Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Difference Between FLOW and Libertarian Policy Prescriptions

"What matters most about political ideas is the underlying emotions, the music to which ideas are a mere libretto, often of a very inferior quality." ~ Lewis Namier

Namier's quotation is a succinct description of why the FLOW movement is necessary.

Certainly the first and third commitments of FLOW are mainstream libertarian:

1. Voluntary, freely-chosen, rule-based solutions rather than coercive, government-imposed, command-and-control solutions.

3. Passionate, radical tolerance of different ways of life.

The second, however, is not often included among libertarian commitments:

2. A personal and professional commitment to human flourishing, well-being, and happiness.

For myself, I see the role of the second as an exhortation to focus our billions of private initiatives in directions that enhance human well-being. In an age of increasing leisure and wealth, in which more and more people have more and more time and money to devote to making the world a better place, collectively directing our private energies to making the world a better place is potentially a very powerful strategy.

The term "libertarian" is often associated with the Libertarian Party (LP), which tends to focus on issues, such as reducing taxes and legalizing drugs, guns, and prostitution, that are not inspiring or idealistic. Thus the term "libertarian" has mostly become associated with marginal figures pursuing marginalized passions. If we move beyond the LP and look at the cultural creatives, there is an interest in exploring private, entrepreneurial initiative as a way to solve problems. This is inspiring and idealistic.

We want to provide a new music, a passion to make the world a better place, and discover as we go what specific policy prescriptions may follow. By and large, I expect that the first-generation solutions will be similar to the best-thought-out market solutions being developed by economists.

For me, in terms of policy initiatives, the very first priority is educational freedom. Until and unless we can liberate the educational process so that all people have access to empowering education, the least fortunate in the U.S. will fall further andfurther behind. In order to liberate education, we need:

1. To eliminate all government-enforced licensing, certification, and credentials for all professional qualifications. Legally-enforced certification results in government enforcement of the status quo, enforcing class hierarchies, reduced access to crucial professional services, and the stultification of innovation.

2. To liberate K-12 education by minimally-restricted charter schools, voucher plans, and tax credits. We should eliminate compulsory education and gradually move towards the complete separation of school and state. Government-managed K-12 education unnecessarily dooms a significant portion of the population to poverty and misery.

All of this is in line with the views of Ivan Illich, a quasi-Marxist, and John Taylor Gatto, who is supported by Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper's Magazine. Although I am not presently in K-12 education, I am actively working with people to create better ways to educate through large-scale educational entrepreneurship.

Which gets into a broader interpretation of "policy": The most important "policy" changes amount to:

1. Discovering which existing government rules prevent entrepreneurial solutions to problems and then working to change those rules.

2. Developing cadres of FLOW entrepreneurs who can then begin working to solve the problems.

As we have more and more idealistic young people who want to become FLOW entrepreneurs, there will be greater and greater demands for the kinds of freedom that will be required.

Ultimately, fifty to one hundred years from now, I could imagine a truly wonderful world of better cultures and ways of life that is based on something amounting to anarcho-libertarianism.

Thus the FLOW agenda is to be driven by the desire to make the world a better place. Internalizing this new idealism will involve a dramatic and possibly painful gestalt shift for those who come from the Left. The ambition of the Left used to be to create a better society by means of communism. That is gone. There remains an attenuated ambition to create a welfare state or perhaps "sustainable regional economies." Neither of these are particularly inspiring or idealistic. Nor, if partially realized, will they make human life significantly better (In Sweden, the idolized welfare state, one in ten young Swedes now listens to "white power" music, and this sort of racism is increasing across Europe).

At least in large nation-states, government is simply too unwieldy to make the world a better place. But, with adequate freedom, I can create a better classroom, a better school, and a better chain of schools. Even given the severe obstacles faced by innovative educators at present, I can create better, kinder, more wholesome, more intellectual pockets of teen culture.

I am likewise certain that there will be entrepreneurs who will be able to create better communities, better wellness centers, better therapies, better social norms, better forms of recreation, better kinds of entertainment, better policing strategies, better judicial systems, and so on. The human potential movement was never really launched. We need radical freedom of action to launch the human potential movement.

Moreover, in terms of electoral politics, welfare state ambitions are clearly electoral losers in the U.S. and there is every reason to believe that they will become ever more definitively losing strategies in the years to come. The intelligent and witty book, "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America," makes a compelling case that demographic trends -including rapid growth in the exurbs and the continuing loss of support for the Left among the young – will ensure Republican victories for years to come.

On the other hand, "Right Nation" also points out that these growing "Republican" constituencies often tend to be socially liberal but anti-government: Which is another way of saying that the proto-FLOW demographic is steadily growing. My hope for the FLOW movement is that it creates a conscious choice for idealistic humanists among the American Left:

1. Continue to support welfare-state growth which is no longer credible or inspiring, and which ensures ongoing, increasingly humiliating and devastating electoral defeats for Democrats, while resulting in personal disillusionment, bitterness, and despair.


2. Support FLOW, a realistic vision based on a growing demographic that can lead towards global peace, prosperity, happiness, and sustainability while also either making the Democrats viable again and/or getting the Republicans to tone down the propensity for social conservatism, big government, and foreign aggression that increasingly characterizes them.

To me, this choice seems like a no-brainer and it is just a matter of time before more and more open-minded people on what used to be the American Left buy into FLOW.


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