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Archive for the ‘Libertarianism’ Category

About three weeks ago, when the coronavirus crisis was becoming a big deal, I explained the libertarian viewpoint.

  1. Governments should focus on protecting life, liberty, and property. That includes fighting pandemics.
  2. A big sprawling federal government will be less capable and competent when responding to a real crisis.
  3. International evidence suggests greater government control of the health sector is not a good recipe for success.
  4. Domestic evidence indicates that bureaucracies such as the FDA and CDC are exacerbating the problem.

Unsurprisingly, there are still plenty of people claiming the crisis shows why libertarianism is impractical and misguided.

Henry Olsen opines for the Washington Post that the time has come to put libertarianism on the ash heap of history. But much of what he writes cries out for correction.

It is difficult to underestimate the influence of libertarian principles on Republican economic policy. Nearly every economist or economic journalist revered by the party advocates for policies that are derived from libertarian impulses. …Let people do what they want, the story goes, and they will cure poverty, bring world peace and do better at managing social discord than any centrally planned government act can ever hope to accomplish. …Pure libertarianism…is, of course, almost nonexistent in party circles… Even libertarian icons such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) or Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) publicly support much higher levels of government activity than do many of the thinkers and activists who sing their praises.

There are two huge problems with the above passages.

First, it’s nonsensical to claim that libertarians have a big influence on GOP economic policy. Just look at the mixed-to-horrible track records of Nixon, Bush I, Bush II, and Trump.

Ironically, Henry actually contradicts his own assertion by noting that libertarianism is “almost nonexistent in party circles.”

Second, what he’s really criticizing is the notion of limited government. Yes, libertarians believe in small government, but so do many conventional conservatives (remember Ronald Reagan?).

So is the notion of small government wrong? Henry argues that people want “strong government.”

Trump…grasps what they do not: People love freedom, but they love security as much or more. Time and again, people draw together in support of strong government to protect them from something fearful they cannot handle on their own. War and civil unrest are classic events that persuade people that strong mandatory measures are necessary; the current pandemic is another. …The modern social welfare state is grounded in the idea that some measure of economic security, opportunity and equality are necessary parts of a decent life. Policies designed to achieve these goals all impose on individual liberty through taxes and regulation. …a supermajority of Americans approves… They do not believe that liberty is the one true god before which all should bow. …The pandemic’s aftermath will see….conservatives…try to right this imbalance in the name of national security and general welfare, even if it means curtailing the liberty to trade. As the pandemic continues, it will be much easier for Republican voters and politicians to cast off the rose-colored libertarian glasses they have worn for far too long.

Let’s explore whether the notion of small government is inconsistent with the idea of strong government.

Writing for The Week, Bonnie Kristian explains how libertarian principles apply. Yes, government action is appropriate, but in ways that are consistent with other principles.

…pandemic-era libertarianism is emerging, and it remains distinctly libertarian. Here are the trends… Praise for the free market’s role in keeping day-to-day life functional. “That gallon jug of hand sanitizer delivered to your front door less than 48 hours after you ordered it online? It didn’t show up because Trump tweeted it into existence or because the surgeon general is driving a delivery truck around the country,” Reason‘s Eric Boehm wrote… Condemnation of counterproductive regulations and lack of transparency. Why is the United States so far behind other countries in testing for coronavirus cases? For weeks, the FDA and CDC wouldn’t let medical workers and academics move forward with COVID-19 tests they’d developed without lengthy processes of federal approval. …Rejection of corporate bailouts and price controls. Trump is exploring plans for corporate bailout loans and other economic stimuli which libertarians generally oppose. …Insistence on temporary changes. Fierce opposition to expansions of the surveillance state to fight the novel coronavirus is likely widespread among libertarians in no small part because privacy rights, once lost, are very rarely recovered. But the risk of this pandemic permanently expanding the power of the state will shape the libertarian view on every proposed solution.

These are solid principles. And very desirable.

Now let’s specifically address whether we need a “strong government.”

In a column for the National Interest, Andy Craig addresses that issue, most notably with his observation that responding to a pandemic is a legitimate exercise of government power, but also that government incompetence has worsened the crisis.

