December 17, 2018


I Have Seen the Future of a Republican Party That Is No Longer Insane (Jonathan Chait, 12/17/18, New York)

Niskanen's observation that tax rates needed to reflect actual rather than desired spending levels is banal to right-of-center economists in almost any country. But it was (and is) absolute heresy on the Republican right, which has elevated anti-tax absolutism into a theological principle. The Niskanen Center, founded in 2015, four years after Niskanen's death, drew upon his heresies as a basis for an unconventional and less dogmatic approach to libertarian economics. And in the Trump era, its heretical tendencies have blossomed. Rather than going along with Trump, or waiting him out so things can go back to normal, Niskanen has used the shock of his ascension to rethink the ideas that brought the American right to this point. The center has developed something that for more than a generation has been almost totally nonexistent in American politics: a right-of-center program that is detached from the conservative movement.

Niskanen's scholars have criticized the failures of conservative policy you might expect -- climate science skepticism, the Republican health-care plan -- a heterodox center-right think tank to criticize. But Niskanen has gone beyond point-by-point rebuttals and has developed a broad and deep argument with the movement's core assumptions.

Last year, Will Wilkinson argued against "small-government monomania" and in favor of a social safety net to "increase the public's tolerance for the dislocations of a dynamic free-market economy," and identified libertarianism with hostility to democracy, resulting in persistent Republican efforts "to find ways to keep Democrats from voting, and to minimize the electoral impact of the Democratic ballots that are cast." Brink Lindsey attacked "the notion that downward redistribution picks the pockets of makers and doles it out to layabout takers."

These are frontal assaults on the basic orientation of the libertarian political project. By recognizing the value of social transfers as a backstop to a free-market system, and acknowledging that the right's obsession with the protection of property has made it hostile to democracy itself, they forced themselves to rethink not only the methods but also the goals of libertarian politics.

Wilkinson, late last year, stepped away from libertarianism, acknowledging that according to libertarians' own data, countries with larger welfare states also had more freedom. This revealed "a pretty major intellectual mistake lurking within the ideal-theoretic version of libertarianism that the most prominent institutions of the 'freedom movement' were built to promote."

Posted by at December 17, 2018 12:09 AM