Could Liberals and Libertarians Unite?

Will Samson No comments exist


It’s June, 2017. Donald Trump and the GOP have had complete control for five months now. And saying the results are not good would be like saying the Hindenburg was a small fire. An Obamacare repeal bill, if it ever passes, will remove more than 20 million workers from guaranteed health care and provide a massive shift in taxes toward the wealthiest Americans. A tax reform bill, if it ever passes, will remove billions of dollars from the agencies that build our roads, educate our children, and keep us safe through diplomacy. The Trump / Mulvaney budget plan, if it is followed, will enact cruel cuts in programs like Meals on Wheels, while also enacting moronic cuts in agencies like the CDC, the people that help keep Americans safe.
At first blush, those changes would seem like a dream for libertarians and a nightmare for liberals. The second part is true, no doubt. But I think saying that the current destruction of government is the vision of all libertarians is a misreading of that philosophy. It might be true of Ayn Rand style Objectivists. But individuals who adhere to true libertarian philosophy, and are therefore reflexively anti-government, are at least as much reflexively anti-government *waste.*
What primarily separates liberals and libertarians is whom they choose to put their faith and trust in. Libertarians believe each individual should have free agency to act in ways that determine the course of their life. Liberals believe in the structure of our social institutions and, further, that those institutions help provide opportunity for advancement and safety for the most vulnerable. Simply put, libertarians believe in the power of the individual and liberals believe in the power of the group. These are vastly different starting points.
But, as a practical and public policy matter, these significant philosophical differences could be bridged in ways that meet the desires of both. Not perfectly, mind you, but as someone once said, democracy is the worst form of government … except for all the others that have been tried. Ours has always been an experiment in finding out how to live and govern publicly despite private differences. So, what are some issues that could bring both sides together? Here are some ideas:
Tax Reform – Libertarians hate complex government. Liberals want to close loopholes and make everyone pay their fair share. There are plenty of ideas how to accomplish both of these goals together. This would require Liberals to compromise on what they considered the “fair share,” and it would require Libertarians to compromise on the need for some level of taxation.
Universal Basic Income – this seems like a far stretch for Libertarians, and perhaps it is. But if you want to eliminate parts of the social safety net without being Dickensian (and in the process destroying the economy), UBI is a good option, and one that is gaining some adherents in Libertarian think tanks.
Drugs and Prisons – Libertarians want to stop the government from snooping on what they do in private, including on days like April 20th. Liberals want to end the decades of systematic injustice that has condemned minor felons to a stacked penal system. Stop cramming our prisons full of non-violent, low-level drug offenders, and both sides win.
Those are some ideas. Will they be embraced by all libertarians? Hardly. Will they be welcomed by all liberals. Not a chance. Do I believe they will work? No idea. Wendell Berry once wrote that he was glad he was an essayist and not a preacher, because if he was ever proved wrong, he could claim to have been “just practicing.” And maybe musings like this are just practicing. But somehow, someway, we must find a coalition to move forward on some of these deeply incalcitrant and socially decaying issues.

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