Liberals and Libertarians Are Close and Need Each Other


 By Bob Goodwin in Naked Capitalism

Ideological groupings of the population are an interesting phenomenon. I believe they are caused by two human traits. People need a mental construct or shortcut to make sense of complex externalities, and likely overuse these constructs. More importantly people are social animals, and will use social settings (like NakedCapitalism) to refine and align their constructs. Liberalism is the largest ideology (by population count) in the US with about 30%. Libertarianism is less than half the size of Liberalism, with Evangelical Christianity the only other grouping larger that Libertarianism. These social groupings are imperfect with the majority of adherents lacking the sophistication to debate the nuances, and adherents frequently carving out exceptions or adhering partially to multiple ideologies. But as social forces they are each unmistakable and powerful.

It can be very difficult to debate with someone of a different ideology, when your premise starts with a presumption not shared by your opponent. And due to human nature when the debate devolves into a disagreement on the fundamentals of an ideology it will quickly move to an accusation that there must be a flaw in the messenger. Every decent person I know agrees with my proof, so you must not be a decent person. So let me (tongue-in-cheek) lay out a series of typical debates between Libertarians and Liberals. I am taking pains to skewer both sides equally:
On Global Warming:

Libertarian: Man Made Global Warming is a farce and a conspiracy
Liberal: Your ideology is blinding you, you deny established science.
Libertarian: Fuck you.


Liberal: BP manipulated government, exploited our natural resources, and polluted our beaches.
Libertarian: We need oil, and the government encouraged deep-water drilling and became captured
Liberal: Fuck you.

On Health Care

Liberal: There are 30 million people without healthcare in the richest country in the world
Libertarian: Health care is rigged to overcharge and regulated beyond redemption
Liberal: There are 30 million people without healthcare in the richest country in the world

I pick these three examples, because I believe Libertarians and Liberals largely agree on each of these issues. But the choice of language stokes the ideology. I think the following three statements are safe for both ideologies:

Dependence on fossil fuels has come at a high cost, and we can do much better at creating energy that is causes less environmental damage. The environment is a common asset where government has a role.

Cap-and-trade may be another scheme that will enrich the elite, and not benefit the environment. But we need to reduce emissions into our atmosphere.

We need to drive down the cost of health care while broadening access and improving outcomes. ObamaCare was a sop to corporate interests.

There are natural turning points in history. American Liberalism came to prominence during the Great Depression and American Libertarianism out of the collapse of Calvinism during the industrial revolution. We are at another turning point now, with the aging of the Baby Boomers, and the collapse of the permanent American wealth machine. Let me list issues that are less important than they were 10-20 years ago: Guns, Gays, God, Abortion, State Security, Crime, Drug enforcement, Labor Unions. I did not say they are unimportant – just overtaken by other issues.

But most importantly the role of the government and markets has evolved in both liberals and libertarian minds. Not changed, evolved. We now have a common enemy: the Corporatist elite, who have corrupted both the free market and captured the regulatory apparatus of our government. Corporatists have power in *both* political parties, and this is where our common interests lie. The Tea party is disrupting the Republican Party (with some success) and the progressive movement has been successful in elections but unsuccessful in policy at undermining the entrenched corporate influence on the democratic side. The Corporatists have an interest to see their enemies divided and marginalized. But the combined power of these two movements is close enough to 50% of the population to overpower the Corporatist movement which has power far beyond its numbers.

Alignment of dissonant ideologies is difficult. It involves several steps.

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1. Agree on common ground. This common ground needs to be sufficient to justify collaboration.
2. Agree to disagree respectfully. For example, the border shooting is going to elicit different opinions. It is not a central fight. So disagree.
3. Try to use neutral language on collaborative topics.
4. Try to ignore opponent’s ideological language that is necessary to create cohesion within their ideology.
5. There must be demonstrable achievements to justify the discomfort.

Joe Trippi was on Fox News the other day saying that the Tea Party was real, and should be respected. He may well be saying that because he hopes the Tea Party will disrupt the Republicans. Regardless of his logic, that is a good step. As a Libertarian I would like to celebrate four Liberals who have done battle with Corporatists. Three have lost. Liberal Senator Marie Cantwell of my home state of Washington stared down Corporatist Senators Schumer and Reid on bank reform and lost. Liberal Senate candidate Ned Lamont won the Democratic primary, but lost the general to now Independent Corporatist Joe Lieberman. Bill Halter ran as a labor union Liberal against incumbent Corporatist Senator Blanche Lincoln, and lost. Liberal Admiral Joe Sestak beat Republican/Democrat/WhoCares Corporatist Arlen Specter.

Yves gave me a couple of links of cases where Progressives and Libertarians have collaborated along the lines of this post: Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist on investigating Rahm and Ron Paul and Alan Grason on Audit the Fed.

I do not actually know how well we can work together. Can liberals ever accept a libertarian like Sharron Angle, whom corporatists claim is against social security and Medicare (I am not convinced this is true, but some of the claim will stick) in her battle against Chief Corporatist Harry Reid? Can libertarians support Maria Cantwell who has never seen a problem without wanting to impose a government solution? I don’t know. I would like to think we could, which would require us to first agree on a common enemy, and then change our use of language to broaden the appeal of an argument across ideologies. I look forward to readers comments.

(Bob Goodwin, an investor and medical device entrepreneur who lives in Mercer Island, Washington)

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