The Superbus's Thoughtpad

The Conscience of a Liberaltarian

Posted by Chris Bowen on July 1, 2013

My political awakening – the merger of ideas, ideals and learned experiences that have morphed into my internal belief system – is notable in two aspects. The first is that I’ve managed to become at least semi-sophisticated when it comes to political issues despite possessing virtually no formal education of any note in that regard. While my state-run high school and locally run public schools could – and did – teach me math, English, science, and in the case of my high school, a vocational trade that I apply to my job every day, the system is fundamentally broken when it comes to teaching history and political theory. To put it bluntly, most of what I was taught is either whitewashed or outright wrong, as the majority of my 20s was spent learning that most of what I was taught about America’s selfless benevolence was wrong, usually with the same zeal that a child reacts to the news that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fictitious. The second notable aspect is that it’s in no way complete. Unlike the college educated people that I tend to associate with, my formative adult years were spent in the military, where even someone as resistant to jingoism as I am can get caught up in the jet stream frequently. Therefore, everything I know, and everything I believe, is the product of self-teaching, asking the right questions to people I respect, being open-minded, and having the courage to admit that I’m occasionally wrong.

Like most young people from Connecticut, I started out as a solid Democrat. I adored Bill Clinton1, supported easier immigration, and supported a lot of social welfare programs. Miraculously, I managed to make it through my military career as a Democrat, despite being stationed in Norfolk and Portsmouth. However, I learned that I didn’t fit in well with Democrats; I supported the second amendment, didn’t think much of Affirmative Action, and thought it was wrong for a local zoning board to tell a private property owner how they were allowed to use their legally owned space. However, joining the Republican Party was unthinkable, so after looking at their list of ideals, I decided to formally become a member of the Libertarian Party. This was kind of like going from missionary sex to ball gags and swings, but bear with me. The thought process was that I had some very libertarian views even as a Democrat, so why not join the party that saw things like I did? Unfortunately, the reality was more grim. The Libertarian Party, as I would painfully learn during the 2008 Presidential Election, is less about ideals than it is about a bunch of rich, white, C-list Republicans trying to find another way to remain relevant. I’ll go into more of what I learned while dealing with the Party later, but I became a man with strong political ideals, but without a political identity.

Ultimately, I was less comfortable with that than I should have been. Someone running for a local office once made the point that “indies get laughed out of the polls”, and while I think he’s a buffoon, he’s right. Nothing can marginalize even good political points more than simply not being a part of some hive mind or another, which became my fear. Thankfully, I was able to meet a good combination of people from across all political spectrums, who seemed to be in the same boat. From the dedicated Democrats, to the dedicated liberals, the libertarians, a couple of conservatives I haven’t wanted to strangle yet, and one or two odd ducks with similar views to mine, we all debated our points, disagreed, and then did something that seems impossible at times in today’s charged atmosphere: we would shake hands and move on. It’s hard to find a group like this, but I’ve succeeded, and it’s helped mold a lot of what I think, either solidifying existing beliefs or making me take an alternative tack or – unthinkably, to some – causing me to change my position.

It was Jeremy Kolassa who coined the phrase that I have since come to use to describe me: Liberaltarian. It’s the perfect way to describe me, since i do consider myself a liberal. However, I do not consider myself a liberal in the modern sense, which is seemingly a euphemism for “progressive”. In fact, my liberalism incorporates a heavy amount of classic liberalism. To put that into terms that a political novice can understand, I’m a social liberal who is sympathetic to capitalism and free markets. Though there is minutia that runs deeper than this, my views can effectively be summed up in a few bullet points.

* Social liberalism is the key: I am for equality for everyone, without the requirement of affirmative actions to “boost” a minority group. I think that a black trans person should be treated exactly the same as a boring, heterosexual white European-descent male. I am for allowing anyone to live with, marry, have sex with, or do anything consensual with anyone they choose. I also believe that people can say anything they want; while it’s my choice to be offended or not, that does not mean I believe in the power of a higher authority to ban any language, ever, at all. In short, I believe the Constitution’s first amendment to be sacrosanct.

* When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will: Though there are caveats that I’ll go into later, I favor free trade between virtually all nations. It’s the greatest deterrent to war there is, because there’s a mutual interest in not damaging the business relationship, either between governments or private industry within each country.

* Corporitism is repugnant: Large, faceless corporations owning the lives of both citizen and worker alike are not a new phenomenon; a look at some of the excesses of Andrew Carnegie before he started giving his money away prove this out. But they should still be fought nonetheless. Corporate subsidies are the devil, and create a system of co-dependency between the government, its people, and corporations whose single, solitary goal is to make money for their shareholders, and literally nothing else. To use a modern example, it wasn’t the bank bailouts that made me the most angry, but the system of feeding at the trough of a complicit government since the 80s that caused “too big to fail” to become a fact in the first place.

* The larger a government’s net extends, the less rights I want it to have: I believe that local governments should have broad authority to tax, spend, and determine the way their individual community lives their lives based on the distinct way the different cultures that live within that community live their lives, which can differ drastically across a state, let alone the country. So long as those governments are not violating the fundamental rights of their people – and to me, things like the ability to marry whoever are fundamental – they should have the authority to deem how they live their lives. On the contrast, the federal government has two responsibilities to its people, and only two: defend them from foreign invasion, and enforce their ability and rights to live however they choose so long as they are not infringing upon the rights and property of others. In my ideal government, the mere thought of, say, the NSA’s spying program should be noxious.

These sound like typical libertarian positions on their face. However, the extra few letters in “liberaltarian” make themselves apparent when I express my differences with the small-l libertarian movement:

* I favor a Keynesian view of economics: Libertarian thought tends to think that in an idealistic society, the dollar is completely backed by gold and the government doesn’t regulate anything. This ignores the faults of the gold standard (namely, heavy peaks and valleys in the value of the currency and its chilling effect on economic growth for a growing population) as well as the pains of excessive deregulation (the years 1929 and 2008 explain this out perfectly), and ignores simple history: the New Deal contributed to pulling America out of recession, and contributed to slowing down the effects of the 2008 recession. In contrast, austerity policies that decreased spending in times of hardship exacerbated those issues, and caused social unrest that further destroyed confidence. Even recently, a lack of confidence in stimulus funds continuing to pour caused the stock market to crash 300 points, eliminating two months of gains.

Conservatives and libertarians will argue that these policies contribute to rampant inflation, devaluation of the dollar, and runaway spending. However, they forget what is really the key tenant of Keynesian economics: the austerity must come during a boom period. The major point of Keynesian economics, and the reason they replaced the gold standard, was because it was replacing a finite substance that was prone to rapid fluctuations with something that could be controlled by more than simple whims. Pull back during the booms, inject during the busts, and create a flatter line that people can plan around.

The people who want to go back to the old way of doing things fall into two camps: idealists who believe in a utopian society and think they’re actually John Galt, or opportunists who are aiming to be on top at the end of the busts. I have no patience for the latter; i can only hope the former at least see my point.

* I believe in a safety net: The hardcore libertarian mindset is basically that every person is responsible for only him or herself, and what happens, happens. Another name for this is “Fuck You, I Got Mine Capitalism”. This naturally absolves any kind of safety net, which libertarians liken to being a slippery slope to socialism.

This ignores the very real benefits of some form of safety net for those that are on their ass. Unemployment benefits are a good thing, so long as they’re not abused. Food assistance such as WIC and food stamps are a good thing for people who need that, who have had things like an unplanned child or who have lost everything. They’re good because nothing begets desperation like hopelessness, the result of which are actions that lead to harm for everyone. A desperate man stealing food takes something that belongs to someone else and puts that man in jail, for example. Filling our jails with people who are guilty of little more than survival instincts doesn’t seem to be a very libertarian position to me. Libertarians would counter this by stating that giving welfare to people like this – every assistance program is “welfare” to a closed-minded libertarian – provides a disincentive for working hard, because the government will take their hard-earned money away from them and give it to other people who don’t deserve and haven’t earned it. However, I feel that limited use of programs like this – contrary to conservative dogma, I do not believe the prototypical woman on welfare with 6 children is desirable or something we should subsidize – actually provides an incentive. Answer a question to yourself: are you more likely to take a risk if you believe that you will likely die in a gutter if you fail, or if you know that things will be bad if you fail, but not desperate?

