I know a lot of people who identify as left-libertarians, or bleeding-heart libertarians, or whatever. Scott argued for this position here. Gary Johnson has posed wearing a Bleeding Heart Libertarians shirt. A lot of rationalists and EAs seem to think of this as the political position of utilitarians who are aware of the benefits of free markets but also the costs of externalities and inequality.

I don’t think that these people realize how much their values conflict with classic libertarianism. Most importantly, if you’re one of those EA left-libertarians, you should AFAICT probably support way more redistribution than we currently see, and you would probably overall prefer to expand the total share of GDP controlled by the government.

I’m like 70% sure that from a utilitarian perspective which is just optimizing for the short-term welfare of humans and not particularly other animals or the far future, you want to increase redistribution. This guess is based on looking at the US federal budget and noting that a lot of the money goes to direct transfers or various public services. If you kill all of the government spending libertarians don’t like and then increase redistribution as much as utilitarians would probably want to, I suspect that government spending would get bigger overall. This isn’t even including the possibility of redistribution to other countries–if we’re allowed to do that, I think that government would be way bigger than it is now.

Most libertarians would definitely not be cool with this. Given this redistribution preference, it’s not clear to me that the utilitarian left-libertarian position is closer to the Libertarian party than the Democrat party.

This all assumes that I’m right that we should have more income redistribution. But even if we should only have current levels of redistribution, libertarians probably aren’t on board with a future with tax rates as high as they currently are.

Why do EA left-libertarians identify so closely with libertarians? I think it’s a few things—they haven’t thought about the extent of optimal redistribution, they find libertarianism aesthetically appealing and less ideologically grating than leftism or conservatism. There are also some topics where many libertarians and utilitarians get along pretty well–most of the support for the Open Borders movement seems to come from libertarians. But I think it’s more based on aesthetic preferences than actual policy alignment.

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