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Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’

I work at the libertarian Cato Institute (aka, America’s most effective think tank), and I think libertarianism is the philosophy that best reflects human decency.

But I sometimes wonder why libertarians aren’t more persuasive and why there aren’t any libertarian societies.

However, maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been asked by several readers to comment on the debate about whether America is enjoying a libertarian phase, particularly among the so-called millenials. This discussion was triggered by a feature article in the New York Times magazine.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I hope the answer is yes. So it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that my fingers are crossed that Nick Gillespie of Reason is correct is his reaction to the NYT article.

Though I worry that the social capital of the American people (of all ages) has been sufficiently eroded that they won’t permit the entitlement reforms and program restructurings that are necessary to control – and hopefully reduce – the burden of government spending. So perhaps David Frum’s take in The Atlantic is more accurate, even if I hope he’s wrong.

For what it’s worth, I’m a bit more optimistic after reading Ben Domenech’s analysis for The Federalist.

I’m a fiscal policy wonk rather than a big-picture libertarian, so I’m not particularly qualified to assess who is right. That being said, you can sense a bit of my hopefulness in the post-post-postscript below.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of libertarianism, let’s talk about Harry Reid’s favorite people, Charles Koch and David Koch.

If you get your news from the establishment media, you doubtlessly think these supposedly evil billionaire brothers are dictating political outcomes with their ostensibly lavish spending on campaigns.

Yet if you look at a list of the top 100 individual donors to political races, David Koch is #90 and Charles Koch isn’t even on the list.

Some of you may be thinking that they funnel their largesse through other vehicles, but even when you look at organizational giving, Koch Industries is only #36 on the list.

Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner slices and dices the data.

…only two of the nation’s top 20 donors to federal campaigns favor the GOP, and a stunning 11 are labor unions including the AFL-CIO, and both teachers unions, according to a new report. The highly respected Center for Responsive Politics put the pro-Democratic fundraising group ActBlue at the top of the organization donor list, coughing up over $30 million, with 99 percent going to Democrats. Way down at No. 36 is Koch Industries, the conservatively run company Democrats claim control the GOP. …Among individuals, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranked second in donations, with $8,710,678 of his $9,495,798 going to Democrats and Democratic causes. …Among individual donors, the top three are also Democrats. The rest of the list is evenly split in who they give money to.

P.P.S. Since we’re talking about the Kochs, I find it laughable that conspiracy mongers on the left somehow thought I was worth including in this flowchart.

The other people are all donors, directors, or executives. I’m just a policy wonk. Heck, they didn’t even make the one connection that does exist, which is the fact that I used to be married to Nancy.

P.P.P.S. On the other hand, I feel honored but unworthy to have been subject of a profile by the folks at United Liberty.

According to the title, I’m the “guardian angel” of American taxpayers. Needless to say, I wish I had the power to protect folks from rapacious government. Here’s what the article actually says about my angelic qualities.

World renowned tax expert and Cato Institute scholar Dan Mitchell thinks of politicians as characters in old cartoons that, when faced with a decision, suddenly find they’ve an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both handing out advice as to the right move. He sees himself, flashing a grin that signals you shouldn’t take him too seriously, as the angel. “My job is to convince [politicians] to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for their own political aspirations,” he says.

The article also explains what got me involved in the fight for liberty.

Mitchell has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from UGA, as well as a PhD in economics from George Mason University. But he got his start as a limited government conservative as a high school student who, like many others, found himself struck by the wisdom of Ronald Reagan. “I was drawn to his message that government was the problem, not the solution,” he says. “One thing that was definitely part of Regan’s philosophy that I got right away was that you shouldn’t punish success and you shouldn’t reward bad behavior.” Reagan, he says, accomplished more on spending than people give him credit for, and succeeded largely due to his policy of tax rate reductions, the taming of inflation, the slight reduction in all federal spending, and the massive shift away from domestic spending toward defense spending.

But regular readers already know I have a man-crush on The Gipper.

The final excerpt explains why I’m slightly optimistic, though I certainly don’t expect to put myself out of a job.