Libertarians cheered when a man had his house burn because he hadn’t paid a $75 fee for firefighting services while they put the fire out when it approached a neighbor’s house (and when the man subsequently attacked the chief out of desperation, and was henceforth arrested), but I don’t find that to be a cause of celebration, I find that to be abject cruelty, a mindset should never exist in a high-minded society.

Finally, here’s where I turn in my libertarian card:

* I do not believe in Obamacare… because I want the Canadian system: BOOM. That sound you heard was every libertarian calling me an asshole and walking out. The conservatives are probably calling me anti-American, too, but they seem to be used to that.

However, while I do not believe the government should be involved in many things, the welfare of their citizens’ health – specifically, keeping them alive – should be their #1 priority, maybe behind keeping them protected from invasion. The Canadian Health Care system is not only a better system from a humanitarian standpoint, it’s a more effective one2. Despite spending a higher percentage of our GDP on health care, America scores lower in life expectancy, infant mortality, and overall care. Yes, the waiting lists are longer. Deal; I’d rather wait a bit for care than watch the poor die disproportionately earlier than those who are better off, and for those people who have the means, they still have access to private health care anyway, so what’s the big deal? They can still fly somewhere and get that surgery. No one is forcing the very rich into death panels. Hell, no one is forcing anyone into death panels, despite what very stupid and very dishonest people on the right say.

It’s astounding that we’re not even considering alternatives to our horrid health care system. Yes, Obamacare is the law, but I’m opposed to it on liberal principles; it’s an HMO’s wet dream, forcing private citizens into paying private companies at the pain of government levied fines. Both conservatives and liberals should be against that. But the alternatives to that are either a Canadian system, or going back to what we had, and if that’s the choice, I’ll take Canada’s system, thanks.


Now that I’ve listed why I’m not a pure conservative, allow me to explain what I feel about some other political ideologies that we see in America:

Liberalism: As I’ve stated, today’s liberal is basically a progressive. Progressivism is a wonderful idea in theory that gets broken as people search for consistency. To see an example of progressivism in action, browse Tumblr for a few hours. Anything that can be considered even remotely offensive – any thought, action, phrase, etc. – is beaten down and censored as a “trigger”. Progressives don’t want progress so much as they want a world where no one hurts, and to get that world, they end up creating more pain than they fix, because the thoughts that they beat out of people through coercion, bullying, or outright censorship still exist, just not out in the open, where they can be talked about intellectually. Progressives who enter politics aim to make these thoughts – usually the wild fantasies of college underclassmen – the law of the land. That approaches thoughtcrime territory. I am far too questioning and cynical to accept that.

Conservative Libertarianism, or Conservatarianism: I actually have a lot of sympathy for those that are generally my opposite: libertarian leaning conservatives who left the GOP in the same way I left the Democrats. People like Kevin Boyd and to a lesser extent James Joyner would fall under this category. To me, there’s really not much difference, outside of the fringes, between those on the left side and the right side of what could be considered the libertarian movement, except the hill they’re willing to die on. Liberals like me will die on social rights, while conservatives will die on financial freedoms. The conservatives also tend to be a bit more prototypically pro-life as well. Beyond minutia of individual positions, there’s really not much more to it than that.

Conservatism: Individually, I think conservatism is a wonderful thing. Don’t spend what you can’t afford, don’t get an abortion as a form of birth control, defend your home with lethality if necessary. These are things that I, a liberal, subscribe to. Being conservative doesn’t mean being *A* conservative.

However, modern day conservatives lose me when they try to apply their own mindsets to my private life. A modern day conservative reacts to Roe v. Wade by legislating such horrific bans at the state level that they effectively shut down women’s’ health clinics; ironic for people who insist Obamacare is bad because it’s the government being in a relationship between a woman and her doctor. Modern day conservatives would outright ban sodomy if it was enforceable. And a laugh at the irony of people who are so virulently pro-life being in favor of both the death penalty and a foreign policy that basically involves bombing whoever looks at the United States with a side-eye.

