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Archive for the ‘Libertarianism’ Category

I know there are stereotypes about libertarians being a bunch of dorks.

Conservatives think we’re potheads. Liberals think we’re heartless.

And many other people simply think we’re a bit weird.

These stereotypes can be amusing, but I also think they’re wrong.

And regardless, I think there’s much to admire in the libertarian ideals of small government, personal liberty, free markets, non-intervention, and individual responsibility

Moreover, we have other redeeming features.

For instance, we’re actually the last of the great romantics.

Don’t believe me? Well, check out this collection of libertarian valentines.

My two favorites include this one mocking Obamacare.

And I also think the valentine mocking the National Security Agency is in the running to be my favorite.

But they’re all good and worth sharing.

So remember that libertarians are cuddly and loving!

P.S. There’s no policy angle in this postscript, but I feel compelled to offer a public service announcement for any men in the audience.

If your significant other tells you she doesn’t want you to do anything for Valentine’s Day, don’t believe her.

Sort of reminds me of the famous Dave Barry column about men and women that I linked at the end of this post.

P.P.S. Let’s close with a serious point about public policy.

I’ve mocked the Transportation Security Agency for its empty “security theater.”

And I’ve shared horror stories of utterly pointless harassment of travelers.

But nothing will be more compelling and convincing than this article by a former TSA bureaucrat. Here’s an excerpt, but you really need to read the whole article.

It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying. Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

And here’s another example of the TSA in action.

A bureaucrat confiscated a tiny toy gun that was part of a sock monkey’s outfit.

I’m not kidding. Here are some passages from a news report on the incident.

May and her husband were going through the screening process when she noticed that one of her bags was missing. “And the (TSA agent) held it up and said ‘whose is this?’” she said. “I realized oh, my God this is my bag.” May said the TSA agent went through the bag, through the sewing supplies and found the two-inch long pistol. “She said ‘this is a gun,’” said May. “I said no, it’s not a gun it’s a prop for my monkey.” “She said ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘really?’” said May. The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police. “I said well go ahead,” said May. “And I said really? You’re kidding me right, and she said no it looks like a gun.” “She took my monkey’s gun,” said May, who has retained her sense of humor. “Rooster Monkburn has been disarmed so I’m sure everyone on the plane was safe,” she said.

Let’s end with some humor about the Keystone Cops of airport security. If you want some TSA laughs, see this, this, and this.

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Do libertarians have a sense of humor?

That’s a relevant question because many people think of us as unhappy curmudgeons, or perhaps as dorky Randians.

While I think those stereotypes are unfair, I also confess that I can only think of a few examples of explicitly pro-libertarian humor.

Libertarian Jesus scolding modern statists.

This poster about confused statists.

The libertarian version of a sex fantasy.

Since I could only find three examples, does this mean libertarians are hopelessly dour and lacking in humor?

I think the answer is “no” and I think there are two reasons to justify that response. First, libertarians are always making fun of oafish and moronic government. I like to think, for instance, that my UK-vs-US government stupidity contest contains some amusing satire.

Skeptics may respond that you can mock big government without being a libertarian, and that’s a fair point.

But this gives me an opportunity to list the second reason why it’s wrong to accuse libertarians of lacking a sense of humor. Simply stated, we have the ability to appreciate anti-libertarian humor. This not only shows that we have funny bones, but it also demonstrates that we have considerable confidence about the strength of our ideas.

So with that build-up, here’s an example of anti-libertarian humor I received from a fellow traveler in Illinois.

Libertarian Fire Dept

I think you’ll agree that this can be added to our collection of anti-libertarian humor.

P.S. Since I am a dorky libertarian, I can’t resist responding to the above cartoon by noting that we actually don’t need government fire departments. The folks at the Reason Foundation have been working on this issue for decades and have a study explaining the benefits of private fire departments.

But there’s a lot more evidence. Here’s what one expert wrote in 2012 for Cato Unbound.

…my town contracts out its entire fire department to the company Rural/Metro, a pioneer in privatized fire services. Their trucks are shiny, red, and full of water, just like a “traditional” fire department’s. Their firemen train just like their municipal counterparts do in neighboring jurisdictions. They respond to fire and EMS calls just like the government-run systems do. The main differences I’ve discerned are that: (1) their logo—which otherwise looks much like other fire department logos—notes the name of the company underneath the name of the town, and (2) workers are covered under a private sector 401(k) plan, so our town is not on the hook for a massive future pension payout. Neither of these differences is relevant from a service delivery standpoint.

And an article in Capitalism Magazine the same year pointed out that privatized fire protection exists in hundreds of communities.

…nearly half of Denmark’s municipalities contract with Group 4 Falck to provide firefighting and ambulance services. In America, more than 450 communities contract with Rural/Metro Corporation for fire protection service, EMS, or both. Unlike government fire services, which focus on fire response, Rural/Metro focuses on fire prevention. A former mayor of Scottsdale, Arizona, which has used Rural/Metro for more than two decades said, “Scottsdale citizens are offered a much better balance between response and prevention than is available in most communities.”

Why are so many communities looking at private options?

Most likely, it’s because unions have conspired with government officials to push labor costs to absurd levels, as humorously depicted is this somewhat off-color video.

P.P.S. Returning to the topic of humor, I have a serious request. Can anybody provide examples of self-deprecating humor by leftists?

I don’t think statists have much self-confidence in their ideas, so they probably don’t have much ability to poke at themselves, but I imagine there must be some examples.

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As part of my “You Be the Judge” series, I periodically share stories that presumably create moral quandaries for libertarians and other advocates of limited government and individual liberty.

It’s not easy being libertarian!

Though I’ve been lax in this regard since my last iteration in the series was about drug legalization back in April.

Time to atone for this oversight. Today’s thorny topic deals with the reasons that government must provide before taking children from their parents.

We had an example of this type of quandary earlier in the year, which actually resulted in parents fleeing to Cuba.

Our new example comes from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are some details from a story in the UK-based Daily Express.

Britain’s obesity epidemic…sees NHS hospitals dealing with 1,000 cases every day… Increasingly social workers find youngsters being fed a high-fat, sugary diet, which can be just as bad for their health. The phenomenon is known as “killing with kindness” because the child craves the unhealthy food and a loving parent feels unable to say no. Professionals say they have to make complex decisions in care proceedings and a family’s gross over-eating can be one of the factors that leads to them losing their children. A Sunday Express survey of councils found that in the past year five children were taken from their families for that reason: two in Wake-field, West Yorkshire, one in Oxfordshire, one in Salford and one in Hounslow, London. The previous 12 months saw five similar cases in Sheffield, Portsmouth, Lincolnshire, Slough and Harrow, London. …Ex-Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson warned in 2006 that health chiefs would look at removing children from their families if they became super-sized, risking their health. The first reported case took place in 2007 when an eight-year-old girl from Cumbria, who had to wear size 16 clothes, was taken into care.

I confess that this story leaves me conflicted.

Since I surely would favor the government taking kids if they were being starved to death, shouldn’t I support taking kids if they’re being fed to death?

Even if they’re not being fed to death, they are probably being condemned to lives of obesity, which is associated with all sorts of bad outcomes. Don’t I want to save them from that fate?

On the other hand, do any of us think that kids generally are better off in a foster care system?

Moreover, do you trust the government to make wise decisions? That’s an especially relevant question in the case of the United Kingdom, where kids actually have been removed from a home because the parents didn’t believe in unlimited immigration.

And what’s the cut-off point? Maybe if the government starts with seizing grossly obese children, that eventually will lead to raiding homes with mildly chubby kids.

These slippery slope arguments are important because most examples of government abuse have relatively benign beginnings (today’s monstrous income tax, for example, began in 1913 as a very simple, two-page tax with a top rate of just 7 percent).

I don’t know the right answer, but I look forward to reading the comments.

P.S. If you want additional challenging examples of “you be the judge,” peruse this list.

P.P.S. On a separate matter, I gave a speech earlier this year while visiting the Citadel in South Carolina. I gave it the grandiose title of “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Economic Policy.”

I don’t know if this is a positive sign, but that video has been translated and posted in China. Considering that my blog is blocked in China, I assume this is progress of some sort.

You won’t be surprised to learn, though, that I have no idea how to embed this type of video, but if you have a bizarre desire to watch me pontificate with Chinese subtitles, feel free to click on the image.

China Citadel

I have no idea whether I’ll change any minds in China, but I hope the country moves more in a free-market direction. As shown by Hong Kong and Singapore, Chinese people are very productive when freed from the shackles of big government.

Moreover, some Chinese bigwigs seem to understand. I was very impressed, for instance, when the head of China’s sovereign wealth fund made some very accurate observations about the failure of the European welfare state.

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Normal people aren’t thinking about public policy at this time of year, but I’m a libertarian who has decided to fight against big government in Washington, so I’m definitely not normal and I could be a masochist.

And since you’re reading this instead of daydreaming about Santa, you’re also not part of the herd. Which means you may enjoy some good laughs with a Christmas theme.

