Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Libertarian identity crisis

Poor old Lionel Shriver, the American (female) author who is usually pretty well reviewed, has written an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled "I Am Not a Kook" about her annoyance that people consider her self proclaimed status as a libertarian as a sign of kookiness:
When I announced to my mother in the 1980s that I considered myself libertarian, she recoiled. How did people like me come to seem like kooks?
She seems a smart woman, but perhaps she needs a few pointers, such as these:

*  Ayn Rand is associated with American libertarianism, and she was an eccentric trashy writer who fetishised powerful men getting their own way, economically and sexually, and suggested that people who didn't get on board (a train pun for you there) with her views probably deserved to die because of their own laziness and stupidity.  

*  A libertarian philosophy of minimal government leads to policies that Shriver admits she doesn't like.   She thinks gun control is a good idea;  she had a positive experience with the UK "single payer" health system;  she acknowledges that markets alone are not likely to deal adequately with climate change, which she believes in.   Shriver tries to defend her positions by arguing that no one is politically pure, and all of us can be a tad inconsistent with what policy positions we favour despite our claimed political philosophy.

But seriously, Ms Shriver - look at what the political and economic leaders who adopt libertarianism as their mantle actually believe in, both here and in Australia. 

They believe in the loosest gun control laws possible, and (as with David Leyonhjelm) celebrate instances of citizens shooting (and killing) robbers as if the wild West is something to be emulated.   There answer to every mass gun shooting is that there should be more guns.  

They not only really, seriously, believe in doing nothing about climate change;  they (see Koch brothers, of course) actively fund climate change denial to make political action on it as difficult as possible.   They are treating the single greatest environmental issue the planet has ever seen, with the possible consequence (amongst other things) of flooding scores of the worlds great cities within a century or two, because of short-sighted selfishness and an imagined socialist conspiracy against capitalism.

In the American case, they ridicule "socialised medicine" against all the evidence that the American system is incredibly expensive with (in many cases) worse outcomes overall.   But this counts little for rich libertarians with the money to get the best treatment.

It's pretty obvious, isn't it:  libertarianism downplays "the common good" in theory and, for most self proclaimed libertarians who have achieved leadership positions in the US and Australia, in practice. 

The real problem here is that I reckon Shriver should not even claim the title of libertarian, given her preferred policies are sufficient in number, and so wildly different from what other libertarians think on the same issues, that she step away from the official title due to it indeed justifying policies that are just too kooky.  

And, of course, I would say the same to Jason Soon, who I assume could write a very similar column to Shriver's.

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