Liberalism, standing on one foot?

by on May 2, 2005 at 8:03 am in Economics | Permalink

The ever-insightful Henry Farrell asks whether (modern, left-wing) liberals can express their core attitudes in one simple sentence.

My version of his attempt is: "We don’t want to rake people over the coals with risk."

Some conservatives and libertarians, believe: "Risk strengthens your moral fiber, and induces you to work hard for others."

My sentence is a bit different: "Trying too hard to limit risk will increase the number of global people who are just outright screwed over."

My sentence is the least politically palatable or salient of the three.  But the more globalized the world becomes, the greater its relevance.  It is imperative to keep the United States — the number one generator of global public goods — as a highly productive, innovative economy.

The modern liberal vice is to think that everyone can be taken care of, and/or to rule out foreigners from the relevant moral universe.  Too many issues are (incorrectly) framed as "taking care" vs. serving the avarice of the wealthy. 

In turn, a conservative and libertarian vice is to get too obsessed with "desert."  Another conservative and libertarian vice is come up with some better means of helping people — usually involving markets — and if that doesn’t happen, to be content with doing nothing.  I am most sympathetic with modern liberalism when it buys into libertarian analysis, but then wants to do something through government anyway.

Note that conservatism and libertarianism, whatever their major differences may be, tend to share emotional vices.  That is why libertarianism remains more of a right-wing than left-wing point of view.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: