What I Told the Liberaltarians
By Bryan Caplan
I went to my first Liberaltarian Roundtable dinner last night to see Robin Hanson debate Ezra Klein on health care. My favorite observation came from Brink Lindsey. He approximately said:
There are two health policies that liberals and libertarians would both prefer to the status quo. The first is a free market plus redistribution for the poor. The second is bare bones, high-deductible national health care, with a free market for all add-ons.
The reason neither are likely to happen is mistrust. Liberals think that if they sign on for the free market plus redistribution, the redistribution won’t actually happen. Libertarians think that if they sign on for bare bones national health care, the cost will quickly increase.
Here was my reaction:
Brink is right about the mistrust, but there’s no way around it. I don’t trust liberals who promise to stick to bare bones coverage. And they certainly shouldn’t trust me. If it were in my power, I would push a button to end all government health care spending today.
In any case, it is silly for liberals and libertarians to sit around offering each other “deals.” Even ignoring the mistrust, there’s a more fundamental problem: Neither of us can deliver what we’re “offering.” What does it even mean for me to tell Ezra Klein, “I’ll agree to redistribution if you agree to a free market?” I might as well offer him the Brooklyn Bridge in exchange for the Fountain of Youth.
What then is the point of liberal-libertarian dialog? Instead of searching for deals, we should search for common ground. In short, we should find arguments that actually make sense to the other side. Libertarians can tell (some) liberals, “Partial deregulation of medical licensing would make health care more affordable for the poor without reducing the quality of care. Doesn’t that seem like a good idea to you?” Liberals can tell (some) libertarians, “More open immigration helps the poor by deregulating labor markets. So how can you be against immigration?” Trust isn’t an issue, because you’re showing someone that on his own terms, he should change his mind – whether or not you budge an inch.