What’s So Libertarian About A Basic Income?

I think McMegan and I will be able to agree on something:

As libertarians go, I’m close-ish to a “left libertarian”; among other things, I think there’s a role for government in guaranteeing a decent life for the needy, and intervening to right environmental problems that stem from unpriced negative externalities.
So what’s different from liberalism? To the extent that the problems of the poor are inadequate money, I think that we should solve this problem by . . . giving them money. Not giving them food, shelter, or health care; just giving them money, and letting them decide what they want to buy. If they want to eat cornmeal mush for a month while watching cable television, let ’em. I think the government’s job is to make sure people have the ingredients of a decent life, not to tell them what that decent life is.

It seems that she’s hinting at replacing most of the welfare state (Social Security, food stamps, housing vouchers) with a basic income; she’s endorsed a negative income tax before, which effectively creates a basic income, so I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. And, as loyal blog readers know, I’m completely on board with implementing a basic income. Come to think of it, I’m a big fan of Megan’s previously proposed health care plan, which would provide very generous catastrophic coverage and pay for all health expenditures of people under 200% of the poverty line.
My question, then, would be, “What so libertarian about this?” Funding Megan’s health plan and a meaningful basic income would cost a considerable amount of money; even if we got rid of Social Security, welfare, and all existing government health care programs in the process, we’d probably end up with a budget equivalent to or slightly larger than what we have today. I’d be fine with that, but I doubt most libertarians (or, for that matter, Megan) would be. I think Megan’s answer, that no specific spending is encouraged, isn’t enough; believing in limited government means more than saying that government should tax the hell out of you and then let you spend the benefits however you like, it means believing we should limit spending and taxation period. Sure, if this is what mainstream libertarians believe, then mark me down as a libertarian. But I really think it’s closer to mainstream liberalism than to mainstream libertarianism.

The Case for Cohen

Obviously, Will Safire’s running mate predictions (Clinton-Emanuel? Obama-Feinstein? Feinstein’s endorsed Hillary!) are completely wrong and more or less useless. That being said, this is as good a time as any to suggest William Cohen as the perfect running mate for Obama. He’s a liberal Republican, which supports the themes of national unity and bipartisanship which drive the Obama campaign. He was in the Senate for eighteen years and the House for six, which would help Obama to counter the inexperience critique. And he was SecDef for four years, giving Obama credibility on national security issues. Sure, he doesn’t provide regional balance the way, say, Mark Warner would, but he would help the ticket – and an Obama administration – more than any other possible candidate.

Dictatorship’s “Lullaby”

Read the following section of Robert Kagan’s latest column and try not to be terrified:

During the slavery controversy of the 1850s, Northerners who opposed confronting the South argued for letting nature take its course. Slavery was doomed, they argued, because it could not spread where the climate was inhospitable to cotton and because the atavistic slave system would inevitably be overtaken by industrialization
Abraham Lincoln called these “lullaby” arguments. He agreed that slavery could not compete in the long run, but he feared slaveholders could adapt for a time and even thrive. Slavery had seemed doomed in the 1790s, too, until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and then it had boomed. The Industrial Revolution could produce new ways to make slavery profitable. It would take the will of men, not nature, to bring down this horrific human invention.
This old debate ought to sound familiar, for we have been having it again over the surprising resilience of autocracy in China, Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere. It wasn’t supposed to be this resilient. After the Cold War, many insisted that in a globalized economy, nations had to liberalize to compete and that economic liberalization would produce political liberalization. As national economies approached a certain level of per capita income, growing middle classes would demand legal and political power, which in turn would provide the basis for democracy. Some pundits pointed to the desirability of “liberal autocracy” — the dictator who could steer his nation through the necessary stages of development until stable democracy could take hold.

It’s worth noting that Lincoln eventually ended slavery by, you know, invading the South. It would be nice to think that Kagan is only using the analogy to compare supporters of economic integration to slavery apologists; I certainly wouldn’t put such demagoguery beyond him. But on the other hand, when Bill Kristol can casually suggest military action against Burma and Norman Podhoretz is backing a four-state invasion tour of the Middle East, it’s easy to imagine that Kagan actually wants military action against China, Russia, and Venezuela.
As for the actual substance of whether economic growth leads inexorably to democracy, I don’t think there’s a strict causal relationship. It’s true that the richest nations, especially per capita, are far more likely to be democratic than not, but that’s not enough to base a theory of democratization upon. What I do think is relevant is the work of Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi, who have found that a nation’s GDP per capita seems to determine the stability of a democratic transition. There seems to be a tipping point of $6,000; if the nation’s GDP per capita is above that, the democratic system will last indefinitely. Between $4,000 and $6,000, the average duration is a hundred years; between $1,000 and $4,000, it’s 33 years; and under $1,000, just 8.2 years. So while it’s important to pressure dictatorships for enough liberalization to allow a democratic revolution to take place, it’s also important to support their economic growth to ensure that such a revolution sticks.

Roe and Federalism

George Will has been so surprisingly critical of Bush in recent years that it’s easy to forget that he can be as intellectually dishonest as the rest of the conservative commentariat. Case in point:

Many, perhaps most, Americans, foggy about the workings of their government, think that overturning Roe would make abortion, one of the nation’s most common surgical procedures, illegal everywhere. All it actually would do is restore abortion as a practice subject to state regulation.

As Scott Lemieux has argued many times, the federalism argument against Roe is bunk. When Congress can pass a blanket prohibition of an abortion procedure and get it upheld by the SCOTUS, it’s disingenuous to say that eliminating Roe would turn the issue over to the states. States would be allowed to regulate it in whatever way they see fit, yes, but so would Congress. That’s a risk that I, and I suspect the majority of the country, am unwilling to take.

Why the Israel-Palestine Debate Sucks in ’07

Matt Yglesias, responding to Sarah Stern’s assertion that pre-1967 Israeli borders would be impossible to defend, digs in:

Okay, but given that the ’49 armistice was the result of an actual war, the lines can’t have been all that indefensible. What’s more, the lines were successfully defending in 1967. And Israel’s conventional military superiority vis-a-vis its neighbors has grown larger. And now Israel has nuclear weapons! What’s more, Israel now has peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. If non-nuclear Israel could defend the ’67 borders against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria combined surely it can defend them now against Syria alone with the help of its nuclear weapons.

I wonder what Stern’s counter-proposal would be. Basically every left-leaning and moderate observer supports a two-state solution, with Israel having roughly pre-1967 borders and some compromise on settlements and right-of-return. People like Stern, Marty Peretz, etc. all critique this ad nauseum, but never say what they want to happen. Do they, like Daniel Pipes, just want the Palestinians to leave (voluntarily, of course)? Do they support Avigor Lieberman’s overtly racist Arab-Israeli expulsion plan? Because as it stands, with one side having a very clear stated position and the other responding with incoherent critiques and no real alternatives, there isn’t any possibility for a real argument.