In prior years, I’ve shared IRS Christmas gifts, a video showing what would happen if Obama ran the North Pole, and presents from Ben Bernanke.

This year, let’s enjoy some cartoons. Given my disdain for big government, destructive redistribution, and high tax rates, you’ll understand why this Robert Gorrell cartoon is first on my list.

Gorrell XMas Cartoon

Next we have Henry Payne mocking the President’s desperate efforts to get people to climb on the sinking ship of Obamacare.

Payne XMas Cartoon

Speaking of which, here’s a gem from Michael Ramirez featuring the President in the role of Pajama Boy.

Ramirez XMas Cartoon

Since we’ve already enjoyed some Pajama Boy jokes, you might think there’s nothing new in this cartoon,

But I wanted to share it because of a minor disagreement. I wish Ramirez was right and Obama was “only” talking about changing health insurance.

Instead, the President has taken a health care system that already was a mess because of government intervention and imposed a law that will make a bad situation far worse.

Last but not least, I want to share some…um…feedback I received last night. Long-time readers may remember that I have a license plate that expresses my deep and sincere affection for Washington, DC.

Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that some people disagree with me.

And one of those people left a message on my windshield. I don’t know if this “fan” was an overpaid bureaucrat, an Obama drone, a corrupt lobbyist, or a 1960s refugee, but you can see that he (could be a she, I suppose, but the handwriting seems male) was irked.

Leftist Note

A few thoughts about the message.

1. Why is my license plate offensive? Were the Founding Fathers also offensive because of their distrust of centralized power and authority? That certainly seems to be Obama’s view, so maybe my “fan” is an Obama drone.

2. Then again, the use of “bespeaks” suggests someone who spent too much time in college. So maybe this is a former grad student who became a Hill staffer and is now a sleazy lobbyist for some unethical group of moochers.  No wonder he’s angry about life.

Cabo Abir3. Regarding the…er…challenge to my manhood, it was actually my girlfriend who found the message. And since she’s way too hot for me, I must have some redeeming quality. At least I hope.

4. I’m surprised that my new friend wrote “Merry Christmas.” Isn’t that politically incorrect?!? What if I was Jewish? Or Muslim? Or Buddhist? Or whatever? This makes me think the author was an overpaid bureaucrat who slept through his mandatory sensitivity training. European Union bureaucrats surely would never make this mistake.

5. Last but not least, I’m amused that  a statist would use “Peace” as a valediction. It is the left that believes in using the coercive power of government – ultimately enforced by threats and violence – to restrict the rights of others. So maybe my “fan” is a 1960s leftover. These are the nitwits, after all, who protest against government by demanding more government.

Maybe the guy who left the note is a reader and will reveal his identity, but I won’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, enjoy a politically incorrect Christmas story from Larry the Cable Guy.

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Most of my political humor is designed to mock statists. That’s true whether I’m sharing cartoons, videos, jokes, or one-liners.

But I also enjoy clever left-wing humor, even when libertarians are the target. Here are examples that tickled my funny bone.

I rarely find explicitly pro-libertarian humor, however, perhaps because we’re too busy fretting about the dangers of excessive government.

But I think you’ll agree that “Libertarian Jesus” is worth a laugh or two.

Libertarian Jesus

I like this poster because it makes the very important and serious point (which Cal Thomas has succinctly explained) that it’s not compassion when you use coercion to spend other people’s money.

If you want more pro-libertarian humor, all I can find is this poster about confused statists and the libertarian version of a sex fantasy.

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I realize we’re in the middle of a government shutdown and there’s a debt limit deadline rapidly approaching, but I’m not going to write about fiscal policy today.

Instead, I’m going to share a story about evil and stupid government policy. I guess you could say this is part of my why-decent-people-should-be-libertarian series. Previous editions – all of which highlight examples of innocent people having their lives turned upside down by the state – include these horror stories.

Now watch this powerful video from the Institute for Justice and see whether it’s also an example of heartless and oppressive government.

The answer – if you believe in fairness, decency, and the rule of law – is that this definitely belongs on that list. What the federal government has done to the Dehko family is utterly despicable and a horrifying episode of thievery.

Just as other examples of bureaucratic theft should get us upset.

In the case of the Dehko family, they got in trouble (notwithstanding the fact that they did nothing wrong) because of so-called anti-money laundering laws.

These laws were instituted beginning about 30 years ago based on the theory that we could lower crime rates by making it more difficult for crooks to utilize the financial system.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, at least in theory. But as I explain in this video, these laws have become very expensive and intrusive, yet they’ve had no measurable impact on crime rates.

As you might expect, politicians and bureaucrats have decided to double down on failure and they’re making anti-money laundering laws more onerous, imposing ever-higher costs in hopes of having some sort of positive impact. This is bad for banks, bad for the poor, and bad for the economy.

So we’ll see more people victimized, like the Dehko family.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this piece. At what point do well-meaning people connect the dots and conclude that government is a danger to liberty?

And when you draw this obvious conclusion, isn’t it time to become a libertarian?

This doesn’t mean you have to be a pot-smoking, Rand-quoting stereotype. Instead, it simply means that you have a healthy distrust of unlimited state power and you think individuals should have both the freedom and responsibility to manage their own lives.

To see where you stand, here are a couple of quizzes.

A just-for-the-fun-of-it quiz I put together involving pot, police cars, and a tractor.

A thorough quiz on libertarian purity.

Last but not least, if you decide to be a libertarian, I hope you can figure out how to make our cause more popular.

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Maybe it’s because I have a bit of a old-fashioned moralistic streak to me, but I viscerally object to the notion that good people should pay bad people not to do bad things.

That’s why, a few years ago, I didn’t react favorably when the former dictator of Libya asked for several billion dollars per year to stop illegals from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

And this also explains why I don’t think American taxpayers should cough up $1 billion to bribe Syria’s dictator into giving up his chemical weapons.

In this interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, I make the basic libertarian argument that we shouldn’t be involved in Syria’s civil war, but I also make a practical argument that – if you accept that American tax dollars should be spent – it would be much cheaper to bribe a few high-level people in Assad’s government.

Since I’m not a foreign policy expert, I don’t think I said anything particularly memorable in the above segment.

But one line apparently did resonate. Here’s Senator Rand Paul, speaking later that day.

I have to admit that made my day. Sort of like when Chairman Brady mentioned Mitchell’s Golden Rule in his opening statement when I testified last week to the Joint Economic Committee.

Of course, I’d like it even better if some of the ideas I support (like the flat tax or smaller government) actually wound up being implemented, but at least it’s nice to be noticed.

Fighting for freedom is often a thankless task in DC

Being a libertarian in Washington, after all, is not the easiest job. To quote former Senator Phil Gramm, it’s like trying to do the Lord’s work in the Devil’s city.

P.S. Any time I begin to get cocky and think I’m some sort of hot shot, something happens to pull me back down to earth. In my Syria interview, you may have noticed that my mouth looked a bit red. That’s because I made the mistake of eating some red candies that were in the car that took me to the interview.

As the old saying goes, you can dress me up, but you can’t take me out. That’s why I’m glad Senator Paul picked up on my line (which I stole from somebody, so I can’t really take credit) about threatening Syria with Obamacare. Otherwise, I probably would have been reluctant to even post the interview.

P.P.S. As I intimated in the interview, the best way to learn more about foreign policy is to read the scholarly writings of my colleagues from the Cato Institute. You also can’t go wrong by perusing these columns by Mark Steyn, George Will, and Steve Chapman.

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What do John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson all have in common?

And let’s add voters from the states of Colorado and Washington to this list. So what unites this unusual collection of people?

They’ve all expressed doubts about the War on Drugs. And that’s a good thing.

As explained in this video, the Drug War has been a very costly failure. Indeed, it’s been such a boondoggle that we can now add John McCain to the list of those who think maybe it’s time to consider decriminalization.

McCain Drug WarSen. John McCain (R-AZ) signaled Thursday that he’s receptive to legalizing pot. Tim Steller, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star, reported over Twitter from a town hall in Tucson, Ariz. that McCain cited the “will of the people” in expressing an openness to legalization.

I’m glad Senator McCain is moving in the right direction, though I’m not sure I like his reasoning. The “will of the people” sometimes means two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

I much prefer the logical arguments of my Cato colleague Jeffrey Miron, who is a Senior Lecturer in economics at Harvard. Here’s some of what he recently wrote for the Huffington Post.

I have come to regard legalization as a policy no-brainer. Virtually all the effects would be positive, with minimal risks of significant negatives. An important piece of that research has been examination of drug policy in the Netherlands, where marijuana is virtually, although not quite technically, legal.

Jeff just visited Amsterdam and here’s what he found in that supposed den of iniquity.

Legalization advocates point to Amsterdam as evidence that legalization works, at least for marijuana. Legalization critics, such as former White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, believe instead that Dutch policy is flawed, generating crime and nuisance effects. Only first-hand observation could give me a clear view of which description is more accurate. …the Red Light District could not have felt safer or more normal. Yes, marijuana was widely available. …But nothing about the District felt unsafe, or suggested elevated crime or violence; I have felt less safe in many American and European cities. …The absence of violence is not surprising. Prohibition, not drug use, is the main reason for the association between violence and drugs, prostitution, gambling, or any banned good. In a legal market, participants resolve disputes with lawyers, courts, and arbitration. In an illegal market, they cannot use these methods and resort to violence instead. Thus the critical determinant of violence is whether an industry is legal, as the history of alcohol prohibition illustrates. That industry was violent during the 1920-1933 period, when the federal and many state governments banned alcohol, but not before or after. And if the government banned tobacco, or coffee, or ice cream, or any good with substantial demand and imperfect substitutes, a violent black market would arise.

There’s no evidence, by the way, that legalization means more drug use.

In 2009, the past year marijuana use rate was 11.3 percent in the United States but only 7.0 percent in the Netherlands. This does not prove that legalization lowers drug use; many other factors are at play. But these data hardly support the claim that prohibition has a material impact in reducing use. When we were toured Amsterdam on a canal barge, the guide commented that, “Despite legal drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam is a safe city.” My son, who has heard me rant about prohibition for years, looked up and quipped, “He should have said “Because drugs and prostitution are legal, right?” Exactly.

Sounds like Jeff’s done a good job as a father (and if I’m allowed to brag, I haven’t done a bad job either).

In closing, let me emphasize that libertarian does not mean libertine. My Republican friends are wrong when they think libertarians are like the guy in the upper left of this poster.

You can support legalization without being a drug user or without thinking that it’s a good idea for other people to smoke pot. Heck, I’m probably one of a small minority of people in my generation to never try any drug.

But that doesn’t mean I want to squander lots of tax money and reduce human freedom to persecute others who are engaged in victimless activities. Especially when it means a massive increase in the power of government!

Let’s not forget, after all, that politicians used the Drug War as an excuse to enact reprehensible and costly laws on asset forfeiture and money laundering. One foolish policy leads to a couple of other misguided policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

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Early this year, I took a libertarian purity test put together by Professor Bryan Caplan at George Mason University.

The good news is that I got a 94. Sounds like a solid A, right?

Well, the bad news is that the test wasn’t on a 0-100 scale. The maximum grade was 160, so it seems I’m just a big-government squish!

In my defense, that still ranks me above the vast majority of people in Washington.

That being said, I’m jealous that my former grad school colleague Matt Kibbe (now head of FreedomWorks) got a higher score. Here’s a summary of the test put together by Ben Domenech.

Libertarian Test Score

So what’s the real story? Am I “a high priest of light tax, small state libertarianism,” as I was described by a left-wing British journalist?

Or am I a closet statist, as suggested by a critic from Canada?

I think I belong on the former category, but I have to confess that I just took a “social attitude” test that was sent to me by a friend in London and the results are a bit disconcerting.

Social Attitude Test 2I was horrified to learn that I got a score of 18.75 for socialism. To be sure, I don’t know if that’s 18.75 percent, or 18.75 on a scale of 0-1000.

Regardless, I’d much prefer to get a score of zero on any measure of coercive collectivism.

And what’s the deal with the 40.625 for tenderness? Makes me sound like some sort of new-age wimp who goes around trying to instigate group hugs.

Last but not least, what’s “radicalism”? Is it simply a measure of being outside the mainstream? Without any guidance, there’s no way of interpreting that score.

Even more irritating, the accompanying analysis says that I’m a “moderate” and “a centrist with few strong opinions.”

On the other hand, it also says that I’m a “laissez-faire capitalist” and that I “would generally be described as libertarian.”

Social Attitude Test 1

My two cents, for what it’s worth, is that the analysis part of this exercise needs some work. But feel free to take the test and add your two cents to the discussion.

I’ll simply state that I can’t be a squish if my policy heroes are people like Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.

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The good thing about being a libertarian is that you are motivated by freedom, which is a very noble principle, and you have lots of evidence on your side, whether the issue is economics or personal liberty.

You can’t afford to be smug, of course, since it’s still a big uphill battle to convince politicians not to engage in plunder.

But at least you can sleep soundly at night knowing that you’re on the side of the angels.

And that even means you have self-confidence about your ideas and you can laugh when someone puts together some clever anti-libertarian humor.

Here’s the latest example, sent to me by a TV journalist.

Libertarian Chicken

What makes this funny is that libertarians are sometimes quick to defend their rights, even when nobody’s trying to take them away.

Which is why we sometimes get pigeonholed as being weird, like the family in the lower left of this poster, or paranoid, like the guy in the #8 spot of this poster.

But let’s be thankful that there are some libertarians willing to raise a stink about government even if the rest of the world thinks we’re a bit odd. As we’ve seen dozens of times, most recently with the IRS and NSA, bureaucrats and politicians have a compulsive tendency to grab more power and make government more intrusive.

I started yesterday’s post with a mother-in-law joke, so I’ll end today’s post by mentioning the fable of the frog that gets put in a pot of water and doesn’t jump out because the temperature feels comfortable. But then the heat is slowly raised and the frog no longer has the energy to escape when he finally figures out he’s being cooked.

Well, libertarians are the ones who loudly complain when the government puts us into pots.

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The very first bit of anti-libertarian humor I ever posted was this clever video about the anarcho-capitalist paradise of Somalia.

I then shared two cartoons, one on libertarian ice fishing and the other showing libertarian lifeguards.

That was followed by a very funny list of the 24 types of libertarians.

But I haven’t shared anything making fun of people like me since this “think I do” montage last year.

Thanks to Buzzfeed, however, we now have something new for our collection. They came up with “23 Libertarian Problems” and here are two of my favorites from the list.

Libertarian Problem 2

Libertarian Problem 19

Just in case loyal libertarian readers don’t like self-deprecating humor, you can expunge your unhappiness by enjoying some anti-GOP humor here, here, here, and here and some anti-Democrat humor here, here, here, and here.

And if you’re still unhappy, cheer up with this libertarian fantasy.

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Last year, I showed an image of evolutionary stages that was so accurate that it would earn approval even from many strict creationists.

Here’s a new image of evolutionary stages that sets the stage for today’s discussion. Simply stated, Americans are becoming bigger. In some cases, a lot bigger.

Is this trend toward greater obesity a bad thing? As a reader asks, is it something that requires a government response?

The answer is yes…and no.

Libertarians believe people should be free to make their own decisions so long as they’re not infringing on the rights of others. And that includes the right to eat too much and exercise too little.

But the “yes” part of the answer is that we can think obesity is unfortunate and we can encourage our friends and family members to live healthier lifestyles. And if we’re willing to be pests and to run the risk of being told to mind our own business, we can even encourage strangers to shape up.

The “no” part of the answer refers to whether the government somehow should get involved. I shared a great video from Reason TV several years ago that explained why paternalistic anti-obesity programs don’t work. And just this week, one of my colleagues at the Cato Institute, Michael Tanner, addressed this issue. Here’s some of what he wrote for National Review.

Recently the American Medical Association declared that it will consider obesity a disease. …the AMA’s move is a symptom of a disease that is seriously troubling our society: the abdication of personal responsibility and an invitation to government meddling. …the AMA’s move is actually a way for its members to receive more federal dollars, by getting obesity treatments covered under government health plans. A bipartisan group of congressmen has already seized on the AMA declaration as they push for Medicare coverage of diet drugs. Observers also expect an effort to expand Medicare reimbursement for bariatric surgery, a.k.a. stomach stapling. And there will almost certainly be pressure to mandate coverage for these things by private insurance carriers, under both state laws and the Affordable Care Act. …After the AMA decision, John Morton, treasurer of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, was almost giddy, calling the AMA decision a “tipping point” and adding that “now coverage policy must catch up to that consensus.” Since a typical bariatric surgery costs as much as $40,000, that could be interpreted as a warning for all of us to get out our wallets. In the end, we will be paying more, through either taxes or higher premiums.

And don’t forget that the price of treatments such as surgery almost surely will climb as there’s more “third-party payer,” so our taxes and premiums will climb by a lot more than what it cost to provide these services today.

But that’s only part of the story. Since government is picking up the tab, that gives politicians a green light (at least in their minds) to pass laws and rules designed to control and influence our behavior.

…expanded Medicare and insurance coverage socialize the cost of treating obesity, thereby inviting all manner of government mischief. After all, if being fat is not our fault, the blame must lie with food companies, advertising, or other things that need to be regulated. And if you and I have to pay for the food and exercise choices of others, we should have a say in those choices. Already, Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, has cited the AMA declaration to boost his group’s efforts to ban junk food and tax soft drinks. …The nanny state can now claim medical backing.

Mayor Bloomberg doubtlessly thinks this is a wonderful idea. Maybe he can ban snack food as well as 17 oz. sodas.

Heck, why not have a cop in every house to make sure we consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day? Actually, I shouldn’t say that too loud. Given the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, there’s apparently no limit to the federal government’s power to control our behavior through the tax code, so I’d hate to give politicians any more crazy ideas.

If you think I’m engaging in a bit of hyperbole, just remember that New York City already has gone after bake sales for peddling sweets.

So what’s the big picture? Mike nails it, explaining that the medicalization of obesity is symptomatic of the effort to undermine individual responsibility.

Much of public policy these days seems designed to eliminate personal responsibility. Take efforts to reduce poverty, for example. How much of poverty is due to poor lifestyle choices? We don’t want to blame the poor, nor should we forget that there are those, especially children, trapped in poverty by circumstances beyond their control. But we also know the keys to getting out of or staying out of poverty: (1) finish school; (2) do not get pregnant outside marriage; and (3) get a job, any job, and stick with it. Unfortunately, much of the welfare state we have constructed is perversely designed in ways that end up encouraging destructive behaviors.

In other words, the welfare state hurts the poor, as Thomas Sowell explained the other day. Though I suppose fairness requires me to admit that there are those who benefit from all the various income-redistribution programs. A vast army of bureaucrats get very comfortable salaries to administer these program, and these poverty pimps, as Walter Williams describes them, enjoy much higher levels of compensation than they could earn in the economy’s productive sector.

But I’m guilty, once again, of digressing. Let’s get to the rest of Mike’s final point.

Big government reduces all of us to the status of children. We have no responsibility for anything in our lives; therefore, government must take care of us. All we have to do, like children, is give up the freedom to make our own choices — good or bad.

Amen. A “good choice” isn’t good if it’s the result of coercion. Paternalists sometime have admirable goals, but they err when they want to turn big government into big daddy and big mommy.

P.S. Several readers have noticed that I’m now writing one post a day instead of two and have asked whether this is a permanent change. The answer is yes. With all the other things I’m trying to juggle – researching and writing, dealing with Capitol Hill, talking to the press, giving speeches, etc – this seems like the best way to allocate my time. Particularly now that my posts tend to be a lot longer and more substantive than when I began blogging.

P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of obesity, it goes without saying that our real problem is bloated government, not bloated people. Which is why I always enjoy cartoons that portray DC as the true home of gluttony. For good examples, see here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here and here.

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Exactly three years ago, I posted a simple quiz about libertarians and patriotism.

The two questions in that quiz are illuminating since they highlight how libertarians in some cases may differ from conservatives (click here for more on that issue), but I also included this t-shirt, which seems to capture the mindset of a lot of Americans regardless of their political outlook.

Well, it seems that Mark Twain had the same attitude as the young lady in the photo, at least if we can believe the quote in this Steve Breen cartoon.

Simply stated, our loyalty should be to a set of ideals, not to any particular group of people who happen to hold power.

Patriotism Cartoon

What makes the cartoon so effective, though, is the inclusion of an IRS thug and a snoop from the NSA.

Reminds me of this cartoon about Obama and the Founding Fathers.

But there’s a serious point to discuss. Are we losing our freedoms and giving the state too much power and authority?

According to a recent news report, a former lieutenant colonel for the infamous East German STASI spy agency says the NSA-type snooping ability “would have been a dream come true.”

Wolfgang Schmidt…pondered the magnitude of domestic spying in the United States under the Obama administration. A smile spread across his face. “You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” he said, recalling the days when he was a lieutenant colonel in the defunct communist country’s secret police, the Stasi. In those days, his department was limited to tapping 40 phones at a time, he recalled. Decide to spy on a new victim and an old one had to be dropped, because of a lack of equipment. He finds breathtaking the idea that the U.S. government receives daily reports on the cellphone usage of millions of Americans and can monitor the Internet traffic of millions more.

I’ve already written that we do have enemies and that I think it’s okay to spy on those enemies (though I want the government to get judicial approval before spying on Americans).

But I also wrote that spying should be subject to cost-benefit analysis. The NSA info-gathering exercise reminds me of anti-money laundering laws and those laws are a costly failure. They invade our privacy, hurt the poor, impose high regulatory costs, and have little or no impact on underlying crimes.

We also need to be concerned about potential misuse of data, whether by people currently in the government or those that will have access to the information in the future.

This is what worries me the most. Simply stated, I don’t trust people in government. Which, rather ironically, means I’m in agreement with a former STASI bigwig.

Even Schmidt, 73, who headed one of the more infamous departments in the infamous Stasi, called himself appalled. The dark side to gathering such a broad, seemingly untargeted, amount of information is obvious, he said. “It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

Hmmm… maybe being warned about the risk of unrestrained government by a former communist spy is the modern equivalent of being called ugly by a frog?

In any event, I suppose Herr Schmidt has first-hand knowledge of the danger of giving government too much information.

P.S. Speaking of first-hand knowledge, it’s somewhat amusing that former communists in Russia and current communists in China have told the Europeans that the welfare state breeds too much dependency.

P.P.S. While this post has touched on libertarians and patriotism, fairness requires me to acknowledge that leftist politicians also believe in a form of patriotism.

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I generally believe that social conservatives and libertarians are natural allies. As I wrote last year, this is “because there is wide and deep agreement on the principle of individual responsibility. They may focus on different ill effects, but both camps understand that big government is a threat to a virtuous and productive citizenry.”

I even promoted a “Fusionist” principle based on a very good column by Tim Carney, and I suspect a large majority of libertarians and social conservatives would agree with the statement.

But that doesn’t mean social conservatives and libertarians are the same. There’s some fascinating research on the underlying differences between people of different ideologies, and I suspect the following story might be an example of where the two camps might diverge.

But notice I wrote “might” rather than “will.” I’ll be very curious to see how various readers react to this story about a gay couple that is taking an unusual step to minimize an unfair and punitive tax imposed by the government of Pennsylvania.

John met Gregory at a gay bar in Pittsburgh nearly 45 years ago and immediately fell in love. …Now, as lifelong partners facing the financial and emotional insecurities of old age, they have legally changed their relationship and are father and son — John, 65, has adopted Gregory, 73. The couple was worried about Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax. “If we just live together and Gregory willed me his assets and property and anything else, I would be liable for a 15 percent tax on the value of the estate,” said John. “By adoption, that decreases to 4 percent. It’s a huge difference.” …the couple had considered marrying in another state, but because their primary residence was in Pennsylvania, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, they would still be subjected to the inheritance law.

The Judge who approved the adoption obviously wasn’t too troubled by this unusual method of tax avoidance.

The judge did turn to John and said, “I am really curious, why are you adopting [Gregory]?” “I said, ‘Because it’s our only legal option to protect ourselves from Pennsylvania’s inheritance taxes,’” said John. “He got it immediately.” The judge agreed to sign the adoption papers on the spot and handed it to the clerk. Then he turned and looked at John, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.”

So what’s your take on this issue? For some groups, it’s easy to predict how they’ll react to this story.

1. If you have the statist mindset of England’s political elite or if you work at a bureaucracy such as the OECD, you’ll think this is morally wrong. Not because you object to homosexuality, but because you think tax avoidance is very bad and you believe the state should have more money.

2. If you’re a libertarian, you’re cheering for John and Gregory. Even if you don’t personally approve of homosexuality, you don’t think the state should interfere with the private actions of consenting adults and you like the idea of people keeping more of the money they earn.

3. If you’re a public finance economist, you think any form of death tax is a very perverse form of double taxation and you like just about anything that reduces this onerous penalty on saving and investment.

But there are some groups that will be conflicted.

Social Conservative Quandary1. Social conservatives don’t like big government and bad tax policy, but they also don’t approve of homosexuality. And, in this case, it’s now technically incestuous homosexuality! If I had to guess, most social conservatives will argue that the court should not have granted the adoption. We’ll see if there are some good comments on this post.

Leftist Quandary2. Leftists also will be conflicted. They like the death tax and they want the government to have more money, but they also believe in identity politics and wouldn’t want to offend one of their constituent groups.  I’m guessing identity politics would trump greed, but I suspect their ideal approach would be to tax all inheritances at 15 percent.

In my fantasy world, needless to say, there’s no death tax and the entire issue disappears.

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Even though Barack Obama unintentionally is doing a good job of recruiting more people to the libertarian philosophy, that doesn’t mean I’m optimistic that we will achieve libertarian Nirvana in my lifetime.

Libertarian Man of the Year?

I’m even willing to admit that part of the problem is that libertarians (like me!) tend to be a strange breed and we occasionally rub people the wrong way. Needless to say, this sometimes makes it difficult to gain new converts.

So when people say libertarianism is unrealistic, that may be an accurate political prediction. I can respond by pointing out reasons why I think it’s possible to reduce the burden of government and make people more free, but there’s no doubt that it’s difficult to make substantial progress against the combined forces of bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, interest groups, and dependents.

That being said, there are some arguments against libertarianism that are very weak. Consider what Michael Lind just wrote for Salon.

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines? …If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world? Communism was tried and failed. Libertarianism has never even been tried on the scale of a modern nation-state, even a small one, anywhere in the world.

Lind actually answers his own challenge by noting that libertarians point to the superior performance of nations that are more free than others.

