Liberalism, Classical And Modern

Tyler Cowen has started an interesting conversation with this Volokh Conspiracy post on why he’s not a modern liberal. His discussion largely revolves around a pragmatic argument concerning immigration and welfare.

Brad DeLong responds by trying to evangelize Tyler and persuade him that he really is a modern liberal. Tyler’s riposte continues the conversation.

I agree with Tyler that this kind of exchange is extremely fruitful, and that we should have more of them:

I think this kind of direct written exchange is massively undervalued in academia (I would like to see an entire journal of direct written debates, for one thing). My compliments to Brad and to the blogosphere.

After reading all of this, though, I continue to think that an argument for classical liberalism over modern liberalism cannot be premised on pragmatic/utilitarian/consequentialist terms alone. I think the question to pose to Brad is this: do you want a social environment based on the primacy of the individual and on negatively-defined rights? I think that core philosophical question will always separate the mutton from the lamb, so to speak.


3 thoughts on “Liberalism, Classical And Modern

  1. Okay, I freely admit that I am a little biased, politically speaking.

    But is Brad DeLong really a smart guy?

    I don’t read the guy’s blog, but I do see him quoted all over the blogosphere. And I do read him in Wired. I have to tell you, I’m not all that impressed.

    At the very least, he is bad mannered. Specifically, his replies to other blogger are bad mannered in many cases. I guess I expect more from a “real economist” (as opposed to a schmo like me).

  2. ” do you want a social environment based on the primacy of the individual and on negatively-defined rights”

    I think that this means; Do you want more welfare (government control), or more personal Freedom?

    The trick is to find the right balance between the two. Proper regulation of the Charity organizations could replace some government welfare. Thus leading to smaller (minimal) government.

  3. I reckon that this only works if you believe that there is such a beast as negatively defined rights. Steven Holmes and Cass Sunstein (“The Cost of Rights”) make a strong argument (at least it convinced me), that there isn’t.

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