…there has been snark from some quarters about the current crisis somehow catching libertarians flat‐​footed. …Libertarianism, properly understood, encompasses certain core functions as the proper role of government. It is not the libertarian view that government should be ineffective at protecting individual rights or dysfunctionally paralyzed in the face of a massive threat to people’s lives. Government has a role to play in responding to the pandemic in much the same way it is the government’s job to prosecute murderers or defend the country from invasion. …Libertarian criticisms of bad regulations have proven especially prescient. A crucial government failure has been…inflexible and heavy‐​handed bureaucracy, which has held up tests and prevented thousands of private and academic labs from quickly increasing testing capacity. …Another example of a libertarian response to the pandemic has been the quick need to suspend many occupational licensing restrictions, such as by letting doctors practice interstate and upgrading the permissions of nurse practitioners and doctors’ assistants. Even mundane and trivial regulations…have suddenly been cast aside. Two months ago, who would have thought it an urgent concern to suspend alcohol regulations so that restaurants can serve beverages to go for home delivery by rideshare drivers?

Amen.

I’ve documented (in Part I, Part II, and Part III) how big, blundering, bureaucratic government has hindered an effective response to the crisis.

Sadly, it’s quite likely that politicians will use the crisis to expand government power.

That’s certainly consistent with what we’ve seen through history. Professor Don Boudreaux of George Mason University has a new column about the insights of Robert Higgs.

…a book that I’ve lately been pondering quite a lot: economic historian Robert Higgs’s 1987 volume, Crisis and LeviathanIn this richly documented work, Higgs convincingly shows that with each national crisis government power ratchets up. The crisis might be fully genuine or inflated or utterly mythical; it matters not. Whenever there prevails widespread belief that a crisis looms, people turn to the state for help. …additional powers granted to – or seized by – government during each crisis shrinks somewhat when the crisis passes. …But never do such additions to state power fully disappear. …the likelihood is that the ideology of the holders of power prompts them, not to keep their power in check, but to expand it. And as power expands in a ratcheting-upward way, power becomes ever-more valuable and intoxicating to possess.

In a column for the U.K.-based CapX, Helen Dale discusses the role of a limited but competent state sector as a key to classical liberalism.

…liberalism needs a strong state. Yes, state. Not strong supranational organisations like the EU or UN or IMF. …Liberalism needs a state powerful enough to collect taxes and pay for police forces, courts, prisons, and the military. Only powerful states, it emerges, can strong-arm their citizens into the rule of law: that is, a system where like cases are treated alike, contracts are enforced…the modern nation-state is the only way to produce liberal tolerance at scale. …If liberalism needs a strong state, that state must also be a constrained one for liberal forms of governance to persist. Johnson and Koyama speak of a “shackled leviathan” rather than a “despotic leviathan”; that is, powerful states require institutional constraints because without them you get modern China or, historically, Nazi Germany and the USSR.

She’s highlighted a key issue, which is how you give government power to do good things without simultaneously giving it power to do bad things (hint: a good answer is the U.S. Constitution’s limits on the scope of government, at least back in the days when the Supreme Court cared about Article 1, Section 8).

Professor Michael Munger of Duke University makes the all-important point that a bloated public sector will be less competent at doing the few things we want from government.

I see the proper domain of the state as sharply circumscribed… Given that we have a state, it must have the capacity to carry out the functions… A key part of the justification for the existence of the state is the duty to manage property rights and institutions…the state needs to have sufficient capacity to protect individual rights… the key variable is the scope of government, not its size. A relatively small government that arbitrarily sets prices, nationalizes private property, and controls the media is the archetype of the authoritarian regime, as is the case in Turkmenistan or Chad. A large government that accepts constitutional and customary limits on its domain of action can be an archetype of personal freedom, as is the case in Denmark and Sweden. …The state needs the capacity to carry out public health functions, but those powers must be effectively limited to that domain, not available to be hijacked for socialist boondoggles. To my friends on the left: If you had been responsible enough to keep government in its proper, limited role we would have plenty of resources and capacity to carry out the functions we now find lacking. …We need a state that is good at a few things, not your state which tries to do everything and fails at all of it.

There’s lots of good stuff in the above excerpt, including the fact that fiscal policy is only a small piece of the puzzle when measuring the extent of free enterprise (which is why there’s far more economic liberty in, say, Denmark compared to every single country in the developing world).

The last sentence from the excerpt tells us everything we need to know. Indeed, a version of this insight is my Seventh Theorem of Government.

The bottom line is that we definitely don’t want big government.

What’s needed is not really “strong government,” but rather limited, competent, and effective government. Think Singapore, which does a much better job of providing core public goods while spending much less money.

As I noted when correcting Henry Olsen, this is not a libertarian-only principle. It also works for small-government conservatives, an important distinction since Singapore isn’t libertarian (high scores for economic freedom are offset by weak scores for personal freedom).

And I’ll close by observing that there’s plenty of academic and empirical literature supporting this Theorem.

Robert Samuelson and Mark Steyn have made the same point.

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Some folks are using the coronavirus crisis to say that libertarianism is an inadequate approach to governance.

Noah Smith got the ball rolling with a snarky tweet.

Since total government spending is at an all-time high and since even left-leaning fact checkers have debunked the assertion that public health bureaucracies have been reduced, Smith’s core claim is grossly inaccurate.

But what about the underlying assumption that a large government is necessary?

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times hopes the crisis will usher in a new era of big government as everyone realizes the supposed benefits of collectivism.

Overnight, workplaces across the country were transformed into Scandinavian Edens of flexibility. Can’t make it to the office because your kid has to unexpectedly stay home from school? Last week, it sucked to be you. This week: What are you even doing asking? Go home, be with your kid! …Then politicians got into the act. The Trump administration…is now singing the praises of universal sick pay. …it’s almost funny: Everyone’s a socialist in a pandemic. …There may be a silver lining here: What if the virus forces Americans and their elected representatives to recognize the strength of a collectivist ethos?

Is Mr. Manjoo right? Just like there are supposedly no atheists in foxholes, are there no libertarians in a pandemic?

Here are four basic points to show why this is wrong.

1. Libertarians believe government should protect life, liberty, and property

A core tenet of libertarianism is that government should exist to protect against threats to the aforementioned core liberties. That presumably includes a role in responding to pandemics.

Yes, libertarians will appropriately worry that government will botch its response (see below, for instance), and we’ll also worry that government will use a crisis to accumulate new powers (the “ratchet effect” mentioned in this column).

But it’s silly to argue that a pandemic is evidence that libertarianism is impractical. As silly as arguing in the 1980s that you couldn’t be a libertarian and still favor a defense capacity to resist the Soviet Union.

To be sure, there are anarcho-capitalists who don’t believe in any government. Whether that’s a good idea involves an entirely separate set of arguments about how private governance associations would respond to a pandemic, which could be an interesting topic for some future column.

2. Libertarians correctly warn that a big sprawling federal government means it is less capable of handling the few things it should be doing

I’ve repeatedly explained, most recently this past January, that the federal government is more likely to do a good job if it focuses on core responsibilities (such as the ones assigned in the Constitution).

And observers ranging from Mark Steyn to Robert Samuelson have made the same point.

There’s plenty of academic evidence in support of this position, though this anecdote from Belgium may be even more persuasive.

3. Other government-run health systems have not done a good job

The virus originated in China, where government controls the healthcare system. It’s also spread most significantly in nations such as Iran and Italy, where government also plays a dominant role in health care.

By the way, since I don’t believe in demagoguery, I don’t necessarily blame those governments. I’m sure bad luck plays a big role in the spread of the disease.

Though this set of tweets from a guy in England is a damning indictment of that nation’s government-run system.

4. The federal government has hindered an effective response to the coronavirus

We’ll start with excerpts from an article by Ronald Bailey, who writes about science for Reason.

…officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stymied private and academic development of diagnostic tests that might have provided an early warning and a head start on controlling the epidemic that is now spreading across the country. …the CDC required that public health officials could only use the diagnostic test designed by the agency. That test released on February 5 turned out to be badly flawed. The CDC’s insistence on a top-down centralized testing regime greatly slowed down the process of disease detection as the infection rate was accelerating. …On February 29, the FDA finally agreed to unleash America’s vibrant biotech companies and academic labs by allowing them to develop and deploy new tests for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The New York Times has a depressing report about government red tape has prevented quick action.

Here’s the main takeaway.

…existing regulations and red tape — sometimes designed to protect privacy and health — have impeded the rapid rollout of testing nationally, while other countries ramped up much earlier and faster. Faced with a public health emergency on a scale potentially not seen in a century, the United States has not responded nimbly.

And here are some of the relevant details.

The Association of Public Health Laboratories made what it called an “extraordinary and rare request” of Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the F.D.A., asking him to use his discretion to allow state and local public health laboratories to create their own tests for the virus. …Dr. Hahn responded two days later, saying in a letter that “false diagnostic test results can lead to significant adverse public health consequences” and that the laboratories were welcome to submit their own tests for emergency authorization. But the approval process for laboratory-developed tests was proving onerous. Private and university clinical laboratories, which typically have the latitude to develop their own tests, were frustrated about the speed of the F.D.A. as they prepared applications for emergency approvals from the agency for their coronavirus tests. Dr. Alex Greninger, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said he became exasperated in mid-February as he communicated with the F.D.A. over getting his application ready to begin testing. “This virus is faster than the F.D.A.,” he said, adding that at one point the agency required him to submit materials through the mail in addition to over email. New tests typically require validation — running the test on known positive samples from a patient or a copy of the virus genome. The F.D.A.’s process called for five.

Fortunately, some folks in Seattle were willing to disobey federal bureaucracies at the start of the crisis.

In Seattle, Dr. Helen Chu, an infectious disease expert who was part of an ongoing flu-monitoring effort, the Seattle Flu Study, asked permission to test their trove of collected flu swabs for coronavirus. State health officials joined Chu in asking the CDC and Food and Drug Administration… The CDC and FDA said no. “We felt like we were sitting, waiting for the pandemic to emerge,” Chu told the Times. “We could help. We couldn’t do anything.” They held off for a couple of weeks, but on Feb. 25, Chu and her colleagues “began performing coronavirus tests, without government approval,” …Later that day, the CDC and FDA told Chu and her colleagues to stop testing, then partially relented, and the lab found several more cases. On Monday night, they were ordered to stop testing again. …the Times notes. “The scientists said they believe that they will find evidence that the virus was infecting people even earlier, and that they could have alerted authorities sooner if they had been allowed to test.”

And an article in the Atlantic reveals how bureaucracy and regulation have been hindering an effective response.

…the CDC sets the parameters for state and local public-health staff regarding who should be tested. The agency’s guidelines were very strict for weeks, focusing on returning international travelers. Even as they have been loosened in the past few days, there are persistent reports that people—including a sick nurse who had cared for a coronavirus patient—have not been able to get tested. …A week ago, the FDA eased some regulations on the types of coronavirus tests that can be used. This means that testing capacity will increase, but not overnight. …Soon private laboratories such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics will begin testing people…each lab must have the FDA’s permission to operate, under an Emergency Use Authorization, a new FDA policy allows labs to immediately begin testing people, and requires that they submit their paperwork to the agency within the next 15 days. …more than a week after the country’s first case of community transmission, the most significant finding about the coronavirus’s spread in the United States has come from an independent genetic study, not from field data collected by the government.

Last but not least, a column in the New York Post summarizes the impact of federal regulation.

Overregulation of diagnostic testing has played a major role in this delay. …Test protocols using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) were publicly available shortly after Chinese researchers published (or described) the sequence of the virus in mid-January. The World Health Organization (WHO) used a freely available German procedure to create a test kit, shipping 250,000 tests to 159 laboratories worldwide.CDC testing criteria have precluded recognizing community spread because of requirements stipulating recent travel to China or exposure to an infected person. Adherence to these guidelines delayed testing in the first probable case of community transmission… The FDA has not allowed the experienced and highly skilled professionals at public-health, academic and commercial laboratories to set up their own laboratory developed tests (LDTs), and no manufactured test kits have been authorized for sale in the US. In Europe, several companies, at least one US-based, have regulatory approval to sell test kits there.

The bottom line is that libertarians have no theoretical objection to a federal role in fighting pandemics, but we’re not very confident that we’ll get effective policies from the bloated bureaucracies in Washington.

After all, let’s not forget that the the CDC has a long track record of waste when it does get more money. And the FDA also is infamous for undermining health with excessive bureaucracy, as well as silly – and even dangerous – policies.

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In this podcast discussion with Gene Tunny, I pontificate on several fiscal issues, including the ideal size of government, Wagner’s Law, and the importance of quality governance.

The conversation is a good introduction to the debate about “state capacity” generally and “state capacity libertarianism” more specifically.

Regarding the former, I explained last year why it would be a bad idea to expand the size and power of governments.

Most advocates of increased state capacity are on the left. For instance, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Todd N. Tucker, and Gabriel Zucman argue in an article for Foreign Affairs that high taxes and big government are a necessary condition for prosperity.

…markets have not flourished without the help of the state. …The invisible hand of the market depended on the heavier hand of the state. The state requires something simple to perform its multiple roles: revenue. It takes money to build roads and ports, to provide education for the young and health care for the sick, to finance the basic research that is the wellspring of all progress, and to staff the bureaucracies that keep societies and economies in motion. No successful market can survive without the underpinnings of a strong, functioning state. …States lay the basis for the healthy, educated populations that can participate in and contribute to the successful flourishing of markets. Allowing states to collect their fair share of revenue in the form of taxes will not usher in a dystopian era of oppressive government.

