Archive for the ‘Libertarianism’ Category

In TV debates, I’ve asserted that folks on the left are “neurotic” and “guilt-ridden.” And I shared a make-believe divorce agreement that exploited every negative stereotype about left wingers.

So I’m not averse to philosophical mockery, at least if it’s done with humor rather than malice.

As you might imagine, this is a two-way street. Folks on the other side make fun of libertarians quite frequently.

And not always with a smile. According to one leftist academic, we are borderline autistic.

Speaking at New York City’s Unitarian Church of All Souls…, MacLean…answered an audience member’s question about the motivations of the late economist James Buchanan, whom she considers to be one of the founders of libertarianism. In response, she suggested that Buchanan might have been on the “autism spectrum.” “It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum,” she said an hour into the talk. “You know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others and who have difficult human relationships sometimes.”

I don’t know anything about how autism is measured, so I can’t agree or disagree with her assertion. Though I’m tempted to reflexively disagree because MacLean’s book on Buchanan was incredibly shoddy.

But I will admit that libertarians can be a bit dorky. Heck, I’ve specifically shared humor noting our nerdy tendencies.

Moreover, Jonathan Haidt, who is a serious and non-shoddy academic, has done some work quantifying the libertarian psyche.

We’ve been deluged in recent years with research on the psychology (and brain structure) of liberals and conservatives. But very little is known about libertarians — an extremely important group in American politics that is not at home in either political party. …In a project led by Ravi Iyer, we analyzed data from nearly twelve thousand self-described libertarians, and compared their responses to those of 21,000 conservatives and 97,000 liberals. …The findings largely confirm what libertarians have long said about themselves, but they also shed light on why some people and not others end up finding libertarian ideas appealing. Here are three of the major findings:

Here’s how libertarians score on “moral values”.

Libertarians match liberals in placing a relatively low value on the moral foundations of loyalty, authority, and sanctity (e.g., they’re not so concerned about sexual issues and flag burning), but they join conservatives in scoring lower than liberals on the care and fairness foundations (…e.g., they don’t want a welfare state and heavy handed measures to enforce equality). This is why libertarians can’t be placed on the spectrum from left to right: …They really do put liberty above all other values.

Here’s how they score on “reasoning and emotions”.

Libertarians have the most “masculine” style, liberals the most “feminine.” We used Simon Baron-Cohen’s measures of “empathizing” (on which women tend to score higher) and “systemizing”, which refers to “the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system.” Men tend to score higher on this variable. Libertarians score the lowest of the three groups on empathizing, and highest of the three groups on systemizing. …On this and other measures, libertarians consistently come out as the most cerebral, most rational, and least emotional. On a very crude problem solving measure related to IQ, they score the highest.

And here’s what characterizes libertarians on “relationships”.

Libertarians are the most individualistic; they report the weakest ties to other people. They score lowest of the three groups on many traits related to sociability, including extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. They have a morality that matches their sociability – one that emphasizes independence.

In other words, based on the final category, maybe there is some truth to the stereotype that we’re introverted, disagreeable, and self-centered.

I don’t know if that means we are more likely to be autistic, but dorkiness might be a semi-fair insult.

But folks on the left should be careful about stereotyping since they have vulnerabilities of their own.

Here’s a story from the U.K.-based Times, for instance, on how leftists are more likely to be weaklings.

A study has found that weaker men are more likely to be in favour of redistributive taxation. …That is one interpretation of research by academics from Brunel University, who assessed 171 men for how buff they were – looking at strength, bicep circumference, weight and height. Writing in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, they found that those men who looked more formidable were…much less likely to back policies that redistribute wealth. Michael Price, from Brunel University London, said that this fitted with some of the predictions of evolutionary psychology. …“Our minds evolved in environments where strength was a big determinant of success. If you find yourself in a body not threatened by other males, if you feel you can win competitions for status, then maybe you start thinking inequality is pretty good.” The question was which way did the relationship go? Were men who were naturally strong also more likely to be less egalitarian – calibrating their morals to fit their abilities? Or was it that men who were less egalitarian felt more need to go to the gym, unconsciously believing they needed the strength in order to reach a better place in a red-in-tooth-and-claw social hierarchy? When Dr Price factored in time spent in the gym some, but not all, of the link disappeared – implying some truth to the second explanation.

