Since I published my Salon essay, The Question Libertarians Just Cant Answer, true believers in the libertarian cult have been struggling to answer the simple but devastating question I asked: If libertarianism is such a good idea, why arent there any libertarian countries?
Writing in Reason, Ronald Bailey cites the spread of particular liberties since the eighteenth century as evidence that the entire world is becoming libertarian. But he ignores the fact that the welfare state and business regulation have grown up together with democracy and civil liberties. The citizens of democracies prefer to vote themselves generous social insurance benefits. They also insist on using government to police business firms while benefiting from a market economy.
Most of Baileys examples assume that this or that trend of which he approves will continue forever. For example, he points out that cross-border migrants now constitute one in 33 people (putting it this way makes it sound more impressive than no more than 3 percent of the human race). He doesnt mention that even this surprisingly small amount of global migration has produced anti-immigrant backlashes in most developed countries, including the U.S., where comprehensive immigration reform may fail once again.
Writing in The Economist, a libertarian-leaning magazine, Will Wilkinson tries to answer my question in a different way:
Wilkinson is confusing policies and systems. In my essay, I took care to distinguish the two. I pointed out that particular useful policies favored by libertarians can be adopted by modern countries, without fundamentally altering the dominant mixed-economy model that blends markets, government and the nonprofit sector in a compound that will always be too statist for libertarians.
American progressives in the tradition of the two Roosevelts have never been doctrinaire statists or socialists and have no objection to promoting markets, where that serves the public interest. A progressive can favor privatizing the Post Office and expanding Social Security at the same time. Or vice versa (progressive arguments against Social Security privatization are based on its practical problems). I recently co-authored a proposal to use vouchers for eldercare in the U.S., without thereby becoming any less a sinister statist enemy of human freedom, from the perspective of the libertarian cult.
You never find similar pragmatism among libertarians. They are always against any public option and always for a real or imagined private option. Libertarianism is dogmatic, not experimental. Any maverick libertarian who suggested a deviation from orthodoxy say, expanding Medicaid, on efficiency grounds would be expelled from the cult as a statist heretic.
Bailey and Wilkinson accuse me of discouraging potentially useful social experimentation. But its not an experiment if you know the result in advance. Libertarians, like utopian socialists and utopian anarchists, think they already know the desirable end state of human social evolution, even if they are content to move toward that utopia incrementally.
Most liberals would approve of the philosopher Karl Poppers distinction between piecemeal social engineering and utopian social engineering, symbolized by the lethal attempts of Jacobins, fascists and communists to remake whole societies from scratch on the basis of this or that theory. In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper wrote that the piecemeal engineer will adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good. In some cases, fighting urgent evils requires the expansion of particular liberties, like abolishing slavery and segregation and securing the right to vote. In other cases, it requires limiting particular liberties, like the freedom of employers to buy and sell slaves, use child labor or pollute the environment.
Libertarianism poses as a comprehensive public philosophy promoting the greatest ultimate good of individual freedom, not just a list of particular policies, like private toll roads instead of public highways or vouchers for schools. So it is not enough for libertarians to point to discrete measures that have been adopted by systems based on other principles, like social democratic progressivism or conservative welfare capitalism. Libertarianism as a system will be hard to take seriously until there are at least a few functioning, systematically libertarian countries in the world.
See the article here:
Grow up, Libertarians!