Their argument, in my humble opinion, is strikingly anti-empirical.

  • According to their theory, it was impossible for western nations to become rich in the 1800s when government was very small and there was no welfare state. Yet it happened.
  • According to their theory, it is impossible to provide public goods if government consumes only a modest share of economic output. Yet that’s not what we see in the real world.

For purposes of today’s column, let’s focus on the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”

Professor Tyler Cowen from George Mason University basically asserts that libertarians should accept a “strong state” and focus on making it effective.

Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets.  This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet. …A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state.  A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties…high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical.  Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world… Many of the failures of today’s America are…failures of state capacity.  Our governments cannot…much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending. …Public health improvements are another major success story of our time, and those have relied heavily on state capacity.

Depending on how one interprets Tyler’s column, there’s some room for agreement.

  • If “strong state” means a jurisdiction that has the rule of law, I assume everyone favors quality governance.
  • If “strong state” means that a nation can survive with a big welfare state, Denmark shows that is possible.
  • If “strong state” means government re-focusing on provision of genuine public goods, I’m very sympathetic.

But there’s also room for disagreement.

In a column for the American Institute for Economic Research, Vincent Geloso and Alexander W. Salter make the critical point that proponents of state capacity get the causality backwards.

Cowen contends that state capacity (broadly, the government’s ability to accomplish its intended policy goals) is not inimical to liberty and development. In essence, a strong state can protect property rights and provide important public goods, which may support and even extend markets, so long as it is appropriately constrained. Thus, a strong and capable state promotes liberty and economic growth simultaneously. …If anything, the relationship runs backward – greater development invites greater state capacity. …while it doesn’t make much sense to claim state capacity causes development, it makes much more sense to claim development causes state capacity. …A rich country with a weak state invites the predation from other countries. The inability to defend a certain stock of appropriable wealth is a lure… The weak state-capacity country has two choices. The first is to be conquered and absorbed by the strong-state-capacity country. The second is to invest in state capacity (i.e. a centralized-hierarchical fiscal bureaucracy that can harness resources for the purposes of producing national defense and/or others). …growth generates an externality in the form of heightened attention from potential predators. …As such, state capacity is not causing growth. It is a product of growth.

Professor Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, is very skeptical of state capacity libertarianism, in part because he finds little evidence for the proposition that strong government is a predicate for growth.

…it’s worth asking exactly what Tyler means by “state capacity.” He does not provide a very clear definition. …Tyler fails to specify how we measure the type of “capacity” he considers important… state capacity theorists have not done a good job of differentiating cases where state capacity is the cause of good outcomes from those where it is a result of them (e.g.—a state in a wealthier society has more capacity than one in a poor society, even if the state did little to create that wealth). …looking at some of the greatest evils and injustices out there, I see many that libertarianism is very well-equipped to handle. …In each of these areas, there are enormous gains to be had simply by having government engage in less of the activity that is causing the problem to begin with. …none of these incremental reforms require much, if any, state capacity that doesn’t already exist. …The problems with education, traffic congestion, and discretionary spending are not a lack of “capacity” but a combination of inherent flaws of government and poor incentives.

He also is justifiably concerned that a strong government inevitably will misbehave, presumably for “public choice” reasons.

…even if “[a] good strong state” should see “the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties,” it doesn’t follow that it actually will. To the contrary, the more power the state has, the greater the temptation for politicians to misuse it, especially in a context where they are appealing to poorly informed voters. …at this point in history, it doesn’t seem like the US and other Western democracies lack the capacity to do such things as provide a modicum of security and public goods. Rather, the problem is that our governments are engaging in way too many other functions, many of which are both harmful in themselves and divert resources away from the things that government should do.

For what it’s worth, my view of state capacity libertarianism is the same as my view of national conservatism. And compassionate conservatism, kinder-and-gentler conservatism, common-good capitalism, and reform conservatism as well.

I will be highly skeptical until someone shows me the tiniest shred of evidence that further reducing economic liberty can lead to more prosperity.

P.S. While they’re definitely not libertarian, international bureaucracies are big advocates of boosting state capacity. They argue that bigger government will somehow kick-start grow in developing nations. Here’s my sarcastic – yet accurate – depiction of their methodology.

For those who disagree, all that I ask is that you successfully answer at least one of these two questions. Until and unless that happens, there’s no alternative to the tried-and-true recipe for prosperity.

