Whither the liberal-libertarian alliance?

Here’s an interesting post from the new(ish) blog Bleeding-Heart Libertarians:

Here are some policy areas where classical liberals or libertarians seem to have a lot of common ground with those on the political left:

Immigration – Immigration is a net benefit to the receiving country and a matter of justice to would-be migrants. We should allow more of it – probably much more.
“Corporate welfare” – Protectionist, promotionist, and mercantilist policies (to borrow Andrew Cohen’s terminology) are inefficient and unjust, and should be abandoned.
Agricultural Policy – Using tax dollars to prop up US or EU agribusiness is harmful to consumers’ health and pocketbooks, and is a gross injustice to poor farmers elsewhere in the world.
Anti-militarism – Many or most of the current uses of American military power are unjust. They are also, secondarily, ineffective in advancing Americans’ genuine interests.
Anti-war-on-drugs – The expansion of police and military power for purposes of preventing the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs is both unjust and disastrous in its consequences

The post goes on to argue that areas of disagreement between liberals and libertarians, while theoretically interesting, aren’t as practically important as these areas of agreement (where “important” means something like net effect on human well-being). The implication seems to be that liberals and libertarians should put aside their disagreements and focus on these issues where their views overlap.

While I think there’s something to this, I think liberals might rightly balk at some of it. For instance, while immigration might be a net benefit to the receiving country as a whole, liberals are going to want to talk about distributional issues before signing on. More specifically, suppose that letting in more immigrants provided a net economic benefit to a country, but also has the result of lowering wages for some identifiable group of workers in that country. It’s not obvious that the benefits yielded by increased immigration (say, cheaper labor and more inexpensive goods and services) necessarily outweigh these costs if we refuse to simply aggregate them and ignore the particular details of who’s affected.

Secondly, I’m not sure liberals will agree that these issues are categorically more important than establishing and maintaining a robust domestic social safety net, as the author suggests. (“Whether our military is off fighting unjust wars or not is much, much more important from the standpoint of both justice and people’s well-being than whether or not we have a minimum wage or a single-payer health care system.”) This post seems to take for granted that liberals and libertarians all share a kind of cosmopolitan consequentialism where, for political purposes, each person’s interests–no matter where they reside in the world–are to be weighed equally. But this assumption is by no means shared by all, or probably even most, liberals. American liberals, like most other people, are primarily concerned, from a political standpoint, about the well-being of their own countrymen. Benefitting immigrants or poor farmers overseas isn’t necessarily going to take precedence for a liberal over ensuring that all Americans have access to health care or decent jobs.

I guess the practical upshot depends on whether the proposal is a kind of ad hoc coalition or a more thoroughgoing fusion of libertarianism and liberalism. If it’s the former, there’s no reason liberals can’t work with libertarians in, say, opposing the latest U.S. war without giving up their commitment to the welfare state. But if the proposal is that liberals stop worrying about domestic social justice issues in order to focus on libertarian-friendly issues, I can’t really see why liberals should want to do that.

5 thoughts on “Whither the liberal-libertarian alliance?

  1. The libertarianism described above is left-libertarianism. Right-libertarians are firmly opposed to illegal immigration, and staunchly pro-military/strong on defense, particularly in fighting Islamo-Fascism.

    On the War on Drugs, it’s conservatives these days that are endorsing marijuana leglaization, while liberals are some of the staunchest drug warriors. Plus liberals want to outlaw all smoking and are aligning with Islamists backing Nanny-Statism on booze.

    Libertarians and Liberals have virtually nothing in common these days.

  2. So, just to be clear–I don’t think the linked post was talking about illegal immigration, but immigration more generally.

    Also, I’d like to see some statistics showing that conservatives are more likely than liberals to favor drug legalization. Or that liberals are in favor of outlawing booze(?).

  3. Libertarian in my experience generally are consistent in wanting less government in almost every way. This translates into fewer laws to regulate where people choose to immigrate (though some would oppose illegal immigration I think they prefer fewer or no immigration laws), as small a military as possible that is never deployed without a clear and present risk to US national security, are wary of a large national security bureaucracy of any kind, limited if any policy to redistribute income and few if any laws on personal morality.

    Eric you don’t seem to agree with any of this except maybe the last two as best I can tell. In fact you seem to support an amped up national security state in the form of maybe an even larger military and more domestic security as well. I may be wrong on the last point, but I infer it from your concern about Islamo-fascism.

    Your views certainly aren’t wrong, but it seems odd to me that you think of them as libertarian rather than conservative.

    As a note a check does reveal that Ron Paul seems to share your concern about illegal immigration. I certainly am aware of libertarians who oppose regulation of among other things immigration. Some are anarchists simply opposed to the existence of nation states.

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