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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Glaeser and the Pure Vs. Pragmatic Libertarian

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Glaeser and the Pure Vs. Pragmatic Libertarian

Edward Glaeser of Harvard wrote a wonderful article titled "Pragmatic Libertarians" for the New York Times.  In the article, he compares beliefs of the pure libertarian with the pragmatic.  The pure libertarian might be used as a straw man, but not as a whipping boy.  The entire article is worth reading.  I have taken a highlight.
The pragmatic libertarian yields to no one in love of liberty, but also recognizes that liberty is not always preserved by the most minimal state.   In the United States, even pure libertarians are rarely anarchists.  They accept that the state is needed to protect property and enforce contracts.    But once you have accepted that the state should stop strangers from burning down your house, then it is a small step to also thinking that the state may also protect you against people who would befoul your water and pollute your air.

To the pragmatic libertarian, the question of whether to act or not on global warming comes down to costs and benefits, not any philosophical objection to restricting pollution.

The libertarian belief in freedom is accompanied by a realistic appreciation of the limits of government.     Markets aren’t perfect, but the state isn’t either.

The financial market fiasco of the past four years reminds us that Wall Street and housing markets are prone to wild excess.  But those events also clearly illustrate the very public folly of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the mistake of bribing Americans, through the home mortgage interest deduction, to leverage themselves to the hilt to bet on housing markets.

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