The Seattle Times: libertarian in the best and worst ways

Ever notice that people  are mixed?  I mean: parts of them are really good and laudable, but other parts are difficult to deal with or downright harmful.  People can be kind to their children and pets but mean to their spouses, employees, coworkers, or fellow citizens. Or they can donate to charity but cheat on their taxes and partners.  They can pray to God and wage wars of imperialism.

Well, institutions too can be mixed. A case in point is the Seattle Times.

I never buy the Seattle Times newspaper, because of the editorial board’s shameful and relentless opposition to I-1098 (income tax on the top 1%) and their support for Tim Eyman’s cruel I-1053. But the other day I read the paper on the bus and saw two items on the Opinion page: an editorial calling on the US to leave Afghanistan and an attack piece on Dennis Kucinich.

The piece on Dennis Kucinich, Dennis Kucinich, D-Carpetbagger, written by Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter, ridicules Kucinich in childish and derogatory ways. It teases him for being a “UFO enthusiast” and “a fringe liberal sporting a carpetbagger label.”

Kucinich came to Washington for May Day, generated a ton of please-go-away press, but returned a week or so ago, patronizing and clueless as that might seem.

Unfortunately, state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz is also opposed to Kucinich running for office here: “The idea of a sitting elected official from one state running for office in a different state, I think is incredibly unique and fundamentally offensive.”

The editorial, U.S. military role is broken — and broke — in Afghanistan, describes the cruelty and wastefulness of the conflict and calls for “an end to a war the U.S. flatly cannot afford, and can no longer define.” The editorial goes on to criticize Republicans:  “Giddy, brazen Republican deficit hawks somehow manage to avert their eyes from the cost of war, including the Afghan conflict running at $10 billion a month… These numbers and the reluctance to confront them in Congress goes to the corporate heart of war as big business. If the GOP wants to take on government spending — including discretionary spending — look at lucrative military contracting and support for huge shadow armies.” (Alas, it seems Republicans are more interested in budget-busting tax cuts and in aiding military contractors than in reducing the deficit.)


The Seattle Times’ editorial board has been pretty consistently anti-war, and on social issues they’re liberal.   But on issues involving spending and taxation, they’re consistently conservative. That is, they’re classic libertarians:  they want maximum economic freedom (low taxes, small government, minimal government services and regulations) and maximum social freedom (they’re tolerant towards gays, guns, drugs,  religions/no-religions, and free speech).

This chart expresses the spectrum of political views along two dimensions.

The Political Spectrum
The Political Spectrum (modified version of the Nolan chart)

(I created this image by tweaking the Nolan chart which you can find at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_spectrum. I disagree with the characterization of “Populist” as being synonymous with “Totalitarian.”)

As you can see, libertarians want maximum freedom along the two dimensions of the chart: economic and social. An extreme libertarian would be an anarchist.  Most libertarians believe that government should be small but should provide police and criminal justice protections of private property and civil liberties.  Most libertarians are anti-war and generally isolationist.

Left-wing liberals (progressives) believe in social freedom but also believe that government can and should provide various services and protections.  (The word “liberal” is actually quite ambiguous; libertarians used to call themselves “liberal.’)    An extreme left-wing liberal would want some form of enlightened socialist or communist state, with no private property: high taxes and communal ownership and management of many industries and markets.  The vast majority of self-styled liberals/progressives in America are not extreme: they want a European-style mixed economy of private ownership with government services and protections.

Most Republicans live in the bottom right corner of the chart: they want low taxes and minimal government services, but they also want a lot of restrictive laws about sexuality, religion, and recreational drugs.  There are libertarian Republicans — and ample use of libertarian rhetoric among Republicans — but Republicans have allied themselves with both religious conservatives (who want to restrict social freedoms) and with neoconservatives (who, like Fascists, believe in militarism and imperialism).

In fact, most Republican in national office want minimal government services for the poor and middle class but  maximal government services and handouts for the corporations and the rich.  And they also want military imperialism.  So their talk of minimal government along the economic dimension is rather disingenuous.

In the bottom left of the chart  live fascists and totalitarians, who want Big Government management of both economic and social existence. In addition, fascists are generally into militarism and imperialism.

When government allies itself with corrupt private corporations (e.g., Big Oil and military contractors) then those corporations monopolize power and markets and infringe on economic freedom. They wage wars of aggression, to steal resources and enrich military contractors.   What good is economic freedom when private corporations and rich people accumulate power and wealth to such an extent that people are oppressed?   You can have an oligarchy in which private interests oppress the people, as well as a dictatorship by the political elite.     Libertarians believe that unfettered capitalism will somehow lead to maximal freedom along both dimensions.  But the invisible hand  of the market doesn’t always lead to benign outcomes, since it needs to be balanced by laws and regulations that prevent accumulation of wealth. Furthermore, there are many “public goods” (such as public health initiatives, scientific research, education, campaign financing, conservation, publicly funded journalism, and regulations) that only government can provide.   In short, without government, a modern economy can not function and will devolve into anarchy or concentrated power among the few.  (Witness how government had to come to the rescue to prevent a depression in 2008. ) There’s no magic way to make political and economic systems work.  You need a mixture of top-down and bottom-up control.

In fact there’s a third dimension that’s missing from the Nolan chart:  economic justice.  This I’ll describe in a future article.


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