Libertarian Paternalism

From a long series of who’s saying what to whom, see the quote below from a comment on Cafe Hayek:

Libertarian paternalism seems to aim to take paternalism and give it choice.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is a libertarian. We all want to do exactly what we want without interference. Those who identify as "libertarians" tend to be a rarer breed, which finds its niche in explaining to people that unless they change their behavior — and vote — we’ll see that sea of liberty rapidly dissolve.

And that’s fantastic. I see no dichotomy at all between being libertarian and having an incentive to convince other people to alter their behavior. In DC more than anywhere else (except maybe Basque Spain) many capable people find their entire livelihoods in convincing other people to tailor their behavior. How many blogging hours would it take to change a light bulb; rather, how many Reason writers, policy analysts, and other assorted Koch Folk could have prosperous, better-paid careers outside of this movement forged with the single purpose of convincing people to alter their behavior?

It’s absolutely incongruous, then, to imagine a plausible libertarian case for non-interventionist foreign policy. We’re paternalist. We’re trying to change other people’s behavior so their actions don’t tread on us in the long run — just like, arguably, one’s parents attempt to raise educated kids economically able to forego the state nursing home. We leave laymen choice of how to live, but we spend an awful lot of time doing everything in our power to keep their actions away from those whose consequences would tread on our future plans.

Isn’t this exactly what we’re doing abroad? Guantanamo isn’t some torture chamber conceived in the banality of human souls. It’s a holding cell for people who refuse to be influenced away from hurting (or planning to hurt) us. Similarly much of what’s going on in the Middle East stems from our fear that absent some firepower distraction, enemies overseas will continue to blow things up on our subways, our buildings, and our homes.

It’s true that Bureaucrash doesn’t bomb my house when I disagree with them, but Congress isn’t a zero-sum game. Health care gets us much closer to life-and-death, but we’re still not talking about a police state, attacks on the home, or riots in the street. Congress is "zero sum" in the political game, but it’s a game. When the stakes are much higher the bets go up, tactics get drastic, and everything goes pretty rapidly into the handbasket.

In a zero-sum game, if you cannot convince someone not to bomb your house, you take more drastic measures. The alternative is to sit back and wait for the bombs to drop.

I reject the laissez-faire case against intervention.

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