Ralph Nader

Limited Government Socialism

In a recent Vox post, Will Wilkinson argues that welfare states allow economic freedom. He makes the point that Scandinavian countries and Canada had more economic freedom than United States according to several rankingsdespite having a somewhat robust welfare state. For years in American politics mainly Republicans but often some neoliberal Democrats and even the most corporatist wing of the Libertarian Party have argued for trickle down economics in which they cut social programs while cutting taxes for the rich. Since Reagan, these have been portrayed as some sort of free market solution. Since the rich already receive generous handouts in the form of corporate welfare these policies are hardly libertarian.

What Wilkinson is proposing is some sort of limited government liberalism in line of liberaltarian ideas. He argues that a state should provide a basic safety net and social services but allow a truly free market. Even some right-leaning libertarians like Ron Paul have expressed surprise about how often Republicans want to cut social programs but enlarge the military budget (Wilkinson is also a critic of militarism and said if we want cut spending it should be military spending).

Wilkinson is right, he understands that undermining social programs and the safety net allow the rise of populists like Trump, who if victorious would make the economic problems of the country bigger. But I don’t think there is constituency for what Wilkinson is arguing (at least among average liberals), most of centrists in American and global politics are neoliberals not libertarians they would like to continue with corporatism in a disguise of being in favor of the free market.

What happened in Scandinavia is curious because social democratic governments recognize the failure of central planning and allow some economic liberalization that promoted economic growth and generate a prosperous society. But they are hardly libertarians. That the Scandinavian model is successful because these countries are ethnically homogenous is a very racist argument. Yes, the Scandinavian countries have large white majority, but they had accepted large amount of humanitarian refugees from Africa and Middle East, so they are more diverse than Poland or Hungary, both countries with serious economic problems despite being more homogenous. The big reason the Scandinavian model can’t be put in place in other countries is that they are still small countries that are easier to manage. I can’t imagine a Scandinavian model working in larger states like United States, China or India.

But there is still something that could work. I’m a left-libertarian closer to anarchism that to minarchism but I would like present a minimal program who could require being involve in electoral politics. My proposal is limited government socialism. I know the term sounds funny but it was inspired when I listen Ralph Nader in an interview at the Cato Institute saying he was willing to cut 50 percent of Washington spending, you never hear that from a DLC type Democrat.

I think it shouldn’t be a surprise the American left is broader than just liberals, for example the New Left was widely decentralist and to some extend their influence continues even today. John O. Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee who described himself as a fiscally conservative socialist is one example. I think this model is better than the Big Government Libertarianism proposed by Wilkinson. My difference with Norquist was that his expertise was urban planning. I support something close to the Carl Oglesby style of libertarianism. Oglesby the former president of the SDS knew that among liberalism there is an imperialist strain that talks in language of the left: human rights and democracy. But he knew that good intentions could end up in mass murder. On the other hand Oglesby used to think that his particular style of populist libertarianism (not to mistake with libertarian populism) could appeal to both left and right. On the left there was a call to decentralization and on the right the concept of a truly limited government.

So in doing that, the state should be reduced to a few public services like education, healthcare, security and infrastructure while offering a Universal Basic Income. Stop privatizing things and allow a truly free market arrive. The state shouldn’t have public companies but enforce a strong property rights protection against pollution could be good for the ecology. The state shouldn’t recognize patents because they are government granted privilege and that would lower the cost of medicines and software. End the War on Drugs. Erase zoning codes. Eliminate mandatory occupational licenses. Repeal the Patriot Act. Close the military bases abroad.

Someone could ask what about the social issues. As someone could guess I and the majority of socialists are pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-discrimination and in favor of a more free immigration system. Though I don’t think that an adherent of limited government socialism makes you a SJW — quite the contrary, Karl Hess of all people used to argue that radical left should seek an alliance with religious conservatives because if they honest about their beliefs their main allegiance is to God not the state. Women’s rights are the reason some believe the left-right libertarian alliance of the 60s fell apart, but I think the respect of different opinions should be fundamental.  On gay rights, I think respecting religious liberty should be fundamental. If communities do not want to accept immigrants they shouldn’t be forced to do, in the case of America it should try avoid get into conflicts that generate refugees. On discrimination, I think affirmative action is a lame government response to the problems affecting minority communities, my belief is that less intrusive welfare programs could generate an economic boom in these communities and as result social transformation, then I think affirmative action would no longer be needed.

Even a right-wing populist libertarian like Ron Paul says the word capitalism shouldn’t be defended, that the goal libertarians should be promote free markets along the board. I agree, I’m a socialist not because I’m a fan of the Che Guevara or Fidel Castro but because I’m a fan Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas. I think early American socialists were right about what American foreign policy would do to America: make it less free. To be fair, I consider myself a libertarian in the Karl Hess way, so libertarianism, anarchism and socialism are synonyms for a decentralist kind of politics, but like Hess I admit there are conservative elements in my own politics, that’s why I admire people like Bill Kauffman.

My plan is far from perfect but I think it’s better than what social democrats and even some left-wing revolutionary parties do when they reach power. That is: to get along with the oligarchy and enact a few reforms while not promoting true social change. Just to be clear, I think limited government socialism will still be part of libertarianism because I think it is still compatible with the ideal of creating a free society. I would even add that it’s not incompatible with the non-aggression principle, even if I know that anarchists would disagree. On anarchism, despite of my personal sympathies for the Zapatistas and the Kurds, I don’t think that the majority of nation states are moving in that direction but if I’m wrong I would be happy, this model is just one model inspired by my peculiar politics that are in the middle of Ron Paul and Ralph Nader.

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