Sunday, March 11, 2007

Incremental or Extreme?

I'd like to broaden the discussion Gregor brought to mind in the comments on the previous post regarding my support to Indiana Midwives and their attempt to become licensed in order to legalize their practices.

It may seem plenty paradoxical to see me call for licensure after campaigning for two years to cut back on all manner of government intrusion into business affairs. I agree. It took me a little while to get on board with lobbying on their behalf. It does indeed represent an expansion of government, should they get what they want.

So here I am, a person who believes laissez faire capitalism the best system for the pursuit of happiness, lobbying the state legislature for the passage of a bill that involves a licensure. It does leave me shaking my head in wonder at times.

But it occurred to me that it is a similar approach that other strident libertarians take on a host of generally controversial issues. Here are two:

Many who support the absolute decriminalization of drugs are in favor of the incremental approach of regulating the sale of marijuana in the manner that the sale of alcohol is regulated. The belief is that the best opportunity to get towards an unregulated legal market is via getting the product legalized under regulation, which most American accept gladly for alcohol. Plus, regulated legalization would have the effect of reducing the myriad expenses associated with the drug war.

Many who support absolute property rights where very happy to support laws in many states that mitigated the state's ability to take private property and give it away to another private property developer in the name of economic development. This certainly didn't ban the practice outright in many of the states, as in Indiana, but at least made it a more difficult proposition for the state, and goes some route towards improving the safeguards on private property.

I do take the incrementalist approach. I believe that the average American is positively frightened by absolute freedom because it means absolute responsibility, and when strident libertarians enunciate the position, it drives too many to the other side. It's not that I do not see value in enunciating the ultimate ideals. I certainly enjoy them myself. The thing is, we already got me. We need to get more of the others.

I know this- on the campaign trail, I had more people single out the absolutist Libertarian position on the legalization of drugs as the Number One reason they would not vote for me, even though the office I was running for had nothing to do with drug policy; even though they would as quickly say, "I agree with 98% of what you guys are about". I would ask if they agreed with 99% of what the other parties were about. They would say no, but undaunted, they would vote for a party they didn't believe in even 50% of the time rather than have a laissez faire market for marijuana. So, the incrementalists make a point.

I also take stock in the US Congressional Democrats, who really saw their agenda advanced tremendously during a time when Republicans had majorities in both the US House and Senate, and had the White House. The Democrats didn't take their gains by making extreme calls for outright socialism (even though I believe that is the ultimate goal of many Democrats). They did it by stepping one step to the left of any proposal to grow government made by Republicans. It was skillful negotiation.

I'll never forget President Bush announcing his enormous Medicare prescription drug giveaway. It was the biggest social program ever proposed, and there was Ted Kennedy (in particular) leading the charge in calling the proposal cheap, and a scam on the poor. Of course, it was nothing of the kind, but just one step to the left, the law passed and expanded the original proposal before it was done.

Now, I grant you, we don't have the same luxury the Democrats had. I mean, the Republicans weren't talking about cutting anything in government, so we couldn't very well take any of their proposals and stand just one step to the right, saying that, say, the lowering of a tax rate was too slight and a scam on the people. The Republicans were just busy growing government at every turn.

The point is, there is a model of success to work from. Democrats aren't quoting Karl Marx, but darned if they aren't moving us closer to him all the time.

Maybe if we enunciate free market positions on popular issues moderately, we will see things start to pull our way.

Incremental is slow, to be sure. Being absolutist has left the Libertarian Party a fringe party in the wilderness. Yes, you can point to the Cato Institute, which has been fairly absolute in their approach to capitalism, in gaining their adherents, but remember that Cato hasn't been elected to anything either.

1 comment:

gRegor said...

Good post.

I recognize and even gladly accept incrementalism on most things. I'd be really glad to see drugs get to where alcohol is today, that would be a great improvement, and I do see some good with your aim the licensing of midwives.

I don't know, I'm divided.

While my views could very well be labeled (by the general public not familiar with the ideas) as "extremism", I'm more interested in trying to logically and gently challenge people's core assumptions. I'm reading Mary Ruwart's "Healing our World" currently and her ideas are "extreme", but she builds an easy-to-understand and strong case for "respecting our neighbor's chooices" and how that results in a better life for everyone. Good book so far, I recommend it.

*ramble ramble*