Monday, January 12, 2009

The appointment of Cass Sunstein ...

... as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is about as much an indicator of "libertarianism" in the coming Obama administration as the appointment of Gail Norton as Secretary of the Interior was an indicator of "libertarianism" in the outgoing Bush administration.

Even if Sunstein is a bona fide libertarian, one appointment does not an overall policy make. The Obama administration will be far from libertarian in general orientation if the bulk of the indicators are reliable.

Is Sunstein a bona fide libertarian? Although I'm personally a "purist" of a particular variety, I do try to use a fairly broad definition for general purposes of evaluation ... and I just can't stretch any reasonable definition far enough to encompass his vision of "libertarian paternalism."

Even if it's not ideological heresy, "libertarian paternalism" is a de facto label for naivete. States don't "encourage" or "nudge" their subjects, they rule those subjects. The only way to maintain freedom in any activity is to keep the state out of that activity. Once the state steps in, the criterion of "right direction" will, sooner or later (probably sooner) transition from the well-being of the subjects (if that ever was the criterion) to the maintenance and and expansion of the power and prerogatives of the apparatchiki.

Even if Sunstein endeavors to put some of the regulatory toothpaste back in the tube, he's unlikely to succeed -- and if he just tries to tweak things, well, "better" regulation is not the solution to the problem of regulation.

I suspect Holtz may disagree with me on this, given his recent comparison of state authority to parental authority. But that's probably going to be the subject of another post.

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