You Got to Be Kidding Me!

IATF RFC Comments (1)

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 2, 2007

Arnold Kling has the following to say over at Techcentralstation:

I admire the governance structure of the Internet. I believe that libertarian conservatives, under siege from so many directions, could draw inspiration from this open, voluntary, do-it-yourself, just-in-time approach.

What he’s getting at is that “libertarian conservatives” aka right-libertarians, are suffering today from a false dichotomy that’s arisen between so-called liberals–dominated by the left–and social conservatives/the religious right. People now seem to expect you to be either a socialist or a social conservative, and you have to deliver a long lecture to explain the concept of being economically conservative (capitalist) and socially liberal. Really, libertarian conservative is another word for [classical] liberal, in contrast to leftists and various flavors of religious conservatives, none of which are ‘liberal’ in any meaningful sense of the word.

Anyway, Kling wants the right-libertarians/libertarian conservatives/liberals to step up and work out a statement of principles. I’ll bite. I don’t actually have a lot of comments on this first draft, but I’ll reproduce the entire thing here since I don’t think my readers frequent either TCS or Instapundit and probably haven’t heard of this:

Economic Principles

1. We weave a thread of self-reliance into a sturdy fabric of interdependence. By respecting the law, we reinforce impersonal justice. By competing intensely and fairly in an impersonal global market, we raise our standard of living through specialization and innovation. By upholding Constitutional principles for limited government, we sustain our individual freedom.

2. We are creative and pro-active in helping one another. We do not have the patience to wait for government, nor do we want to be lulled into passivity by the promise of government. Instead, to solve those problems that require collective action, we form voluntary associations, including civic groups, corporations, clubs, standards-setting bodies, consumer information services, and charitable foundations.

3. Government must be kept in its place. We hold government officials to high standards of competence, honesty, and fairness. However, we do not confuse government with family. We do not confuse government with religion. We do not confuse government with business. We are conscious that any expansion of government responsibility, however well-intended, crowds out those institutions that are the true bulwark of our society.

4. We celebrate the successes of others. We are glad when an entrepreneur becomes wealthy by finding a way to fill a customer need. We are glad when an immigrant family climbs the ladder of success. We are glad when people living in other countries make economic progress and spur us to innovate and improve.

Ethical Principles

5. Government cannot legislate morality, but it does mess with the incentives. Those incentives should never be tilted against the institution of the family whose mission is to raise children to be fine, upstanding citizens.

I’ll stop for a quick comment here. I would write the first sentence as “Government cannot legislate morality, but it can distort incentives, particularly economic ones.” This is mainly to be clear what we’re talking about. Very few people change their behavior because a criminal penalty exists, but everyone changes if they perceive a tax loophole or other regulation-based chance to make or save money. The first requirement of of all taxes and regulations should be to distort economic incentives as little as possible (well, except where the regulation is meant to correct a market failure, in which case the market is what’s distorted and the regulation is actually making it better.)

6. We maintain an ongoing conversation about morality and ethics. This conversation is informed by the Ten Commandments and Biblical scripture. It is informed by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. It is vital to continue the conversation, even when consensus is difficult.

Mainly nitpicking, but I think the list of influences (which I realize are examples and not all-inclusive) should be reversed so that the biblical references come last. Maybe they shouldn’t be included at all.

7. Like new businesses, new moral ideals can revitalize our society, even though many of them fail. For example, we recognize that we are a better people without racial segregation or barriers to the education and career opportunities for women. However, we judge some social experiments to be failures, including eugenics, Communism, and nihilistic cultural relativism.

International Principles

8. Our ideology does not have to be sustained by military suppression. Although it can inspire people to fight against tyranny, ultimately our ideology allows us to live in peace.

9. We believe that people all over the world yearn for liberty, and for them we stand as a beacon and a champion. But we recognize that freedom is not ours to give when community leaders are not ready to seize the opportunity that it offers.

10. When foreign leaders issue threats against us, we take them at their word and act accordingly.

That last one needs to be removed. As much as the Don’t Tread On Me approach appeals to me, foreign policy is a game, and it’s played in the real world with real people. What works in that world is a sort of benevolent gangsterism, so if we’re going to state an approach to foreign policy, it should be that we’ll work to be the best gangsters we can be. Importantly, one principle of the successful gangster is to use force judiciously and as rarely as can be gotten away with, subject to maintaining your status and influence. And when–not if–it is necessary, then to act ruthlessly but also forgive quickly, in the Jacksonian way.

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One Response

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  1. Clint said, on February 2, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Yea, the 10 commandmends should not be mentioned. Fictitious gods are no justification for moral behavior, in fact people who are only moral BECAUSE they fear a God are, well.. kinda lame — Morally inferior to an athiest who behaves with decency without the threat of permanent burning in hell.


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