For what it’s worth, I shared a similar story on this kind of research back in 2012.

There’s also academic research indicating leftists are not as attractive.

The researchers claim that never before has the effects of physical attractiveness on politics been examined on this level and that there is “good reason to believe that individuals’ physical attractiveness may alter their political values and worldviews”. They said that their findings prove attractive people tend to lean towards the right because they have better social skills and are more popular, competent and intelligent due to the “halo effect”… Writing about their findings in the Politics and Life Sciences journal published in December 2017, the pair said that on average, hotter people have an easier life so don’t see the need for more welfare, aid and government support, unlike their left-wing counterparts.

And there’s more than one study reaching this conclusion.

A recently published study in the Journal of Public Economics concludes that the attractiveness of a candidate does correlate with their politics. They find that politicians on the right are more good looking in Europe, the United States and Australia. The study shows correlation, not causation, but the researchers float a simple economic explanation for why this might happen. Numerous studies have shown that good-looking people are likely to earn more, and that people who earn more are typically more opposed to redistributive policies, like the progressive taxes and welfare programs favored by the left. The researchers also offer a more general psychological explanation for the trend: That good-looking people are often treated better than others, and thus see the world as a more just place. Past studies have found that the more attractive people believe themselves to be, the lower their preference for egalitarianism, a value typically associated with the political left.

For what it’s worth, the three articles I just cited don’t reflect well on folks on the left, but conservatives shouldn’t feel good either since the research sort of implies that they’re entitled and arrogant jerks.

It’s unclear where libertarians score on these measures.

Incidentally, there is research on how attractiveness means higher earnings and some folks actually think government should somehow intervene to compensate for “lookism.”

Now let’s shift from soft science to hard science. A 2012 study from Trends in Genetics advances the hypothesis that ideology and values may be hard-wired.

…we review the ‘genetics of politics’, focusing on the topics that have received the most attention: attitudes, ideologies, and pro-social political traits, including voting behavior and participation. …there has been a recent shift in perspective by both life and social scientists that emphasizes the interplay between genes and the environment, and gene–culture coevolution, which has proven more accurate than any position favoring either nature or nurture. It is against this background that a growing movement has begun to address the substantial, but not exclusive, role of genetic influences in the manifestation of political differences. …These findings are summarized in Figure 1, which shows that genetic influences account for a substantial proportion of individual differences in political traits.

And here is Figure 1, which shows that genetics (the blue bars) matters a lot for certain things like overall ideology and doesn’t matter at all for other factors such as party identification.

By the way, I have no way of judging whether this is good science or bad science, and I don’t even know if the results are positive or negative from a libertarian perspective. I’m simply sharing the results because they’re potentially illuminating/interesting.

Let’s close with some research that teases out some differences between libertarians (or “economic conservatives,” which I assume is a proxy) and other groups.

Here’s some academic research on attitudes about science.

It is frequently asserted that conservatives exhibit a cognitive style that renders them less well disposed toward science than progressives, and that they are correspondingly less trusting of scientific institutions and less knowledgeable about scientific ideas. Here we scrutinize these assertions, using data from the U.S. General Social Survey. We distinguish between three different definitions of ‘conservative’: first, identifying as conservative, rather than as liberal; second, holding socially conservative views, rather than socially progressive views; and third, holding economically conservative views, rather than economically leftist views. We find that self-identified conservatives and social conservatives are less scientifically literate and optimistic about science than, respectively, self-identified liberals and social progressives. However, we find that economic conservatives are as or more scientifically literate and optimistic about science than economic leftists.

In other words, folks that lean more libertarian rank at the top in terms of knowledge and attitudes.

And here’s an article about underlying value systems.

Political battles in the US are often portrayed as a clash between “bleeding heart” liberals and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” conservatives. …Scientists are beginning to zero in on a few key differences in the ways that people on opposite ends of the political spectrum react to stimuli. …A study published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research in January suggests that you might be able to tell whether someone is liberal or conservative simply by the way they react to pictures of gross things like blood, feces or vomit. The authors found that socially conservative students will physically look away from “disgusting” images more quickly than their liberal peers (but the same didn’t hold true for people with fiscally conservative beliefs). …There’s also evidence that the areas of the brain that process and express fear are more active in conservative voters, which might make them more likely to quickly turn away from something that could make them sick. …New research on compassion is de-bunking the myth that liberal voters might inherently be more empathetic and kind-hearted people than conservatives.

