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Archive for the ‘Libertarianism’ Category

Just like I’ve never had (until recently) any reason to define capitalism, I also have never felt any need to define libertarianism.

Some people use the non-aggression principle, but that strikes me as more of a statement about how we should behave.

What if we’re trying to define the rules for libertarian governance?

In that case, my definition is very much based on property rights. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, and we both have the right to engage (or to not engage) in voluntary exchange.

I realize that’s not the most elegant or comprehensive statement of principles, but I think it provides a useful framework for the debate over vaccine mandates.

Regarding that issue, I’m glad that private companies had the expertise and opportunity to develop vaccines against the coronavirus, and I got vaccinated as soon as possible.

That being said, I definitely don’t think government should force anyone to make that choice.

But I also think that people who opt against vaccination should accept the non-governmental consequences.

Here’s some of what I wrote about this topic back in April.

What if private businesses decide that customers are only allowed if they prove they’ve been vaccinated? From a libertarian perspective, guided by core principles such as property rights and freedom of association, that should be totally acceptable. And that’s true even if we think the owners of the businesses are making silly choices. After all, it’s their property.

The Dispatch has an article on this controversy.

Written by Andrew Egger, it starts by pointing out that there’s a political fight in South Dakota because a private company has announced that all employees must be vaccinated.

South Dakota’s largest employer is Sanford Health, a hospital and health care system that employs nearly 10,000 people in the eastern half of the state. On July 22, Sanford, which operates in both Dakotas and Minnesota, announced it would begin requiring all its employees to get vaccinated for COVID by November 1. Within weeks, two Republican members of the state House, Reps. Jon Hansen and Scott Odenbach, had introduced legislation punching back. The COVID-19 Vaccine Freedom of Conscience Act would give South Dakotans “the right to be exempt from any COVID-19 vaccination mandate, requirement, obligation, or demand on the basis that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination violates his or her conscience.” …By the end of August, state House Speaker Spencer Gosch had come aboard the mandate ban effort as well. …The only problem: Noem doesn’t support the legislation.

Why is Governor Kristi Noem against the legislation?

For a very libertarian reason. She doesn’t think the government has the right to tell a private company how to operate.

…the laissez-faire approach that made Noem a conservative folk hero in last year’s fights has gotten her crosswise with her fellow Republicans on the issue of vaccine mandate bans. “Frankly, I don’t think businesses should be mandating that their employees should be vaccinated,” she said in a video posted to Twitter last week. “And if they do mandate vaccines to their employees, they should be making religious and other exemptions available to them. But I don’t have the authority as governor to tell them what to do.”

Amen.

If you believe in private property, the owners of a business should have the right to decide whom they employ and whom they do business with.

Just as consumers can choose where to shop and workers can choose to leave jobs they don’t like.

Here’s a final excerpt from the article.

“Nobody is stopping you from making that decision [not to get vaccinated], but you don’t have a right to a particular job,” Noem spokesman Ian Fury told The Dispatch. “The business owner has the right to his business. You do not have a right to an individual job, because you don’t own that business.” …Philosophically, that puts Noem firmly in the camp of free-market Republicans past: largely content to preside passively over a state economy in which companies are free to set their own standards of conduct and employees are free to work for companies that share their values—and quit jobs if they don’t.

The bottom line is that libertarians (and small-government conservatives) should not be upset about private companies making private decisions.

Instead, we should get irked when politicians try to mandate those decisions.

In a column for the Washington Examiner, Quin Hillyer condemns Joe Biden’s recent declaration that companies either must require vaccination or conduct constant testing.

President Joe Biden’s decision to require large private employers to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus is problematic not just in terms of the Constitution, statutes, and liberty interests, but it is also highly impractical. …This is crazy. If the onus is on the businesses, what are businesses to do if employees refuse to comply? Fire them all? …This rule is a recipe for lawsuits. Will businesses be caught in a bind — penalized for unvaccinated workers but also charged with unfair labor practices if they evade the mandate by reducing payrolls below 100? …If massive new testing is required as a mere screening method, even for those feeling perfectly healthy, how will medical personnel keep up? Who will keep administrative tabs on all this? And if businesses are required to provide time off for workers to get tested, how will their own efficiency and productivity suffer?

Given the fact that Biden is a career politician with no experience in the private sector, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by this White House proposal.

After all this is an Administration that thinks copying the failed fiscal policies of Greece, France, and Italy is how you “build back better.”

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Whether they are based on 10 questions or 144 questions, I can’t resist taking quizzes that supposedly identify one’s political or economic philosophy.

