An Occasional Lecture: After Obama – the increasing relevance of classical liberalism in American politics


  • 14/05/2013
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Many people thought that the re-election of President Obama signalled a sea-change in American politics. The era of big government, for example, was back. However, events since then suggest that the election was not so much an endorsement of big government policies, but a rejection of the mainstream conservative alternative. Indeed, most political indicators point towards the increasing relevance of classical liberal ideas, rather than mainstream conservative or leftist thought. For example, voters rejected the conservative contention that immigration and gay marriage would wreck society. They were also unenthused by leftist propositions for increased spending and higher taxes. The fact that there has been no groundswell of opinion against the sequester indicates that the deal reached in January to increase the payroll tax and taxes on the rich to offset higher spending may be about as far as the public is willing to go. The attempt to inflict pain on the public via the sequester by laying off air traffic control workers in the same proportion as other FAA staff did however produce a groundswell that helped stifle that move without substantively affecting the sequester itself. Finally, there is growing worry and trepidation about the likely effects of Obamacare, with the policy in negative approval territory. All of these indicators suggest that the party that best squares the circle and adopts a more classically liberal philosophy will reap the electoral rewards. To do so, however, will require defeating the special interests within the parties that will oppose such a move.

Iain Murray is Vice President for Strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he also directs the Center for Economic Freedom. He is the author of the best-selling books, The Really Inconvenient Truths and Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You. He has written extensively on free markets and the environment, labour policy, finance, the EU, and trade. He tweets at @ismurray.

Before joining CEI, Iain was Director of Research at the Statistical Assessment Service. A former civil servant in the United Kingdom, Iain emigrated to the USA in 1997 and remains a British citizen. He holds an MBA from the University of London and an MA from the University of Oxford. He is married with two children and lives in Northern Virginia.

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