That’s what Michael Lind is saying now.
You see, we’re not “experimental” like he is. He’s willing to try out lots of things: freedom, semi-freedom, and full-on coercion. And we keep sticking to our whole freedom thing, and our view that the same moral code ought to govern all individuals, whether they belong to that mystical thing called “the state” or not.
Here’s a passage from Lind’s latest:
And what exactly does the libertarian movement contribute to contemporary American debate? Here are a few of the ideas that the rest of us, from center-left to center-right, are supposed to treat with respectful attention: calls for a return to the gold standard; the abolition of the Federal Reserve; the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service; and the replacement of all taxes by a single regressive flat tax that would fall on low-income workers while slashing taxation of the rich.
My critic in The Economist, Will Wilkinson, writes:
“The ideal of anti-theoretical experimentalism leads me to a preference for policies that promote the sort of cosmopolitan pluralism in which cultural synthesis and invention thrives. It leads me to favour decentralised authority over monumental central administration. It leads me to suspect that it would be better if America were twelve separate countries, or had 200 states. It leads me to think seasteads are a great idea.”
Ron Paul, who merely wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, looks like a boring centrist, compared to Will Wilkinson, who thinks it might be worthwhile to abolish the United States, subdividing it into a dozen separate countries. (My Southern ancestors who supported the Confederacy would have been satisfied with two).
(Will Wilkinson, in turn, looks like a boring centrist compared to me, but I’ll leave Wilkinson out of this.)
So let’s review the positions that are just too juvenile and unreasonable for us to ask others to entertain. According to Lind:
(1) We can’t return to the gold standard. It is vastly preferable for money creation to be untethered to anything but political will. There is no chance such a system will undermine money’s purchasing power, interfere with economic calculation, cause resource misallocation, be used to bail out influential firms, etc. Also, the creation of money can lift us out of recessions — which, in turn, are of course not caused by misallocations or entrepreneurial errors brought on by the fiat money itself.
(2) We can’t abolish the Federal Reserve. Why, we need the experts in charge of the money supply! Sure, they gave us the Great Depression, the stagflation of the 1970s, and the current disaster, but nobody’s perfect! We need monopoly provision of the medium of exchange, and we need government-granted privileges for the Fed as the supplier of that medium of exchange. The Fed has been super-awesome: it’s given us fewer and shallower recessions than we had before!
(3) We can’t abolish the Internal Revenue Service. That’s right: it’s unthinkable for us to live the way the vast majority of mankind lived for 99 percent of its history, and how Americans lived a mere 100 years ago. It is essential that the federal government be able to decide what percentage of the fruits of people’s labor they are allowed to keep, and what percentage will be seized by means of threats of violence. Libertarians are childish and moronic to think civilization could survive without institutionalized expropriation.
(4) We can’t substitute the current income tax with a flat tax. On this, libertarians agree. There’s little point in substituting one kind of institutionalized expropriation for another.
(5) The United States cannot be one square inch smaller than it is now. It is inconceivable to imagine the division of the United States into 12 or more political units. The United States as it exists today occupies the precise, heaven-sent amount of square mileage — namely, three million, seven hundred ninety-four thousand, one hundred — that God and destiny demand she hold.
The U.S. is not a practical arrangement to be evaluated according to objective criteria. It is a mystical, self-justifying entity. It is metaphysically impossible that it should ever grow so large as to be dysfunctional. Other countries may split into smaller units by mutual consent, but being the awesomest of the awesome, our political unit is not subject to such considerations. We are to treat it with reverence and devotion.
(By the way, there is absolutely nothing cultish about treating a political unit as sacred and inviolable. It’s only the libertarians who are cultish.)
Now sure, if the U.S. were 12 units, maybe all 12 wouldn’t be the basket cases that our giant fiefdom now is, and probably not all 12 would have engaged in the idiotic, impoverishing foreign policy of the past century, which has yielded the American public nothing but grief. But I have forgotten myself, citizen! I am speaking of the United States as if her dismemberment were conceivable! Those libertarians have driven me to the very edge of blasphemy.
OK, back to Woods again. I realize Michael Lind is a Serious Person whose time must be spent contemplating various ways in which he might experiment on the American public, but I think he is perhaps too dismissive of views that happen to fall outside the 3×5 card of approved opinion from which he insists we draw our views.
(1) A return to the gold standard is still a statist solution, but it’s better than nothing, and eminently defensible.
What about all those panics we had under the gold standard? See my resource page: Economic Cycles Before the Fed.
But there isn’t enough gold! Gold causes deflation! For replies to the standard objections, see my resource page: An Introduction to Sound Money.
(2) The abolition of the Fed would be a major economic step forward. For a reply to the customary pro-Fed claims, see my Can We Live Without the Fed?
(3) and (4). Yes, we can live without institutionalized expropriation. E.J. Dionne, in his effort to help out Lind, listed a whole bunch of things we need government intervention for: why, we’d have poverty, monopolies, no stimulus to help us through recessions, etc. I answered him here. And yes, there is a moral point as well:
(5) Why are decentralization and secession unthinkable? Lind’s religious reverence for the present size and makeup of the United States, which is a mere human contrivance, is a little creepy. The twentieth century showed us what nationalism and megastates can do, and it wasn’t all fun and games.