In a post on “Libertarian Schisms,” economist Arnold Kling tries to figure out whether he’s a Rothbardian or a Hayekian.
To do so, he asks himself several questions, the first of which is:
1. How are willing are you to talk about compromises with the state as it is?
My answer is, “very willing.” For example, when I talk about raising the retirement age for Social Security, that is a compromise relative to “abolish Social Security.”
I justify this not on the basis of political pragmatism but on the basis of self-doubt. I believe that the state could reduce or phase out Social Security without harmful consequences, but I am not certain of this. One can imagine potentially harmful consequences, including repercussions that ultimately harm the cause of liberty. In general, I think in terms of incremental steps and experiments rather than in terms of the ultimate libertarian ideal. The much-ignored Unchecked and Unbalanced champions those sorts of ideas, even as it aims for an ideal that is very different from our current form of government.
This is the sort of thing that is often said to make Rothbardians sound ridiculous. They won’t accept anything less than the abolition of social security — and that, of course, means they’re nuts!
But I’ve never met a Rothbardian who would disapprove of raising the social-security retirement age or consider it a “compromise.” To the contrary, it is a partial repeal — fewer people are entitled to taxpayer money than before — and therefore laudable.
A “compromise” would be something that substitutes a new government program for an old one, as in the case of so-called “privatization.”
It also isn’t un-Rothbardian, as far as I can tell, to think strategically about what advances toward liberty should be made before others. For example, some Rothbardians have thought about what the consequences might be of allowing open borders before repealing the welfare state — much to the dismay and disgust of certain “Hayekians.” (Unreasonable radical that I am, I say open them now anyway.)
I should add that Kling’s post does rightly suggest that most people who call themselves libertarians really aren’t too far apart on the vast majority of what matters, and the differences between them are primarily, though not entirely, ones of tone and emphasis. More talk about what we have in common, in addition to what divides us, would probably be beneficial.