Effectively, conservatives in 2013 have been just as perverted as liberals, and while the liberals were changed by the progressives who have no impulse control, the conservatives were done in by the religious right, a group of “preachers”, as Barry Goldwater put it, that Ronald Reagan gleefully used to gain his own power much the same way he used Hoover when he was Governor of California. Once they were entrenched, there’s effectively no getting rid of them, and unlike every other group I’ve mentioned, and much like Goldwater’s warning decades back, there really is no reasoning with them. Their hooks have gotten into groups like the Tea Party – a disingenuous combination of big business interests and uneducated white people scared of dark people taking their jobs – and the results have been traumatic, both for our national discourse and the government at large. These people largely believe they are acting in the name of God, which would be hilarious if it wasn’t both 1) wrong (they seem to ignore the actual teachings of Jesus in their actions) and 2) so damaging.

In short: modern progressives greatly annoy me. Modern conservatives are the bane of the country.

Communism/Socialism: The only things I’ll say about these words are 1) people who use them so loosely as they do today don’t know what they’re even talking about, and 2) when used purely, the systems don’t work; either they are run by powerful leaders that, in implementing the system, go against everything it stands for (see: Cuba, Venezuela), or 2) aren’t communist so much as plutocrat with a one-party enforcement system (see: China).

1 – I still think he’s the best President of my lifetime

2 – http://www.oecd.org/health/health-systems/BriefingNoteCANADA2012.pdf

  • jdkolassa

    A few comments.

    1 – Liberaltarianism: You’re too kind. I didn’t actually coin it; I think it actually came from a couple of Cato scholars. That’s just my speculation, though. It may have come from elsewhere.

    2 – On the gold standard: not all libertarians are crazy about the gold standard. I am, but that’s because I think it’s more just, it’s more fair, and it would actually be better for the poor in the long run. It would strengthen the value of each dollar in everyone’s pocket, thus increasing their purchasing power, and THAT’S what we need to be working on. It would make the poor especially rich while re-establishing a more just, more stable monetary system. (Also, research indicates that the gold standard was actually not that volatile as many claim; see the Lehrman Institute for more. I’ll try and dig up the data table, if it’s online.)

    3 – I’m going to have to disagree with you on Krugmanist–oops, I mean Keynesist–economics. I don’t really follow Austrian economics anymore because it seemed to me to start approaching the level of a cult in some instances (particularly whenever praxeology was brought up), but I can’t get over the silliness of Keynesianism either. “Yes, let’s boost the economy by stimulus!” But where does the stimulus money come from? Either taxation or printing more money. In either case you’re taking money out of the left pocket, skimming a few cents off the top, and putting it in the right pocket. That’s not the way to help an economy. I think a better economic school of thought overall would be public choice economics, because it recognizes the issues involved with government and private actions.

    4 – I agree with you on a safety net, though I prefer to work with basic income programs (predominently via some sort of negative income tax) than welfare. A year ago I thought this way on consequentialist grounds, but now I’ve come over to even a more solid moral ground: that ultimately, some sort of floor is necessary for people to be responsible self-authors. That’s a term scholar John Tomasi uses in his book “Free Market Fairness,” which I urge you to read, and I think it works perfectly. Ultimately, I could care less about minutiae about economics or political theory; I just want people to be able to run their lives without someone telling them how.

    5 – I’m not going to call you an asshole and walk out because you endorse the Canadian healthcare system…but I do urge you to reconsider. It’s not all unicorns and roses. In fact, many Canadians fly south to get American treatment. And those long wait lines you speak of? They’re not as easy to dismiss as you think. People suffer because of those long lines. As for us spending more, well there are more Americans (we have a much larger GDP than Canada), we value medical care more (so we consume more of it), and a lot of the higher prices is from government intervention that makes it higher. Mandating health insurance through your employer? Of course that raises prices, it’s not like anyone is actually shopping around based on price. Think about it, when you shop for a car, you try to get the best deal for your dollar. When it comes to medical care? You just shlep to the nearest waiting room and see what you get. That’s a broken price system, and that’s what we need to fix if we’re going to bring prices down and help people across the board. As for infant mortality, which I believe you mention, the methodology between nations has always been very different, so the numbers are basically useless. Finally, on a more philosophical level, the Canadian health care system is odious because it violates people’s individual choices. You can’t set up any system other than that, you’re locked into it. Doctors are commanded by the state, as are patients. There is far less room to innovate. What people didn’t understand about Obamacare is that it didn’t just enslave patients, it also enslaved doctors. They can’t make any choices, they MUST serve you. And that disgusts me.