…he is a patriot who cares about the future of America.“What matters most is that somehow, in the next couple of years, Congress needs to approve, enact, and implement [Paul] Ryan’s entitlement reforms — block-granting medicaid and turning medicare into a premium support system,” he says. “It’s the only way to save the country.”Otherwise, we become “France at best, Greece at worst.”  …he notes that “if you want to be optimistic, progress comes rather quickly” once proper reforms are in place, and the transition is not terribly painful. But what happens if he gets his wish? Isn’t he working to put himself out of a job?“I’m sure there will be enough bad government policy to keep me occupied for the rest of my life,” he laughs. “As much as I would like to put myself out of a job, I have so far not demonstrated that level of competence.”

Simply stated, even if we get genuine entitlement reform and put the brakes on wasteful discretionary spending, it will still be a full-time job to keep the politicians from backsliding.

Anyhow, read the entire profile if you have a few minutes to kill.

P.P.P.P.S. Building on the superb image of bread, capitalism, and socialism, let’s close with something for our collection of pro-libertarian humor

…as well as something for our collection of anti-libertarian humor.

Reminds me of the libertarian lifeguard cartoon, at least in the sense that we supposedly are indifferent to children.

Though obviously an absurd caricature. After all, libertarians want school choice to help poor kids while the statists are the ones standing in the schoolhouse door.

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No, this post is not about that kind of fantasy.

Instead, we’re dealing strictly with public policy and specifically addressing whether the libertarian agenda is unrealistic.

This is because when I talk to people about libertarianism, they often will say something mildly supportive such as: “I like the idea of getting government out of my wallet and out of my bedroom.”

But then the other shoe drops and they say something skeptical such as: “But you folks are too idealistic in thinking the private sector can do everything.”

If you ask them to elaborate why libertarian ideas are fantasies, you’ll usually hear comments such as:

“Libertarians are crazy to think that we can replace Social Security with personal retirement accounts.” Apparently they’re unaware that dozens of nations including Australia and Chile have very successful private systems.

“Libertarians are silly to think that money could be handled by the private sector.” Apparently they’re unaware that paper money was a creation of the private marketplace and that competitive currencies worked very well in many nations until they were banned by governments.

“Libertarians are naive to think the mail could be delivered in the absence of a government monopoly.” Apparently they’re unaware that many nations such as the United Kingdom and Germany have shifted to competitive private mail delivery.

 “Libertarians are foolish to think that the private sector could build and maintain roads.” Apparently they’re unaware of what I’m going to write about today.

It turns out that the private sector can build roads. And a great example happened earlier this year on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are some passages from a story out of the United Kingdom.

A grandfather sick of roadworks near his home defied his council and built his own toll road allowing people to circumvent the disrupted section. Opened on Friday, it’s the first private toll road built since cars became a familiar sight on British roads 100 years ago.  …Mike Watts, 62, hired a crew of workmen and ploughed £150,000 of his own cash into building a 365m long bypass road in a field next to the closed A431. He reckons it will cost another £150,000 in upkeep costs and to pay for two 24 hour a day toll booth operators. …Father of four Mike asked his friend John Dinham if he would mind renting him the field until Christmas and hired three workmen to help build the road in just 10 days. He worked with the Highways Agency, has public liability insurance… But a spokesman for the council said it was not happy about the bold build.

Wow, talk about the private sector coming to the rescue. Two things jump out from that story. First, it took only 10 days and £150,000 to build the road. If the government did it, it would take 20 times as long and cost 30 times as much.

The other noteworthy part of the story is that the local government isn’t happy. Well, of course not. Mr. Watts showed them up.

Some of you may be thinking this is a once-in-a-lifetime story and that we shouldn’t draw any lessons.

But that’s why an article by Nick Zaiac in London’s City A.M. is a must read. He cites the new toll road, but puts it in historical context.

Adams’ work falls into a long tradition of private provision of public services in order to serve some private goal. …Actions like these are not without precedent. In the American island state of Hawaii, residents and business owners gathered together in 2009 to fix a road through a state park that was vital to the area. They completed it entirely for free, with locals donating machinery, materials, and labor. In fact, the project was completed in a shockingly brief eight days. …Private roads have a long and storied history in both Britain and the US. Between 1800 and 1830, private turnpikes made up an astounding 27 per cent of all business incorporations in the US. Britain, between 1750 and 1772, had previously experienced a period of “turnpike mania”, as noted by economic historians Daniel Klein and John Majewski. Put simply, private infrastructure is by no means a new thing. It is simply the slow return to the way many roads were originally built.

Nick then explains that the private sector is making a comeback, and not just for little projects in the United Kingdom and Hawaii.

Australia stands out as one of the leaders. There are currently eight P3 projects on the market, with others in the pipeline, ranging from new rail lines and roads to hospitals. Each of these projects brings private financing into traditionally public projects, with benefits to companies, taxpayers, and, local citizens. Even better, as David Haarmeyer notes in Regulation, infrastructure projects such as those funded public private partnerships serve as good, long-term investments for investors seeking safe returns. …The traditional role of the government as infrastructure monopolist is slowly falling apart. Whether from grassroots efforts or large, complicated P3 projects such as the M6 Toll, the market is proving that it can provide infrastructure that people need, in one way or another.

John Stossel also has written on the topic and discussed modern-day examples of private sector involvement in the United States.

Heck, there are even private lanes on the Virginia side of the “beltway” that circles Washington!

So the moral of the story is that the private sector can do a lot more than people think.

In other words, libertarians may fantasize when they think of very small government. But the fantasy is not because libertarian policy is impractical. The fantasy is thinking (and hoping…and praying…and wishing) that politicians will actually do the right thing.

P.S. You want to know the best part of private roads? If they’re truly private, that means local governments wouldn’t be able to use red-light cameras and ticket traps as scams to generate revenue!

P.P.S. As I explained on Wednesday (only partially tongue in cheek), I’m willing to let the government be in charge of roads if the statists will agree to give people more personal and economic freedom in other areas. I’m not holding my breath waiting for a positive reply.

P.P.P.S. Though if government continued to have authority to build and maintain roads, that doesn’t mean Washington should play a role. The Department of Transportation should be abolished as quickly as possible.

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A few years ago, I shared a satirical divorce decree that would allow conservatives and liberals to amicably separate into two different countries.

This seemed like a good idea, particularly since another piece of satire suggested that Canada was being overrun by statists who were upset by the Tea Party election of 2010.

And don’t forget that I wrote a serious column in 2012 speculating whether advocates of limited government should be the ones moving north instead.

But rather than divorce or mass emigration, what if we could resolve our differences and live together in peace and tranquility?

Y’all may be thinking I’m smoking some of that stuff that libertarians want to legalize, but I want to make a serious point.

Or, to be more specific, I want to test whether our statist friends are serious.

I’m motivated by this presumably legitimate Facebook message. It’s designed, I’m guessing, to poke fun at conservatives who utilize government while simultaneously complaining about government.

Having read this diatribe, I want to make two points, and then end with a proposal.

My first point is that many of the supposed benefits of government would exist even if the public sector disappeared tomorrow.

There are some government-owned utilities, but I think we all recognize that most electricity is generated by the private sector.

Private satellite companies and private news companies would provide weather forecasts in the absence of NOAA and NASA.

Private food companies and private drug companies would have big incentives to provide safe products in the absence of government inspections.

People would know how to tell time without the government.

Auto companies would have every reason to produce safe cars even if there was no regulation.

I could continue, but you get the point.

Which brings me to my second point. The person who put together this screed conveniently left out the programs that account for the lion’s share of government spending.

Why doesn’t the author include agriculture programs?

Why doesn’t the author include the Ponzi Scheme otherwise known as Social Security?

Why doesn’t the author include all the money spent to subsidize other nations’ defenses?

Why doesn’t the author include bankrupt and counterproductive health care entitlements such as Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid?

Why doesn’t the author include the Department of Housing and Urban Development?

Why doesn’t the author include the corporate welfare at the Department of Commerce?

Why doesn’t the author include the welfare programs that trap people in dependency?

Why doesn’t the author include unemployment insurance payments that subsidize joblessness?

I could continue, but you get the point.

Which brings me to my proposal.

I’m guessing that the person who put together the diatribe wanted to make the point that there are some activities of government that produce value. And even though I think he is generally wrong to imply that these things wouldn’t happen without government, I’m willing to bend over backwards in the interests of reaching a deal.

