the past few days, amid the millions screaming health-care slogans past each
others’ hunched, screen-lit shoulders, three voices have emerged in an
unusually thoughtful discussion about the debate’s broader questions.
How effective are free markets at accomplishing societal goals? If free markets are ineffective, are governments more
so? And what goals are we talking about, anyway? Arnold Kling
, a libertarian,
and Tyler Cowen
and Matthew Yglesias
, liberals of a progressive persuasion,
have been offering their thoughts on the subject.
Libertarians tend to find the tyranny of the free market
preferable to the tyranny of the government, and Kling is no exception; while
acknowledging the sub-optimal performance of markets, and that an economist who
could do better would “deserve a shot,” Kling notes that technocrats in general
“know far less than they think they know”--a reasonable point, given the testimony
of the recent financial crisis. “Markets fail,” Kling concludes: “Use markets.”
Tyler Cowen and Matthew Yglesias have responded with traditional American
liberal points about equity.
Here is the discussion as it has unfolded thus far:
August 6: Do Progressives Believe This?
Arnold Kling, Econlog libertarian,
attempts a five-tenet summary
of progressivism. “If as a Progressive," he writes, "you believe (1)-(3) [the
sub-optimal outcomes of markets and the superior performance of technocrats]
but think (4)[ceding authority to technocrats in many areas] sounds
totalitarian, then that is your dilemma, not mine.” He says he welcomes feedback.
August 7: What Is Progressivism?
Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution takes
Kling at his word, posting an eleven-point
perspective … on what progressives believe or perhaps should believe.” He
argues that Europe provides a tried-and-true “better way,” that the security
provided by progressivism actually allows for more individualism and freedom, and
that “limiting inequality will do more to check bad governance than will the
quixotic libertarian attempt to limit the size of government.” He ends by
wishing to see a progressive summarize libertarianism.
August 7: America!
Matthew Yglesias responds
to Cowen, noting that
not all American progressives are trying to make the U.S.
“like Europe.” The U.S.
does a lot of things better than Europe, he
argues, citing immigration policy and American diversity.
August 8: What Is Libertarianism?
Yglesias decides to attempt
summary of libertarianism, and comes up with some problems with progressive
internationalism along the way. On libertarianism, he delivers a thoughtfully
stinging one-liner: “There’s strong evidence to believe that people who
overestimate their own efficacy in life wind up doing better than those with
more accurate perceptions.”
August 9: Back to U.S.-Europe
Cowen makes an interesting point
non-progressive nature of many aspects of America—by
encouraging economic dynamism—helps Europe to
be as progressive as it is. That’s an argument for American capitalism that
both libertarians and progressives ought to feel slightly uncomfortable with,
yet in my view it is compelling.”
August 10: Progressivism—My Most Generous
Kling, “inspired by Tyler
Cowen,” decides to re-do
his progressivism post, calling progressives “the proud heirs to a tradition of experiments in public
policy that brought about significant social improvements” like abolition,
civil rights, women’s rights, and birth control. Still, he writes that “the
current progressive agenda” seems headed, in terms of probable immediate
success, more towards Prohibition than Civil Rights.
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
hhorn at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.