Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Ideological Wheeling and Dealing

Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong just had an interesting exchange (Tyler 1, Brad 1, Tyler 2, Brad 2, Tyler 3) on the subject of libertarianism versus liberalism (or, if you prefer, classical liberalism versus modern liberalism). In the end, Tyler offered Brad a deal: he would agree to vote against a presidential candidate specified by Brad, if Brad would post (without irony) the following message on his blog: “The classical liberal recipe of increased immigration is superior to strengthening the welfare state. I just don't think it will or can happen, so I will advocate the next best thing.” Brad took the deal, with some caveats.

I must say that Tyler got the better of this deal, because one vote ain’t worth much. I know a lot of people who’d sell theirs for a ham sandwich. But then again, Brad didn’t have to give up much – he just had to state the truth.

Lynne Kiesling offered the following commentary, which is what really got me thinking:
After reading all of this, though, I continue to think that an argument for classical liberalism over modern liberalism cannot be premised on pragmatic/utilitarian/consequentialist terms alone. I think the question to pose to Brad is this: do you want a social environment based on the primacy of the individual and on negatively-defined rights? I think that core philosophical question will always separate the mutton from the lamb, so to speak.
Here’s why Lynne’s mistaken: Tyler’s proffered deal was accepted, whereas I strongly suspect Lynne’s would have been rejected. Why? Because deontological arguments are simply not as persuasive as consequentialist arguments to the vast majority of people. Given a choice between (a) closing a deal that would result in a somewhat more libertarian society and (b) losing a deal that would have resulted in a very libertarian society if it had just been accepted, I’ll take the first one.

More later.

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