So here’s a challenge for our friends on the left: If the author agrees to get rid of the programs he doesn’t include, I’ll agree to keep all the programs he does mention.

In other words, let’s have a compromise, which is what they recommend in all the articles about relationships. Both sides meet in the middle.

Yes, I know that means too much government, but it also means that the public sector would be a far smaller burden than it is today. Indeed, I would be surprised if the total burden of government spending exceeded 10 percent of our economic output under this proposed agreement. Which would put us somewhat close to the growth-maximizing size of government.

And don’t forget that this compromise also means that the already-legislated expansions in the burden of government spending presumably wouldn’t happen.

So my proposal doesn’t mean libertarian utopia. But it also means we don’t suffer welfare state dystopia.

Now we just have to see whether our statist friends will accept this proposed peace agreement.

Or will we find out that they’re the hypocrites, not the folks who post comments on Fox News and Free Republic?

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Some people confuse being libertarian with being libertine.

I’m sometimes asked, for instance, if I’m a libertarian because I want to smoke pot or do other drugs.

I respond that I’ve never done drugs and have no desire to use drugs.

Then I’m asked if I’m a libertarian because I want to gamble.

I respond by saying that I don’t gamble, even when I’m in Las Vegas or some other place where it’s legal.

Sometimes I’m asked if I’m libertarian because I want to use prostitutes.

I respond by explaining that I’d never patronize a prostitute because I want to at least be under the illusion that a woman actually wants to be with me.

At this point, some people conclude I’m boring, and that may be true, but this is also the point where I try to educate them about the libertarian philosophy.

I give them the usual message about small government and free markets, but I also explain that libertarians don’t believe that government should persecute people for victimless crimes.

This doesn’t mean we think it’s good to use drugs or that we personally approve of prostitution. And it doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to the downsides of gambling.

The libertarian message is simply that prohibition makes matters worse, not better. For instance, prohibition gives government the power to behave in reprehensible ways.

Let’s look at two examples, starting with this disturbing and powerful video from Reason TV (warning, both the subject material and language are not for the faint of heart).

Having watched the video, now ask yourself whether you think this is an appropriate way for governments to be using our tax dollars?

Remember, we’re not talking about cops busting people for impaired driving. That’s totally legitimate, regardless of whether they’re impaired because of drugs or booze.

The question is whether cops should look for excuses to pull people over simply in hopes of finding that they have some pot. And when they don’t find drugs, should they then go through obscene efforts in hopes of finding some contraband?*

Our second example isn’t as disturbing, at least on a physical level, but it should be equally troubling if we believe in decent and humane society.

It seems that SWAT teams have too much time on their hands and are now conducting raids on old folks playing cards.

On Saturday, state and local authorities raided a monthly poker tournament at a bar in the city of Largo, after an investigation into unlawful gambling, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Nutz Poker League, which was running a free game open to the public at Louie’s Grill and Sports Bar at the time of the crackdown, said on its Facebook page that some of the police were in “full riot gear” and had their “weapons drawn.” …One woman present described the event in a blog post: “Today, while out playing poker with this poker league, we were raided by the [Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco], all with men and women officers wearing black masks so we couldn’t see their faces. We were forced (by a threat of going to jail) to place our hands on the table where they could see them and to stay there until we were told.” …Luke Lirot, an attorney involved with the matter, told Card Player that players took cell phone photos and video of the raid, and that they were “ordered by officers to delete” the material. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the undercover investigation, dubbed “Operation Cracked Aces,” had been ongoing for months prior to the bust.

The community group that runs the recreational league has an appropriately libertarian view of this costly harassment.

“The ‘crime’ here is the waste of valuable public resources, and the misguided efforts to enforce an archaic law that was never intended to be used to criminalize events such as the one here, where six individuals were unjustly arrested and terrified, and now face prosecution,” the league said. “If state statutes can be exploited and stretched to criminalize these types of events, legislation needs to be adopted to clear up this unnecessary abuse.” Nutz Poker added that the raid was an example of “tyrannical [law] enforcement.”