The good news, according to various quizzes, is that I’m 92 percent minarchist and only 6 percent communist.

And, based on the quiz I shared most recently, I’m a “minimalist” who is “in favor of smaller government.”

I certainly won’t argue with those results.

For today’s column, we’re going to look at a quiz on hypothetical political parties that Lee Drutman put together for yesterday’s New York Times. You can click here to take it.

Here are my results.

Given the various alternatives, I’m not surprised that I’m part of the “Growth and Opportunity Party.”

But I don’t like this description of this group.

The Growth and Opportunity Party is the socially moderate, pro-business wing of the Republican Party. It is the heir to the old moderate “Rockefeller Republican,” the East Coast wing of the G.O.P. Its potential leaders include Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, Mitt Romney, John Kasich and Michael Bloomberg. Based on data from the Democracy Fund’s VOTER survey, this party would be the best fit for about 14 percent of the electorate.

My objections are partly historical (I was a “Reaganite” in my youth rather than a big-government “Rockefeller Republican”) and partly based on the politicians listed as political leaders.

I don’t know enough about Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker to have an opinion, but Mitt Romney, John Kasich, and Michael Bloomberg are definitely proponents of bigger government.

I’ll close by grousing about a couple of the questions.

For instance, should you “agree” or “disagree” with this question? I definitely want to decrease the scope of police work if that means less enforcement of victimless crimes such as drugs, gambling, and prostitution, but I don’t want to decrease the scope of police work in fighting genuine crime.

I also wasn’t sure how to answer this next question. Does it mean creating more opportunities to come to the United States, especially for people that are unlikely to become dependent on government handouts? Or does it mean allowing limitless illegal border crossing?

Because the wording was not very clear, I basically punted on these two question.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I think the two best quizzes are the “definitive political orientation test” and the “libertarian purity test.”

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I shared some libertarian humor just two weeks ago, but readers have been sending me a lot of amusing items.

So let’s do another update to our collection.

We’ll start with a look at what happens to people who decide to become hard-core libertarians.

By the way, what happened to Sarah Connor also happened to Kurt Russell.

Next we have a Venn Diagram that tells you how to identify libertarians (and if you want to determine the specific kind of libertarian, here’s a guide to all 24 versions).

Though there are easier ways to identify libertarians.

Like this helpful hint for Facebook.

Next, libertarians pride themselves in being skeptical of all activities of government, including the parts that conservatives usually like.

Which is why border collies apparently are part of the movement.

Last but not least, here’s my favorite item from today’s collection. The Libertarian Dork strikes again!

Nobody can say we’re not dedicated!

P.S. Previous iterations of the Libertarian Dork can be viewed here, here, here, here, and here.

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Libertarians have very intelligent and consistent views regarding public policy.

But why, then are we so unsuccessful in producing libertarian societies?

I suspect part of the problem is that we enjoy being outside the mainstream. Certainly in terms of ideas, and sometime even with regard to lifestyles.

  • The bad news is that our quirkiness seems to limit our ability to persuade.
  • The good news is that our quirkiness creates good opportunities for satire.

Speaking of satire, today’s column will add to our collection of libertarian humor.

Our first item could be a picture of me when observing fights between big-government Democrats and big-government Republicans.

For our next item, there’s an interesting policy debate about the bias of big social media companies, with some conservatives abandoning their alleged pro-market sympathies and demanding regulation. Or even the use of counterproductive antitrust laws.

Libertarians, by contrast, have a very benign view of private companies.

Which makes them vulnerable to this kind of satire.

For our third item, libertarians support reforms to improve police behavior, including an end to qualified immunity.

But when the debate shifts to defunding the police, libertarians have a more comprehensive attitude (by the way, this meme has a naughty word, so you have to click to see it).

This next item is very clever.

Libertarians are big on the idea of self-ownership, so…

Our final bit of satire touches a nerve with me because I worry a lot about a potential descent into Greek-style fiscal chaos (and, since the US is too big for a bailout, that presumably will be followed by social disarray).

So you can understand why this is my favorite bit of humor from today’s collection.

Reminds me of the G-rated version of “libertarian porn” that I shared back in 2010.

No wonder libertarians fantasize about creating a “Galt’s Gulch.” Or, maybe it’s more than fantasy.

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Oozing sarcasm, I’ve asked whether Germany, Nigeria, Mexico, and Argentina are libertarian paradises.

But, according to this satirical video that I first shared ten years ago, there’s a real libertarian paradise in Somalia.

I will admit this is a very clever video. The cholera comment at the end was especially amusing (reminded me of the Ron Paul breakfast cereal).

Indeed, the video was one of the first selections for my libertarian humor page.

But is it true that Somalia is actually some sort of free-market paradise?

Have the warlords turned the Horn of Africa to a new version of what Hong Kong used to be?

That’s one of the implications of a recent report in the New York Times.

Authored by Jeffrey Gettleman, it paints a picture of a society that – if nothing else – is very resistant to taxes and organized government.

Here are some of the most relevant excerpts from his article.

A whole class of opportunists…have been feeding off the anarchy in Somalia for so long that they refuse to let go. …They do not pay taxes, their businesses are totally unregulated… They are attacking government troops… And they are surprisingly open about it. Omar Hussein Ahmed, an olive oil exporter in Mogadishu, the capital, said he and a group of fellow traders recently bought missiles to shoot at government soldiers. “Taxes are annoying,” he explained. Maxamuud Nuur Muradeeste, a squatter landlord…will do whatever it takes, he said, to thwart the government’s plan to reclaim thousands of pieces of public property. “If this government survives, how will I?” Mr. Muradeeste said. …opportunists sense that this transitional government, more than any other, poses the biggest threat yet to the gravy days of anarchy.

Interestingly, the article actually acknowledges that people did figure out how to make a lot of things work without any centralized authority.

…when the central government imploded in 1991, people quickly devised ways to fend for themselves. Businessmen opened their own hospitals, schools, telephone companies and even privatized mail services. …Business leaders then backed a grass-roots Islamist movement that drove the warlords out of Mogadishu… They delivered stability, which was good for most business, but they did not confiscate property or levy heavy taxes. They called themselves an administration, not a government. “Our best days were under them,” said Abdi Ali Jama, who owns an electrical supply shop in Mogadishu.

But does any of this make Somalia a libertarian paradise?

Not exactly. Because of a lack of data, Somalia does not receive a grade from either Economic Freedom of the World or the Human Freedom Index.

And Somalia also doesn’t get an official grade from the Index of Economic Freedom.

But there are some partial scores showing that Somalia is very bad on the rule of law.

And we also see a failing grade for “business freedom.”

The bottom line is Somalia is nowhere close to being a libertarian society. The best thing that can be said is that entrepreneurs try to figure out how to meet human needs and earn profits even in the worst of circumstances.

P.S. The NYT article mentioned that Mr. Ahmed bought missiles to deter tax collectors. Even I think that’s going too far, but he does belong with the other “great moments in tax avoidance” that I have cited (see here, here, and here).

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Time for some more humor about America’s most lovable minority.

We’ll start with a guy who must have raided his friend’s “jewelry box.”

Next, libertarians were in favor of Juneteenth, and not just because slavery was an awful policy of government.

For our third item, the Babylon Bee has an amusing story about nine warning signs that your kid is becoming a libertarian. Here are the ones I especially liked.

You should be closely involved in your teen’s life to make sure he doesn’t suddenly start believing in freedom and personal responsibility. Make sure to constantly check for these…warning signs: …2. He asks for his allowance in Bitcoin. – Dogecoin can also be a red flag. …4. You check under his mattress and sure enough, he’s been hiding the worst thing imaginable: a copy of Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. – Talk to your kids about Sowell before it’s too late. …6. You catch him texting girls “Taxation is theft.” – Always check your kids’ electronic devices so you can be alerted to these telltale signs of libertarianism. …8. You get a call from school that he got thrown out of economics class again for arguing with his teacher about the unsustainability of the U.S. Dollar and the failure of Keynesian economics. – Trouble at school might mean he’s been radicalized by the Austrian school of economics. …9. He has no friends. – This is perhaps the surest sign of all.

Next, here’s why people who pay taxes should be libertarians.

By the way, this isn’t satire. I actually wrote about this example of foolish government back in 2017.

The only good news – at least for American readers – is that this example of waste is from Canada.

As usual, I’ve saved the best for last. Here’s a worried left-wing parent dealing with a potentially rebellious child.

There is a debate about Rand’s contribution to the cause of liberty. I’m not an Objectivist or a Randian, but I think everyone should read Atlas Shrugged.

In any event, there is some good Rand-themed humor.

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Since I’ve recently shared two examples (here and here) of “statism in pictures,” it’s time for a libertarian version.

Our first image is near and dear to my heart.

Sadly, the Supreme Court sometimes doesn’t fulfill its job of keeping government within the Constitution. Especially with regard to enumerated powers.

