by Conor Friedersdorf
In an item yesterday, I argued that if you're trying to understand someone like Matt Yglesias, whether to effectively argue against his views or to engage him persuasively, the frames of "statism" and "liberty versus tyranny" are almost completely useless. Let's revisit why this is so. Mr. Yglesias favors deregulating various professional cartels, ending the legally proscribed monopoly on buses that some urban public transit agencies enjoy, reforming America's absurd system of agricultural subsidies, and making it easier for developers to build in accordance with the local demand for real estate, rather than government imposed zoning restrictions. (Odds are he subscribes to even more free-market friendly policies that the right embraces. That's just off the top of my head.)
Mr. Yglesias is neither a conservative nor a libertarian, as his approach to more consequential issues like health care policy demonstrates. On all sorts of policy questions, in fact, he favors a much larger federal role in American life than I do, putting us at odds all the time. Nor does he support the free market positions listed above because he has embraced the right's first principles on those issues: he is, after all, one of America's leading progressive bloggers.
Why does he favor some policies that conservatives like? And can we identify more of them for the sake of strategic alliances? We'll never know if, upon learning that he is a liberal, we automatically presume that he is a "statist," or even more absurdly, that he prefers tyranny to liberty. Those are unserious buzz words that sell books, not a realistic portrait of American liberals, a group that encompasses many people farther right than Mr. Yglesias.
In his response to yesterday's item, Mark Levin betrays his ongoing inability to understand any of this. He writes:
This is so pathetic. So a liberal blogger favors regulation in some respect, and this proves to Friedersdork that my characterizing the general left-wing enterprise as statist is unhelpful - to Friedersdork. So, the fact that the liberal blogger isn't advancing big-government arguments ALL THE TIME demonstrates the inaccuracy of referring to his agenda as statist. This is the line that grabs your attention -- "dismantling efforts to use the state to help the privileged has always been on the agenda." Really? So, before we get to this workers' paradise, we need this big state to sort things out. And, of course, at some point it will dissolve itself. Has anyone heard this stupidity before? And how will this occur. Marx does not tell us. His buddy Engels tried, but he failed miserably as well. This is not to say that those who post such things are Marxists. It is to say they are ignorant. Statism is the perfect word to describe them. Liberty and tyranny are the perfect words to explain them.
Let's be perfectly clear about why the "statist" frame is misleading: