INTERVENTION….Libertarian blogger Arthur Silber ? who’s a cat lover, so we’ll forgive him ? wants to know why conservatives believe in intervention abroad but not at home. Conversely, why do liberals believe in government intervention at home but shy away from it abroad?
Well, speaking just for myself, the answer is pretty obvious: I believe in interventions that have a reasonable chance of working. Even if the cause is just, military force is a blunt instrument, and there are very few instances where it’s the most effective approach.
Domestic economic policy, on the other hand, is quite different. Conservatives like to pretend that government intervention in the economy is routinely disastrous, but that’s simply not backed up by the record. Our society is indeed an enormous and complex patchwork of government regulations of various kind, and while some of them are maddening and others ineffective, in the main they’ve worked quite well. Regulated capitalism is the most effective economic machine we’ve yet discovered, and it works far better than either centrally planned economies or libertarian style unregulated economies. I think there are quite a number of African countries where you can find an unregulated libertarian paradise if you’re inclined to test this theory out.
(And just for the hell of it, here’s a short list of major government interventions that have worked spectacularly well: the Federal Reserve, universal public education, securities regulation, the Wagner Act, Social Security, unemployment insurance, the interstate highway system, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, state university systems, the FDA, NAFTA, and GATT. Are they perfect? No, not by a long way. Are there others that have failed? Sure, but we actually do a pretty good job of reforming or killing the bad ones. In the main, the major government acts of the 20th century have been both enormously popular and enormously effective.)
At the same time, let me also point out that conservatives are hardly the non-interventionists Arthur paints them as. They are generally favorable to the interests of big business, true, but that’s a far different thing. Conservatives tend to be very friendly indeed to economic intervention as long as it helps their corporate pals, and also very friendly to government intervention in social affairs.
Of course, I’m not aware of a libertarian anywhere who’s actually opposed to all government intervention, only to specific types of intervention. So, like the fabled woman who would sleep with a man for a million dollars but not for fifty, it’s not really a matter of principle at all, is it? We’re just dickering over price.