Progressive globalism vs libertarian globalism

Present-day commentary abounds with discussions on the “new nationalism.” We all know the discourse; from Trump to Brexit to alleged hate-crimes, to fears about immigration, to discussion about how political correctness prevents certain policy debates, to the loss of manufacturing jobs in industrialized nations. The semi-Buchananite Donald Trump is often the central figure (hero or demon) of this discourse, but it commonly occurs in Europe as well (frequently with Angela Merkel as the central figure of good/evil).

The “new nationalism” seems to come in two flavors… the ethnonationalist “alt-right” and the civic nationalist, often libertarianism-inflected “alt-lite.” These two factions cannot be treated as the same; the former are (actual) racists, the latter at most tell a few nasty holocaust jokes on Twitter. As methodological individualists, libertarians must disavow the alt-right, but there is a broad spectrum of libertarian opinion on the alt-lite.

The “new nationalism” has one primary enemy: “globalism.” But what is globalism? Typically, libertarians see “globalism” as “economic globalization” and given that free trade in labor, capital and products is vital to libertarian ideology, most libertarians are positively predisposed to globalism.

As Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine writes ,“To be a globalist in his mind is the moral equivalent of a Marxist, countenancing elites conferring power on vast, unaccountable international bureaucracies, undercutting national sovereignty, and imposing uniform progressive policies to establish some sort of one-world government. That is certainly not what I mean by globalism.”

Here we see a collision between Bailey’s Libertarian Globalism (i.e. free trade), and a very different ideology I will describe as “Progressive Globalism.” I use the term “progressive” because the belief in managerial technocracy staffed by “enlightened social scientists” attempting to “scientifically” manage society is the essence of progressivism, and Bailey’s interlocutor identifies such bureaucracy with globalism.

The problem with globalism is actually somewhat similar to debates libertarians get into about capitalism; we mean “free markets” but other people hear “cronyism for big business.” We can play the definition game for weeks, but I think we need to begin by looking at reality first.

There is Bailey’s Libertarian Globalism, and then there is Actually Existing Globalism which for the most part is Progressive Globalism. The EU is a fundamentally globalist project and in spite of its pretensions at being a free trade bloc, it is really a giant bureaucratic transnational government that continually seems to push towards a social-democratic Nordic-style set of policies for every member nation, desires to abolish jurisdictional competition in Europe, and has very little problem with continually raising the regulatory burdens faced by entrepreneurs.

The EU has thus created an opportunity to rent-seek on a transnational level. And of course, we can hardly describe the UN (another globalist project) as a deeply liberal institution; Saudi Arabia sits on the UN Human Rights Council (and wants to make criticism of Islamic fundamentalism illegal in other nations) and the UN has many subunits which promote progressive leftist viewpoints (UN Women for example, which promotes Intersectional Feminism). Genuine free trade agreements are net-positive, but plenty of “free” trade agreements are in-fact managed trade agreements with enforcement bureaucracies of their own and (of course) the ability to rent-seek within the framework of the agreement (and often this framework is explicitly drawn up in such a way as to appease rent-seeking constituencies).

Actually Existing Globalism is anathema to Libertarian Globalism and libertarians absolutely should (and generally do) criticize Actually Existing Globalism. But given the prominence of Public Choice analysis in libertarian thought, one would think that there would be more criticism. Perhaps they are scared of being falsely accused of racism in the same way tons of Brexit voters were (this is the way political correctness plays a part; it insulates Actually Existing Globalism from criticism by insinuating only racists/sexists/bigots could ever oppose immensely powerful, less democratic, and heavily intrusive transnational institutions).

The “New Nationalist” moment is not necessarily what libertarians wanted, but if we are to connect our ideals to people’s lives we need to address the debates of the day. Globalism is the question of the day, and libertarians need to answer it. If we are to focus on how Actually Existing Globalism does not truly support libertarian ideals of free trade, and rather it is better thought of as a make-work program for a supranational bureaucratic-managerial class that defends its aspirations through recourse to an anti-enlightenment postmodernist shield, then a libertarian critique of globalism begins to take shape.

Andrew Russell

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