Learn to Love the Liberal Welfare State?
Will Wilkinson makes the case.
Freed to be full-on social liberals, many libertarians are left sensing a much deeper cultural affinity for the left than the right. And this leads naturally to seeing more clearly their ideological affinities with welfare liberals. And then you read thinkers like Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan, and you think: Oh, yes. This is extremely sensible. And now that the welfare-liberal elite has become rather more economically literate and is no longer sighing over five year plans, there is no reason to think they cannot find this sensible, too.
I agree that there is a bit of the bleeding-heart libertarian in a lot of us.
I just don’t think that the contemporary American left cares for that sort of thing. Instead, I see an obsession with market failure and the need to centralize power. The basic approach is:
1. X is a crisis.
2. Collective action through government is necessary to solve X.
3. Collective action through government is sufficient to solve X.
4. Government needs more power in order to solve X.
You can let X be anything from the sub-prime mortgage problem to the uninsured to obesity. My view tends to be:
1′. X is being over-dramatized.
2′. Private initiatives are probably sufficient for dealing with X.
3′. Collective action through government to solve X will turn out much worse in practice than in theory.
4′. Government already has more than enough power to solve X. The problem is not lack of power–the problem is, well, see point 3′.
If being a liberal only meant signing on for some income redistribution, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s the never-ending rationalization of more government power that is so unsettling.
he makes a powerful and far-ranging critique of state control of economic life. At least as far as he takes the argument in this book, there isn’t much that thoughtful modern liberals or even democratic socialists who understand the power of markets would necessarily object to
Larner and others on the left are all for markets in theory, but not in practice. As economic historian Robert Fogel points out, the goods-producing sector of the economy is shrinking, while the growth sectors are leisure, health care, and education. The left concedes nothing to the private sector on health care and education, and with Social Security’s age of eligibility not indexed for longevity, the increase in leisure also tilts things the left’s way–toward a higher share of GDP going to taxes.
Finally, to the extent that the agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy remain important, the left has a rationale for managing those, too. Let X = Global Warming.
I could love a liberal welfare state. But that’s not what the liberals are going to give us. They are going to give us convergence with China.