Jon Chait had a good post this morning about how there’s no contradiction between Barack Obama praising the liberalization of the Indian economy and also being a liberal in the US political context. Indeed, one hint might be that the letter-string “l-i-b-e-r-a-l” occurs in both terms.
There’s a commonly held view that modern day American liberals aren’t “really” liberals and that the “real” heirs of the classical liberal tradition of Hume, Smith, and Mill are conservatives or libertarians. I think that’s honestly nonsense. There’s just nothing in the liberal tradition to suggest that there’s anything wrong with the welfare state, social insurance, redistributive taxation, or environmental regulation. There’s plenty in the liberal tradition to suggest that peace and social tolerance are important. And there’s no systematic difference between the left and right in America about things like taxi medallions or yacht broker licensing. All major political figures in the contemporary United States are pretty liberal in the scheme of things, but I’d say that mainstream liberals like Barack Obama are, indeed, the most liberal of the bunch.
The weird thing, as Chait says, is the fanatical extremism of the contemporary American right. If comprehensive economic planning is bad, then firms should have an unlimited right to engage in air pollution? Why would that be?