Since folks on the right donate more than folks on the left, I’ve always thought the stereotype about generous leftists was absurd.

As “Libertarian Jesus” teaches, you’re not supposed to be charitable with other people’s money.

But what I noticed in the article was the difference between fiscal conservatives (presumably more libertarian?) and general conservatives. We may be allies on some issues, but we’re not the same (though I’m not sure why anyone would want to look any longer than necessary at pictures of blood, feces, and vomit).

My last item is a video exploring the research of Haidt and others on libertarian values.

Haidt isn’t a libertarian, but his research (which I’ve cited before) seems honest and rigorous.

My goal in all this is to figure out how nerdy libertarians can be more persuasive.

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I realize that such exercises are probably “click-bait,” but I generally can’t resist taking tests/quizzes designed to identify my philosophical/political orientation.

Here are some previous examples, all of which made sense.

But there was also a political quiz that pegged me as a “moderate,” which might be reasonable conclusion since libertarians have some right-wing views and some left-wing views. But that quiz also concluded that I had “few strong opinions,” which is a nonsensical result.

But maybe I really am a moderate because there’s a new 20-question quiz from IDRlabs and – as you can see – I’m exactly in the middle.

What makes this quiz interesting (or bizarre, depending on your outlook) is that none of the questions are about issues. Instead, you’re asked about lifestyle. Such as:

  • Are you orderly or messy?
  • Do you prefer country music or classical music?
  • Do you want your home on a busy street or quiet street?
  • Are philosophical discussions fun, boring, or pointless?
  • Do you like arugula?

At the risk of over-simplifying, if you give answers suggesting you prefer a quiet and conventional life, you’ll get a right-wing score. And you’ll get a left-wing score if your answers suggest you have a more eclectic approach to life (and, if you’re like me, you don’t know whether you like arugula, so you have a hard time answering certain questions).

For what it’s worth, I think the quiz does capture something important. There is research indicating that people’s policy views are largely determined by underlying values.

And these values are more important than economics. Coming from a leftist perspective, Thomas Frank wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas last decade to address the supposed paradox of people with modest incomes voting for conservative politicians. And Thomas Edsall, also coming from the left, observed in the New York Times that wealthy people have become Democrats.

So much for Marx’s theory of economic determinism!

This is outside of my area of expertise, but I’m interested in this type of analysis because it’s my job to proselytize in favor of freedom. So I often try to convince right wingers to have a more laissez-faire approach to social and international matters and I often try to convince left wingers to have a more laissez-faire approach to economic issues.

But how do you convince people about issues if their views are dependent on an underlying value system?

And it gets more complicated because of what’s happening in society.

I’ll share a couple of items that struck me as important. First, here’s some of what Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. …The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful—those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. …They are figures in government, politics and media. They live in nice neighborhoods, safe ones. Their families function, their kids go to good schools, they’ve got some money. All of these things tend to isolate them, or provide buffers. …They’re insulated from many of the effects of their own decisions. …This is a terrible feature of our age—that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens.

And here’s a video featuring David Goodhart of London’s Policy Exchange, who says that the split is now between the “anywheres” who are cosmopolitan and the “somewheres” who are traditional.

In some sense, it seems that politics is being determined by class.  The “protected” and the “anywheres” are increasingly on the left (the “rational left” rather than the Bernie variety). And the “unprotected” and the “somewheres” are voting blocs for the right.

Incidentally, this worries me because elites have a disproportionate influence on public policy, And there’s now cultural pressure for such people to adopt left-wing views (a good example is the condescending tone of this Washington Post column). Simply stated, most educated people want to be seen as urbane and cosmopolitan, characteristics that are now associated with the left.

And it goes without saying that Trump is probably accelerating this process – which is doubly frustrating to me because his occasional support for good policy doesn’t change the fact that he’s not a supporter of free markets and limited government. Yet because he is now an avatar for the right, many educated people will now decide they should support statist policies and candidates.

The bottom line is that being an advocate for liberty is becoming an even bigger challenge!

P.S. Returning to the original topic of online tests, Reason’s political candidate quiz produced a logical conclusion.

P.P.S. By contrast, I thought the quiz on supposed libertarian hypocrisy was largely a straw-man exercise.

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So long as people keep emailing me libertarian humor (pro and con), I’ll continue to periodically share the items that meet my test.