P.P.S. Here’s Part I and here’s Part II of my “Fight on the Right” series.

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Merry Christmas, even for my left-leaning friends and politically correct friends.

The good news is that – contrary to reports – Santa Claus did not get arrested last night.

And that’s good news because he does many things each year that could land him in prison.

In a column for FEE, David Rosenthal addresses the same topic of overcriminalization.

While most people know Jolly Old Saint Nick as a friendly figure, he too is not immune from the perils of administrative overreach and overcriminalization. …here is a list of some of the potential crimes and violations of federal law… Under the Reindeer Act, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, only Alaska Natives are allowed to own reindeer in Alaska. …Even if Santa gets around the Reindeer Act, he may face civil and criminal penalties under the Lacey Act if his purchase, sale, possession, or use of reindeer—or any other flora or fauna— violates any state or federal law or the law of any foreign nation, no matter what language or code that foreign law is written in. …Despite Santa’s many years of experience, there is no Mr. Claus listed in the Federal Aviation Administration’s pilot certificates database. If Santa is piloting his sleigh without an airman’s certificate, he is in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46317. …Any white lie that falls within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government could be a federal crime. …A government agent need only ask Santa if he committed burglary, trespass, or larceny, or ask him, “Are you really Santa Claus?” In that case, Santa really would need a Miracle on 34th Street to stay out of the slammer for lying. …Under IRS gift tax rules, the giver of gifts above a certain threshold is taxed at a rate up to 40 percent of the value of the gift. …Willful failure to file a gift tax return can land Santa in prison for up to one year under 26 U.S.C. § 7203.

Regarding whether Santa Claus is real, there is a downside to people being too gullible.

In the past, I’ve looked at the debate over whether Santa Claus is right wing or left wing, as well as the debate over whether Jesus is libertarian or socialist.

Here’s an amusing 2×2 matrix that builds on those themes.

Whoever created this put Jesus in the anti-capitalism camp, which irks me, but it’s still clever (just like this pro-socialism Christmas humor).

If you liked this adoption video, I imagine you’ll like these Christmas songs.

Speaking of songs, here are some economic-themed Christmas carols.

And if you like videos, Remy has two of them (here and here) showing how the TSA hurts the Christmas spirit.

Needless to say, I also have to share these libertarian-themed Christmas videos.

P.S. If you like Christmas cartoons, here are some featuring President Obama.

P.P.S. And this Jay Leno joke is always amusing.

P.P.P.S. If you’re doing some last-minute shopping for libertarians, check out this video. If you’re shopping for a taxpayer, this household item might be a good present. And if you’re shopping for an environmentalist, you can’t go wrong with this low-carbon gift.

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Since I’m an out-of-the-closet libertarian with a track record of more than 5000 columns, there’s not much mystery about my philosophical outlook.

However, knowing my weakness for this kind of thing, a reader sent me an online “Political Sextant Quiz” and I naturally couldn’t resist.

Some of the questions were easy.

For instance, I know we shouldn’t abolish wages since that would be an extreme version of price controls. So “disagree” was the only sane answer.

Likewise, it’s a no-brainer (at least for me) to answer that I want government limited to core public goods (though fire services easily could be privately provided).

Other questions were harder to answer.

For instance, what does “my culture” mean in this next question, and what does it mean to say I “support those of my culture”?

Lacking any additional information, I interpreted this first question to be about my view on western civilization (rule of law, individual rights, etc), which I like. On the other hand, liking my culture doesn’t mean I want to reflexively put one of my neighbors “over” someone else.

So I opted for “slightly agree.”

And I gave the same answer for the second question because capitalism has produced immense material prosperity, yet “more than enough” implies that additional economic growth would be meaningless.

Needless to say, I wasn’t really happy with these questions.

The ambiguous wording left me wondering whether my answers would be interpreted the wrong way (such as being opposed to additional levels of production)?

But when I clicked to get my score, I was largely satisfied.

Since I want to get rid of 90 percent of government, it makes sense that I’m 90 percent anarcho-capitalist. I’ve never been sure what it means to be a bleeding-heart libertarian compared to a regular libertarian, but 88 percent seems reasonable. And I got my highest grade, 92 percent, for minarchism, which seems to a good description of my actual position.

Anyhow, here’s the link to the Political Sextant Quiz. See if you like your results.

And if you want to do more of this kind of thing, I’ve shared several other quizzes over the past decade.

