Posts Tagged ‘Liberals and Libertarians’

Liberals who fear the libertarian temptation

January 26, 2014

Every now and then I come across some liberal commentator who is mildly critical of abuses of power under the Obama administration, but warns against making too much of them, because you thereby create distrust of government and play into the hands of libertarians.

The reasoning is that if you make too much of an issue of preventive detention, undeclared wars, assassination lists and warrant-less surveillance, you’ll lead cause people to focus on abuses of power by government and forget about abuses of power by big corporations.  Never mind that corporate power is so closely linked to government power these days that this is a distinction without a difference.

As an example of this kind of thinking, click on Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald and Assange If You Knew What They Really Think? by Sean Wilentz for The New Republic.   He does not rebut anything that Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald or Julian Assange have actually asserted.  Rather he speculates on their underlying philosophy based on thin evidence, and warns against playing into the hands of corporations and libertarians.

For a good response to Wilentz, click on The Liberal Surveillance State by Henry Farrell on the Crooked Timber web log.  For some more examples of strained reasoning,  scroll down through the comments section.

I am not a libertarian.   But I am a civil libertarian, and it is a fact that right now, many self-described libertarians are better defenders of basic civil liberties than pro-Obama liberals.

A recent study shows the pitfalls of thinking that you have to either be on Team Blue or Team Red.  Click The Depressing Psychological Theory That Explains Washington for a report on the study by Ezra Klein for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.  It tells how people were for (or against) a set of proposals when told it was a liberal program, and against (or for) the same set of proposals when told it was a conservative program.

If what somebody says is factually correct and morally right, you shouldn’t worry about whose hands it will “play into.”

Liberals, big business and big government

December 17, 2012

hsbc-sfSpanWe liberals see a strong government as necessary to protect individuals against the abuses of big corporations.  The problem is that government does not necessarily operate this way.  What we have in the United States today is government increasingly interfering in the lives of individual citizens, while giving free rein to the heads of large corporations.  A recent example of this was the decision of the U.S. Department of Justice to refrain from prosecuting executives of HSBC, a big international bank based in London, for laundering money of the drug cartels because that would be disruptive to the financial system.

It is a mistake to talk about “big government” and “big business” as if they were people.   They are organizational structures through which people can do bad things or good things, but very often can be shielded from the responsibility for the bad things they do.  You can’t punish an organizational structure, or hold it accountable.  Only the individual human beings within the structure are accountable.

Libertarians say that the only way to limit the abuses of government is to limit the authority of government.  They say that if you don’t want governmental officials to have the power to bail out banks, they shouldn’t have the authority to bail out anybody.  My problem with that argument is that this tradeoff isn’t on offer.  Cutting the Social Security pensions of 80-year-old widows won’t do a thing about bankers giving themselves bonuses with taxpayers’ bailout money.

Click on Outrageous HSBC Settlement Proves the Drug War Is a Joke for Matt Taibbi’s comment.