Several commenters on this post about the asymmetry of the case for and against war made the suggestion that, if I applied similar reasoning to domestic policy I would come out with libertarian conclusions. So can I be a libertarian social democrat?
To recap briefly, I observed that the supporters of the war had many different and logically incompatible ideas about what sort of war should be pursued. By allying to support the war they all assumed that their own version (or something near enough to be acceptable) would be the one that would be pursued.
The same point can be made as part of a more general libertarian response to arguments for an extension of state power. There are many instances where replacing individual decisions with a single collective decision would reduce costs or generate other benefits. So, as long as the collective decision is close to what I would choose, itâ€™s reasonable for me to support choosing in this way. But obviously, if people have very different preferences, this condition canâ€™t be satisfied for everybody.
This is an important point, and a valid criticism of various forms of central planning. But if we agree that itâ€™s good to expand the range of choices available to everybody, we donâ€™t, in general, reach libertarian policy conclusions. To take one example, a society where inherited wealth is very important is one where, for many people, all sorts of opportunities and choices are closed off at birth. And in the case of public goods, a decision to provide them collectively means that everyone can choose whether or not to take advantage of them; the choice set is reduced if they are not provided (though of course there is an offsetting contraction in the quantity of private goods that are available).
Social democracy and its key institutions, the mixed economy and the welfare state, require a balance between collective and individual actions and decisions. On the whole, in my judgement, the result has been to make more choices available to more people than any alternative system.
Another aspect of the asymmetry I discussed is that between the status quo (peace in this case) and a poorly-understood alternative. Arguments for the status quo lead in the direction of conservatism, and there is a conservative component to the argument. But that’s for another day.