Today, we have another edition of anti-libertarian humor. Nothing funny enough to supplant the “Libertarian Paradise of Somalia,” which still is at the top of my list, but I got a laugh from several items.

We’ll start with what happens when the same company that produces “Libertarios” also runs a bar.

I shouldhn’t have to say this, but I’ll point out that businesses don’t make profits by killing their customers, so this may be funny satire, but it’s also inaccurate satire.

But I like the dig about tyranny, just like “socialist snowplows.”

Our next item, from Babyon Bee, exploits the stereotype that libertarians are part of some sort of Randian cult.

While browsing memes on a popular libertarian meme Facebook page, local man Kyle Coats reportedly felt himself “cut to the heart” Wednesday, grabbing a Gadsden flag he had recently purchased and darting outside into the afternoon sun where he dropped to his knees and asked Ron Paul to come into his heart, once and for all, fully committing his life to the ideals of liberty he stands for. …“Ron, would you come into my life and make me new?” he whispered privately to himself, a single tear streaming down his cheek as he clutched the “DON’T TREAD ON ME” flag, according to sources. “Please, Ron, forgive me of all my violations of the non-aggression principle and all the times I unwittingly supported a statist agenda.” “I swear here and now, taxation is theft!” he added.

Sort of the like the dorky libertarians who care more about dogma than the opposite sex.

Next we have a libertarian super hero.

Reminds me of the libertarian at Thanksgiving dinner.

And if you’ve ever been trapped by a libertarian in a discussion on the nuances of limited government, such as private roads, you may appreciate how there are different types of headaches.

For what it’s worth, I only do this to people when pontificating about the Laffer Curve.

This last bit of satire doesn’t target libertarians, per se, but I’m including it since libertarians (like Ron Swanson) are the only people nowadays who will defend child labor.

Don’t forget that libertarians also defend sweatshops, so I’m sure that will be the topic of some future anti-libertarian satire.

Anyhow, enjoy today’s collection and feel free to share with others to show that libertarians have the self-confidence to laugh at themselves. But if you feel a need to also laugh at big government to confirm your philosophical bona fides, this collection of cartoons is a good place to start.

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I’m sometimes accused of being too radical, though I take that as a compliment (including the time a British journalist wrote that I was “a high priest of light tax, small state libertarianism”).

In reality, I’m actually a moderate. I don’t want to eliminate all government, just the 90 percent that is ineffective or counterproductive. As a result, some of my friends accuse me of being a squish, which is probably a fair characterization since I only scored a 94 out of 160 on Professor Bryan Caplan’s Libertarian Purity Quiz.

In my defense, I say let’s get rid of all the programs and departments that clearly shouldn’t exist (such as TransportationHousing and Urban DevelopmentEducationEnergy, and Agriculture), and then we can have a fun discussion of whether the private sector can take over things like roads, policing, and the military.

And it does seem that many so-called public goods actually can be handled by the market. I’ve written about private roads and private money, for instance, but the example that really caught my attention was the private, church-run city in Nigeria.

And the New York Times has a fascinating story about similar developments in Mexico.

Fifteen-foot stone turrets are staffed by men whose green uniforms belong to no official force. Beyond them, a statue of an avocado bears the inscription “avocado capital of the world.” And beyond the statue is Tancítaro, an island of safety and stability amid the most violent period in Mexico’s history. Local orchard owners, who export over $1 million in avocados per day, mostly to the United States, underwrite what has effectively become an independent city-state. Self-policing and self-governing, it is a sanctuary from drug cartels as well as from the Mexican state. …Tancítaro represents a quiet but telling trend in Mexico, where a handful of towns and cities are effectively seceding, partly or in whole. These are acts of desperation, revealing the degree to which Mexico’s police and politicians are seen as part of the threat.

I can’t resist commenting that the reporters should have written that police and politicians “are the threat” rather than “are seen as part of the threat.”

The Mexican government is a grim example of the “stationary bandit” in action.

Anyhow, back to our story about de facto secession and privatization.

…such enclaves…you will find a pattern. Each is a haven of relative safety amid violence, suggesting that their diagnosis of the problem was correct. …The central government has declined to reimpose control, the researchers believe, for fear of drawing attention to the town’s lesson that secession brings safety.

Tancítaro is not the only example of a quasi-private town.

