Reply to Adam Ozimek
By David Henderson
Adam Ozimek has written an article on Forbes.com titled “Libertarianism Needs To Become More Realistic.” HT to Tyler Cowen. Although authors rarely get to choose their articles’ titles, the title does seem consistent with his message. Ozimek is friendly to libertarianism, and so his suggestions should be seen as friendly amendments to the strategies pursued by some libertarians.
Here’s his final paragraph:
Instead, people want quality of life, economic growth, and good government. All three of these can be helped on some margins by utilizing market forces, deregulating, and increasing freedom. Libertarianism should focus on these margins, and accept that the all-too-popular vision of radical freedom and minimal government at all costs is not wanted by enough people to actually matter. Realistic libertarianism would unabashedly accept limits of markets, and embrace in rhetoric, theory, and practice the first order importance of quality government, which on many margins trumps small government.
I agree with some of it, and disagree with much of it.
I agree that libertarians are in a minority. He gives strong evidence for this, focusing on a factor that many libertarians, and almost all libertarian economists, would accept: the evidence on voting with one’s feet. If libertarianism were really popular, he argues, more people would be moving to New Hampshire and fewer people would be moving to Texas. So, yes, we are in a minority.
But what follows from that? Ozimek thinks we should give up trying to persuade people to be more libertarian.
Consider, though, two historical episodes where libertarians were in the forefront: the decriminalization of homosexuality in the 1970s and the anti-draft movement of the 1960s.
I remember returning to the University of Rochester from the national Libertarian Party convention in 1977, where I had allowed the Gay Caucus of the Libertarian Party to use my room for a cocktail party. When I told some colleagues about it, I got an icy glare. Now, I would bet, the reaction would be much different. What happened to change the landscape? I don’t quite know. I do know that we were right to pursue this issue. More important, if Adam Ozimek were writing on this in the 1970s, what advice would he have given? It seems that he would said that we should give up.
Or the take at the anti-draft movement in which Milton Friedman, Walter Oi, and others were leaders in the mid-1960s. My impression is that the majority position was pro-draft. Would Adam Ozimek have counseled us not to pursue this?
I said above that I agree with some of his bottom line. Here’s the part I somewhat agree with:
Instead, people want quality of life, economic growth, and good government. All three of these can be helped on some margins by utilizing market forces, deregulating, and increasing freedom. Libertarianism should focus on these margins
It makes sense for some of us to focus on these issues. But it also makes sense for some of us to pursue apparently quixotic causes that turn out to be quite realistic.