When Frank, rightly, called Will's answer a "cop-out" and "anti-libertarian," Will desperately played the liberal-hypocrite card. "What you're calling a cop-out I'm calling a quest for information," said Will. "I understand liberalism's aversion to information because it often doesn't go in their direction."
What's striking is Will's casual oblivion to the essentially liberal premise of his own argument: If market outcomes are intolerable, he's saying, the public has a legitimate interest in regulating markets, or indeed outlawing them altogether.
Yet somehow, when liberals invoke the same public-interest logic in defense of environmental safety, consumer protection or universal healthcare, people like Will depict them as wild-eyed Bolsheviks steamrolling society down the slippery slope to serfdom. The liberal "project," Will wrote last year in a typically sweeping indictment (of, in this case, Elizabeth Warren) "is to dilute the concept of individualism, thereby refuting respect for the individual's zone of sovereignty. The regulatory state, liberalism's instrument, constantly tries to contract that zone …"
Maybe, but how is that so different from a conservative project that's willing to nullify consumer sovereignty over what to smoke, or let government tell banks how big they can get? And which is worse: meddlers who never subscribed to the ideal of unfettered markets, or meddlers who make their careers vilifying government?
Here's a little theory about how we got ourselves into the fix we're in. A working majority of rationally under-informed people have been periodically bamboozled over the past 40 years into letting powerful interests, mainly financial in nature, slip the restraints placed on them last time they burned down the house, in the 1930s. We allowed this to happen partly because enough of us were swayed enough of the time by the arguments of thought leaders whose first principle is that government is always the problem and markets are always the solution.
But once in a while the thought leaders slip up, yield a step to reality, and reveal their pristine philosophy for the claptrap that it is.
Feel you've been had? You have been. Best from now on to ignore the Great Free-Market Wizard, and pay some attention to that ideologue behind the curtain.