Like Jane Galt and a lot of others on the right side of the political spectrum, I’m not particularly happy with the way the Bush administration and the GOP have been acting of late. So, does that make me liberal? I doubt it, but let’s check.

Atrios, via Kevin Drum, has a list of items that the port side of the blogosphere apparently agrees would be good policy. Let’s see how I stack up.

Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration

I’m hardly an expert on bankruptcy law, so I don’t have a strong opinion on this one way or the other. I have the impression that the lending industry pushed for the new law pretty hard, but that doesn’t automatically make it rent-seeking. (That’s the way to bet, though.) I’d have to know the details of what the law would be replaced with. This isn’t an issue that would lead me to vote for or against a given candidate, so I guess it’s a wash as far as I’m concerned.

Repeal the estate tax repeal

No. The basic argument in support of taxing people is that it pays for the government services they consume. Once I’m dead, I’m not consuming any more services, so why should I have to pay for them? Moreover, estate taxes make it difficult for families to accumulate wealth over generations, and accumulating wealth is good.

More generally, I’ve noticed that the tax code seems to be structured not to soak the already-rich, but to prevent the upper-middle class from becoming rich. The income tax is easily avoidable by the extremely wealthy; they can invest their assets in ways that produce tax-free revenue streams (e.g. municipal bonds) and live off them. Upper-middle class folks don’t have the assets to do this and sustain their lifestyle. They get socked by the progressive income tax schedule, AMT and the phase-out of deductions. Similarly, the extremely wealthy can do things like set up trusts to reduce the impact of estate taxes, but the estates of the upper-middle aren’t big enough for that to be viable. So they get socked by the estate tax.

People don’t get rich by having their money taxed into the hands of government officials; they get rich by being able to keep the money they earn. This is true both for individuals and families across generations.

Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI

No, no, and hell no. Price controls are bad. They’re bad in the market for commodities, they’re bad in the market for real estate, they’yre bad in the market for services, and they’re (surprise) bad in the market for labor. I’m pretty sure Frederic Bastiat nailed this one somtime in the 1850’s; I can’t belive we’re still arguing about it now.

Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)

No. There is no such thing as a right to health care. The current health care regimen in the United States is clearly broken, but the way to fix it is with more freedom, not less.

Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation

In general, no.

Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there’s probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.

This is a mixed-bag. I definitely support first and second trimester abortions, and the morning-after pill. I also think Roe was badly-decided and should be overturned, as long as it’s overturned for the right reasons. Abortion probably should be a constitutionally-protected right, but I’m not convinced that it actually is, and trying to twist the Constitution into saying something it doesn’t opens the door to a whole raft of pernicious shenanigans.

The question of abstinence-only sex education is only an issue because of public schools. Expand vouchers, education choice tax credits, work towards long-term privatization of the schools, and let parents decide how they want their children educated.

Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code

Simplify, yes. Increase the progressivity, no.

Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.

The question here is what constitutes “religious discrimination”. I would agree that a program that specifically excludes secular organizations is a problem and should be halted. But a program that is open to both secular and religious organizations equally, but which the secular choose (for whatever reason) not to take advantage of, is not a problem. So, to take a specific example, a program of school vouchers that was legally restricted to parochial schools would be wrong. But a program of school vouchers that is open to both secular and sectarian schools is fine, even if the vast majority of currently-existing private schools are sectarian. If you want more such funding to flow to secular private schools, go and found some.

Similar logic applies to charity work. I don’t think the government should be funding religious or secular charities, but if it must do so it should do so in an ideologically-neutral manner. Discussions with liberals have lead me to conclude that this is not what they mean when they talk about religious discrimination.

Reduce corporate giveaways

Yes. (Although I can’t help echoing the snarky comment of another responder to this list asking whether universal health care would be considered a corporate giveaway.)

Actually, I’d go farther than ‘reduce’, all the way to ‘eliminate’. I support the full and complete separation of state and economics. While we’re at it, can we stop giving money away to non-corporate entities as well? Defunding the United Nations would be a good move, for example — I don’t see that they’re any more deserving of my tax dollars than Archer Daniels Midland or Northrop-Grumman.

Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan

No. Kill the Medicare drug plan. For that matter, kill Medicare.

Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.

Let’s talk about forcing companies to fully fund their retirement plan obligations as soon as the federal government is fully funding its retirement plan obligations. End the Social Security Ponzi scheme.

Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards “more decriminalization” of drugs, though the details complicated there too.

Here I can agree fully.

Paper ballots

I’m not wedded to paper ballots as such, but I think recent years have demonstrated an erosion in the quality of our voting system and a corresponding decline in public trust that needs to be corrected. We need a way for voters to verify that their vote was counted and counted correctly. We also need to clean up the voter rolls and keep them clean, and we need to ensure that the people who vote are actually entitled to do so. (I have to show photo ID when I buy beer; why don’t I have to do the same thing when I’m voting? What possible justification is there for treating the foundational process of our democracy more lightly than getting hammered on Saturday night?)

Given their almost hysterical opposition to things like photo ID voting requirements, I don’t think that the sort of comprehensive voting system cleanup I want to see is what liberals want. But I’d be happy to be wrong. Democracy only works when the side that loses is confident that their support was counted accurately and fairly.

Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obviously details matter.

This is too vague to assess objectively. If it means government-funded childcare, I’m out. Given how screwed up the public schools are, why would I want to let the government near my hypothetical child for several more hours a day?

Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.

No. Privatize Social Security.

Marriage rights for all, which includes “gay marriage” and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.

I’m torn here, but I think I come down against in the end.

Reviewing the above, out of 16 points I find only one point where I can agree completely (on drug legalization). There are a few other points where I can find partial agreement. Overall I’d say it comes to about 3/16, which would make me just under 19% liberal.

I wonder if there’s a similar set of ‘points of agreement’ on the starboard side?

6 Responses to “So, Am I A Liberal?”
  1. RnB says:

    Re: Marriage rights for all, which includes “gay marriage” and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.

    I’m torn here, but I think I come down against in the end.
    That seems to say you are against gay marriage, though your character suggests otherwise.

    Shouldn’t the government’s sole role in any human liason be enforcment of consensual contracts? I am not sure if that should even include its being the repository for land ownership, corporate identification and copyrights etc. It certainly is convenient to have the arbiter keep the records, but when they start to have a say in what citizen may or may not agree to it, isn’t that invasive? I emphasize the need for consent, and for the state as final arbiter for serious dispute… i.e. this is not a libertarian position.

  2. Luke Davis says:

    Good responses on the abortion and minimum-wage questions. It’s rare (and interesting) to hear someone want to overturn Roe v. Wade for its being a poor decision and a poorer precedent, rather than as a factor in the abortion debate. While the court didn’t rule Roe v. Wade through the 9th amendment, doesn’t that guarantee a whole slew of rights (those unenumerated in the first 8 amendments), possibly including abortion? Perhaps, though, the 10th amendment could be said to reserve to the state the power to ban abortions. Then there’s a real mess.

    The short of it is, abortion is a complicated issue. A lot more discussion and a lot less argument needs to go on.

  3. Kyle Haight says:

    The 9th amendment is the best bet for legitimately finding protection for abortion in the Constitution as presently written, but invoking it would require some way of determining what kinds of alleged rights are and are not covered by it. Someone who claimed that the 9th provided a right to, say, free health care, would in my opinion be wrong. But what’s the basis for saying that the health care advocate is wrong but the abortion-rights advocate is right?

    I’m not a lawyer or constitutional scholar, but I do have some sympathy for the view that laws that were widespread and uncontroversial at the time the Bill of Rights was ratified should not be viewed as in conflict with it, barring explicit subsequent amendments to the contrary. Since laws banning or restricting abortion were (I believe) widespread and uncontroversial at the time, I don’t think a 9th amendment argument for abortion rights should fly.

    That’s a pity. As I said, I think abortion is a right that the Constitution *should* protect. But the Constitution is not perfect, and there are many individual rights that it doesn’t clearly restrict the government from violating. (E.g. I think economic activity should also be a constitutionally protected right, but it pretty clearly isn’t either. Those are the breaks.)

    The question then becomes, if there is a right that the government is intruding on, and the Constitution doesn’t bar it from doing so, how should people respond? There’s an amendment process, which should be used if there is sufficient public support. If there isn’t, devolving the issue to the state level is probably the next-best solution. It’ll reduce the tension and provide a better context for continued education and debate.

  4. Apophenia Pareidola says:

    Looking through your issue positions, I would agree with all of them, except SocSec privatization…I was actually expecting someone more knee-jerk conservative when I landed here.

    I would call you a “true liberal”. It would take me too long to explain here, but it’s the non-knee-jerk liberals, many of whom – as I have myself – changed their positions on various matters (such as gun control) and also tend to not get hung up on things like hate speech, sexist language, etc. but do stand against hate crime, which is essentially terrorism. Maybe “libertarian” fits you, but “libertarian” seems to mean something different to everyone.

    Being called a liberal is no dishonor. It means “of or pertaining to freedom”. I used to get hassled by neocon sympathizers who would call me a liberal like it was a four-letter word. I’d ask them how they felt about freedom. Naturally, they’d say – loudly – that they supported freedom…so when I pulled out a dictionary and showed them what “liberal” actually means, it usually made for either a stream of invectives or a quick sudden need to leave without response. (I haven’t gotten much of that talk in the past year at all…there does seem to have been a noticeable “sea change”, but its tides just go up and down and that never changes.)

    The gay-marriage thing is a red herring.I find myself boggled by why gay marriage is a big deal; obviously, it’s been turned into an issue by fanatical Christians who look to Leviticus for their laws. But what my liberal pro-gay-marriage friends don’t seem to get is that state-sponsored marriage is loaded with financially-related complications, not religious ones. MY solution is to allow anyone to get married, but they only receive the tax breaks and whatnot if they’re PARENTS. Married people with children need benefits, those without them don’t. Simple.

    Social security privatization – like communism – is one of those things that can be made to sound good on paper with the right rhetoric and dickering with statistics, but in reality turns out to be massively problematic. The big trouble is we’ve already gone from democracy to corporatism. Corporations – much huger companies than they were 20 or 30 years back DO already own a huge amount of the government (we’re even going to start having their ads on our postage stamps soon…highways are being sold off to them…public park land, etc.) Megacorporations (multibillionaire corps) and also the giant holding-companies, metacorporations, (like Goldman Sachs) who essentially manage and act as investment bankers for these huge corporations, have – for the most part – not proven themselves to be above abusing the power such enormous wealth has given them.

    So I just don’t have any reason to trust privatization. The thing is, I don’t trust the government – ESPECIALLY the clinically insane crew running things now – any more. They’re all in bed together anyway, who can tell government and the corporati apart any more?

  5. Kyle Haight says:

    The term “liberal” has had multiple meanings over time. Back in the 1700s and 1800s, “liberal” had the meaning you ascribe to it — liberals were people who supported freedom, standing in opposition to doctrines of absolute government authority that were prevalent at the time. The institutions the conservatives of the time were trying to conserve were monarchist and aristocratic. I refer to people who are liberal in this sense as “classical liberals”, and it is an honorable position to hold.

    Sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, a new breed of liberals emerged, who advocated a much more extensive government that would provide an economic security net and regulate the economy via central planning. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society are archetypal examples of this type of liberalism. These people, who I call “modern liberals”, were still patriotic Americans — they just had a new vision of a way to make America better. They thought that by using the government to transfer wealth from one group to another and regulate economic activity, they could make people more free. I can respect the motivations there, but I think the actual policies reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what freedom is. As a result, their programs by and large don’t work. Great Society-style welfare programs wind up breeding dependency and a vicious cycle of poverty, for example. Government intervention in the economy leads to corporate rent-seeking, special-interest warfare and corruption. Race preference policies breed racial disharmony and identity group politics. The high taxes required to fund these social programs depress economic growth. Etc. The conservatives who opposed the modern liberals were trying to preserve classical liberal institutions.

    In the last 20 years or so, yet another kind of liberal has emerged — one that isn’t really liberal at all, in that they don’t really seem to care that much about freedom. I call them “post-modern liberals”, or “leftists”. More recently they seem to refer to themselves as “progressives”. These people are flat-out anti-American. They talk about the flag as a symbol of jingoistic oppression and describe the United States as the greatest threat to global peace. They’re hostile to basic political freedoms like freedom of speech, which lie at the core of liberalism traditionally understood. Contemporary conservatives are largely trying to preserve the modern liberal institutions that date back to the New Deal. (Reagan and Gingrich were both big fans of FDR, for example.)

    As I said, I don’t consider contemporary leftists to be liberals at all, and I try not to describe them as such. They don’t deserve the honor. Most conservatives, sadly, don’t draw the kind of distinctions I drew above. They’re often ignorant of classical liberalism, and don’t distinguish between the bad policies propagated by modern liberals and the utter moral bankruptcy of the contemporary leftists.

    I wouldn’t generally describe myself as a “libertarian”, because it means something very specific and negative inside the context of the Objectivist movement. The exact nature of the dispute would likely be uninteresting to a non-Objectivist; suffice it to say that libertarians tend to jump directly to ineffective political activism in the absence of the required foundations.

    Moving on to specific topics… I can see some attraction to your marriage policy, but there are still some issues. Tax law provides for special rules of inheritance between spouses, for example, and it isn’t clear to me why my wife should get whacked with extra death tax simply because we don’t yet have children. I’d like to try to get the government wholly out of the business of marriage, but sadly that policy alternative doesn’t seem to be on the table right now.

    As for Social Security privatization — I think the fundamental argument for it is moral. It’s my retirement, my life, and I should be in control of how to provide for it. Even doing something minimal like taking my SS tax payments and investing them in a Dow Jones index fund would produce better returns than I’m expecting from Social Security. Instead, we have a bunch of government weasels taking my retirement funds by force and spending them on pork-barrel projects to get themselves reelected, while loudly claiming that they’re doing it for my own benefit. (If I sound angry here, it’s because I am.)

    Privatization poses risks. The greatest danger is that the government will not cede control over where the ‘privatized’ funds may be invested, either directing them to politically-favored investment firms or imposing politically-motivated restrictions on the sort of things the funds may be invested in. (I could easily imagine a ban on investing social security funds in tobacco companies, for example. And just wait until the Israel divestment crowd puts in its two cents.) The thing to note here is that this is not a risk posed by making people more free to control their own retirement; it’s a risk posed by not making people *free enough* to control their own retirement.

    The government has more than adequately demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to provide for my retirement. Comparing the expected returns of my 401k with the expected returns of Social Security tells me most of what I need to know. If the government would just let me take the contents of the FICA withholding on my paycheck and pay them into my 401k instead, I’d be happy.

    You are right that corporations and government are intertwined in damaging and incestuous ways. Fundamentally, though, I think the reason for this is that the government (as a result of the programs of the modern liberals) has make itself a critical player in the nation’s economic life. When a large group of men with guns requires that you satisfy their arbitrary decrees as a condition of economic success, you will naturally expend a lot of effort on influencing their views and policies. You may even discover some upsides to doing so — it’s a lot easier to sic the men with guns on a competitor than it is to come up with a better product to beat them in the marketplace. The former just needs a lobbying firm on Capitol Hill and some campaign contributions to the right people; the latter sounds a lot like actual work, and who wants to do that?

    The solution, as I think I mentioned in the original post, would be a return to the separation of state and economics.

  6. Luke Davis says:

    I describe my present philosophical position as semi-Objectivist.

    What is that, you ask? Well, I’d probably do Ayn Rand, but I wouldn’t rape her.

    Point being, I understand where you’re coming from with the separation of government and economics. I agree. But perhaps that’s not enough separation.

    I really like the distinctions in liberalism (and, consequently, conservatism) that you draw (though you did leave out the latest breed of conservatism, dubbed “neo-conservatism” by the left, which I take to be a sort of radical, modern-liberal-esque imperialism. By which I mean, it favors large government, lots of social programs, and the spread of democracy by force of arms). You mention classical liberalism, and that reminds me of Thomas Paine, who, in the first section of Common Sense explains the distinction between society and government. A serious application of this idea is, effectively, what you seem to desire (given what your stances on gay marriage, economics, health care, government social programs, and states’s rights appear to be).

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