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Every so often, I share quirky examples of libertarian policy in places that generally are not associated with a laissez-faire approach to governance.

Today, we’re going to add Germany to our list.

According to a report by Car and Driver, the German Parliament voted – by an overwhelming margin – against a proposal by the Green Party to impose speed limits on the autobahn.

Auto enthusiasts in Germany scored a major victory yesterday as the country’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, overwhelmingly voted to to defy a motion by the Green Party that would have asked the government to install a speed limit on the famous autobahn. The 80-mph limit suggested by the Greens would have effectively closed down one of the last roads where drivers can freely select their preferred speed. The autobahn is a defining factor in the perception of Germany abroad, but the topic is highly contested and politically charged at home. …The vote was 126 for a speed limit, 498 against, with seven abstentions.

The vote basically reflected a right-left split, though the Social Democrats tried to have their cake and eat it too.

…Green Party big shot Cem Özdemir claimed that roads would be safer with a speed limit, and he asked for German’s “special way” to be ended. …The post-communist Left Party volunteered that “electric mobility” should mean more “trains and trams,” while the Social Democrats, who are in a ruling coalition with the Christian Democrats, argued that they would support a speed limit were it not for their obligations to the coalition. The centrist CDU, the center-liberal FDP, and the conservative AfD all argued against a speed limit.

For what it’s worth, the autobahn is actually quite safe.

The autobahn road system, situated in one of the most traveled places on earth, is extremely safe. Accident rates have fallen dramatically over the past few decades, and many of the remaining deaths can be attributed to factors other than speed. Today, the fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world. Those opposed to a speed limit argue that this could be due to the fact that due to the differences in velocity, drivers are alert, generally stay to the right when not passing, and tend to stay aware of their surroundings.

Having driven many times in Europe, I can state with confidence that they are better (and more polite) drivers.

Slow cars don’t loiter in the left lane on highways, and that’s true in France and Italy as well as Germany.

I’ll close with some good news.

…speed limits have gradually eased all over the globe. Austria’s limit has been provisionally raised to 87 mph on select stretches; Abu Dhabi allows 100 mph on sections of the road system, and many U.S. states are raising limits as well.

I’m old enough to remember the horror of a nationwide 55-mph speed limit (one of the many awful policies adopted during the Nixon years).

The limit was increased in 1987 and then – in a rare moment of federalism – the nationwide speed limit was repealed in the mid-1990s (among the many good policies of the Reagan and Clinton years).

Let’s hope Germany holds firm so they don’t ever have to worry about repealing bad policy.

P.S. The article also noted that, “It has been reported that in the summer of 1995, Germany chancellor Angela Merkel, then minister for environmental affairs, broke out in tears over Helmut Kohl’s refusal to mandate a speed limit on the autobahn.” Given Merkel’s statism, I’m not surprised.

P.P.S. Enviro-zealots want onerous speed limits because of their quasi-religious opposition to energy consumption. Politicians, by contrast, view speed limits as a tool for generating tax revenue (which is why I’ve applauded civil disobedience in Washington, DC, and Arizona).

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I wrote yesterday about the debate among leftists, which is partly a contest between Bernie Sanders-style socialists and Elizabeth Warren-style corporatists.

Now let’s look at the debate on the right.

There’s an ongoing argument over what it means to be conservative, especially when thinking about the role of the federal government.

You can view this debate – if you peruse this “political compass test” – as being a battle over whether it is best for conservatism to be represented by Friedrich Hayek or Angela Merkel? By Donald Trump or Gary Johnson?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a debate between whether the right believes in the principles of small-state classical liberalism or whether it thinks government should have the power to steer society.

Representing the latter view, here’s some of what Henry Olsen wrote for the Washington Post.

…libertarian-minded opinion leaders have criticized Trump… For these people, Trump was…an apostate whose heresies had to be cast out of the conservative church. Trump’s overwhelming victory in the primaries should have shocked them out of their ideological slumber. …the market fundamentalists seem to see nothing— absolutely nothing — about today’s capitalism to dislike. …National Review’s founder, William F. Buckley, famously wrote that…the federal government’s proper peacetime duties are solely to “protect its citizens’ lives, liberty, and property.” With respect to its efforts to do anything else, “we are, without reservation, on the libertarian side.” But that dog don’t hunt politically. ..libertarian-conservatives remain oblivious or intentionally in denial… The New Deal’s intellectual core, that the federal government should vigorously act to correct market failures, remains at the center of what Americans expect from Washington. Trump’s nomination and election proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that even a majority of Republicans agree. Less doctrinaire conservative thinkers understand this. Ramesh Ponnuru noted in his National Review essay that…capitalism “require[s] invigoration” as a result. The American Enterprise Institute’s Yuval Levin goes further, noting that “sometimes our economic policy has to be determined by more than purely economic considerations.” Other factors, such as social order and family formation, are also worthy goals to which pure economic efficiency or growth must bend at times. …this debate is fundamental to the future of conservatism and perhaps of the United States itself.

