Arnold Kling asks: why do more people travel from the far left towards libertarianism than make the opposite journey?
He makes many good points, but I fear his contrast between the two is drawn in the wrong place.
He says the far left commit the fundamental attribution error - it "believes that bad policies come from evil motives." However, "libertarians believe that context is more important. We believe that government power is inherently corrupting, regardless of who holds leadership positions or how they are influenced."
No doubt, this is true of many leftists and many libertarians. But I don't think it's the key distinction.
For one thing, many non-leftists also commit the fundamental attribution error. For example, some supporters of the war in Iraq believe that because Bush's motives are good, the policy is good.
Also, many leftists are, of course, smart enough to know that government power is inherently corrupting. Here in England, many think this is the history of the Labour party.
I'd split (right) libertarians and the left on a different issue - how comfortable are you with inequalities of wealth?
This issue, I guess helps explain why people move from the far left to right libertarianism more than vice versa. As folks get older, they get richer. And the richer you are, the easier it is to tolerate inequality, not just for reasons of self-interest.
I'm not accusing Arnold of this. There is, though, one aspect of his autobiography that puzzles me:
From 1986 through 1994, I worked for Freddie Mac, as it made the transition from a government agency to a shareholder-owned, profit-driven corporation. I was involved in several major innovations, including the introduction of credit scoring into mortgage underwriting. These experiences were bittersweet at best. I found myself strongly opposed by the bureaucracy when I tried to persuade senior management to undertake the innovations. Then, when senior management finally agreed to move forward, these same bureaucrats would leap aboard the new project and shove me aside. I came away with very mixed feelings about large corporate organizations. I now say that "You would not be so afraid of large corporations if you had ever worked for one."
But you could draw another inference here. These bureaucrats were, presumably, drawing big salaries despite being mere rent-seekers. Couldn't the lesson therefore be that some inequalities aren't related to economic efficiency, and that market forces don't grind so small as to ensure that inequalities are due solely to differences in productivity?
Maybe, then, Arnold was too quick to abandon the left - not least because leftism is compatible (pdf) with some forms of libertarianism.