I made a pledge not to talk about Donald Trump about a month ago. I felt that he was getting too much media coverage, and since I believed he had no chance to win the nomination, I felt that every person discussing him was to his benefit…and to the detriment of everyone else on Earth. I made that prediction based on a few factors (Nate Silver does a good job talking about them here), mostly that Trump has no campaign infrastructure, no party support, terrible favorability ratings, and early polling is essentially meaningless. Of course, he also doesn’t have any cohesive platform and the ideas he does have are atrocious, but because the conversation about Trump never died down, his terrible ideas have stuck around despite his inevitable campaign collapse. Continue reading
I came across an article whose thesis is that people with my worldview are gravely mistaken about everything they believe.
How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”
And it’s wrong. W-R-O-N-G Wrong.
You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm.
Despite the age of the article (it was published in May), I’m interested in this for a couple reasons. One is that if we take “economically conservative” to be in favor of free markets (not always clear), then “economically conservative and socially liberal” is a good working definition for moderate libertarianism or classical liberalism. Believing libertarianism is just “wrong” is something that needs to be addressed given the large amount of people who identify as such, including myself. I was hoping for a strong critique of libertarianism, but it seems that the author mischaracterizes some libertarian positions. What’s more, if the author’s argument is correct, there are no real political positions outside the Left-Right political spectrum and perhaps none outside the Left at all! This would severely limit political discourse and our creativity in forming policy solutions to society’s challenges. Continue reading
In response to the Senate’s difficulties in passing Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership, I’ve noticed a fair amount of opposition to TPA, often implying opposition to free trade generally (this reddit thread is demonstrative). First, in regards to TPA, as long as you feel that a trade agreement can have pros and cons just like any other international agreement, there really isn’t much reason to oppose it. Most international negotiations are unlikely to happen without Congress delegating negotiating authority to the executive branch. I think the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, for example, were negotiated somewhat in secret. And then legislation was later placed in front of Congress to implement. I couldn’t find much more info on it so I may be wrong, but trade treaties aren’t substantially different from other international agreements.
Next on America’s trade policy and free trade generally, it’s difficult for me to accept criticisms of free trade, when so many experts seem to be pretty sure it is beneficial. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many economists from all the top institutions all agree on something. Moreover, this isn’t exactly a new position, and it’s not like alternatives haven’t been tried. Brookings, which is by no means some right-wing think tank, is pretty set on free trade (NAFTA included). It’s also probably worth noting, that higher educated voters tend to favor free trade more. Lots of bad policies may be popular, but hopefully higher information voters will actually like better policies.
There’s also some belief that free trade hurts poor Americans. Even if that were true (which seems unlikely given expert opinion and increased growth), doesn’t that imply that poor people in other countries are benefiting? Is fighting global income inequality a particularly bad outcome? Allowing for freer investment in developing countries seems like a categorically “good” thing.
That’s not to say I’ve never heard of opposition to free trade from respectable sources…but most of them tend to be single economists from the 1980s. There’s also this recent article in the New York Times…except it was an op-ed written by a fellow from a partisan progressive think tank. It’s just hard to find opposition to trade from academic sources, not tied to industry. Now, it’s possible I’ve just been brainwashed to believe the same things that lots of smart people believe and I can’t think for myself, but at this point I think I’d be crazy to largely oppose American free trade policy, there’s just too much expert opinion on the other side.
An important criticism of both libertarian political ideology and practical policy is the lack of positive goals in international relations. Libertarians are often derided as isolationists, and even Ron Paul’s self-classification as a “non-interventionist” perpetuates the perception that libertarians can only talk about foreign policy in terms of “doing less”. But this criticism can be broadly rebutted on two fronts. The first is that the libertarian opposition to military engagement and advocacy for military reduction is not only a healthy and needed reality check, but ultimately better for our national security. The second is that there are other paths besides military power which should be emphasized, notably free trade, which policy in the past decade has largely ignored. I should note that my goals in this post are pretty modest. It is my belief that any foreign policy position labelled as libertarian would have difficulty finding mainstream acceptance, yet given these two moderate positions, I believe I can construct a foreign policy platform most ideological libertarians (and actually most Americans) would agree with. Continue reading