Who Pays the Bills?

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Tim Lee has a smart post that conservative/libertarian fusionism seems to make sense largely because people have put time, money, and energy into making it seem like it makes sense—establishing dozens and dozens of “free market” institutions dedicated to talking about why there should be low taxes and a business-friendly regulatory climate while avoiding discussion of criminal justice issues, “social issues,” and national security policy.

So conceptually speaking, it wouldn’t be hard to create a liberaltarian movement. All you’d have to do is create a mirror image of the “free market” think tanks. Hire people like Radley Balko and Glenn Greenwald. Pay them to write about all the issues that “free market” think tanks don’t: foreign policy, civil liberties, gay rights, the drug war, immigration, torture, the death penalty, and so forth. Don’t hire anyone to write about taxes, school choice, guns, or other topics where libertarians and liberals have strong disagreements.

In the next paragraph, though, he writes that “[t]he big obstacle (other than the lack of obvious donors) to such a project is that a lot of libertarian intellectuals have so completely internalized the assumptions of the fusionist alliance that they have trouble writing about policy in a way that liberals find compelling.”

I think that what’s inside the parenthesis deserves to be highlighted here. Throughout the policy domain, you see large numbers of people working on the issues that donors want to see people working on. To take an example of an issue that “free market” think tanks and liberal ones alike could embrace, nobody seems interested in funding an Institute for Parking Reform with dozens of staffers to complain about parking mandates and the use of rationing rather than prices to allocate street spaces. Ergo, it doesn’t happen.