In addition to the post arguing against the mandatory licensing of barbers that W. Jerome highlighted last week, Matt Yglesias has gone on something of a liberaltarian rampage recently (see here, here, here, and here). He’s taken some flack from his commenters for it. His response:
A colleague mentioned to me the other day that I’m “pretty conservative” on some state and local government issues, with reference to some recent posts on occupational licensing…. I’m not. And I think that whole framing represents a bad way of understanding the whole situation.
I think it’s pretty clear that, as a historical matter of fact, the main thing “the state” has been used to do is to help the wealthy and powerful further enrich and entrench themselves…. The “left-wing” position is to be against this stuff—to be on the side of the people and against the forces of privilege… dismantling efforts to use the state to help the privileged has always been on the agenda. Don’t think to yourself “we need to regulate carbon emissions therefore regulation is good therefore regulation of barbers is good.” Think to yourself “we can’t let the privileged trample all over everyone, therefore we need to regulate carbon emissions and we need to break the dentists’ cartel.”
Our ideologies tend to encourage overly simplistic thinking on these issues. Liberals make arguments about the existence of market failures to justify a pro-regulation stance, and conservatives/libertarians make arguments about the efficacy of free markets or the unavoidable ham-handedness of government intervention to justify an anti-regulation stance. This ideological division makes it so that if a conservative allows that, in a given circumstance, regulation may be justified, it seems like she’s conceding something to the liberal, and vice-versa. This makes people become increasingly entrenched in their ideological priors so that analysis of real-world issues involves little more than post-hoc justification of a forgone conclusion.
It’s too bad that political discourse is so often conducted in this way. The world is complex; sometimes regulation is justified, and sometimes it isn’t. It’s nice to see somebody like Yglesias who is a sophisticated enough thinker to recognize this and move beyond the one-size-fits-all arguments that are favored by his political tribe.