The Libertarian "Dichotomy"

An article run by the Harvard Crimson titled “Down With the Dichotomy; if you’re truly liberal, you’re fiscally liberal” quips that people who politically identify as socially liberal and fiscally conservative attempt to “reconcile do-gooder inclinations and the economic theory learned in an intro class.” The author, Megan Corrigan, is correct.

I myself believe in both social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. I do not wish to limit a woman’s rights to an abortion, nor do I wish to impede upon anyone’s marriage: gay, straight, or otherwise. In addition, I do not wish to increase the national debt. Ms. Corrigan oversimplifies the political spectrum in characterizing this as a dichotomy.

Corrigan’s argument goes as follows: a strong economy begets a strong culture. She claims that reducing spending, which weakens the economy, cannot lead to an increase in cultural strength, and therefore limits the proliferation of social rights. Accordingly, to be both socially liberal and fiscally conservative is a contradiction. By narrowly defining social and fiscal policy in terms of liberal or conservative, Ms. Corrigan fails to recognize the overriding goal of fiscal conservatism paired with social liberalism—efficiency paired with self-determination. Moreover, in portraying political beliefs in such simplistic terms, the Crimson piece serves only to exacerbate the current trend of polarization along predetermined ideological lines.

Ms. Corrigan boils fiscal conservatism down to a reluctance to spend public funds. I, however, do not believe that we should haphazardly cut government spending. When I state that I am fiscally conservative, I mean that I do not support extravagance in expenditure. Just as Ms. Corrigan advises I might forego a second boat in order to increase my tax contributions, the federal government might forego some portion of the defense budget (a budget equal to the combined spending of the next seven highest national defense budgets). Similarly, the federal government might avoid wasting thirty percent of the healthcare budget. In this way, my wish to avoid national debt does not target social programs, but seeks to match spending with direct outcomes and an overall decrease in the presence of the national government.

By limiting the scope of the federal government’s involvement in civilian life, the national debt can decrease while necessary and efficient social programs can thrive. The first point is apparent: a reduction in government programs, when responsibly handled, necessarily leads to decreased government spending. The latter point, which Ms. Corrigan claims to be counter-intuitive, is entirely rational. Take the Bathroom Bill in North Carolina, a thoughtless piece of legislation that aimed to discriminate against transgender people. Courts striking down this bill incur no additional public debt and can increase the social well-being of a marginalized group within our society. Ms. Corrigan would point out that this is lovely in theory, but fear of incurring costs can stunt a libertarian’s capacity for social liberalism. I disagree. My lack of support for a single-payer healthcare system, for example, rests not on the basis of cost (programs can be made efficient), but because I believe in the importance of a limited government that fulfills its restricted responsibilities.