Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama the Left-Libertarian?

I was very impressed by Obama's "energy rebate" -- really an unconditional cash injection, in stark contrast to the idiotic gas subsidies promoted by other politicians. Now it looks like this wasn't just a one-off good idea, but reflects his broader economic philosophy:
All told, Obama would not only cut taxes for most people more than McCain would. He would cut them more than Bill Clinton did and more than Hillary Clinton proposed doing. These tax cuts are really the essence of his market-oriented redistributionist philosophy (though he made it clear that he doesn’t like the word “redistributionist”). They are an attempt to address the middle-class squeeze by giving people a chunk of money to spend as they see fit.

He would then pay for the cuts, at least in part, by raising taxes on the affluent to a point where they would eventually be slightly higher than they were under Clinton.

Is the idea of pure redistribution (i.e. for individual spending, rather than government spending) finally going mainstream?

Update: Another quote:
“If you talk to Warren [Buffett], he’ll tell you his preference is not to meddle in the economy at all — let the market work, however way it’s going to work, and then just tax the heck out of people at the end and just redistribute it,” Obama said. “That way you’re not impeding efficiency, and you’re achieving equity on the back end.” He continued by saying that he thought there was some merit in Buffett’s argument.

It then goes on to describe some of his disagreements (which don't sound nearly so sensible to me).


  1. The problem with Buffett's proposal is that in practice it is not so easy to separate equity and efficiency considerations. If people know that there is going to be taxation then this infuences their decisions, often harming efficiency. You can't not meddle in markets and then "tax the heck out of people at the end" since taxing people at the end simply is meddling in the market.

    Theoretically its possible to have a tax which does not influence the actions of people though many economists believe that such a tax doesn't exist, and certainly none have been put into practice. Though there are some interesting suggestions

  2. Yeah, I always just thought of it as a matter of income tax being less meddlesome or distorting than, say, price fixing or subsidies.

  3. Former Illinois State Senate Steve Schullenberg was quoted in 2006 about his colleague State Sen. Barack Obama. He had this to say:

    "Nice guy, but he had a voting record to the Left of Mao Tse Tung."

    The National Journal has rated Obama as having the most liberal/socialist voting record of all 100 US Senators.

    To associate the word "libertarian" in any manner, shape or form with Obama, is an abomination.

  4. Well, naturally, if "Former Illinois State Senate Steve Schullenberg" said it, it must be true!

  5. Eric, there's a libertarian LEFT, too.

    Of course, Obama isn't anything close to a left-libertarian.


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