(This item originally appeared at Forbes.com on July 29, 2019.)
I came to a funny conclusion at this year’s FreedomFest, the always-worthwhile annual gathering for Libertarian activists and enthusiasts: Like the Military-Industrial Complex, the Liberty Movement is still stuck in ruts left over from the Cold War.
The trend of Millennials in particular toward a brand of hard-Left Socialism that would probably consider Bernie Sanders a moderate, is a looming threat not only to Republican politicians’ ability to win elections, but even to the future of the Republic itself, and the principles on which it was created. The response from the Liberty Movement to this development has been, mostly, that “Socialism is a Failure.” By “Socialism” they mean the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela.
The Soviet Union was indeed a failure. In fact, it failed to exist before these young people were born. They don’t care about Soviet Union, just as older people today don’t care about Maoist China or France’s Ancien Regime. When one side says “Medicare for All” and the other side says “Socialism is a Failure,” not many minds are changed. There are a lot of seemingly-pleasant places today, such as France or Denmark, where their version of “Medicare for All” is not clearly a failure at all; and indeed, it is genuinely better on many metrics than the U.S.’s own disaster of a healthcare system.
I suggest instead that these worn-out Cold Warriors should address Millennials’ concerns more directly. We know what these concerns are, because they are basically Bernie Sanders’ playbook. In the top slots we find:
Housing costs in certain cities with strong employment growth; especially housing costs near the place of employment (avoiding long commutes).
Environmental concerns focusing on fossil fuels and “climate change.”
Now, we throw away the typical “big government/big spending” solutions proposed by the Left, and instead introduce some solutions based on principles of Freedom. For example:
Healthcare Costs: The present U.S. system is a catastrophe. But, we actually have a solution. It is described in The Cure That Works (2019), by economist Sean Masaki Flynn, and draws upon the extensive work of John Goodman over decades. The basic ingredients are:
1) Transparent pricing: public disclosure of prices for all services
2) Unified pricing: one price for all customers
3) Health savings accounts
Like other good ideas I know (the Flat Tax), this model was developed in the United States, but implemented elsewhere: in this case, Singapore. Singapore has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Life expectancy is 5.2 years higher than the U.S.; infant mortality is 59% lower. But the best thing is the cost. Singapore achieves this with 75% less spending per capita on healthcare — 4.2% of GDP compared to 18.2% in the U.S. Singapore’s health savings accounts now contain balances equivalent to five years of total healthcare spending. Do you think some Millennials might be interested in that? Go tell them!
Education Costs:The University of California was tuition-free for in-State students from its founding in 1868 until 1975. In 2000 (already pretty late in this process), UC Berkeley had 1209 members of the teaching faculty and 519 administrators. In 2015, UC Berkeley had 1285 faculty, and 1281 administrators. I would guess that, if the faculty/administrator ratio at UC Berkeley was returned to where it was in 1965, tuition could be free again.
Housing Costs: Only recently has a broader swath of people begun to recognize that soaring housing costs in places like San Francisco are the direct results of all the restrictions and obstacles that prevent developers from meeting rising demand with more supply. Between 2012 and 2016 (just five years), the San Francisco Metro area added 373,000 new jobs, but only permitted 58,000 housing units. This is an average of 11,600 new units per year; Tokyo prefecture builds 130,000. This situation has led to proposals like the recent SB 50 led by far-Left-leaning State Congressman Scott Weiner, which would have allowed a radical upzoning (basically to six-story multifamily) of areas around rail and ferry stations. It turns out that members of the deep Left enthusiastically embrace these kinds of “libertarian” solutions, when it is clear to them that it will achieve what they want — more housing, closer to work and transportation, at lower prices.
Climate Change/Fossil Fuels:The science of what might happen to climate in twenty years is debatable. But, one reason this arcane topic has generated such broad political support is that many Americans, stuck in traffic every day in an inhumane hellscape of gigantic roadways and parking lots stretching over the horizon in every direction, naturally conclude that automobile dependency is killing the environment. Whatever the fate of coral reefs in Australia may be, the basic fact of their everyday life is that it is destroying their personal environment. I think there is a desire among Millennials especially to move toward a more European/Asian mode of urbanization, where many daily tasks (school, groceries, banks, dentists, daycare) are within walking distance of the home, and the primary mode of transportation within the city is by rail. Cities have been around for five thousand years, and for nearly that entire time, the primary mode of transportation was walking. Only in the last seventy years or so have we experimented with cities that require an automobile for daily living, and where walking is nearly impossible; and this experiment has been a failure.
A favorite environmental solution among conservatives: Vienna, Austria. photocredit: Getty
This walking/trains-based urbanism uses far less energy than U.S.-style suburban automobile dependency. The average London resident, for example, produces 5.9 metric tons of CO2 per year, compared to the U.S. average of 24.5. The average resident of Phoenix, AZ consumed 70 gigajoules of energy per capita for transportation; the average resident of Vienna, Austria consumed 10; Singaporeans consumed 6; Hong Kong-ers consumed 3. Whatever the broader environmental advantages of Vienna-style living may be, this solution also appeals to conservatives who find the great European capitals far more livable than today’s suburban wastelands. The American Conservative has devoted a whole series to the advantages of living Vienna-style. This could coincide with lower housing costs–indeed, the natural effect of efforts like Scott Weiner’s SB50 in California would be to realize this result.
And so it turns out that Millennials’ concerns can be addressed with free market Libertarian solutions. In fact, these arguments are already popular among self-described members of the Left. Claiming that Elizabeth Warren-style spendathon policies might eventually lead to a Venezuela-like outcome isn’t going to convince them, even if it’s true. But, providing better solutions to their immediate concerns gets an enthusiastic response.