I’ve done that myself by comparing the United States with the European Union. Or Chile with Argentina and Venezuela. Or South Korea and North Korea. Or Singapore and Hong Kong with the United States.

Anyhow, you get the point.

But Lind would like readers to think it’s somehow illegitimate to judge libertarianism by comparing libertarian-leaning nations with statist-leaning nations.

But he doesn’t offer any legitimate rationale for this restriction. Why do we need a perfect libertarian society to make judgements about libertarianism, any more than we need pure socialism or communism to draw conclusions about those statist societies?

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I’ve shared two personal fantasies on this site, but I must be a policy wonk because they involved a vision of a  politician telling a voter to grow up and an imagined interaction between the Governor of Texas and the United Nations.

Not exactly steamy stuff, I realize.

And even when I posted a video about libertarian porn, it involved zero nudity.

So I think I’m being very bold in sharing this libertarian fantasy.

=======================================================

This morning my friend lucked out and was able to buy several cases of ammo.

"Libertarians are hot"

“Libertarians are hot”

On the way home he stopped at the gas station where a drop-dead gorgeous blonde was filling up her car at the next pump.

She looked at the ammo in the back of my pickup truck and said in a very sexy voice, “I’m a big believer in barter. Would you be interested in trading sex for ammo?”

He thought a few seconds and asked, “What kinda ammo ya got?”

======================================================

Too bad this has never happened to me.

Unfortunately, libertarians usually are the target of jokes, though I admit some of them are very amusing.

For instance, a video portraying Somalia as a libertarian paradise.

Then we have two cartoons, one on libertarian ice fishing and the other showing libertarian lifeguards.

And this image showing 24 types of libertarians.

Last but not least, this montage of how the world views libertarians.

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Here’s a new edition of my “you be the judge” series.

These are posts designed to explore some of the more challenging aspects of a pro-libertarian philosophy.

Today’s example comes from Colorado, which had displayed a libertarian streak on issues ranging from school choice to drug legalization.

But the latter issue is the source of today’s quandary. Should marijuana be legal if it means more tax revenue that will be used by the political elite to expand the burden of government spending?

Here are the details from the Denver CBS station.

A draft bill floating around the Capitol late this week suggests that a new ballot question on pot taxes should repeal recreational pot in the state constitution if voters don’t approve 15 percent excise taxes on retail pot and a new 15 percent marijuana sales tax. Those would be in addition to regular state and local sales taxes. …Marijuana activists immediately blasted the proposal as a backhanded effort to repeal the pot vote, in which 55 percent of Coloradans chose to flout federal drug law and declare pot legal in small amounts for adults over 21.

If my math is correct, the politicians want a 30 percent special tax on marijuana, which is on top of the regular taxes that would be imposed.

That would be fine with me – if the proposal specified that the additional tax revenue was offset by a tax cut of equal size.

But as I explained in my “starve-the-beast” post, higher taxes usually finance bigger government.

Indeed, some politicians openly admit that they want the new revenue to expand the budget.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said the whole purpose of legalizing recreational marijuana was to raise money for education and other programs. “So if there’s no money, we shouldn’t have marijuana,” Crowder said. …In Washington state, the only other place where voters last year approved recreational pot, the ballot measure set taxes at 75 percent, settling the question. Both states are still waiting to find out whether the federal government plans to sue to block retail sales of the drug, set to begin next year.

Though I didn’t realize that the state of Washington imposes a 75 percent tax on marijuana. How…um…French!

More Money for Government? The Ultimate Buzz Kill

So what’s the bottom line? If I lived in Colorado, would I vote to keep pot legal even if it meant more money from the buffoons in the state capital?

Since drug legalization is about 990 out of 1000 in my list of priorities, I’m tempted to say no.

On the other hand, it would be nice to reduce the onerous burden of the War on Drugs, which has been used an excuse to expand the size and scope of government.

What do you think?

P.S. If you want more examples of “you be the judge,” previous editions are listed below.

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The previous edition of “you be the judge” asked whether restrictions on aggressive panhandling are justified.

I thought that was a bit of a quandary, but I’m more conflicted by today’s question about the bizarre episodes of the Hakken family.

As explained in this CNN story, they have kidnapped their own children and fled to Cuba. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The Hakkens have been on the lam after they allegedly snatched the two boys from their grandmother’s home in Florida. The couple lost custody of their children last year. There is an international manhunt for this family, and here they are, blending in among the other boats.

So why would parents have to kidnap their own kids and flee to what most people would consider a socialists hellhole?

…the police department in Slidell, Louisiana, issued its own statement offering background on the Hakkens and why the boys were taken from the parents last year. In June of 2012, Slidell police responded to a disturbance report at a hotel where Josh and Sharyn Hakken were staying with their sons, the police statement said. “When police arrived, both Mr. and Mrs. Hakken were acting in a bizarre manner that alarmed officers. They were talking about ‘completing their ultimate journey’ and were traveling across the country to ‘take a journey to the Armageddon’,” the Slidell police statement said, adding, “Let it be noted that both of their children were present in the hotel room at the time.” Because of the parents’ behavior and “the fact that narcotics and weapons were located inside of the hotel room,” the children were taken by child welfare officers, and Joshua Hakken was arrested on drug charges, the statement said.

Which brings us to recent events.

At some point over the past few months, the children were sent to live with their grandmother, Patricia Hauser, the mother of Sharyn Hakken. Sheriff’s investigators say Josh Hakken entered Hauser’s home at 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday. She told police that he tied her up and fled with the children… Those investigators told CNN they believe Hakken joined up with his wife, who was waiting in their pickup truck, and the family drove to a parking garage. A short time later, investigators said, Hakken is believed to have taken a sailboat out of a private slip in nearby Madeira Beach.

And, as you already know, they wound up in Cuba.

I first saw this story in the Miami Airport, and it referred to the Hakkens as being anti-government. Naturally, I immediately took their side.

Unfit parents?

But as I’ve learned more details, I’m conflicted. There’s nothing wrong with the parents having firearms, though one hopes they took steps to make sure the young kids didn’t have access to the guns.

On the other hand, I think there is something wrong with drug use, particularly in front of the children. Nonetheless, that’s not a sufficient reason in my mind for the government to seize someone’s kids unless there’s some evidence of genuine endangerment.

I am weirded out, though, with regards to their alleged language about taking an “ultimate journey” to “the Armageddon.” Are they suicidal nutcases? Are they mentally unstable? Those would be reasons for intervention.

Assuming, of course, that we can trust that the cops and other government officials provided an accurate rendition of events.

But assuming that’s the case, do you think the state had the right to take the kids from the Hakkens?

And if you want more challenging examples of “you be the judge,” peruse this list.

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Even though I’m a staunch libertarian, I’m not under any illusion that everyone is open to our ideas. Particularly since, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, we get falsely stereotyped as being heartless, hedonistic, anti-social, and naively isolationist.

That’s why I’m willing to accept incremental reforms. Compared to my libertarian dream world, for instance, the entitlement reforms in the Ryan budget are very modest. But they may be the most we can achieve in the short run, so I don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

But I do make the bad the enemy of the good. Politicians who expand the size and scope of government get on my wrong side, regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats.

Which explains why I haven’t approved of any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.

With this in mind, you can imagine my shock when I read Robert Patterson’s recent column that blames recent GOP presidential woes on…you guessed it, “far-right libertarians.”

…in the political big leagues, …the GOP strikes out with the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections… That familiar lineup shares one big liability: libertarian economics, which has been undermining the Republican brand… That message represents the heart and soul of a party that started sleeping with far-right libertarians in 1990. …In the libertarian universe, “economic freedom” trumps everything: civilization, nation, statecraft, patriotism, industry, culture and family. This “economic freedom,” however, diverges greatly from the liberty that transformed the United States into an industrial, financial and military colossus.

What the [expletive deleted]!

Let’s go down the list of  recent GOP presidential candidates and assess whether they were captured by “far-right libertarians” and their dangerous philosophy of “economic freedom.”

  • George H.W. Bush – He increased spending, raised tax rates, and imposed costly new regulations. If that’s libertarian, I’d hate to see how Patterson defines statism.
  • Do you see any libertarians? Me neither.

    Robert Dole – All you need to know is that he described his three proudest accomplishments as the creation of the food stamp program, the imposition of the costly Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Social Security bailout. I don’t see anything on that list that’s remotely libertarian.

  • George W. Bush – I’ve written several times about Bush’s depressing record of statism. Yes, we got some lower tax rates, but that policy was easily offset by new spending, new intervention, new regulation, and bailouts. No wonder economic freedom declined significantly during his tenure. Not exactly a libertarian track record.
  • No libertarians here, either

    John McCain – His track record on spending is somewhat admirable, but he was far from libertarian on key issues such as tax rates, global warming, bailouts, and healthcare.

  • Mitt Romney – He was sympathetic to a VAT. He criticized personal retirement accounts. He supported corrupt ethanol subsidies. And he said nice things about the TARP bailout. And I don’t need to remind anybody about Obamacare’s evil twin. Is that a libertarian agenda?

