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Germany's elections shouldn't be the last time that Greens take their market-friendly colleagues into consideration
Following their recent parliamentary elections, the Germans are trying to come up with a coalition with enough seats to form a government. For Americans who find waiting for results past the end of evening hours of Election Night to be excruciating, it's almost impossible to fathom the notion that it could take weeks to decide who's taking over as Chancellor after Angela Merkel. The concession-then-withdrawal-then-36-day-uncertainty of the Presidential election in 2000 was just about more than we could take.
■ As a multi-party parliamentary democracy, Germany is more accustomed to the required horse-trading and negotiation. What's interesting about this election, though, is not the center-left party that came in first, or the center-right party that came in a close second, but rather the third- and fourth-place finishers: The Green Party and the FDP (a "business-friendly", classical liberal party).
■ The two parties have already entered talks with one another, since they together would have the heft to swing a coalition to either of the first- or second-place parties. (It seems unlikely that #1 and #2 will join forces in a "grand coalition".) The Greens and the FDP have important things in common, though they have obvious differences as well.
■ It seems strange that, so often, the Greens of the world are so eager to distance themselves from the classical liberals. There's actually a great deal of space within classical liberalism to justify a "market green" philosophy -- one where the costs of cleaning up after ourselves are used to help rectify shortcomings in otherwise purely market-based transactions. It's no surprise that a lot of center-right economists, for example, endorse the use of carbon taxes to "internalize the externalities" of greenhouse gas emissions: If your behavior creates pollution, then it makes sense to make you pay to clean it up at the same time. As Ben Franklin put it, "He that resolves to mend hereafter, resolves not to mend now."
■ Of course, the conclusion that there ought to be much in common between classical liberals and Greens assumes that the fundamental drive of any Green Party (and it is an unusually international political movement) is to leave behind better environmental conditions for subsequent generations. That, alas, isn't always the case; Greens regularly make the case for much more public ownership and much higher taxes. If the only goal is to socialize everything, then "Green" is really "red" under a coat of paint.
■ It's too bad that the loneliest quadrant in American politics is the classical-liberal space -- the one that favors both economic rights and social freedoms -- particularly given how it's really derived from a lineage of the philosophy of 1776 and 1787, relying on modesty about what government can and should try to do in place of free people making decisions under ordered liberty. As the German election shows, that group is never a majority all on its own. Parties of that nature never seem to crack more than 10% to 15% of any vote. But they're found everywhere people are free to vote, whether as parties on their own or as interest groups, and their influence ought to be for good. Cleaning up after ourselves is a much larger task than just the natural environment.