The Corner

Reform Libertarianism

An email:

Since you’re answering reader mail today I thought I’d ask you a question. I read your article on NRO today about “the roots of reform” [links added] and it all sounded nice. The question I’m left with is what’s in [“reform conservatism”] for libertarians like me?

The policies mentioned in that article would get the federal debt under control by restraining entitlement spending, reduce the federal and state role in health-care markets to the lowest level in decades, break the alliance between the federal government and the higher-education establishment (by drawing on the work of such libertarians as Charles Murray, Richard Vedder, and Glenn Reynolds), take control of infrastructure spending away from the federal government, and cut the federal government’s parent tax. If the political assumptions in the article are correct, then by promoting that agenda conservatives would make themselves more popular, more capable of winning elections, and therefore more able to advance other free-market, government-limiting policies, such as a reduction in taxes on business investment. These policies would also, again if my assumptions are correct, reduce the demand for bigger government by making it easier for people to pursue their aspirations without the aid of federal grants, new programs, and so forth.

The result would not be a libertarian paradise, and you may be more concerned about issues that don’t have much to do with this list. You may be the kind of libertarian whose primary concern is scaling back the national security state, or abolishing prostitution laws. But I think the cluster of ideas labeled ”reform conservatism” has the potential to do a lot to reduce the power of government compared to civil society.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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