I also disagree with several of the policies that Patterson advocates, such as protectionism and industrial subsidies.

But that’s not the purpose of this post. Libertarians already face an uphill battle. The last thing we need is to be linked to a bunch of big-government Republicans when we share almost nothing in common on economic policy.

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I’ve never been a big Shakespeare fan, but that may need to change. It seems the Bard of Avon may be the world’s first libertarian.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads and saying that this is wrong, that Thomas Jefferson or Adam Smith are more deserving of this honor.

The first freedom fighter?

Others would argue we should go back even earlier in time and give that title to John Locke.

But based on some new research reported in Tax-news.com, Shakespeare preceded them all.

Uncertainty over the likely future success of his plays led William Shakespeare to do “all he could to avoid taxes,” new research by scholars at Aberystwyth University has claimed. The collaborative paper: “Reading with the Grain: Sustainability and the Literary Imagination,”…alleges that, in his “other” life as a major landowner, Shakespeare avoided paying his taxes, illegally hoarded food and sidelined in money lending. …According to Dr Jayne Archer, lead author and a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth: “There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright – a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximize profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable – while also writing plays.”

In that short excerpt, we find three strong indications of Shakespeare’s libertarianism.

1. What does it mean that Shakespeare did everything he could to avoid taxes? His actions obviously would have upset the United Kingdom’s current bloodsucking political elite, which views tax maximization as a religious sacrament, but it shows that Shakespeare believed in the right of private property. Check one box for libertarianism.

2. What does it mean that the Bard “illegally hoarded food”? Well, such a law probably existed because government was interfering with the free market with something like price controls. Or there was a misguided hostility by the government against “speculation,” similar to what you would find from the deadbeats in today’s Occupy movement. In either event, Shakespeare was standing up for the principle of freedom of contract. Check another box for libertarianism.

3. Last but not least, what does it mean that Shakespeare “sidelined in money lending”? Nations used to have statist “usury laws” that interfered with the ability to charge interest when lending money. Shakespeare apparently didn’t think “usury” was a bad thing, so he was standing up for the liberty of consenting adults to engage in voluntary exchange. Check another box for libertarianism.

To be sure, it appears that Shakespeare was more of an operational libertarian rather than a philosophical libertarian.

And now that I’m giving it more thought, perhaps that doesn’t qualify him for the honor of being the world’s first libertarian.

After all, does the former Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, deserve to be called a libertarian for evading taxes? Does the new Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, somehow become a libertarian simply because he utilized the Cayman Islands?

Or what about lawmakers such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and others on the left who have utilized tax havens to boost their own personal finances? I very much doubt that any of them deserve to be called libertarian (though the burden of government shrank under Bill Clinton, so maybe we can consider him an unintentional libertarian).

But maybe with a bit of literary license, we can make Shakespeare a full-fledged libertarian.

“O  liberty, liberty! Wherefore art thou liberty?”

“Double, double, statism and trouble;
Taxes burn, and regulations bubble!”

Hmmm… perhaps instead of my budding second career as a movie star, I should become a playwright instead?

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It’s both difficult and easy to be a libertarian.

It’s difficult because the corrupt Washington establishment of politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and interest groups almost always is allied against us.

But it’s easy since you have strong moral principles that put liberty over statism, so at least you don’t need a lot of time to figure out whether class-warfare tax policy is desirable, whether the federal government is too big, or whether government should be throwing people in jail for victimless crimes.

But not every issue is black and white.

About two years ago, I made fun of the bureaucrats in Montgomery County, MD, for proposing a plan to require that bums and panhandlers get government permits.

Afterwards, someone from that community told me that the goal wasn’t more bureaucracy, but rather to give local authorities a legal excuse to take action against vagrants who supposedly harass other people.

I don’t know if that was an accurate assessment, but it does raise an interesting question of whether the government should have any laws to limit panhandling and discourage people from becoming bums.

The local government in Houston seems to use this approach. As reported by the Daily Mail, you’re not supposed to feed vagrants, and it’s also against the law for bums to rummage through garbage.

A homeless man has been given a ticket for rummaging through a trash can in the downtown area of one of America’s biggest cities. …The summons he was issued cites his violation as: ‘disturbing the contents of a garbage can in downtown central business district.’ …the city’s laws which ban the feeding of homeless people… In most other cities homeless people are able to rely on the kindness of strangers for food and those who have fallen on hard times are free to dive through the garbage at will, but in Houston even that source of food is banned.

By the way, this issue isn’t limited to government actions. Some business owners in normally liberal California have become so irritated by aggressive mooching that they have distributed stickers saying “Please don’t feed our bums.”

So what’s the right policy? Is there an unlimited right for people to be bums and aggressively pester others for money? Does that include a right to sleep on the sidewalk, even if that undermines local businesses?

I confess that my gut instinct is to oppose such laws. On the other hand, I don’t like being harassed by able-bodied men who don’t want to get jobs. And I would be very irritated if I owned a small business and was losing money because bums were driving away customers and causing property values to decline.

If you like these “you be the judge” quandaries, here are other examples of difficult-to-decide issues.

I tend to be guided by the sentiments in this amusing poster, but many of these questions defy easy answers.

P.S. If you want a good chuckle, check out this entrepreneurial bum.

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A month ago, I answered a question about reconciling the absence of libertarian societies with the supposed superiority of libertarian principles.

I gave an uncharacteristically optimistic response, arguing that the world in many ways has become more free thanks to libertarian policies (or, to be more accurate, a decline in statism).

This led to several follow-up questions, mostly premised on the notion that I must be smoking crack to think government has become less of a burden. My defense would be that the world is more free than it was 40 years ago, but probably less free than it was 10 years ago, so it depends on your benchmark. And I definitely agree that the world is trending toward less freedom (with these charts being a very sobering example).

But the question that caught my eye, and makes for a good follow-up, comes from a reader in Missouri: “Why aren’t libertarians more persuasive?”

To elaborate, the question assumes that libertarianism is the right approach and that the evidence supports libertarian policies, so another way of phrasing the question is: “What is wrong with libertarians that they can’t sell libertarian ideas?”

Rising DependencyThe easy and simple answer is to say the problem is that the people are too susceptible to being bribed by politicians. As illustrated by the chart, more and more Americans are getting hooked on the heroin of government dependency.

And as more Americans adopt the moocher mindset found in Vermont, libertarians have a hard time developing a winning message.

But I think the reader is really asking whether the problem with libertarianism is…well, libertarians.

This is a fair question. Having given hundreds of speeches and engaged in thousands of conversation, I can say that many people make the following assumptions about libertarians.

1. On economic policy, libertarians don’t care about the poor. Since I work on fiscal issues, this is the one I deal with all the time. I try to explain – ad nauseam – that we want smaller government and more economic freedom because faster growth is the only effective way to lower poverty and help the poor. But a lot of people think we’re defending the status quo.

2. On social policy, libertarians are libertines, embracing and endorsing hedonism. This is probably the most common stereotype, and there definitely are libertarians who are motivated by a desire to get rid of laws that impinge on their freedom to do things like smoke pot. But the libertarian position is not that pot is good, but rather that prohibition is bad.

3. On foreign policy, libertarians are oblivious to external threats such as al Qaeda. I’ve had several people, for instance, complain about Ron Paul opposing the killing of Osama bin Laden, and they assume that means libertarians are somehow the modern-day equivalent of Soviet appeasers. Yet our message is that we favor national defense, but that we think we’ll have far less need to defend ourselves if we stop intervening in ways that have nothing to do with national security.

4. And in general, libertarians are ultra-individualists who reject concepts such as community, family, and nation. While it’s true that libertarians are motivated by individual freedom, opposition to government coercion does not imply that people can’t be good neighbors or good parents. Indeed, we would argue that a free society promotes private virtue. And there’s nothing inconsistent with patriotism and libertarianism, as illustrated by this t-shirt.

Looking at what I’ve written, I realize I haven’t answered the question. All I’ve done is identified some stereotypes and explained why they’re not accurate.

So I’ll simply conclude by making a rather unremarkable observation that overcoming these perceptions is a big challenge for libertarians – assuming that we want to make greater inroads with the masses.

P.S. I got nagged by several readers for not posting a “Question of the Week” last weekend. What can I say, I’m old and forgetful. But you can always peruse previous versions if you’re somehow suffering.

But I’ll try to compensate for my oversight with some humor. Since this post is about the supposed shortcoming of libertarians, here’s some self-mocking humor. We’ll start with a video portraying Somalia as a libertarian paradise, followed by cartoons on libertarian ice fishing and libertarian lifeguards, then an info-graphic showing 24 types of libertarians, and close with a poster showing how the world sees libertarians.

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Even though it changed the terms of the political debate, thus giving them a majority in the 2010 elections, many in the Republican establishment deeply resent the Tea Party. They don’t like being monitored by taxpayer-friendly groups that will expose them when they side with special interests (as they have in recent months on Export-Import Bank subsides and housing handouts).

