The Corner

Chait On the Brink

I think Chait’s response to Brink Lindsey (sub req’d) is for the most part quite good and where I disagree isn’t relevant right now. 

But given our past spats,  there are two minor points I’d like to make. First, he repeats a line I’ve heard him offer before. Chait writes: “Here, though, Lindsey betrays his incomprehension of liberalism. Socialists disdain capitalism. Liberals don’t.”  

I don’t believe that liberalism means anti-capitalism. But I don’t think just saying “socialists disdain capitalism, liberals don’t” is satisfactory for exonerating liberals for their anti-capitalistic sentiments. The history of liberalism — and of leading liberals — in the 20th century has been a story of people showing disdain (which means strong dislike, not outright rejection by the way) for free markets, laissez-faire etc.(a history well told in Brink Lindsey’s book Against the Dead Hand I should note; to say Lindsey can’t comprehend liberalism is absurd). Yes, liberals embrace managed capitalism (I recently read a piece in the Prospect, I believe, calling for a return to the “managed capitalism” of the 1940s to the 1970s!). But plenty of socialists and even communists believed, to varying degrees, in managed capitalism.  Wasn’t it Bukharin who wanted to reintroduce agricultural markets under the NEP? You can use capitalism, in other words, and still have “disdain” for it. 

Of course, there are good arguments in favor of Chait’s view of liberalism as somehow pro-capitalist. But his definitional dodge isn’t one of them. 

My second point also brings us back to arguments of yore. Recall that Chait argued — and I’m summarizing crudely — that “economic conservatives” don’t care about facts or empiricism. They only care about freedom. Well, here’s Brink Lindsey, centurion of the Cato Institute, shield-bearer of free markets, making an entirely empirical argument about the benefits of markets. No dusty talk of freedom as a good in itself for he. Obviously, it would have been weird for Chait to mention in this article how Brink is a counter-example to Chait’s earlier pronouncements, but I do find it ironic nonetheless.

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