Link: Libertarian & Left Liberal Dialogue, One-Handed Applause with Joshua Cohen and Brink Lindsey, 6th October 2009.
Brink Lindsey coined the term ‘liberaltarian’ for a fusion between free market libertarians and liberals (in the American sense for people who would otherwise be known as social democrats). Lindsey works for the Cato Institute and represents the most moderate side of an organisation distinctly inclined towards libertarian-conservative fusionism. ‘Liberaltarianism’ has not really taken off as a major new fusion, but Lindsey has continued his own dialogue with lef-liberal Democrats. In this webcast (can also be downloaded, or played in the browser, in wmv audio-visual, or mp3 and mp4 audio formats, I recommend the wmv option), Cohen and Brink chat about health reform and the overall progress of Obama;s presidency.
As they point out, the two biggest influences on libertarian thought, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, both supported forms of universal health coverage. Brink builds on this in supporting universal health coverage, but with competition between providers and a removal of current barriers to health markets. As he points out, there are various forms of interventionism in the health market, particularly tax deductions for employer provided insurance. This creates at least two major problems: lack of interest in cost control, difficulties in transferring health coverage when changing jobs. Cost control is not necessarily about restricting access to health care, it is about recognising that health care will be better distributed if users are aware of cost comparisons, and are not inclined to waste money on ineffective health care.
Cohen’s ideal option is ‘single payer’, i.e. universal health care from general taxation. They do reach a lot of agreements on possible health care solutions if ‘single payer’ is not a likely option. Singapore is discussed most, that is minimal government health care supplement by compulsory contributions to personal health savings accounts. Lindsey is very critical of current health care in the US, quite rightly as this strange mix of government provision (Medicare and Medicaid) and heavily regulated private insurance markets, does not satisfy free market or social justice criteria.
The major advantage he sees in the current US system is that most medical innovation comes from the US, which he links with the unwillingness of government controlled systems to pay for innovative drugs and technologies. His major concern, quite rightly, is to make sure universal coverage is designed to create competition between providers with regard to both cost and innovation.
Cohen and Lindsey finish with a discussion of the Obama presidency. They agree that Obama is not a transformational left wing president, and remind viewers that he ran as a more centrist candidate than Hillary Clinton. They also agree that he is politically skilled but has not been very successful at getting many policies through so far, and that it is too soon to judge the presidency.

Philosophy of Europe, reflections on an Istanbul Conference

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

On Friday and Saturday, I was at the conference Beyond Boundaries: Media, Culture and Identity in Europe at the Beşiktaş campus of Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul. I gave a paper on Saturday, ‘Political Theory and the Idea of Europe: Foucault Against Habermas’, the abstract formed the basis of my 2nd September post, ‘Foucault, Libertarianism and Europe’.

The conference had very pleasant surroundings, in very modern and well equipped university buildings overlooking the Bosphorus.

An overview of the conference and how I related to the papers and discussions.

The conference was mainly media, communication, and cultural studies, in content. There were some philosophically oriented papers. Two of these covered similar ground about Hannah Arendt on refugees and Jacques Derrida on hospitality. References to Derrida in those papers and others tended to emphasise the view of a Europe with no centre, and continuity. One problem here is that too many people are trying to cover similar ground in the same texts when talking about Derrida, and taking the discussion of hospitality too much as an unconditional ethical command and nothing else. Derrida’s point is just as much to question the idea of pure hospitality as too assert the merits of hospitality. Hospitality defines the outsider, as an intruder and outside, and ties that person within laws of hospitality. The expectation of hospitality can itself justify colonialism over non-hospitable people, a very real aspect of the growth of colonialism. Adam Smith, who was no fan of colonialism, regarded trading forts as inevitable in relation to hostile locals, and recognised the danger of expansion into full colonies.

Just emphasising Derrida’s ‘deconstruction’ of European identity, is to overlook the Eurocentric and traditionalist elements of some of his accounts of philosophy and religion in Europe; the criticisms of Eurocentrism themselves are complicit with a kind of Eurocentrism which emphasises changes, diversity, openness and the welcome of outsiders.

One attitude to issues of European identity on display was to dismiss it in favour of a pragmatic evolutionary approach, derived from the ‘functionalism’ of the original designers of European institutions, like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman. This ‘functionalism’ is also known as ‘institutionalisation’ and refers to the idea that European integration proceeds through economic, technical and administrative contribution, which creates its own momentum for greater integrationism, without any reference to a politics of European federalism.

There are at least two problems here: Monnet et al were certainly influenced by an ideal of Europe’s identity; the ‘institutionalist’ argument has an undemocratic aspect to it, deals done by political and administrative elites to create institutions with an interest in expansion on the basis of apparently limited agreements.

The argument was presented in the context of criticism of communitarianism and communalism as implicitly authoritarian, demanding a public domination of private life with regard to language, identities, symbolism etc. This was backed up with an overfamiliar strategy of decontextualised quotations from Rousseau, to make him seem as totalitarian as possible. This was accompanied by the usual tiresome jibe at contract theory, that no one remembers signing the contract. It’s clear enough that contract theory can be explained through tacit agreement with the laws and institutions of a country. Anyway, apart from being cliched and decontextualised, and really rather cheap, this kind of account of Rousseau is not really adding a lot to discussions of European identity.

What that presentation suggested was a strong contrast between formal depersonalised forma social associations and associations of strong unity around language, identity and shared emotion, accompanied by the suggestion that only the former forms of association is relevant to Europe’s emergent polity. One problem with this line of analysis, is that it does not match reality. There are ideas of European identity around, even among those who oppose political integration, and they precede the emergence of the European Union by some distance.

It is not possible to make such a distinction between two forms of association. Both forms of association are present in all associations, and there are no associations at any level which lack both sides. Roughly speaking associations are more densely integrated by lines of connection between individuals at the local level, but these forms of connection are present at the higher levels, up to the global community defined by shared interests and passions of all humans.