And they really hate the idea of being held accountable at the polls when they side with the corrupt big-spenders in Washington. Just ask Senator Bennett and Congressman Inglis.

Pork...or principles?

Pork…or principles?

Now the Washington establishment is fighting back. Karl Rove, best known for helping to steer the Bush Administration in favor of statist policies that led to the disastrous elections of 2006 and 2008, even has created a PAC to oppose the Tea Party.

But this seems like a very childish and self-destructive approach. According to some scholarly research, the Tea Party has made a big difference, both in terms of generating more votes for the GOP and in terms of pressuring Republicans to side more with taxpayers rather than the inside-the-beltway interest groups.

Here are some intriguing details from the new academic study.

We use data from a large number of sources to measure the influence of the Tax Day protests on the Tea Party. …We show that these political protests and the movements they built affected policymaking and voting behavior as well. Incumbent representatives vote more conservatively following large protests in their district… Larger protests increase turnout in the 2010 elections, primarily favoring Republican candidates. We find evidence of sizable effects. In particular, our baseline estimate shows that every Tea Party protester corresponds to a 14 vote increase in the number of Republican votes. Our most conservative estimate lowers that number to 7. The Tea Party protests therefore seem to cause a shift to the right in terms of policymaking, both directly and through the selection of politicians in elections.

Seems like a GOP political consultant should be very pleased with this research (assuming, of course, that they’re motivated by Republican and conservative victories rather than their own influence and contracts).

Want some more evidence that the Tea Party has made a difference? Well, check out these excerpts from a story in The Atlantic complaining about the lack of action in the Senate and ask yourself whether the addition of Senators like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, and Pat Toomey might be one of the reasons why Obama’s agenda has been stalemated.

Here’s an impressive fact about life in today’s Washington: The last time a major new piece of policy legislation passed the U.S. Senate was July 15, 2010. That’s when the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill came through the Senate. And it was 951 days ago. If you’re wondering whether President Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda has a chance to make it through Congress, this little fact might be worth keeping in mind. …the Senate…hasn’t done anything the president could add to his list of policy accomplishments. For that — the kind of thing a president might talk about in his campaign speeches — it’s been more than two and a half years.

It’s now been more than 951 days, and let’s be thankful with every passing second. A “do-nothing” Congress is a very good thing if the only other option is to pass monstrosities such as Obamacare and Keynesian spending schemes.

Keep in mind, by the way, that there are now more Tea Party-oriented Senators such as Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, and Jeff Flake.

To conclude, I’m not under any illusion that the Tea Party automatically means better politicians and/or better election results. But every advocate of tax reform and smaller government should be very happy that there are people in the country who are pressuring politicians to adhere to libertarian-ish principles rather than playing the corrupt Washington game.

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While I generally have a happy-go-lucky attitude toward life, I’m pessimistic about public policy.

So when I got an email asking me how I would reconcile the supposed superiority of libertarian principles with the absence of libertarian societies, I initially was tempted to assert that our principles are sound and then give reasons why I nonetheless expect freedom to continuously diminish.

There are probably other reasons, but I think you get the idea. No wonder I’ve been speculating about where people should move when America descends into Greek-style economic chaos.

But I want to be uncharacteristically optimistic and explain why libertarian principles are still very relevant and that the outlook is better than we think.

So while I don’t expect that there will ever be a libertarian Nirvana, I also don’t think it’s time to throw in the towel and meekly accept the yoke of statism.

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In early January, I shared a “libertarian purity test” based on 64 questions.

I was a bit disappointed that I only scored a 94 out of a possible 160, but my excuse is that it was really a test of anarcho-capitalism. And as I explained when sharing this amusing video, I’m only in favor of getting rid of 90 percent of government.

But maybe the simplest test of libertarianism (and also the simplest test of whether you’re a decent human being) is to see whether you’re upset by the following story.

It combines the lunacy of the drug war with the evil of asset forfeiture.

Here are some of the truly disgusting details from the OC Weekly. First we learn about the victims of this government abuse.

…he and his wife purchased the Anaheim building, which has suites for up to 12 offices, in 2003 and that her dental practice was located there. …Over the years, they’ve rented to a variety of tenants, from insurance companies to an immigration service.

This unfortunate couple rented space to a group that seemed to comply with federal and state legal requirements.

…on June 11, 2011, he began renting to a club called ReLeaf Health & Wellness. …Because of the Ogden memo, because medical marijuana was legal under state law, and because his tenants held business permits from the city, he figured he wasn’t doing anything illegal. “I am a law-abiding citizen,” he says. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”

But the city of Anaheim and the jackboots at the Drug Enforcement Administration targeted the tenant, and then decided to try and steal the property of the landlord!

…On Dec. 2, 2011, an undercover officer posing as a patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation for cannabis—something required of all entrants to the collective—”purchased 4.2 net grams of marijuana for $37.” The investigation ended there, but the single sale…was enough evidence for the DEA to argue that the otherwise-harmless computer engineer and dentist should lose their retirement-investment property. …The lawyer for the engineer and dentist who may be in the process of losing their nest egg is Matthew Pappas. …”The only evidence in this case is a $37 purchase of medical marijuana and an anonymous comment on a website that anybody could have written,” Pappas says. “For this, they want to take a $1.5 million building.”

You may be thinking that you missed something, that certainly the federal government wouldn’t steal an entire building simply because a tenant may have broken a silly drug law. Especially when it’s very ambiguous whether a crime actually took place.

But you didn’t miss a thing. This is pure, unadulterated, evil government.

And if you’re not already feeling some libertarian blood flowing through your veins, here are some additional examples of government thuggery.

Yes, this is why we’re paying taxes. And Obama just got one tax increase and now he’s asking for another tax increase!

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What’s the best think tank in the United States?

I’m obviously not impartial since I work at the Cato Institute, but here are a few relevant pieces of information.

But you don’t have to believe me.

CGD HeadlineThe Center for Global Development has just released new research showing that the Cato Institute is America’s most productive and effective think tank.

The CGD’s calculations on based on hard data, looking at how much organizations spend and comparing that to their success with social media, web traffic, links, media exposure, and scholarly citations.

As you can see, the Cato Institute has a comfortable lead over other think tanks.

CGD Think Tank Ranking

Much of the credit for Cato’s success belongs to Ed Crane, who founded the organization more than 30 years ago and presided over its growth until his retirement last year.

Under Ed’s leadership, Cato became a major factor in public policy debates. Some say this is because he had a good senior team and hired good people. All that is true (at least I hope since he hired me), but I think another key factor in Cato’s success is that there’s never even the slightest suggestion that what we say and do is influenced by politics.

People can disagree with Cato because they object to limited government and individual liberty, but they always know it’s the place to go for honest and principled analysis.

And that makes me a very lucky guy. Every day, thanks to Cato, I get to fight against wasteful, bloated, and corrupt government.

P.S. While we’re proud of our top performance in the CGD ranking, Cato came in second place in the 32-team DC think tank softball league, losing in the championship game of the tournament, so we know there’s room for improvement.

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For five consecutive weekends, I responded to your “questions of the week.”

That involved queries about my views on when the monetary system will begin to unravel, whether I hated Republicans, what I thought about Senator Jim DeMint moving over to the Heritage Foundation, the degree to which the media is biased, and if my opinions have changed on any issues.

But last weekend, I got too wrapped up in other topics and neglected to answer any of the questions I received. So I’ll try to compensate by answering one question today and another tomorrow.

Today’s query actually is a request, not a question: “Take the Quiz and Tell Us How Libertarian You Are?”

Libertarian QuizAt first I thought this was going to be a request to take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, put together by the Advocates for Self Government.

And that would have been an easy test since it involves only 10 questions. I’ve done if before and I’m a pure libertarian.

But the reader instead sent me the much more detailed test put together by Professor Bryan Caplan of George Mason University.

This means answering 64 questions, though it doesn’t actually take that long to complete.

Libertarian TestThe good news is that I got a 94, which sounds close to perfect.

The bad news is that the maximum score is 160, so I obviously fell far short of libertarian purity.

But even a 94 makes me a very unusual person. According to Professor Caplan’s grading system, I’ve “entered the heady realm of hard-core libertarianism.

Libertarian Test Summary

If you want to know why I got what appears to be a modest grade, it’s because the test basically measures whether you’re an anarcho-capitalist. And as I confessed back in 2011, when sharing this funny video poking fun at libertarianism, I’ve never been able to rationalize how to get rid of all government.

From an ideological perspective, I’d like to think that we could privatize courts, police, and national defense. But I just don’t see how the market would fill those roles.

So, yes, I’m a squish. But whenever anarcho-capitalists give me a hard time, I tell them that we should work together to get rid of 90 percent of government. Then we can squabble about what to do with the remaining 10 percent.

P.S. Since I shared the funny anti-libertarian video, I may as well share these other examples of humor targeting me and my fellow travelers.

And since sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, here’s some libertarian-produced humor mocking statists.

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Let’s take a break from depressing posts about Obama’s fixation on class-warfare tax policy and the failure of Washington to enact genuine entitlement reform.

