Left-leaning Washington Post opinion writer E.J. Dionne Jr. penned a column of note Sunday, "Libertarianism's Achilles' heel," which raises the question of why countries have not tried this model before.
The answer lies in a kind of circular logic: Libertarians can keep holding up their dream of perfection because, as a practical matter, it will never be tried in full. Even many who say they are libertarians reject the idea when it gets too close to home.
The strongest political support for a broad anti-statist libertarianism now comes from the tea party. Yet tea party members, as the polls show, are older than the country as a whole. They say they want to shrink government in a big way but are uneasy about embracing this concept when reducing Social Security and Medicare comes up. Thus do the proposals to cut these programs being pushed by Republicans in Congress exempt the current generation of recipients. There’s no way Republicans are going to attack their own base.
But this inconsistency (or hypocrisy) contains a truth: We had something close to a small-government libertarian utopia in the late 19th century and we decided it didn’t work. We realized that many Americans would never be able to save enough for retirement and, later, that most of them would be unable to afford health insurance when they were old. Smaller government meant that too many people were poor and that monopolies were formed too easily.
And when the Great Depression engulfed us, government was helpless, largely handcuffed by this anti-government ideology until Franklin D. Roosevelt came along.
Libertarian populists understand that government has made the problems of debt worse on a national level and an individual one. They understand that government’s approach to education has hurt as well, with nationalized student loans and an educational system which rewards cronies and punishes innovation. They overlap with many across the right in seeking an open educational system that delivers real equal opportunity to every American, regardless of color. Here, the libertarian populists break thoroughly from the soft civic-minded technocrats: they believe that the government school systems are deplorable, and effective education reform has to break out of that system in ways that will inevitably lead to upheaval. And they are right.Where the populist libertarians are less interested is in the immediate reform of Social Security and Medicare – but this is just a lesser priority for them, not something they reject entirely.