I wrote about the new hotness of mushy traditionalism (instead of conventional normative argument) being mobilized to somehow support libertarianism. I got this response from Adam Gurri, which am not satisfied with because it does not answer back my concerns, but rather rehashes an abstract explanation of what traditionalism means.
To show I read it, let me redescribe the three things Adam said. First, people’s views are shaped by their culture. Second, stable institutions are hard to come by. Third, there are conventions sometimes about what is what. Cool.
But none of this tells us: what should we do? This is the question, and it is not answered. The principles don’t even give a hint of what on earth we should do. If Gurri were one of the common law judges he lionizes, we’d surely fire him for providing no forward guidance on the contentious issues in question.
I have learned on the internet that the best way to engage in something like this is to narrow way down. Make a single point or ask a single question and try to get a response. So that’s what I want to do here.
Is Social Security Defensible on Traditionalist Grounds or Not?
That is the question I am pressing to Gurri. Social Security has been around since 1935. Liberal labor market institutions in the US (as opposed to the common law feudal master-servant institutions that continued to rein in the US for a long time) have been around for about that long. I know Gurri’s view on liberal labor market institutions, but I stand unaware of what they are on Social Security or how the black box of traditionalism weighs in on this matter.
The social state, of which Social Security is the largest part, is a long-running stable institution. It is only slightly younger than a system of full-blown industrial capitalism. And this is not a coincidence. In every single country in the western world (and maybe elsewhere, though I am not as familiar), the rise of industrial capitalism was universally met with a massive backlash of Labor and other economic movements to erect the social state to establish at least a modicum of stability and security.
The social system of laissez-faire capitalism has proven so unbelievably unstable that no western country has ever tolerated it for long. Full blown industrial capitalism without labor protections and the social state proved so destabilizing and social dislocating that millions of otherwise “property-respecting” Americans seized and halted production in thousands of factories over the course of just two years in the 1930s. Labor-driven parties swept across Europe. We could go on.
Out of the vicious roiling instability of full-blown industrial capitalism plus laissez-faire, we got things like Social Security and the modern social state, which have proven to be far more stable and lasting. You can tell it’s become more stable because millions of workers aren’t seizing their workplaces these days (sadly).
So, I push it again, is Social Security defensible on traditionalist grounds or not? It has super-majoritarian support in the country. It is a huge feature of our culture that most people are aware of and taught about and obviously in generally positive ways. It has proven stable. It is conventional. (And, although a consideration not relevant to traditionalism, it pulls 22 million people out of poverty each year).
With that the case, does a traditionalist libertarian support Social Security or not. I want an exposition that runs Social Security through the analytical framework of traditionalism (that black box of vagueness) and to see the resulting intellectual product. Ideally this application of traditionalism will render and up or down indication, but if not, at least some (non-vague, non-vacuous) explanation of what we are supposed to be thinking about with respect to Social Security.