Rather than ejecting institutions, Monterrey’s business elite quietly took them over… C.E.O.s would now oversee one of the most central functions of government. …they circumvented the bureaucracy and corruption that had bogged down other police reform efforts. Crime dropped citywide. Community leaders in poorer areas reported safer streets and renewed public trust… Monterrey’s experience offered still more evidence that in Mexico, violence is only a symptom; the real disease is in government. The corporate takeover worked as a sort of quarantine.

Wow, who would have imagined the New York Times would ever have a story stating that “the real disease is in government.”

Sadly, the story goes on to say traditional politicians are now regaining control in Monterrey, so the period of good governance is coming to an end.

In an ideal world, the central government would allow towns to formally secede, and those towns could then contract to have private management. But that’ll never happen since politicians wouldn’t want real-world examples showing the superiority of markets over government.

For now, we’ll have to settle for ad hoc and unofficial secession and privatization.

P.S. We can also hope that Liberland succeeds.

P.P.S. While today’s topic is de facto secession of local governments, my support for decentralization makes me sympathetic to regional secession. See, for example, Scotland, Liechtenstein, California, Italy, Belgium, and Ukraine.

P.P.P.S. I did once write about the “libertarian paradise of Argentina,” but that was mostly in jest.

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Libertarian Jesus made his first appearance back in 2013, when he cautioned that charity was a personal obligation rather than a government responsibility.

He had an encore performance last year, when it was revealed that charity and confiscation are not the same thing.

Now we have Part III, featuring Jesus trying to impart wisdom.

P.S. President Trump disagrees with Jesus.

P.P.S. This is why I’ve been critical of Pope Francis. His heart may be in the right place, but he’s misguided about the policies that actually help the less fortunate. For what it’s worth, it would be helpful if he was guided by the moral wisdom of Walter Williams rather than the destructive statism of Juan Peron.

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Last year, I wrote that I wanted a spending cap for Christmas. Sadly, Santa Claus did not deliver, so I’m stuck with my consolation prize from 2013.

I’m not expecting a spending cap under the tree this year, either.

But for those of you panicking about presents with one week left, there are some good Christmas gifts for libertarians, as shown in this video from Reason. My favorites are 1) Entitle-Mints, 2) the libertarian doorbell, 3) Jury Nullification Barbie, and 4) Hungry, Hungry Venezuelans.

But keep in mind that Santa doesn’t discriminate, and neither should you.

After all, it wouldn’t be nice to get Christmas gifts for libertarian friends and family while neglecting the socialists in your life.

Writing for the Financial Times, Merryn Somerset Webb has a serious list of books that she thinks would be very helpful for deluded leftists.

I’m concerned — and hardly alone in being concerned — about the bad rap capitalism is getting… So I thought I would suggest some rollicking good reads that also show the market economy, big business and the capitalist instinct in a good light. …what Christmas reads might help ardent socialists see that entrepreneurialism and business creates the wealth that pays for everything else, and that capitalism is a force for good? One slightly unexpected place to start might be Great Expectations. Escaped criminal turned super-rich entrepreneur Magwitch offers a fabulous lesson in the uses of capitalism to Pip… Another contender has to be Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, in which industrialists, fed up with the failures of central planning and stultifying effects of overregulation on their businesses, effectively go on strike from productive activity. …I’d point you towards Henry Hazlitt’s similarly themed 1966 novel Time Will Run Back. It is a better read (Hazlitt is known to be one of the few economists who is also a good writer) and is basically an economics explainer hidden in a work of fiction. It kicks off in a miserably Orwellian state (think 1984) which is gradually turned — to everyone’s benefit — into a capitalist one.

I’m a fan of Atlas Shrugged, so I’ll echo that suggestion.

I’ll track down the Hazlitt book, which sounds promising, but I’ll pass on Great Expectations since I was underwhelmed when forced to read it in high school.

Now let’s shift gears and contemplate the challenges that Santa sometimes faces.

Here’s what happens when a child asks St. Nick for a tolerable government (h/t: libertarian Reddit).

We have another example, only this time Santa is asked for a non-oppressive government (h/t: libertarian Reddit).

P.S. If you know folks who spend a lot of time in the bathroom, you can get them IRS-themed or inflation-themed toilet paper for Christmas (this offer not valid in Cuba and Venezuela).