By the way, the Florida raid is not an isolated incident.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the Baltimore Sun.

…at the Lynch Point Social Club in Edgemere, police say, …dozens of men would meet regularly to play no limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker games and gamble on electronic machines. County police said it was all off the books and against the law, and busted the club’s members in a raid involving a tactical unit last week. The organizer and dealers were arrested and face charges. Almost immediately after our story posted, there was a quick backlash against police. The story’s been shared nearly 200 times on Facebook and generated 40 comments as of this writing… commenters had no tie to the event but were angered at an investigation they believe was a waste of police resources. …But police say games like the ones hosted in Edgemere are against the law and must be enforced, and may even put the players at risk for becoming victims of a robbery.

Here’s the bottom line: A bunch of guys want to pass the time by playing cards and making wagers. They’re not hurting anybody else, yet cops decide to send a “tactical unit” to conduct a raid.

Once again, I’m glad there’s a backlash against the police. Cops should be protecting innocent people, not harassing them.

Or killing them.

And this is why libertarianism is a philosophy of human decency. We don’t believe in using coercive government power against people who aren’t harming others.

*I’m thinking an involuntary cavity search might be worth it if I got a $900,000 award after suing the government.

P.S. Since I feel very confident about libertarian principles, I don’t object to sharing anti-libertarian humor.

Here’s the latest example.

I’ve previously shared a cartoon with the same theme, and that post also makes the should-be-obvious point that fire departments would exist in a libertarian world.

And that link also has many more examples of libertarian humor.

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It’s not as sophisticated as Professor Bryan Caplan’s Purity Quiz and it doesn’t have the simple elegance of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, but at least you don’t need to answer any questions to see where you stand in this Venn Diagram that my intern shared with me.

We don’t know who created it, but it’s a clever shortcut to help people to identify their philosophical alignment based on what they think are the proper roles of government.

I’ll do a bit of nit-picking later in this column, but my immediate observation is that I belong in the “Minarchism” camp but that I’m willing to settle for “Classical Liberalism.”

Philosophical Circles

Now it’s time to quibble.

1. There’s no scope for federalism in this Venn diagram, and that may affect the answers of some people. I am completely against the notion that Washington should have any role in our education system, for instance, but I wouldn’t lose much sleep if state and local governments operated school choice systems. Does this mean I’m in the “modern conservatism” camp?

2. I’m also not clear why the person who created the Diagram decided that buses and subways are part of “classical liberalism.” I don’t consider transportation to be a core function of the state. Though this may be another issue where federalism plays a role. I’m not going to get overly agitated if the taxpayers of New York City want to tax themselves (and only themselves) to operate mass transit. Just don’t ask me to pay for it.

3. For reasons I’ve explained before, there’s a difference between socialism (government ownership of the means of production) and redistributionism (government taxing some to give things to others). So at the risk of being pedantic, I would reclassify the big red circle as “total statism.”

But let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. This Venn Diagram/Circle Test is very well done.

P.S. The worst political quiz I ever took was the one that pegged me as a “moderate” with “few strong opinions.”

P.P.S. Reason’s political candidate quiz, by contrast, produced a much more logical conclusion.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written a few times about the politicized corruption at the IRS. Building on recent revelations, Kevin Williamson has a superb column at National Review on this topic.

The first excerpt notes that the IRS engaged in an ideological witch hunt.

…the evidence, now conclusive and irrefutable, that the Internal Revenue Service, under the direction of senior leaders affiliated with the Democratic party, was used as a political weapon from at least 2010 through the 2012 election. …the IRS targeted these conservative groups categorically, regardless of whether there was any evidence that they were not in compliance with the relevant regulations. Simply having the words “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12”…in the name was enough. Also targeted were groups dedicated to issues such as taxes, spending, debt, and, perhaps most worrisome, those that were simply “critical of the how the country is being run.” Organizations also were targeted based on the identity of their donors. Their applications were delayed, their managements harassed, and the IRS demanded that they answer wildly inappropriate questions, such as the content of their prayers.

Our second excerpt explains that the witch hunt was directed by partisans in Washington.

