Libertarianism and the left


Matt Yglesias, a centre-left blogger who writes at Think Progress, is often thoughtful and interesting, and well worth reading. Discussing the word 'neoliberal', he says that he has ten major economic policy objectives:

1 — More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom.
2 — A less paternalistic welfare state that puts more money directly in the hands of the recipients of social services.
3 — Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment.
4 — Curb the regulatory privileges of incumbent landowners.
5 — Roll back subsidies implicit in our current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy.
6 — Break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled.
7 — Much greater equalization of opportunities in K-12 education.
8 — Reduction of the rents assembled by privileged intellectual property owners.
9 — Throughout the public sector, concerted reform aimed at ensuring public services are public services and not jobs programs.
10 — Taxation of polluters (and resource-extractors more generally) rather than current de facto subsidization of resource extraction.

I can think of my own goals, which would be different, but apart from the first point it's hard for me to disagree with any of Yglesias'. (Though we probably would on the implementation of the third point – obviously Yglesias and my views of how to get to full employment will differ strongly.) These aren't even 'motherhood and apple pie' goals, but realizable policies that chime fairly well with a freer market than we currently have. Redistributionism and Keynesianism aside, the free market right might be able to make common cause with moderate leftists like Yglesias to roll back state protections for some special interests, and try to make the welfare state less of an influencer of the social order by reducing its coerciveness.

If this holds true for the UK, it raises the possibility of new alliances. That's a big if, but I think it's more likely than some think. Socialism proper is a much bigger force in the UK than in the US (see, for example, the NHS as opposed to the corporatism of Obamacare), but it isn’t the whole story. Many on the left have as much disdain as free marketeers do for students marching for middle class tuition fee subsidies, or the main political parties' support for bank bailouts.

Aloofness from the political right would give libertarians and classical liberals more heft on that side, too, as our support would be less reliable and policy concessions more necessary. It’s improbable that libertarians and the left would ever become permanent allies, but if the British centre-left ever decides to fight for a policy platform like Yglesias’s above, it could find surprising allies in Britain's libertarians.