Matt’s Crystal Ball

Surveying the future of social democracy in America, Matt sees bright prospects for increased government involvement in health care and preschool education. I think this is a plausible forecast. As I’ve argued, there are strong pressures that work to ensure that our relatively competitive and entrepreneurial economy stays that way. Which means that economic growth is likely to keep rolling along, which in turn means that the pot of money available for redistribution will just keep getting bigger. This is the dynamic that Tyler Cowen had in mind when he wrote that libertarian successes bring bigger government.

Still, however, there are limits. At some point, economic and political constraints on the level of taxation start to kick in. And those limits are likely to be tested in the coming years even without an expansion in the health care state’s commitments. Does Matt think that federal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP can be jacked up dramatically over the next couple of decades? It’s possible, to be sure, but not without a huge fight. And if it turns out that America’s historic aversion to European levels of taxation ultimately prevails, Matt’s vision of social democracy is going to get caught in the squeeze.

Social democracy can beat the tax squeeze if the runaway escalation of government health care costs can somehow be reined in. Good luck with that! Can Matt find anything in the history of Medicare or Medicaid that inspires confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to control health care costs?

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

Response Essays

  • National Review Online editor-at-large and LA Times columnist Jonah Golberg offers a critical assessment of what he calls “the Brink Lindsey Project” — “a new fusionism which will make us stuffy conservatives lighten up and make pie-eyed liberals give up their enduring weakness for Gosplans.” According to Goldberg, Lindsey’s “libertarian centrism” involves a suspiciously convenient confluence of forces. “His definition of libertarian centrism is really Lindseyan centrism,” Goldberg argues. “And by writing his own priorities into the grand sweep of history, he misdiagnoses the nature of the liberal-conservative divide.”

  • Atlantic Monthly associate editor Matthew Yglesias joins Brink Lindsey in thinking that the relaxation of traditional social strictures over the past few deacades is a good thing, but he doesn’t see anything libertarian about it, citing the role of Civil Rights Act and other intrusive anti-discrimination laws in bringing about the shift. Yglesias concedes that the economy has in some ways become less regulated, but argues that this didn’t signal an “ideological triumph.” Furthermore, he argues, “libertarians interested in practical politics might want to consider that a federal commitment to health security and retirement security isn’t going away,” and suggests that Lindsey himself may have explained why.

  • Reason contributing editor Julian Sanchez spots several ambiguities in Brink Lindsey’s argument leading him to doubt the conclusion that America has become more libertarian in a meaningful sense. “To speak confidently about America’s growing libertarianism,” Sanchez writes, “we need to establish that at least some of the changes Lindsey lauds are driven by a shared conception of justice” that leans increasingly libertarian. Yet Sanchez is unimpressed by the polling data Lindsey recruits to his cause. There is no doubt we now have more choice due to increasing abundance, but “the conception of freedom that has always centrally concerned libertarians has been the freedom from restraints on choice, not the variety of available options.” But, Sanchez argues, “much of the plausibility of Lindsey’s thesis relies on [the] conflation” of these two conceptions of freedom.