Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ed Glaeser on "Libertarian Progressivism"

Is it possible to be in favor of small-government and be pro-egalitarian at the same time? Ed Glaeser thinks so:
"The supposedly more progressive side wants the stimulus package to take the form of government spending, while their opponents want bigger tax cuts for businesses and more prosperous Americans.

The missing movement, small-government egalitarianism, would favor tax cuts, but only if they were aimed at ordinary Americans.

Libertarian progressivism distrusts big increases in government spending because that spending is likely to favor the privileged. Was the Interstate highway system such a boon for the urban poor? Has rebuilding New Orleans done much for the displaced and disadvantaged of that city? Small-government egalitarianism suggests that direct transfers of federal money to the less fortunate offer a surer path toward a fairer America."
I struggle to reconcile the libertarian and big-government/egalitarian sides of my brain, so I find Glaeser's argument appealing. While the public works projects favored by many liberals may very well stimulate the economy, they aren't necessarily egalitarian. Much of the benefits of infrastructure spending will accrue to the owners of contracting firms and higher-skill workers like engineers, architects, welders and the like; they will also create jobs for low-skill individuals, but in no less of a trickle-down fashion than business tax cuts aimed at encouraging hiring.

Glaeser favors direct cash transfers to low-income individuals and removing regulations that negatively impact the poor. Certain provisions in the Obama team's proposed stimulus plan fit this bill, particularly cuts in the payroll tax.

Glaeser's concept of "libertarian progressivism" can help square the circle for anyone who is pro-egalitarian, but also tends to favor smaller government (or at least government that is no larger than it has to be). Maybe it will catch on. If nothing else, people like me will find it cathartic.

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