STOP STEPPING ON MY BREAKTHROUGH

Doing his best to sweet-talk electorally-ascendent liberals into hitching their wagon to the libertarian rickshaw, Brink Lindsey offers a list of shared victories in which liberals and libertarians can revel together:

an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends. Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era–the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration–were championed by the political left.

If these are victories for libertarians, then this is a better argument for why libertarians should support liberals and leftists – the people who actually won each of these victories – than for why the left should turn libertarian. But it’s worth asking whether these markers of social progress even qualify as “libertarian breakthroughs” or “libertarian ends.”

The Jim Crow regime was undone in part by the elimination of the poll tax, a nasty law which restricts access to a government function to those able to pay for it and rewards those with more money to spend on their politics with more voice in them. What about undoing those laws qualifies as libertarian? The Jim Crow regime was undone in part by anti-discrimination laws that empower government to use regulation to limit the freedom of employers to employ a workforce that looks like themselves. Inflicting government intervention on market transactions is not exactly the libertarian m.o. Neither is government-mandated busing to integrate a public school system that if libertarians had their way wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Many libertarians no doubt break with Barry Goldwater and support the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. But their support for good progressive law doesn’t demonstrate a fundamental affinity between liberalism and libertarianism. It simply demonstrates that even its devotees sometimes reject the maxim that “the government is best which governs least” when faced with the liberty-denying consequences of the “free market” whose “relentless dynamism” Lindsey urges liberals to recognize.

Libertarians may support freedom of the press from censorship, but they’re more likely to fret over how to sell off our publically-owned airwaves than how to ensure airtime for grassroots candidates. They may support a woman’s right to choose, but I wouldn’t count on their assistance in ensuring that women have the economic means to choose abortion or childbirth, or the educational resources to make informed choices. They may support the rights of the accused to a trial, but they’re not the first to line up to be taxed to pay for decent lawyers to represent them (then there are the ones who would like to replace the criminal justice system with a system of private torts). They may support allowing more immigrants into this country, but if you expect them to face down employers who exploit the fear of deportation to suppress the right to organize, you’ve got another think coming.

And though the Cato Institute won’t be joining Rick Santorum’s crusade against no-fault divorce any time soon, there’s no need for an earnest Ayn Rand devotee to support a right to divorce at all. After all, isn’t marriage a binding contract that the parties should know better than to get into lightly? Aside from the reality that it presides over marriage in the first place, why should government have any more right to stop consenting adults from entering contracts for lifelong marriage than it does to bar contracts for human organ sales or pennies-an-hour employment?

A compelling argument against libertarianism…from Glenn Reynolds:

…if bankruptcy law is “anti-freedom.” then what’s pro-freedom? Debtor’s prison?

Glenn is responding to a reader questioning how a devout libertarian like him can be so opposed to the bankruptcy bill that would make it harder for those who fail in the free market to mitigate the effects of that failure. The reader’s right: if the free market is really a just and efficient tool that distributes goods according to virtue, any good libertarian should see the existence of bankruptcy law as a reward for bad behavior or even a “perverse incentive,” and staunchly support a bill like this one to further shred that protection net. Protections for debtors are a good idea, and this bill is a trainwreck, because – contra the libertarians – it’s too often the obstensibly free market which fails citizens, not the other way around. Contemporary libertarianism is, dare I say it, bankrupt precisely because it posits a vision of economic freedom which fosters greater economic slavery for the majority by accelerating the race to the bottom, encouraging exploitation, further marginalizing the already vulnerable, and denying the rights and freedoms which enable consumers and workers to leverage demands from employers. As Glenn himself recognizes, a system which leaves someone who goes bankrupt to rot leaves him less free. But so does a system which allows employers to lock their employees inside for the night with impunity, or forces parents to choose between medical treatment for themselves or their children. Debtor’s prison is certainly “anti-freedom,” but so is child labor, so is union-busting, so is social security privatization, so is cutting tax cuts for the rich, and so is the Senate’s refusal to reverse the near decade-long decline in the value of the minimum wage. It’s nice to see Glenn and other conservatives recognize that this bankruptcy bill is a threat to real freedom, but the threat isn’t just this bill: it’s the broader economic agenda this administration is inflicting on America.