A pointless bit of libertarian purity

They say you can find out if someone is a moderate or hard-core libertarian by telling him you want to cut the top income tax rate to 1 percent. A moderate libertarian will likely be enthusiastic about the tax cut, but he might have a few questions about how exactly you’re going to balance the budget.

A hard-core libertarian will damn you for the one percent.

Here’s what that looks like when you flesh it out a bit:

We all know that Reason Magazine is anti libertarian. Their editor Katherine Mangu-Ward infamously rolled her eyes at even the outside possibility that Ron Paul could become the next president of the U.S. Of course, she was not merely prognosticating; she was actively attempting to undermine his chances. (When commentators talk about the chances of this horse or that one winning the race, they do not at all affect the outcome; matters are very different in these sorts of cases). Did Mangu-Ward get fired for her anti libertarian act? Of course not. But everyone knows about this act of treason against the free society.

Lesser known, perhaps, is a recent foray in public policy analysis (well, not so recent — 3/31/11, but I just ran into it) by Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation. In his “Opposing view: Fast train to nowhere,” which appeared in USA today, he counsels against government investment in high-speed rail lines. All well and good. But he does not do so on the ground that the state should leave all such decisions to the private market. No, instead, he discusses such things as costs, population density, competition from air and automobile traffic, taxes, etc. In other words, this editorial of his which reaches millions of people, doesn’t have a scintilla of libertarianism in it. It could have been written by any mainstream urban analyst. For shame.

This is kind of amusing in a publication that routinely extols the virtues of Ron Paul. Don’t get me wrong, if Ron Paul is on the ballot, I’m going to vote for him, but he’s far from a perfect libertarian. He’s pro-life, for example, when most libertarians are pro-choice. He voted for the border fence, and he wants the government to do a lot more to stop illegal immigration. I think it’s also fair to say that many of his libertarian positions are only with respect to the federal government; he doesn’t mind so much if the states push us around. So if I were a libertarian purist, I might regard Ron Paul as the enemy.

But here’s the thing:  That sort of insistence on libertarian purity will not get you far in this world. Its not as if the next decade in America is going to be defined by a struggle between the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Reason Foundation. We’re in the minority here. There’s plenty of middle ground between us that is much, much better than where the country is now.

About Mark:
Mark is a computer programmer, website builder, photographer, and sometimes journalist in Chicago, where he also writes the long-running Windypundit blog.
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One Comment

  1. Posted November 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    If someone decides not to shoot me dead because he doesn’t like loud noises, I’m just as alive. The libertarian-purity argument is like saying that all guns should have silencers so we can find out who is really violent.

    I thought libertarianism was supposed to be about not imposing thougthcrime on people. If that is so, why should I care why someone isn’t breaking my arm or picking my pocket?