Libertarianism is not keen to watch Rome burn.

I’ve long admired Balloon Juice because of John Cole’s insightful, considered analysis. He supported President Bush but was willing to change his mind when it became clear that Republicans had lost theirs. Then the Republicans became so despicable that he actively switched to endorsing Democrats. That didn’t bother me because I’ve voted that way most of my life. The change in Balloon Juice over the last six months or so, however, is closing in on unbearable. Like this, from yesterday:

At what point did the normally sane people at Hit and Run turn into the libertarian version of the Rush Limbaugh show? If I had to guess, I would have assumed they would think a bill of $400 billion in tax cuts and $400 or so billion in spending would at least be considered half good, but instead the reaction over there the past few weeks has made Malkin look restrained by comparison.

I will not be the first to defend Hit & Run because it tries to be – or is – too hip for me at times. Still, much of what I’ve read there during as the stimulus package loomed is best exemplified in this post by reason editor-in-chief Matt Welch [links in original]:

Why do people oppose the stimulus? Here are a few actual reasons: There is no strong evidence that stimuli work, and plenty of evidence that they don’t (a relevant consideration, no?). Like the deeply flawed PATRIOT Act, the deeply flawed Iraq War resolution, and the deeply flawed bank bailout, it is being rushed through the legislature in an atmosphere of pants-wetting crisis and presidential warnings of impending doom. It is filled with special interest giveaways, big-government featherbedding, and "Buy American" considerations that have about as much to do with stimulating an economy as playing violin has with putting out fires. By taking from fiscally responsible states (like South Carolina) and giving to fiscally irresponsible states (like California), it violates basic notions of fairness and creates still more moral hazard in an already hazardtastic universe. …


Rather than explain further, Mr. Cole summarized my sentiments in a comment to his entry:

If you asked anyone who read me in 2004 and liked what they read and then read me today, they would tell you I am howling bugfuck insane now, so take that with a grain of salt.

I wouldn’t go quite that far because Mr. Cole still shows flashes of his earlier skepticism. But even if that was 100% true, his next paragraph gets to current mindset at Balloon Juice that’s difficult to read:

I mean, we all have principles we like to think we adhere to, but reality often seems to get in the way. I would love it if we could lower taxes, cut spending, and frugal our way out of this mess. I just don’t see how that is the answer.

Difficult times do not require that we stop being rational. A belief in limited government held at a time when the government is constantly expanding recklessly does not imply an unwillingness to deal with reality. If a person has a 50 pound cancerous tumor, the libertarian’s response is not to suggest she go about her day as if she doesn’t have cancer. Likewise, the solution to the government being too large is not to set the charges and implode it all at once. Americans have allowed (and encouraged) government to get so tangled up in daily life that a simple stop is not possible without disastrous consequences. Mr. Welch’s statement suggests how massive, unquestioned spending is not the answer.

That’s not to say that libertarians are perfect and have all the correct answers. Even if we have no other flaws, we often fail to suggest the map to limited government. I’m guilty of that, I’m sure, a problem I’m aware of when I blog. We all need to do better at selling the principle and how to get there.

However, the first step is to not make things worse. A $1 trillion deficit (and growing) is a very dangerous ploy. American history provides evidence of what can happen when government does and does not intervene. This is not sufficient to make a decision, but watch the way politicians are exclusively deploying fear to dismiss any need for analysis. It’s “do this or die”. They claim it doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we do something. Buying a pony for every American is something, but only the Pony Owners of America, the United Horse Food Producers, and the American Saddle Makers Association would think that’s a good idea. Unsurprisingly, that type of special interest giveaway is what we’re going to get. It’s not hysterical to call bullshit.