Populism Can Be More Libertarian, But Libertarianism Will Never Be Populist

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 1 2013 12:36 PM

Populism Can Be More Libertarian, But Libertarianism Will Never Be Populist

I've been meaning to write a deadly dull low-traffic blog post on the subject of "libertarian populism" for a while now, and I think my bottom line is this—economic populism can (and probably should) become more libertarian, but libertarianism can never be populist.

For the sake of this discussion, a "populist" economic policy idea is one that transfers economic resources from a privileged minority to the masses. There are many instances in which a libertarian or deregulatory impulse would have this effect. Upzoning of expensive urban and suburban land is my personal favorite agenda. Call it "deregulation" if you want to be libertarian or call it "land reform" if you want to sound like populist, but either way it's a good idea. Similarly, altering "scope of practice" regulations that privilege doctors and dentists over nurses, hygenists, and patients is both populist and libertarian. Good times.


That said tax the rich and use the money to finance transfers to the poor and broad social insurance schemes for the middle class will always be a populist idea and will never be a libertarian one. At a time when various large-scale economic forces seem to be increasing the returns to capital and the "superstar" premia enjoyed by a few very successful people, this particular form of populism is also a good idea.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.