Libertarian Prescriptions And Short-Term Costs

I was at a charity event recently when a very nice lady sitting next to me and I started chatting. In the course of conversation, she explained that she was from Louisiana and a stay-at-home mom up here in Philadelphia. She lamented that when she goes Down South, she feels a lot of judgment for not working full-time. “I guess it’s because this is the first generation with them, you know? Up here we have a lot more mommy support groups and women working part-time,” she said casually.

While I’m sure her experience is not all-encompassing, it struck me that there was probably a lot of truth to it. If Southern Women are a generation behind Northern Women in it being acceptable to be or not to be a stay-at-home mom, then it makes sense that those working women can be more defensive or militant about it.

That, or the South is just more judgmental when it comes to social choices (sorry, Southern gals, but you know that’s a possibility, too).

Which got me thinking about social change. Something that I think libertarians often struggle with admitting is that when social protections are let go, when government support is dropped, there’s usually a brief trough where the problem being discussed becomes worse. For example, let’s look at Margaret Thatcher’s privatization in England.

Things privatization achieved: Increased labor output? Check. Decrease in government waste? Check. Renewed sense of optimism for the country as a whole? Check. Dramatically increased joblessness for a span and cultural tension between rich and poor? Very much check.

This isn’t to say that privatization didn’t help put England on the path to increase the number of private jobs and to offer more opportunities across all walks of life. But in the short-term, the governmental safety-net for union workers and leaders were snipped, and it put a lot of people out of work.

In order for people to trust libertarians when they talk about reform, there also has to be discussion about the period right after we cut off Daddy Government’s strings and how that won’t be everybody’s favorite time. The trade-offs are very real and an essential component of any economic discussion. Denying trade-offs reads as political, and ignores what real progress looks like.

Acknowledging the face of progress keeps us from looking like blind idealists, shielded by our dusty covers of Mises and Bastiat from the real world. It also keeps us from becoming half-baked political players, willing to say the right thing so as not to scare people off four years from now, but unwilling to engage with the other side on their valid concerns.

Until then, we will continue to be simply a branch of a larger party, be it Democrat or Republican, rather than a consistent contributor to the political dialogue.