Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I am a pessimistic liberal

Over at The Corner, John Derbyshire repeats an argument I hear from time to time.
Liberalism is optimistic. It is a doctrine of progress and improvement. (Why do you think they call themselves “progressives”?)
I can't speak for others who call themselves liberal, but I think my liberalism has generally stemmed from a deep well of pessimism. Just to pluck out three examples...

• I think that over time, an un- or under-regulated market will accrue all or most of the rewards to the people who already have the most resources, generally squeezing workers who actually do much of the wealth creation in that market.

• I think that, without a government to step in and safeguard everybody's rights, majorities will generally stomp on the neck of minorities—be they racial, religious, or sexual minorities.

• I think that when we go to war abroad, lots of people whom we never think about get killed. That it generally costs more and lasts longer than we're promised.

So I favor regulated markets, the rule of law, and a dovish foreign policy. Not because—as conservatives allege—I expect government to create some kind of heaven on earth. I know that's not possible. But I think government can curb our worst tendencies and mitigate their results. I don't expect heaven, but I do think we can—and should—work to stay out of hell.


emawkc said...

I pretty much agree with your three premises, but if the last 30 or so years have shown us nothing else, it's that we've become too dependent upon and too trusting of our government to do the things you think it should.

We are "outsourcing" to a gigantic bureaucratic leviathan what we as individuals should be doing for ourselves. There are various reasons for this, but that's too much to go into in the space of a blog comment.

Joel said...

Sounds good, but how do we as individual citizens correct and protect against those market imbalances without a powerful government?

emawkc said...

I can't give you a solid plan as of yet, but I think it would start with addressing the root causes, taking a look an honest look at enforcing anti-trust laws already on the books as well as bureaucratic abuses that lead to cozy relationships between the regulators and the regulated, rather than just adding lay upon layer of ineffective regulation and bureaucracy.