It’s time for another edition of “You Be the Judge.” I periodically come across stories that cause me internal conflict. Often my heart gives one answer and my head disagrees. Or I’m genuinely unsure of the right approach.

Previous editions of the game include:

Lots of fun stories, as you can see.

Our latest example is about the Dutch are dealing with the “scum” of society. Here’s some of the story from the UK-based Telegraph.

A potential name for the new Dutch community?

Hollands’s capital already has a special hit squad of municipal officials to identify the worst offenders for a compulsory six month course in how to behave. Social housing problem families or tenants who do not show an improvement or refuse to go to the special units face eviction and homelessness. Eberhard van der Laan, Amsterdam’s Labour mayor, has tabled the £810,000 plan to tackle 13,000 complaints of anti-social behaviour every year. He complained that long-term harassment often leads to law abiding tenants, rather than their nuisance neighbours, being driven out. “This is the world turned upside down,” the mayor said at the weekend. …The new punishment housing camps have been dubbed “scum villages” because the plan echoes a proposal from Geert Wilders, the leader of a populist Dutch Right-wing party, for special units to deal with persistent troublemakers. “Repeat offenders should be forcibly removed from their neighbourhood and sent to a village for scum,” he suggested last year. “Put all the trash together.” …The tough approach taken by Mr van der Laan appears to jar with Amsterdam’s famous tolerance for prostitution and soft drugs but reflects hardening attitudes to routine anti-social behaviour that falls short of criminality. There are already several small-scale trial projects in the Netherlands, including in Amsterdam, where 10 shipping container homes have been set aside for persistent offenders, living under 24-hour supervision from social workers and police.

Part of me thinks this is a good approach. Not the part about expensive social workers, to be sure, but I’m sympathetic to the notion that there are “bad apples” that cause trouble and can ruin neighborhoods.

Why not put them all together and let them stew in their own juices?

On the other hand, this soft version of prison seems inappropriate if people haven’t been convicted of a crime. Surely the government could trump up some sort of charge, and even do it in a semi-legitimate fashion. These sound like the sort of people who could be nailed for all sorts of things, such as disorderly conduct, assault and battery, urinating in public, and so on.

But swinging back in the other direction, it sounds as if the “scum” are inhabitants of public housing. And while I think public housing shouldn’t exist, I have no problem with the government enforcing standards of behavior as a condition of living in one of these Moochervilles. So all that’s really happening is that the riff-raff of society is being shifted from one form of government-provided housing to another.

What do you think?

P.S. The Netherlands is a typical European welfare state in many ways, but it has a good school choice system and a very competitive corporate tax system (as shown in the second video in this post). But those few good policies won’t be enough since the nation’s long-run fiscal outlook is as bad as Greece and worse than Spain and Italy. And if the burden of government spending gets too high, it swamps any good policies in other areas.

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I get several emails per week asking my view on various topics and many of the questions raise very interesting issues.

So I’ve decided to start a new feature. Every weekend, I will endeavor to answer one question.

My first chore is to explain why I hate Republicans, and as you can see here and here, there’s certainly ample reason to think I hold GOPers in low esteem.  The actual question, though, is:

You seem to be more critical of Republicans than Democrats and you went out of your way to attack Romney. Doesn’t that play into the hands of Obama?

The answer is yes and no. I don’t mean to sound like a politician, but I view my job as providing nonpartisan analysis on public policy issues. That means I criticize the statist schemes of the folks in Washington, regardless of whether the politicians have a “D” or an “R” at the end of their names.

To be fair, I’m probably a bit harder on Republicans, but only because they’re the ones who often pretend that they are on my side.

And sometimes they are on my side. My two favorite presidents are Reagan and Coolidge, and I have great admiration for those few politicians – such as Ron Paul – who almost always do the right thing.

But I also have discovered that bad Republicans usually do more damage than Democrats. Nixon was one of the most statist presidents of my lifetime, and Bush 41 and Bush 43 were almost as bad.

And even the politicians I’m willing to praise, including Ron Paul, sometimes do the wrong thing. And as much as I praise Reagan, he had some huge mistakes, such as the catastrophic health insurance program.

My simple rule of thumb is I will support a politicians who, in my estimation, will be a net plus for liberty. So notwithstanding my reputation for being a libertarian ideologue, I have a very practical approach to politics.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s rather disappointing that so few Republicans satisfy that simple test.

But now let’s return to the question. Doesn’t that view play into the hands of Obama? As I said, yes and no

“Hey, you libertarians should vote for me”

I want to maximize liberty (or minimize statism) in the long run. So if I have a choice between a big-government Republican and big-government Democrat, I sometimes think we’re better off if the Democrat prevails.

Jimmy Carter, for instance, probably wasn’t that much worse than Gerald Ford. And he paved the way for Reagan.

And Bill Clinton, in retrospect, was a much better choice than Bush 41. And he paved the way for the GOP landslide in 1994.

So the question before us today is whether Barack Obama is paving the way for a good Republican…or whether he’s a Lyndon Johnson paving the way for a Richard Nixon.

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From a rational perspective, the logical choice is not voting. After all, the odds of your vote making a difference are infinitesimally small.

But that’s if you view voting as an “investment” choice – i.e., you taking time and effort to do X in hopes of getting Y in return.

The other view is that voting is a “consumption” choice – i.e., something we do for enjoyment, like eating a hamburger or going to a movie. You recognize your vote almost surely won’t matter, but you do it because it gives you pleasure to vote for someone (or, in my case, it gives you pleasure to vote against someone).

Now let’s consider libertarians, conservatives, and other advocates of small government. Regardless of whether they’re investment voters or consumption voters, what should they do this election?

You could take an online test and see which candidate matches your views.

Mike Godwin of Reason, however, says you should vote for Barack Obama. Though he starts out by suggesting that most of us should vote for the Libertarian candidate.

…if you’re a Libertarian who’s not in a swing state – you live in California, maybe, or Texas – there’s no compelling reason for you to cast your vote for anyone other than Gary Johnson.

But then he argues that voters in battleground states should prefer Obama over Romney.

…you should give some thought to voting for Obama as the lesser of the two big-government, Harvard-educated evils. …Romney seems perfectly capable of adopting a liberal government program when it suits him. While Romney officially opposes Obamacare, it’s scarcely different from the health-care reform Romney presided over in Massachusetts.

I suspect most supporters of limited government won’t disagree with his assertion that Romney is squishy, but then Godwin goes off the reservation.

…there actually is a libertarian argument for Obamacare. …a truly universal system is the best option for maximizing health-care efficiencies. And if we can preserve some aspects of competition among insurers (which Obamacare, mimicking the health-care plan proposed by the GOP to counter Bill Clinton’s efforts at health-care reform, attempts to do), that’s all to the good. But there’s an even stronger libertarian argument for Obamacare. Namely, it frees more Americans to take better jobs without worrying about losing the health care plan they had in their old jobs. Worker mobility is one of the things that reliably fuels free enterprise, and workers will be more mobile under Obamacare than they would be under Romney’s semi-dismantled version of it.

I obviously disagree, but Godwin isn’t being crazy. Indeed, he’s basically echoing the pro-mandate position that was advanced by my former colleagues at the Heritage Foundation.

This is a reasonable position if you start from the premise that there’s no way of unwinding most of the existing government policies that have prevented markets from operating in the healthcare sector. That’s not my view, so I’m merely saying Godwin has a legitimate point, not that he’s right.

Getting back to his pro-Obama argument, he closes with discussion of social issues.

…let me underscore three points where Obama is surely closer to libertarians than Romney is. One of these is abortion rights, self-evidently. …Another is immigration. …A third quasi-libertarian position is Obama’s late-arriving but still-welcome stance on gay marriage.

I don’t find these arguments compelling. Libertarians are not monolithically pro-life or pro-choice. But to the extent there’s unanimity, they agree that Roe v. Wade was a nonsensical decision and that the issue should be decided by state legislatures. Which sort of makes them allies with Republicans, even if they don’t necessarily agree with how states should handle the issue.

I’m also more skeptical of immigration amnesty than the average libertarian, largely because I agree with Milton Friedman about the risks of combining open borders with a welfare state.

And I also think marriage should be a private institution with no role for government, though if you read the details of the article, it appears that Godwin has the same perspective.

“Me, the choice of libertarians?!?”

To summarize, I don’t find Godwin’s arguments convincing. If he really wanted to convince conservatives, libertarians, and other supporters of small government that Obama was the right choice, he should have argued that Romney would be another big-government statist like Bush. That’s a very compelling argument, as you can see from this list of Romney transgressions.

He even could have made the argument that keeping Obama for an additional four years would be the best way of laying the groundwork for a Reagan-style victory in 2016 with a presumably small-government advocate like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket. That would have caught my attention since my first political decision was to favor Carter over Ford in 1976 in hopes of paving the way for Reagan in 1980.

By the way, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to vote for Romney, Obama, or Johnson. My job is to focus on policy, not politics. But it is the silly season of politics, so I can’t resist making some observations.

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