Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Conversationalism + 2008: Libertarianism + Socialism

My brother, being a dedicated Libertarian, turned me on to the economic principles and political philosophy of libertarianism. Other guides for me steered me towards socialism, and its wellsprings in the economic hardships of Europe during the Industrial Revolution. Recently, I have been thinking about the two of them, and about my upcoming ambition to enter the realm of politics and start putting my money where my mouth is. Which philosophy should I use to guide me?

Well, of course, that's silly. What libertarianism has taught me, if I had to put it into one sentence, is that too much government can do terrible ills to society. And what socialism has taught me, in one sentence, is that too little government can do terrible ills to society. Libertarians, for instance, tend to focus on how much government the money spends, and on our debt. Socialists focus on the economic hardships of the poor. But let's put those two major doubts together: why is one of the most expensive governments of the last few decades completely failing to address the economic hardships of the people? We have one of the largest governments, and one of the most unresponsive we've ever had.

A libertarian is angry right now because we're wasting tax dollars that could be better spent. Socialists are angry because the people who need our tax dollars aren't getting them. A libertarian hates oil subsidies because it's unnecessary interference in the market; socialists hate it because it makes the rich richer with money taken from the poor and the middle class. A libertarian opposes the War in Iraq because of the budgetary toll, and because of the interventionist role it gives America. A socialist opposes the war because it hurts the people at the bottom while enriching businesses.

If libertarians want a smaller government, and socialists want a more effective government, they both should have aim in 2008: tackling corruption and out-of-control abuses of power in Congress and the White House. The same aim. They should be united, because both of their ideals are being compromised.

The government can be shrunk while still increasing the benefits to the people who need them the most. For instance, the ridiculous incentives for ethanol fuel that sparked food riots all over the world are a waste of our taxpayer money, and only drive up the price of fuel. Another way that libertarians and socialists can unite to achieve both their aims.

Will they disagree on certain issues? Perhaps. Libertarians appear to be against health plans in general, whereas it is one of the issues at the core of the socialist movement. But if a productive conversation is to be made, people of both philosophies should stop seeing themselves as mortal enemies and seeing where they are united.

I feel myself in both camps. I want the government to reach out and make education better, but I don't think we need do be hugely in debt to do it. The real issue is not how much we spend on education, but rather how much each dollar is buying.

What if the President put together a team to assess the buying power of each US Governmental dollar? What if Department of Education aid was compared with, for instance, DonorsChoose? The DonorsChoose website allows the private sphere to see what they're buying, to assess what they think are necessary expenditures. Increased spending should mean a system of evaluating the impact of that dollar.

When Libertarians want to cut funding to ineffective programs, Socialists shouldn't oppose them; they should save their battles for the parts of this government that are actually doing good. And if Libertarians have a better way to tackle the problems Socialists want to tackle, let them hear it. If you have a health care plan that will get many more Americans insured without a large governmental involvement, put it on the table.

On many charts and graphs of political sentiment, "Libertarian" and "Socialist" are considered to be 'polar opposites,' from the inane simplification that the goal of Socialists is to create a large government. Socialists are not totalitarians; true, larger governments tend to be the byproduct of a socialist-leaning government. But then again, larger governments also tend to be the byproduct of many libertarian governments.

Take a prime example: President Bill Clinton. Under his administration, we started paying off the National Debt, we made the welfare system more efficient. But he also proposed a health care plan for America. Budgetary concerns and social concerns were equally on his mind, as they should be on the mind of any president. Was he helped by the tech boom? Perhaps. But I would like to contrast his presidency with that of Governor Grey Davis of California, whose state unarguably reaped the windfall of the Silicon Valley boom. But what did he do with that windfall? He felt compelled to spend it, on measures (good as they may have sounded) that were later rolled back when the boom came back. Ever since then, the deficit has been growing in California, culminating in California's emergency request to Treasurer Henry Paulsen for $4 Billion. Why? Because he never considered the fiscal impact of his plans; he never attempted to make sure that he was spending within his means. Libertarians clearly were not on his mind, and socialism suffered.

That's what I have to say. I have libertarian instincts within me, and socialist instincts. Were I to be in some sort of elected office (as I hope one day to be), I would have to listen to both sets of instincts. "Deregulation" as an overarching philosophy is misguided, but so is irrational regulation--No Child Left Behind showed what irrational regulation can do to a system, whereas the current financial crisis shows what irrational deregulation can do to a system. The point is to have both tools in the pocket, and understand how they operate.

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