Monday, September 03, 2007

Liberal Libertarianism

Leading politicians, republican and democrat, are doing Americans a disservice by limiting our choices regarding the role of government in our lives.

Republicans, by and large, favor a status quo which allows wealthier Americans and large corporations to prosper. They focus on cutting taxes, subsidizing the agricultural, pharmaceutical, banking, and oil industries, and weakening regulations on business. Their "family values" mantra attracts votes from social and religious conservatives who would otherwise not fit the criteria to be republican. Republicans seldom talk about their vision for the future, since they resist changes other than regressive ones.

Democrats, on the other hand, are oriented to changes that purport to favor the lower classes. They focus on increasing government benefits, regulating just about every aspect of life, being scared of just about everything,and further solidifying the power of public bureaucracies and unions. They talk incessantly of "fairness", but they have no credible plan to fund the immense cost of the socialized society they envision.

Neither of the major parties is addressing the fundamental issue that faces America in the 21st century: how to stay competitive in the world economy. The simple fact that neither party chooses to state in outright fashion is that the wealth of a society is what provides for the general welfare of its citizens - and wealth is either accumulated or frittered away in the impersonal worldwide economy. Although America's wealth is currently decreasing at an alarming rate, neither republicans nor democrats want to talk about the actions needed to reverse this trend. We need "liberal libertarians" to come to the fore.

Liberal libertarianism combines the social goals of the democrats with the philosophy of personal responsiblility that was the original (now lost) theme of the republicans. The goal, simply stated, is to create an economy powerful enough to rebuild America's wealth and thereby generate the funds to pay for the high standard of living that Americans expect for their children and grandchildren. We need to reverse the current trend of increasing national debt by harnessing the power of a new America filled with highly educated, motivated and self-reliant citizens. This will be achieved only if government policies are dramatically modified.

The most important policy modification deals with education. Americans need to be told, unequivocally, that they are responsible for ensuring they become educated to the full extent of their abilities - and hopefully, in areas of interest to them. Educational opportunties need to be provided on the basis of student ability and commitment, regardless of social background, but those who do not show interest in formal or technical education need to be given some clear understanding of what their future will definitely hold: manual labor, minimal housing, and minimal benefits. Don't want to be productive? You get screwed. Get with the program? You get a life. Just like the American colonists and frontierspeople, and most of our grandparents.

The other major cultural change must address personal responsibility. Americans have gotten used to too many free rides. Are you voluntarily obese? No longer will your insurance rates be as low as those who watch their weight, and you may not get coverage for diseases, like adult diabetes, that are related directly to obesity. Have a child you can't support? Mandatory birth control for you, or no welfare check. Want to take a risky job like coal mining or roofing? You get a good paycheck, but don't think about suing your employer if you get hurt; that's what insurance is for. Want to start a school or send your kids to a neighborhood school co-op? Feel free to do just that, and the government should refund some percent of your school tax. In short, Americans need to get back in charge of their own lives, and there are lots of areas where changes need to be made.

How do the social values of the liberals get addressed? National health insurance, for starters. If you aren't covered by your employer or wealthy enough to buy your own health insurance, the government should provide insurance that you can afford (if you are willing to work at any job offered by the government). Same with minimal housing and food. People who are now the most defenseless, like children and some elderly people, would get much more assistance and intervention than they do now. In short, we need a society where people who are self-sufficient can make their own decisions and people who obviously need help get it whether they want it or not.

Liberal libertarianism. I think something like this is what the founders of America had in mind. Too bad the republicans and democrats don't offer anything like it, because it's the only way to rebuild America for those who follow us here.


Anonymous said...

One problem I see is that your new economy still depends upon a poverty class to do the hard work. We can't all work in cubicles, and work should be rewarded whether it's physical or mental.

I don't think we need to "rebuild" America's wealth- we've already got plenty- we need to redistribute it away from the leisure class and into the working class; let the people who create the wealth keep it for themselves.

Life Hiker said...

Thomas, I really dig you but we come from totally different places.

I don't agree that lower level American workers "create" wealth. They don't generally have the education, creativity, initiative, and drive to create much at all. They go to work, do what they are assigned to do (often very well), and go home to sleep soundly at least as regards their work life. And I'd say most of them live pretty well when compared to worldwide standards.

Those who are educated, creative, entreprenuerial, and motivated create the wealth of our country. They figure out what they and others need to do, and then they make it happen. They generally live lives of perpetual motion and they don't sleep well. We need a lot more of them if we are to compete successfully in the world economy.

The idea that there is a large "leisure class" of Paris Hilton's out there is simply wrong, as is the idea that knowledge work is less noble or worthwhile than manual work.

As far as the "poverty class" goes, I would agree that a lot of our citizens don't get a real chance to decide about maximizing their own opportunities - and a true liberal society would give disadvantaged young people a lot more useful help than they do now. But based on the large number of uneducated, non-English speaking immigrants who come here and become middle class in short order, I don't see how you can believe that poverty is an unalterable state - it's most often the end result of a series of bad decisions.

"Redistribution" is really just another word for "free ride" - compensation for work not done, risks not taken, education not completed. In my liberal libertarian world, nobody lives without a roof over their head, food to eat, and health care - but those things can be pretty basic if the recipient prefers to live a "life of leisure" rather than get busy doing something useful.

Ron Davison said...

I do think that there is something to Thomas's comment. If we had the same distribution today as we had in 1989, the top 1% would make $670 billion less - works out to about $670 million per person in that bracket. That's income. Per year. The new economy is higher risk and higher return and the folks who are winning can easily afford to use some of their gains to offset those who are losing.

Woozie said...

Blech. I'd kill myself if I was caught working in a cubicle.

How does this new America ensure that the child of the good-for-nothing mother or father living on welfare is taken care of? It's not the kid's fault their parents are irresponsible

Life Hiker said...

Ron, I'd like to believe your numbers but somehow they just don't seem reasonable. Can you provide some data?

Woozie, I agree wholeheartedly that those kids are the ones who need the most help. Their environment makes them defenseless. I don't think proven good-for-nothings should be allowed to have more kids, and I think there needs to be much more intervention with the kids they already have - whether the parents or kids want it or not.

It really bugs me that we have a huge number of parasites in our society, and our government programs encourage them to be parasitic. "Social security disability" is one of the biggest rackets ever invented, and there are plenty more programs just as bad, like New York State's infamous "scaffold law" that makes an employer fully liable for any injury caused by a fall no matter how stupid or careless the employee happened to be, or whether he or she obeyed the company's safety rules.

Ron Davison said...

The numbers are off - that should read $670,000 per person. A typo indeed. Source? Lawrence Summers, Clinton's old treasury secretary.