Friday, February 13, 2009

When Jonah swallowed the whale

Right-wing pundit Jonah Goldberg had a swipe at the idea that libertarians and progressives (who he insists on calling liberals) have something in common. He says the idea that there is this belief that "social liberalism and the social aspect of libertarianism are one and the same."

Mr. Goldberg says "I do not dispute that there is much overlap between libertarian views and Democratic views on social issues. But the overlap isn't nearly as transparent as it is between conservatives and libertarians on economic issues."

Apparently Mr. Goldberg hasn't been paying attention. It has been a long time indeed since there was any meaningful overlap between "conservatives and libertarians on economic issues." Conservatives do NOT believe in depoliticized markets. And we have enough years of conservative rule in this country to prove that. Conservatives, like Democrats want politically-controlled markets. They just think that a corporatist agenda makes that "capitalism". Hence they smear capitalism in the process. The economic policies of the Left and of conservatives differs very little in practice.

If the last four terms of the presidency are an example then the Democrats are more free market than the Republicans -- though I'm sure Mr. Obama will try to trump GW's disgusting record.

More bizarre is Goldberg's assertion that if you are "an economic conservative ... you are a libertarian on 95% of the relevant issues." Actually this is false. If you are a conservative then you are out there advocating spending on lots of issues that libertarians would oppose. You will tax and spend for the war, tax and spend for the drug war, tax and spend for the phony war on terror, and tax and spend to harass landscapers and busboys who are here without state permission.

It is impossible to be a conservative and support a free market. Conservatives want oodles of regulations on the market -- they always have. Some products they want banned outright, such as drugs and porn. They will spend billions in tax funds to fight those wars. The funding of their moral campaign relies on government confiscating the wealth of the free market in order to impose their moral agenda. If you take government spending on drugs, government spending on military adventurism and government spending to stop Mexicans seeking work in America, we are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions.

How can Jonah say that conservatives are 95% a libertarian if they are willing to steal billions from the productive economy just on those three measures alone?

Look at other ways the conservative social agenda promotes Big Government. To harass busboys and gardeners the conservatives have pushed for mandatory state ID in order to be employed. In other words, they say that government has to be between every employer in the country and their potential employees. Government has to monitor employers and use state force in order to "enforce the law". Government has to be prepared to arrest businessmen and incarcerate them if they don't obey conservative regulations. Have you seen what you are legally required to do just to open a checking account these days? All that was imposed by conservatives in Washington.

The dishonesty of the conservative is that he pretends his moral agenda doesn't impinge on free markets. Conservatives pretend that these are such separate categories that they can call themselves free marketers while they are regulation labor markets, banning the ownership of certain private property, forbidding the sales of specific items, and incarcerating people who are involved in the free trade of products that Jesus would frown upon.

As has been said of prostitution: its a combination of sex and free enterprise -- which do you oppose? The conservative moral agenda requires the violation of property rights, restrictions on labor markets, and massive amounts of taxation. Plain and simple, conservatives put their moralistic outrages ahead of free markets.

Goldberg says that libertarians "make a terrible mistake when they assume that a few shared values about what constitutes 'social goods' or 'tolerance' means that libertarians and liberals (sic) actually share a common vision of the role of government."

Actually very few libertarians, if any, think that. What they think is that modern day progressives have more in common with libertarians than modern day conservatives. The few issues that conservatives were supposedly good on (taxes, regulations, etc.) are out the window. In office conservatives abandoned the few issues where we had some commonality. In other words, the modern day conservative doesn't even have a few issues of commonality with libertarians. Conservatives have proven themselves worthless when it comes to economics. Maybe in the opposition they have a chance at improving -- only time will tell.

We libertarians realize that progressives have some flaws in their social agenda. But some flaws in their social agenda is better than the conservative agenda which is flawed throughout. Many progressives have abandoned the worst fallacies of progressivism. Unfortunately the religious rot in conservatism has yet to be rejected. Progressives learned a few lessons from their errors but conservatives haven't. They are still sucking up to the bigoted assholes in Christian fundamentalism.

What Goldberg ignores is the ability to communicate with many progressives. In my experience talking to a progressive is easier than talking to a conservative. Progressives know little about economics but they can learn. And we can sit down and debate the issues and argue from evidence.

But conservatism today is infested with religious lunatics who are immune to reason and logic. There is no common ground for discussion. They spout their hate about gays and argue that God wants them kept at the back of the bus. They will make assertions of facts about gay marriage but when those are refuted they don't care. In the end they will say that the facts don't matter, only God's will matters. And they have a direct line to the Almighty and he has told them precisely who he hates and why they should hate them too. Evidence doesn't matter. They have such disdain for facts and evidence that they think nothing of making it up to further their hate-filled agenda, as we saw in the Prop 8 campaign.

How does a libertarian talk to a religious conservative? You can't use logic since logic can't trump "God's word". And facts are worthless to them. The 200 years of accumulated evidence supporting evolution barely dents their armour. Evidence can't be taken as more important that the Bible or the Book of Mormon. They are happy to chuck out centuries of scientific testing and retesting in order to cling to the dusty pages of a manuscript written by men who didn't understand the most basic facts of reality.

In addition Mr. Goldberg ignores the war mongering tendencies of the conservative movement, and with good reason. War has long divided libertarians from conservatives. And while many leaders in the Obama administration are just as damn awful as conservatives on war there is a significant number of the rank and file progressives who share the libertarian aversion to empire building. The conservative rank and file is not nearly so keen on issues like peace.

Sure there are major differences between progressives and libertarians. But I would argue the gap between these two camps, when it comes to the issues, is less than the gap between libertarians and conservatives. When it comes to basic principles of logic, evidence, and reasoning the gap between libertarians and progressives is not large. But a Grand Canyon of ignorance separates the conservative movement of today from libertarians.

The simple fact is that conservatives are lousy allies for libertarians. They always have been lousy allies. If the conservatives ever decide to throw out the morons from the Moral Majority wing of the GOP then there may be some possibility of dialogue. In the meantime I'd rather try to talk to people who still value some of the basic principles of logic and who don't think that "divine revelation" trumps the Bill of Rights. I consider it a whale of a lie to think conservatives and libertarians have common ground but it is a lie that Jonah is willing to swallow.

Labels: , ,