After following them for couple months I have to say I'm a little disappointed too. The immediate impetus for writing about this disappointment was this post by Fernando Teson. It follows in a long tradition of posts (Arnold Kling and Chidem Kurdas do this a lot too, although Kling has not seemed to be doing it as much recently) of essentially telling progressives what it is they believe, and then proceeding to debunk the ideas that they have attributed to them.
For example, Teson writes: "If progressives became really convinced that open markets helped the poor and if all they cared about was helping the poor, they would have to support open markets. However, the cost of doing this would be prohibitive, because they would have to give up their emotional commitment to vividly altruistic social engineering. This commitment, and not concern for the poor, is what centrally animates the progressive agenda."
How exactly am I supposed to react to this? All the progressives I regularly read and listen to are convinced that open markets help the poor, and I'm certainly convinced of that as well. No progressives I regularly read and listen to naive about "vividly altruistic social engineering", and that's certainly not what animates their agenda. Perhaps I'm not a progressive? That's possible. I've been loathe to outright embrace the label in the past. But I think most readers would agree I'm closer to that than I am to being a libertarian.
Teson goes on: "So BHLs [Bleeding Heart Libertarians] must shrug their shoulders and continue to defend these fundamental empirical propositions: that markets help the poor; that the correlation between private property rights and prosperity is undeniable; that very often government intervention is harmful or counterproductive; and so on."
I've already noted that my firm belief that markets help the poor. Everybody on here knows that the biggest problems I point to that require a public solution are externalities - cases where property rights break down or can't function for some reason or another. So clearly I embrace the idea that the correlation between private property rights and prosperity is undeniable. And I'm also not naive about the idea that government intervention is often harmful and counterproductive. So again - how to take this? Am I just not a progressive? Does that mean I'm a libertarian? Perhaps - but I have serious doubts about that (if I were a libertarian I think you all would have let me know it by now).
Teson continues: "It is not just that progressives do not value economic liberties –although that would be enough to build a high wall separating both camps. In addition, the account of human rights by both camps diverges considerably. Progressives tend to support so-called “socio-economic” rights. They even argue, at least sometimes, that these welfare rights are normatively equivalent to traditional civil liberties."
Hmmmm. Again - have you ever heard me promote positive rights on here? Nope. It's been negative rights all the way, baby! Not natural rights, granted - but it has unequivocally been negative rights.
Teson then says: "Progressives succumb to the seductive enticements of political power in ways that no BHL [Bleeding Heart Libertarian] worth his salt can accept."
I'm going to stick to the maxim "if you don't have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all" in my response to this little piece of condescension.
And: "Progressives tend to be soft on authoritarian “socialist” regimes. They are reluctant to criticize Castro, even today, and they have historically made excuses for the crimes of the Soviet Union. What could possibly be the theoretical underpinning of such an attitude, if it’s not the twin convictions that capitalism is suspect and (more alarmingly) that individual liberty is not so important after all?"
What?!?!? And now we're apologists for totalitarianism? This is where I started to realize Teson and I have two really fundamentally different groups of people in mind when we use the term "progressive". Teson seems to be concerning himself with the very far left, although perhaps he thinks that represents a much wider portion of the spectrum. Unless he's getting worked up over brief homages to Cuban literacy rates, this is bizarre. Even the New Left, which is decidedly more socialist than almost anyone labeled a "progressive" in the United States, practically defined itself by its opposition to totalitarian socialism. Teson couldn't even make his case with respect to that decidedly socialist crowd, so he's certainly not going to make it with regard to American progressives.
In the end I haven't been all that impressed with Bleeding Heart Libertarians because I honestly don't even know if they're trying to talk to people like me. I would have thought they would be talking to people of my ilk, but I read a post like this and it's blatantly obvious they have someone completlely different in mind. I'm not sure who that is - it sounds like some washed-up ivory tower leftist or perhaps a newly minted activisty type. Maybe that's the intended audience, in which case I guess they're welcome to have that conversation if they want. But if they think they're characterizing that spectrum from the center-left (me, essentially), to the intelligent and pragmatic progressive left (I dunno - Matt Yglesias and Paul Krugman) they have completely missed the mark, to the point that there's really a swiftly diminishing marginal return to reading it. It's like the Cato Unbound essays with Daniel Klein talking about "overlords". I'm not sure who he's intending to talk to, but if he thinks he's talking to people like me he seems to be very, very, very confused.