For the Virtual Green Room, June 4, 2011
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? New York Times Edition

Matthew Yglesias: Liberty and Capability

Matthew Yglesias makes the essential and too-rarely made point that the classical liberals--the liberals of the Enlightenment--Locke and company down through Mill--were not theorists of "negative liberty" or "libertarians" but rather had a balanced viewpoint. For them, both negative and positive liberty were important: freedom from constraint and freedom to do things to pursue your happiness. Liberty and capability--much like modern liberals, who think that one thing civil society owes us is access out of the immense storehouse of human wealth piled up over past generations to a reasonable quantum of the resources we need to pursue happiness. We are the children of Locke and Mill--not those weirdoes out there on their seasteading oil platforms.

Matthew Yglesias:

An idiosyncratic intellectual project of mine is trying to rescue classical liberalism’s good name from the clutches of contemporary libertarianism. A big issue here is that classical liberals were very concerned with binding resource constraints. In their day, that meant primarily arable land. John Locke, for example, famously noted that individual appropriation of land as property was legitimate “at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

The particular problem of arable land isn’t a big deal in a modern rich democracy. But the basic issue that individualistic solutions don’t work when you have binding resource constraints is applicable to a lot of modern day issues. The atmosphere has a finite ability to absorb carbon dioxide emissions before we hit some kind of devastating climate tipping point. It’s striking that seven of the world’s ten highest revenue firms are in the oil business. And a huge share of the recent action in the high-tech space is intimately bound up with the finite quantity of radio spectrum. Tim Lee, who identifies as a libertarian but who I see eye to eye with a huge range of issues, has a thoughtful post about the application of these Lockean issues to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.

Meanwhile, for the countervailing forces ledger note that the Communications Workers of America are strong proponents of the merger because AT&T is unionized and they think this will help them organize T-Mobile’s workers.