The Spectacle Blog

Libertarian Populism: The Most Attractive Chick at the Bar

By on 7.22.13 | 2:01PM

Recently there's been much debate over the idea of "libertarian populism," most notably in a tractor-trailer crash of a Paul Krugman column and a scathing rejoinder by Nick Gillespie. Definitions and precepts vary, but libertarian populism is generally defined as the GOP adopting policies that shrink government and encourage free enterprise in order to win back working-class voters.

I'm not a libertarian and I'm not convinced that such an approach would translate into electoral success. But if you look at the structural policy problems of the moment, libertarian populism is the most convincing philosophical tonic out there. America's big thinkers, both in government and on Wall Street, have failed horribly, resulting in an economic collapse, and were never held accountable for their calamitous management, instead expanding their risky practices and demanding that taxpayers foot the bill. Conservatives haven't historically been populists, but reality is increasingly taking a populist shape: reckless elites funded by a struggling working class.

This is increasingly true in Washington, America's boomtown during the bust. This weekend, the Washington Post profiled 14th Street NW, previously a haven for crack dealers and prostitutes, now a crown jewel of what Mark Leibovich calls "America's Gilded Capital":

The formerly riot-scarred corridor has gone into gentrification overdrive, a boom fueled by investors looking for a safe place to park hundreds of millions of dollars, the relative ease of obtaining a liquor license, and the arrival of thousands of new residents longing to live downtown.

The result: more than 1,200 condos and apartments and 100,000 square feet of retail are being built or have hit the market in just the past nine months. At the same time, at least 25 bars and restaurants have opened or are under construction along 14th Street, adding more than 2,000 seats to the city’s dining scene at warp speed.

And nothing says subsidized failure like wine bars:

The pace of change has become dizzying even for the likes of Kai Reynolds, a principal with JBG Cos., which is co-developing the massive Louis condo and retail complex rising at 14th and U streets, site of a future Trader Joe’s that already has city foodies salivating.

Reynolds lived in the Logan Circle area a decade ago and watched the shift from streetwalkers and used car lots to luxury apartment dwellers and wine bars. But that still did not prepare him for a Tuesday night earlier this month when he found himself standing at 14th and Q, unable to get a seat at Le Diplomate, the huge French eatery built by Philadelphia restaurant mogul Stephen Starr on the former site of a decrepit dry cleaners.

Real estate investors have flocked to D.C. and poured huge money into its neighborhoods. This is because Washington, subsisting on the borrowed money of government, has experienced growth during the recession that is unique among American cities. "We were the only chick at the bar," as one real estate broker told the Post. The gentrification here has been incredibly rapid; neighborhoods that were riddled with crime ten years ago are now bustling with restaurants, bars, and shopping centers. Despite the histrionics over the sequester, the Washington area has added 40,000 jobs since sequestration took effect. D.C.'s unemployment rate has been consistently below the national average.

The single biggest problem facing American politics today isn't immigration or even tax reform, but the fact that this government-industrial complex continues to grow, its technocrat residents continue to meddle in the economy they wrecked, and none of it shows any sign of stopping. Government needs to be downsized, its regulations need to be rolled back, and power needs to be devolved to states and individuals. As far as that's concerned, libertarian populism isn't necessarily the only chick at the bar. But it is the most attractive.

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