The Problem With Urban Progressive Part-Time Freedom Lovers
Acton Institute Powerblog

The Problem With Urban Progressive Part-Time Freedom Lovers

Rent is Too HighSince the 1950s, the modern conservative movement has been marked by “fusionism”—a mix of various groups, most notably traditional conservatives and libertarians. For the next fifty years a conservative Christian and a secular libertarian (or vice versa) could often find common ground by considering how liberty lead to human flourishing.

But for the past decade a different fusionist arrangement has been tried (or at least desired) which includes progressives and libertarians. Brink Lindsey coined the term “liberaltarians” in 2006 to describe this uneasy alliance. Ten years into the experiment, the results have been less than impressive.

There were many reasons why the alliance was doomed to fail, but the most important was that libertarians tend to desire intellectually and political consistency in promoting a freedom agenda while progressives tend to be highly selective in their love of liberty.

Not to be too uncharitable, but urban progressives, for instance, tend to favor liberty only when it benefits urban progressives. This is especially true when it comes to government regulations. As Aaron M. Renn explains,

People identifying as urban progressives increasingly find their own goals stymied by laws and regulations, and they’re demanding that these restrictions be overturned or limited. In other areas of city policy, though—typically, when they don’t hold a personal stake—they often push aggressively for ever more regulations and a more intrusive government. Call it a libertarianism of convenience. What these part-time freedom lovers don’t understand is that, absent a wider culture of liberty, calls for selective liberty will probably go unheeded.

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Urban progressives’ enthusiasm for deregulation proves to be highly selective, however; indeed, in many policy areas, they’re pushing for greatly expanded regulation. This is often true on the economic front. Advocates have pushed hard for local minimum-wage hikes in cities from Chicago to Seattle, for instance, and they try to block chain retailers from expanding in many neighborhoods. But the regulatory spirit is particularly relentless when it comes to the environment. San Francisco has restricted plastic water bottles and banned single-use plastic bags from stores, prompting the alt-weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian to cheer the city for continuing to “lead the way in the nation’s environmental policy.” New York mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a ban on polystyrene packaging, which will start in July. EVERY CITY NEEDS VANCOUVER’S BAN ON FOOD SCRAPS, a CityLab headline recently declared, lauding that city’s ban on tossing food into the garbage, meant to encourage people to compost.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).