support of seat belt laws and car seat laws as they effect children and I don’t think ‘insane’ is a legitimate description of government policy on this issue. I think the phrase ‘nanny state’ may have some validity here, but I reserve ‘insane’ for things like massive domestic surveillance operations without due process.
    They just appear to violate civil liberties much more aggressively than the seat belt issue.
    The biggest civil rights issues in this country are still about allowing all Americans in to equally share in enumerated and natural American rights. Gay rights, women’s rights, and race relations are still top priorities. Coupled with unrestrained police power (which is often wielded against gays and minorities), these challenges strike me as more desperately urgent than drinking age, gambling bans, and seatbelt laws.
    I think Mr. Dondero’s own words in the post from which this list was taken say a lot about how misdirected his own priorities are and tends to prove a lot of Ron’s arguments correct.
    Mr. Dondero appears to the stereotype of a boozing, gambling, pot-smoking Republican ‘libertarian.’

  27. 27
    Ron Chusid says:


    In reality liberals would be closer to Eric’s views on these than the Republicans he allies himself with but Eric has a number of mistaken views of what liberals think. As you note, there is a problem with Eric’s views on marijuana by making it a state issue as opposed to outright supporting legalization as we would. This is an example of how Eric is more influenced by conservative beliefs with their stress on states’ rights as opposed to true libertarian beliefs.

    This is also an example of how the Democrats he opposes are closer to libertarian views than the Republicans he supports. It was the Republicans who supported the DEA raids on those selling medicinal marijuana in states where medicinal marijuana is legal. In contrast, the Democrats have been the ones who supported ending the raids and respecting the state laws over the federal laws.

    Besides this objection to his conservative position on marijuana, my other disagreement would be to eliminating “all bans” on cigarettes. If cigarettes were only harmful to the smoker then I would agree. Smoking is a more difficult issue as people are actually harmed by exposure to second hand smoke. Therefore it is legitimate to restrict smoking in public places, but I think many of the laws go too far in imposing restrictions on an individual’s business.

  28. 28
    Ron Chusid says:


    In bringing up the Great Society liberals you raise another problem with labels which I have often mentioned. Besides labels including a wide variety of people with different beliefs, they are also fluid over time. Liberals of today are quite a bit different from liberals of the 1960’s. Of course many libertarians are stuck with a picture of liberals out of an old Ayn Rand novel and think these views (which were already exaggerated when written) are relevant in describing liberals of today.

  29. 29
    Eclectic Radical says:

    When we talk about Eric I think we’re gonna be preaching to the choir. I replied to his list in detail because it made me cranky, not because I expected him to get anything out of it. I’m always willing to go on ad nauseaum, as I’m sure you noticed by now.
    As for labels, you are completely right and that was part of the point I was trying to make. Liberals fall into a wide, wide grouping and not all Democrats are liberals nor ar all liberals Democrats. Liberals of the 1960s were as different from each other as liberals from today are from liberals of the 1960s… and each other. I made a reference to the Great Society because there was a very real believe among some of the movers of that legislation that government could foment utopian change in civil society.
    They got their Dewey backwards… civil society is supposed to foment utopian change in government, if you buy into that particular utopia. 😉
    What was it Fritz said when comparing Rand and Tolkien? I think this is vaguely correct… ‘one is a completely unrealistic fantasy world populated by monstrous villains and larger than life heroes with no plausible resemblance to reality… the other is about hobbits.’
    I understand why someone in Rand’s personal situation, a member of a dispossessed upper class fleeing a Communist takeover through political alliance with leftist democratic socialists would fear the left wing in politics. It only makes sense. It doesn’t make her right. 🙂

  30. 30
    Jim Z. says:

    I consider Adam Smith to be a liberal. He favored free markets, disliked the power of corporations, favored progressive taxation, and believed that people only had freedom to the extent that they had the financial wherewithal to make that freedom effective.

    Kling’s #1 has validity only to the extent that (a) a market takes on monopoly (or oligopoly) characteristics, (b) power relationships in markets lead to exploitation, or (c) there are anyn number of market imperfections such as are true in, say, health care (see Kenneth Arrow’s Dec. 1963 article in The American Economic Rerview journal entitled “Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care”).

    Another such field is ecological economics where markets will not move a society towards sustainability on their own.

    In such cases, it may even be necessary, and more importantly efficient, for government to own, regulate an industry.

    Markets are a powerful invention, and we should try to use them in every instance possible. But the public sector has a proper role in ensuring, through law and regulation, that markets behave for the ultimate good of mankind.

  31. 31
    Ron Chusid says:

    Kling gets #1 wrong in believing that progressives believe “Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.” Progressives believe that sometimes an unfettered free market produces sub-optimal outcomes, and sometimes results in bad outcomes which require regulation. A certain amount of oversight is also necessary for markets to work, especially in more complex financial transactions. A buyer and seller need to know that an agreement can be enforced for any market transactions to occur.

    The real disagreement between liberals and libertarians is not that liberals are in general hostile to the market but that libertarians fail to recognize those occasions when regulation is necessary.

  32. 32
    Fritz says:

    I think libertarians (especially those who came from the GOP) underestimate the determination of business owners to collude.  I think liberals overestimate the desire of government regulators to work for anything like the public good.