And here’s the beginning of a history-filled article by Joshua Tait in the National Interest.

When FOX television host Tucker Carlson recently attacked conservative faith in free market economics, he probably surprised a number of his viewers. For too long, Carlson charged, libertarians and social conservatives have ignored the fundamental part economic structures play in undermining communities. Families are crushed beneath market forces. Disposable goods—fueled by consumer culture—provide little salve for drug addiction and suicide. Markets are a “tool,” Carlson said, not a “religion.” “You’d have to be a fool to worship” them. Carlson put a primetime spin on an argument that has been brewing for some time on the right. Just as the 2008 economic collapse and the national prominence of Bernie Sanders have begun to shift the Democratic Party’s stance toward socialism, so the long effects of the downturn and Trump’s election have caused a rethinking of conservative commitment to free markets.

Last but not least, Jonah Goldberg examines a slice of this divide in a column for National Review.

The idea holding together the conservative movement since the 1960s was called “fusionism.” The concept…was that freedom and virtue were inextricably linked. …Today, conservative forces concerned with freedom and virtue are pulling apart. The catalyst is a sprawling coalition of self-described nationalists, Catholic integralists, protectionists, economic planners, and others who are increasingly rallying around something called “post-liberal” conservativism. By “liberal,” they…mean classical liberalism, the Enlightenment worldview held by the Founding Fathers. What the post-liberals want is hard to summarize beyond generalities. They seek a federal government that cares more about pursuing the “highest good” than protecting the “libertarian” (their word) system of individual rights and free markets. …On the other side are…conservatives who…still rally to the banner of classical liberalism and its philosophy of natural rights and equality under the law. …this intellectual mudfight really is…about what conservatism will mean after Trump is gone from the scene. …the so-called post-liberals now want Washington to dictate how we should all pursue happiness, just so long as it’s from the right. …Where the post-liberals have a point is that humans are happiest in communities, families and institutions of faith. The solution to the culture wars is to allow more freedom for these “little platoons” of civil society… What America needs is less talk of national unity — from the left or the right — and more freedom to let people live the way they want to live, not just as individuals, but as members of local communities. We don’t need to move past liberalism, we need to return to it.

For what it’s worth, I prefer Jonah’s analysis.

But I’ll also make three additional points.

First, if we care about maximizing freedom and prosperity, there’s no substitute for classical liberalism.

In my lifetime, there have been various alternatives to free markets. There was pre-Reagan Rockefeller Republicanism, post-Reagan “kinder and gentler,” George W. Bush’s so-called compassionate conservatism, reform conservatism, and now various strains of Trumpism and populism.

It may very well be true that some of these alternatives are more politically palatable (though I’m skeptical given the GOP’s unparalleled electoral success with an anti-big government message in 1980, 1994, 2010, and 2014).

But even if some alternatives are more popular, the associated policies will hurt people in the long run. That’s a point I made when arguing for supply-side tax cuts over family-friendly tax cuts.

In other words, you demonstrate compassion by giving people opportunity to prosper, not by giving them other people’s money.

Second, there’s nothing about classical liberalism or capitalism that suggests people should be selfish and atomistic.

Indeed, I pointed out, starting at the 3:36 point of this interview, that a libertarian society is what allows family, neighborhood, and community to flourish.

And, as Jonah explained, the “platoons” of “civil society” are more likely to thrive in an environment where the central government is constrained.

My third and final point is that I’m pessimistic.

The debate on the left is basically about how to make government bigger and how fast that process should occur.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a similar debate on the right, featuring different theories of how to shrink the size and scope of government.

Instead, the Reaganite-oriented classical liberals are the only ones who want America to become more like Hong Kong, while all the competing approaches basically envision government getting bigger, albeit at a slower rate than preferred by folks on the left.

In other words, we’re in a political environment where everyone on the left is debating how quickly to become Mexico and many people on the right are debating how quickly to become France.

No wonder I’ve identified an escape option if America goes down the wrong path.

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