    6 – Conservatism: Here I must agree. I think at one point conservatism had some good things and wasn’t all that bad. Today, however, it is a horrible, ugly mess. It is full of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and general bigotry, and is wrapped up in pointless arguments without any shred of intellectual honesty or serious thought. It is a bane to our country–but then, so is modern progressivism and more hardcore “social liberalism” as well. (By that I mean non-classical liberals in general.)

    You should definitely read bleedingheartlibertarians.com, look up Jason Brennan and John Tomasi’s writings on neoclassical liberals, and read Tomasi’s book “Free Market Fairness.” It’s a new avenue to travel that doesn’t have many commuters. I myself have started to declare myself a “minarchist bleeding heart libertarian,” or a “minarchist neoclassical liberal.” (The minarchist part is necessary these days, unfortunately, because you quickly get labeled as an anarchist in these circles, and I want to avoid that confusion.)

    • gamingbus

      Sorry this took so long to respond to.

      Gold Standard: The one thing I notice that most gold standard advocates tend to forget is this: gold is a definitively finite substance. Yes, there’s more being made on Earth, but not enough to keep up with population growth. So you have a valuable substance that appreciates in value by nature as improvements come about in health care and mortality rates. The libertarian/conservative answer to this is that the value will naturally fluctuate in a free market, but the fluctuation is one of the main reasons I’m against the gold standard; it’s the rapid corrections and adjustments that turn me off of it for good (among other issues). It’s like having a perpetual Bitcoin system.

      On Keynesian/Krugmanist economics: I think Krugman tends to take Keynes’ theories too far; he knew as well as anyone that the kind of stimulus he wanted would have sunk the Obama presidency and caused a tidal wave once his – and Bernanke’s – replacement went into office. In short, it would have rocked the foundation. Fortunately, the stimulus, and other stimuli into the economy, are helping it, even if it’s not as “fast” as some would have hoped – frankly, I think we should be thankful for anything after 2008 – but it’s also important to remember that Keynesian theory includes both stimulus AND austerity. In other words, anything taken from the left pocket, once things even out and the boom period begins, would be put back in from the right. Think of it as a balancing act. The problem with this is that there are two sides trying to unbalance everything.

      I have not done much research on “public choice” economics to speak on it with any authority.

      The Safety Net: I’ll definitely check out that book, because I don’t really know any other way of getting income to people who desperately need the help without some form of welfare. Nor do I know what to do about those – like that guy in Doug’s thread from today – who think that because they’re helping a fellow man they can make decisions about their lives such as weather or not they should be sterilized or drug tested, other than to shut the fuck up and deal with it.

      I don’t really think a back and forth on America’s health care vs. Canada’s is really in either of our best interests; I believe the Canadian system is superior because it addresses their poorest without burdening them with a lifetime’s worth of debt, whereas you prefer America’s system which is more efficient. We can debate the merits of this all day; maybe another time when I haven’t already written a novel.

      • jdkolassa

        I don’t have my gold standard book in front of me, but when I get home I will grab on to it and give you the data. Suffice to say, the classical gold standard was far, FAR more stable than any of the fiat currency regimes we’ve tried in the past century. Less inflation, less volatility. The amount of gold actually helps keep prices stable. If you were in DC I’d loan you my copy, but since I don’t think you are, I may just settle for buying you one.