P.P.S. If you’re shopping for an environmentalist, this option might work. And if you need a gift for a Keynesian, this Christmas album would be perfect.

P.P.P.S. At this time of year, remember that adoption is a way of providing a good home.

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Back in 2013, I put together a visual showing the good and bad policies that were enacted during the Clinton years. The big takeaway was that the overall burden of government was substantially reduced during his years in office.

Two days ago, I did the same thing for Richard Nixon, but noted that his record was universally awful. I couldn’t think of a single pro-growth policy when he was in the Oval Office.

Now let’s look at the Ronald Reagan. I analyzed his record last year, but mostly looking at the aggregate results.

So let’s look at the details, putting specific pro-growth policies in one column and specific anti-growth policies in another column. As you can see, there was a substantial net improvement during the Reagan years.

I gave extra credit for his tax cuts, the spending restraint, and the taming of inflation.

On the negative side of the ledger, Reagan did approve some post-1981 tax hikes, imposed some protectionism, and also supported Medicare expansion, so he certainly wasn’t perfect.

I also was tempted to give Reagan some credit for NAFTA and the WTO since those initiative got their start during his presidency, but that would break my rule of only counting policies that were implemented while a president was in office.

The bottom line is that Reagan was a net plus for economic liberty. And if you count the collapse of the Soviet Empire, he was a net plus for global liberty.

Let’s close by discussing Henry Olsen’s new book on Ronald Reagan. Henry tried to make the case that Reagan was sort of a New Deal Democrat rather than a libertarian-ish ideologue. Writing for the Claremont Review of Books, Steven Hayward obviously is a fan of the book but is not entirely sympathetic to Henry’s hypothesis.

You should read Steven’s entire review, and also get Henry’s book and read it as well. I’ll simply cite two passages from the review for the simple reason that they match my beliefs (shocking, huh?). First, Reagan (quite correctly) was not a big fan of the New Deal.

Reagan’s long-time economic adviser Martin Anderson once told me that despite Reagan’s general kind words for FDR and the New Deal, he could not recall Reagan ever endorsing a specific New Deal policy… But if anyone wants to see Reagan as the heir of the New Deal, he has to get past one of Reagan’s most famous critiques of it—his 1976 remark that “Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal.” …Reagan, to his campaign managers’ consternation, stoutly defended his comments. In August 1980 Reagan told dumbfounded reporters: “Anyone who wants to look at the writings of the Brain Trust of the New Deal will find that President Roosevelt’s advisers admired the fascist system. . .  They thought that private ownership with government management and control a la the Italian system was the way to go, and that has been evident in all their writings.”

And he also opposed Washington-based income redistribution (another sensible view).

When Reagan opposed Nixon’s guaranteed annual income proposal, the Family Assistance Plan, in 1969 and 1970—the only governor in the country to do so—he said in a TV debate that “I believe that the government is supposed to promote the general welfare; I don’t think it is supposed to provide it.” If welfare was centralized in Washington, Reagan knew, reform would be all but impossible and there would be a bias toward increased spending in the future. …“If there is one area of social policy,” Reagan began to say in his standard stump speech, “that should be at the most local level of government possible, it is welfare. It should not be nationalized—it should be localized.” …In another 1982 speech to the NAACP (amidst a fierce recession), Reagan argued that the Great Society had done more harm than good for black Americans. Liberals howled with indignation about both of these heresies.


I’m not a Reagan historian like Olson or Hayward, so I’ll wrap up this conversation with one small observation. Reagan was not as libertarian as I would like. I came to DC near the beginning of his second term and I remember feeling disappointed at the time that more progress could be made. I’ve now learned much more about the very weak records of other senior Republican and I now realize his accomplishment were large and meaningful.

It wasn’t just what he achieved. He also changed the “Overton Window,” meaning that he substantially expanded the acceptability of ideas about free markets and limited government. Prior to the Gipper’s tenure, Republicans rarely challenged the welfare state. They basically accepted the New Deal and Great Society. Reagan didn’t have much success unraveling welfare state programs, but he showed that such programs could be criticized and big-picture ideas about reform were not politically toxic.

P.S. Let’s also not forget that Reagan opposed the value-added tax. The rejection of a bad policy doesn’t belong on the above list, but it’s a notable piece of evidence about Reagan’s economic wisdom.

P.P.S. Reagan also showed that good policy can be good politics.

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