  33. 33
    Ron Chusid says:

    I also think libertarians overestimate the belief of liberals in government regulators. It is not that all liberals have blind faith in regulators but that this is a necessary evil. This is also why liberals are so concerned with maintaining checks and balances on government and are so concerned about the breakdown of such checks during the Bush years.

  34. 34
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “I consider Adam Smith to be a liberal.”
    Well, Adam Smith was a ‘classical liberal.’ This is where it all gets tricky. Classical liberalism’s ideas (though the actual economic underpinnings are more Neoclassical) are best reflected by what we would call political conservatism in the United States. Most importantly the American conservative believes, as did the classical liberals, that the freedom from which all other freedoms derive is property ownership and that it is incumbent upon government to protect the owners of property from those without. In the starkest interpretation of this belief, practiced in many representative governments all the way back to Athens and Rome, only the owners of property are full citizens.
    Modern American political liberalism is based less in economic theories and more in sociological theories, though many liberals have a very firm grasp of economic principles and the economic sphere is not entirely neglected. The modern liberal believes that natural rights are equally inherent in all and take priority over property rights.
    ‘He favored free markets, disliked the power of corporations, favored progressive taxation, and believed that people only had freedom to the extent that they had the financial wherewithal to make that freedom effective.’
    Smith was not criticizing corporations so much as he was criticizing government mercantilism. The British East and West India companies, which were the target of his critique, were not ‘corporations’ in the modern sense. They were quasi-government agencies which maintained armies and fleets (or, in the case of the West India Company, the right to hire privateers) and whose directors were sometimes considered cabinet officials. The chief stockholder of both companies was the reigning monarch and so a large slice of the income went directly into the royal coffers, tax free.
    Even a die-hard critic of corporate-commercialism and its effects on American capitalism, which I most certainly am, and philosophcial anarcho-socialist, which I am closer to being than anything else, can’t quite claim that American corporations are comparable to mercantilist joint stock companies yet. They are on their way to getting there in many cases, but the corporate structure is still based rather firmly on Adam Smith’s ideas of capital investment rather than the old joint-stock model.
    However, it’s very true that Adam Smith was death on monopolies and the systems of monopoly the British crown companies maintained to protect their own coffers. That is something we have to deal with in the corporate-commercialist economy.

  35. 35
    Ron Chusid says:

    I would not see conservatives as descendants of the classical liberals at all. Classical liberalism provides much of  the foundation for our current political thought (with ideas in classical liberalism also having earlier roots).  Therefore there will be some similarities in the views of both conservatives and liberals, but the authoritarian and anti-science philosophy of the current conservative movement has limited relationship to classical liberalism. I see modern liberals as far more closely related, with definite changes over time. This also gets back to the differences among liberals and progressives, with some liberals being far closer to classical liberals than others.

  36. 36
    Jake Witmer says:

    Dear Libertarians on this thread,

    Eric Dondero asked me to give him some kind of quotable compliment that he could post on his blog, in 2004.  I did in fact say that he could post that comment, in 2004. I was staying at his house, a stay arranged by Scott Kohlhaas, one of Dondero’s old friends, and thought Dondero, in spite of his un-libertarian foreign policy views, was a fairly good guy.  This was before Badnarik was chosen as the LP nominee.  After Badnarik was chosen (two weeks after the TX petition drive ended), Dondero went nuts, and vowed (however ineffectually) to destroy the LP.

    In 2007, Dondero vocally and publicly began slandering the Ron Paul campaign, and supporting Giuliani for president.  Although I had severe misgivings about him at this point, I still answered his phone calls, and considered him a somewhat misguided ally.  Since I prefer open lines of communication, I hadn’t rejected our alleged “friendship.”  I did, however, tell him it was insane to support the GOP, and almost treasonous to support Giuliani.  He replied that he could not longer be my friend.  OK, jerk, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    I since had rescinded my quote.  His parroting it on public fora to try to legitimize himself is somewhat pathetic.  I am by no means a big endorsement credit in the Libertarian movement, unless someone knows me, and knows the specific things I’ve done, which are very few people.  However, insiders do know me, and they must then wonder if Dondero is legitimate, or libertarian in any way.

    My answer is “No!”  He is a sociopath who has latched onto the niche microcosm of libertarianism because it is a small pond that perpetually refuses to purge itself of waste, due to its desire to grow (at any cost.)  Dondero is a friend of the military industrial complex.  He supports the military over libertarianism, and seems bereft of any kind of consistent philosophy.

    That he profiles me as unwilling or incapable of suing him for slander, is the only reason why you will see my one-time favorable quote about him.
    Here’s one from a Chicago Libertarian:
    “Eric Dondero is simply the most effective, reliable, and consistent Libertarian political petitioner in the country.” Jake Witmer, Libertarian Party of Alaska
    RESCINDED.  (Also, it makes little sense for him to credit me as a Chicago Libertarian, and then write “LP of Alaska.”  Of course, he is a dolt.)

    Engaging with Eric Dondero is a waste of time.  Think of the hours it takes, and then imagine how much good could be done by printing Jury Rights Pamphlets and distributing them to people who could then set free victimless crime offenders!

    Dondero is just one more person who will say absolutely anything to “win” an argument.  He cares for nothing but
    1) Preserving the military industrial complex
    2) Wasting the time of libertarians while misdirecting marginal libertarians toward the bloated and disgusting Republican Party.

    BTW: I suspect, based on strong evidence, that Rand Paul completely despises Dondero, as does Ron, as does everyone who ever worked with Ron Paul.

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