        And also, as I argue in my op-ed for The Blaze, a hard currency standard would actually be advantageous for the poor by increasing the value of each individual dollar in their pockets. That’s something we really need to be going for. (Link at bottom)

        Keynesian/Krugmanist: Krugman, I’m convinced, is just a leftist partisan shill. I doubt he does any real economic research these days, he just regurgitates platitudes and rhetoric meant to ingratiate himself with leftist activists and leaders. However, when it comes to stimulus, the actual evidence that it has helped is rather nil (and that’s before you get to the “$452,000 to create one internship/job” stories.) Also, it ISN’T the case that taking things out of the left pocket will eventually go back into the right. That’s because when you take the dollar out, several cents get taken for government, for special interests, etc. etc. etc., and those don’t get put back in.

        And to be honest, those dollars really shouldn’t be taken out in the first place.

        Safety Net: You say “I don’t really know any other way of getting income to people who desperately need the help without some form of welfare.” You’re really asking the wrong question. The question is not “how to get income to people who need the help.” The question is “How do we help?” Shoveling money at the poor is really not the answer, because then you’re taking it from someone else, open up all sorts of moral questions and also lead to a society where everyone is out to plunder everyone else. (For the first time in my life, I recommend reading Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law.” Fortunately it’s in the public domain so you can pick up a free epub from just about anywhere.) That’s not something we should be aiming for. Instead, we need to institute structural reforms aimed at bringing the costs of goods and services down. One area (dun dun dun) is monetary reform and dealing with inflation. There’s also eliminating government-corporate collusion which hinders competition and thus raises prices. Regulations that make it harder to new businesses to form or for current businesses to deliver products to market frequently get in the way and make it worse off for the poor. Eliminating the government backing of student loan debt would also halt the inexorable rise in tuition and get that problem under control, ultimately making education more affordable than ever. And so on and so forth.

        The question is not “getting income” to anybody. It’s creating an environment where people can engage in voluntary transactions under the protection of the rule of law with universal and equal enforcement of contracts. After that, the income problem largely takes care of itself.

        However, knowing that A) the American public will never go for Robert Nozick, and B) the free market can only do so much, that’s why I advocate for a universal basic income (preferably via a negative income tax.) The reforms I list above would take care of about 80-85% of the issues (I wish I could say 90-95%, but I’m not naive), and then we can have a limited basic income to cover the rest. (Here’s a paper by Matt Zwolinski on a classical liberal basic income: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1674029)

        Here’s my op-ed which talks about these reforms in more detail: http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/five-pro-poor-policies-conservatives-and-libertarians-should-enact/

        As for healthcare, I concur; our back and forth would ultimately be meaningless, but just remember, Canadians flee Canada to come here to get healthcare. I don’t hear any stories of Americans doing the opposite.

      • jdkolassa

        Okay, sorry for the delay on my end. Got caught up with Darth Real Life.

        Anyways, here’s the relevant data from the book “The True Gold Standard” by Lewis E. Lehrman:

        (1790 – 1834) Domestic Silver Standard
        CPI Long Run Stability: -0.15%
        CPI Volatility: 5.74%

        (1834 – 1861) Domestic gold standard
        Stability: 0.11%
        Volatility: 4.31%

        (1879 – 1914) International gold standard
        Stability: +0.01%
        Volatility: 1.97%

        (1971 – 2009) International paper dollar standard
        Stability: +4.41%
        Volatility: 2.99%

        CPI Long-Run Stability = average annual change
        CPI Volatility = standard deviation of annual change

        So according to the data, the gold standard is actually more stable than paper standards, ceteris paribus. Less increase in prices long run, less volatility–and I’m sure, if we were to introduce a gold standard into the modern global economy, it would trigger a deflationary process that would bring prices back to reasonable levels and increase the purchasing power of the poor.

        Also, a note on the book “Free Market Fairness”: it is not a book about public policy. The last chapter does sketch out some brief views on public policy, but for the most part it is a book on political philosophy. It’s essentially trying to bring John Rawls and Robert Nozick together–or at least get Rawls to agree with Nozick. So it’s a bit thick. But hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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  • jdkolassa

    Hate to spam, but here’s something I wrote months ago you might be interested in: http://jdkolassa.net/2013/02/3-big-thoughts-on-libertarianism/