At The Y Files, Cathy Young writes:
It’s my impression that most democrats and lefties realize that being smart is not an absolute guarantee against needing help at retirement. Even smart people can be hurt by bad investments, bad decisions or bad luck. The delusion that poverty is primarily caused by stupidity is the province of smug libertarians (see: Murray, Charles), not Democrats.
That said, I think it’s also the case that stupid people are more likely to wind up poor than smart people, all else held equal. So what? Stupid people don’t have less of a need to eat in retirement. Saying “smart people will all successfully plan for retirement,” even if it were true (and it’s not), would still be no answer to the question of what to do about elder poverty.
I’m not sure what “workplace diversity measures” means. Is it just affirmative action, or is Cathy also referring to laws making it illegal to fire people, or refuse to hire them, based solely on their race? I disagree with her either way.
The flaw in Cathy’s thinking – and in the thinking of most libertarians – is that she mistakenly writes as if the government were the only possible threat to freedom. In fact, the government is only one of many threats to freedom.
“Freedom,” as libertarians use the word, never seems to mean anything other than freedom from government intrusion. Real freedom, however, means having a wide range of attractive options. When someone’s options are eliminated by the marketplace, by illness, or by lack of available assistance, that is as real a threat to their freedom as government intrusion.
When a black person has their economic opportunities reduced by widespread racism in the marketplace, that is a more significant threat to their freedom than when the daughter of a wealthy person has to pay estate taxes.
When someone too old to find work has no money, that is a far more significant threat to their freedom than high marginal income tax rates are for the freedom of well-off people.
The inability of libertarians to understand this is why they don’t understand that a poor, untaxed person who has nowhere to sleep but under a bridge, is in fact less free than a well-off person faced with the tyranny of reasonable government regulations or even the horror of progressive tax rates.
Edited to add: Okay, that last paragraph was unfair – possibly even as unfair as “Democrats seem to believe that Americans aren’t smart enough to manage their retirement….” is. I don’t mean to say that libertarians are heartless, or that they don’t understand at all that poverty can limit freedom. But I do think that libertarians massively overestimate the tyrannical effects of mild government regulation and taxes, and massively underestimate how constraining of freedom discrimination and the marketplace can be.