…the direction came from Washington and was, in the words of the agency’s own e-mails, “coordinated with” a senior manager there, Rob Choi, director of rulings and agreements. This began at the behest of Democratic officeholders, including Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who requested that the IRS disclose to him information about tea-party groups that it would have been illegal for the IRS to disclose.

In our final excerpt, Kevin explains why this is – or at least should be – very troubling for anyone who thinks America should have the rule of law.

The IRS is not just a revenue agency — it is a law-enforcement agency, a police agency with far greater powers of investigation and coercion that any normal police force. Its actions in this matter are not only inappropriate — they are illegal. Using government resources for political ends is a serious crime, as is conspiring to mislead investigators about those crimes. …The most important question that must be answered in this matter does not involve the misbehavior of IRS officials and Democratic officeholders, though those are important. Nor is it the question of free speech, vital and fundamental as that is. The question here is nothing less than the legitimacy of the United States government. When law-enforcement agencies and federal regulators with extraordinary coercive powers are subordinated to political interests rather than their official obligations — to the Party rather than to the law — then the law itself becomes meaningless, and the delicate constitutional order we have enjoyed for more than two centuries is reduced to a brutal might-makes-right proposition. …The IRS investigation is no mere partisan scandal, but a moral challenge for the men and women who compose the government of this country.

Amen.

Unconstrained government enables corruption and oppression.

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Whenever I find clever political humor, I like to share with readers.

And because I’m confident in the superiority of liberty over statism, I’m even amused when I find jokes that target my libertarian philosophy. After all, only dour people are unable to laugh at themselves.

Indeed, I’m actually disappointed that I rarely find any good jokes about advocates of small government. I haven’t found any good anti-libertarian humor since this cartoon last January.

I can gladly report, though, that the drought has ended.

Writing for The New Yorker, Tom O’Donnell has some fun at the expense of libertarians.

He has an article on the adventures of a “Libertarian Police Department,” told from the perspective of a patrolman.

I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it.

It seems that some bitcoins (much loved by libertarians) were stolen!

“…Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.” The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”

The patrolman rushes to the scene, seeing if someone will pay to solve the crime.

Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside. …“Now, which one of you punks is going to pay me to investigate this crime?” No one spoke up. “Come on,” I said. “Don’t you all understand that the protection of private property is the foundation of all personal liberty?” It didn’t seem like they did.

But our private sector libertarian cop eventually finds a suspect and tries to catch him while dealing with the daunting challenge of government-owned sidewalks!

“Stop right there!” I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.

The suspect eventually is caught…and confesses that he is part of the “Ben Bernank” club.

…the man yelled, throwing down his weapon. “I give up, cop! I confess: I took the bitcoins.” “Why’d you do it?” I asked… “Because I was afraid…Afraid of an economic future free from the pernicious meddling of central bankers,” he said. “I’m a central banker.” …I shook my head. “Let this be a message to all your central-banker friends out on the street,” I said. “No matter how many bitcoins you steal, you’ll never take away the dream of an open society based on the principles of personal and economic freedom.” He nodded, because he knew I was right. Then he swiped his credit card to pay me for arresting him.

I suggest you read the entire article. It’s not very long, and it delivers some good jabs. Sort of like this collage about the 24 different types of libertarians.

But I suppose I should make a serious point at this stage.

The author is really mocking anarcho-capitalists (just like this Somalia video), yet I suspect that the vast majority of libertarians are in the small-government camp rather than the no-government camp. In other words, they wouldn’t mind a very small government that focused on matters such as life, liberty, and property.

So tracking down bitcoin thieves would be a legitimate function of government!

More specifically, the goal of libertarianism is to make government small and focused so it can effectively carry out its legitimate responsibilities.

P.S. For more libertarian humor, here’s a cartoon on libertarian ice fishing and another showing libertarian lifeguards.

And the “think I do” montage is a classic, as well as this post about “libertarian problems.”

P.P.S. To see if you’re an anarcho-capitalist rather than a small-government libertarian, take this online quiz.

P.P.P.S. Here’s another photo with the PotL. We’re outside of the Royal Palace and looking over Monaco’s yacht harbor.

photo1

Monaco is a very rich place and there is no income tax (just like the system that used to exist someplace else). One wonders whether our leftist friends will ever see the connection.

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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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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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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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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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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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