The Value of Left-Libertarian Alliances

The other day I referenced Tom Watson’s piece in Salon, rejecting any libertarian involvement in the Stop Watching Us demonstration (as you might recall, libertarians were the ones who use a “few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child”).

Watson’s piece generated a useful response  in Salon from David Segal: “Liberals Should Unite with Libertarians (sometimes).”

A few quotes:

While the benefits of this sort of cooperation are concrete, Watson never convincingly describes the potential harm. Yes, when those on the left and right meet, perhaps some impressionable young progressives will become more libertarian in their leanings — but it’s important that burgeoning libertarians be made to understand that not all Democrats stand with President Obama, Dianne Feinstein, Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders as shills for the state’s surveillance apparatus, and perhaps that (and a few friends they make while marching with lefties this weekend) will encourage them to learn more about, and eventually embrace, progressive economic principles – post-Keynesians, please. …

We cannot cover up harms perpetrated by our government just because pointing them out might make some people more inclined to distrust the state.  If we hope to maintain enough credibility with voters to one day win progressive majorities at the ballot box then we must not shy away from naming state overreach and corruption where it is transparently manifest.

Certainly, as Segal points out, left-libertarians alliances have borne fruit in the past and there remain many things that the left and libertarians can agree on–most notably opposition to growth of the security-surveillance state, the targeted execution of U.S. citizens abroad, indefinite detentions, and the absurdities of the War on Drugs–and there remains much work to do. While Segal hopes that a few libertarians might learn more above progressivism, it may also be the case that a few progressives (Watson included) will learn more about classical liberalism in the process.

What’s the harm?

3 thoughts on “The Value of Left-Libertarian Alliances

  1. It’s quite telling, actually, that Mr. Watson worries education through exposure to other political thought might lead people to renounce progressivism.

  2. I was reflecting on left-libertarian alliances yesterday after I had done some minor analysis of the voting in Congress on farm subsidies and food stamps.

    Consider a simple matrix based on two variables, support for farm subsidies and support for food stamps. There were two major amendments cutting food stamps in the Farm Bill in the House and two major votes on cutting back farm subsidies. There was also one vote on cutting farm subsidies to pay for food stamps that is helpful in assigning categories for members on the fence.

    The largest Republican faction are Tea Party Porkers, as I’d call them. They vote to cut food stamps, and then turn around and oppose cuts to farm subsidies. They outnumber the more libertarian faction of true fiscal hawks, committed to cutting both. On the Democratic side, the largest faction are newer liberals, committed to food stamps but supportive of reform of farm subsidies. There are only a few remnants of the old style New Deal approach of more spending for everyone.

    During the consideration of the Farm Bill, the House also voted on an amendment to reform our foreign food aid program. Right now because of cargo preference and the Jones Act, most of the money spend on foreign food aid goes to transportation, not to helping people. The Cato Institute has talked of the need to reform the program, the President has proposed reform, and the injustice of this situation has even attracted the attention of the Daily Show. But the military-industrial complex of maritime associations and unions opposes anything that threatens their jobs.

    You look at the outcome of that vote and the vast majority of true fiscal hawks from the food stamps/food subsidies votes supported reform, while the new liberals did as well.

    Now this is just a very basic attempt at finding correlation in voting behavior. I want to look at other votes, like CISPA, but I suspect that even if there’s variation, the core conclusion is the same. There’s a wing of true reformers within the Republican Party, but they are still within the minority of the party. They have to work with Democrats for results. Within the Democratic Party, reformers for many non-partisan issues are the majority, but are also the left-wing of the party, most opposed to the more partisan reform issues that are getting the attention (Obamacare, Medicare, Food Stamps, etc).

    This comment has gone on long enough, but it’s something worth exploring. What would make a left-libertarian alliance work not just on civil liberties, but on government reform? Ending the war on drugs?

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