Next, this cartoon does a great job of capturing how libertarians think.

It’s not that we’re all anarcho-capitalists, but we definitely need a lot of evidence before overcoming our instinctive aversion to government.

Our third item is from the clever folks at Babylon Bee.

Helps to explain why libertarians (like most Americans) are not big supporters of foreign aid.

Next, if libertarians have a reputation for being dorky, it’s probably because of examples like this.

Needless to say, we’re fans of cryptocurrency even if we don’t trade any of them.

I’ve saved the best for last, as usual. Our fifth item deals with a real story about some fun-loving Arkansas rednecks, followed by the libertarian reaction to their arrest.

If libertarians believe in legalizing drugs, gambling, and prostitution, then why have laws against testing out bulletproof vests while drinking?

Though it’s not an activity I would recommend, so perhaps this belongs in my collection of libertarian quandaries.

P.S. For other examples of libertarianism-themed images, click here, here, here, and here.

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It hasn’t even been a month since I shared the most-recent collection of libertarian humor, but I’ve received so many clever items that it’s time augment our collection.

Our first item is this cartoon strip about children getting drawn into the movement.

Speaking of children, the second item for today’s collection is this story from the Babylon Bee.

…local mom Shirley Wood had a surprise when she picked up her three-year-old to tell him it was time for bed. “Am I being detained?” shouted the toddler at the top of his lungs, greatly befuddling Mrs. Wood. …Confused, Mrs. Wood did put him down and tried to figure out what was going on. “Oh, I’ve been teaching him libertarian principles,” explained Mrs. Wood’s husband, Fred Wood. …“Then you get him to bed.” Mr. Wood approached Zach to try to non-violently persuade him to go to bed. “Hey, buddy. Seems like it’s time to sleep now.” “Can’t sleep,” replied Zach. “Fed still out there. Need to audit the Fed.” …Eventually, Mr. Wood was able to persuade Zach to go to bed with the promise of reading him a bedtime story about cryptocurrency.

Having raised three kids, I can vouch for the fact that they are natural libertarians at bedtime.

For our next item, someone made the mistake of asking a libertarian about disdain for government. Nearly two hours later…

If you wonder why it takes so much time for a libertarian to explain the flaws of government, this primer from the Babylon Bee may give you a good idea.

Libertarianism is the only logically consistent political philosophy, and it’s held primarily by crazy people. …The Bee is here to set the record straight once and for all about our weird, drug and Bitcoin-obsessed friends with this handy explainer. …Beliefs: It’s mostly about wanting to smoke weed and run around naked while shooting guns in the air, we think. …Prominent proponents: Ron Paul, that weird guy who’s always smoking weed in your drama class… Prominent critics: Republicans, Democrats, anyone who loves war and hates freedom. …Key texts: Atlas Shrugged (we think, no one’s actually ever read it)… How do you spot a Libertarian? …look for guys carting around books from the 1700s and shouting, “AM I BEING DETAINED?!” at everyone from police officers to Arby’s cashier

I’ve saved the best for last.

We libertarians think of ourselves as freedom fighters. In our Walter Mitty-style fantasies, we’re waging big fights for big principles. That doesn’t match our real lives.

But, however dorky we are in real life, at least we have our own anthem.

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Libertarians have a reputation for being principled, albeit a bit quirky. Maybe even dorky. And that creates opportunities for satire, even if we’re making fun of ourselves. Like in this video.

Our second item captures the mindset of libertarians.

I don’t know if Ms. Dehbozorgi is a libertarian, but she definitely knows how to make some libertarians feels guilty.

I actually have some libertarian-minded friends in the bowels of various bureaucracies (and they all admit they are overpaid and most acknowledge their comfy jobs shouldn’t exist).

Some of them are even out of the closet. I gather they don’t care about irritating their colleagues for the simple reason that libertarians rarely get too worked up about what others think.

As reflected in this next meme.

This next item would have been more appropriate last month, but it’s still worth sharing (at the risk of triggering a squabble with the Randians).

And here’s my favorite item from today’s collection.

It’s almost like taking the 24 types of libertarians, combining them into one, and then doing a brain scan.

P.S. But it’s not quite me, most notably because I have zero interest in the blunts and I worry about spending rather than debt.

P.P.S. Here’s my entire collection of libertarian humor, both pro and con.

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Since yesterday’s column showed “Statism in Five Images,” I feel obliged to provide equal time and now do the same thing for libertarianism.

We’ll start with an accurate depiction of how libertarians compare to other ideologies (similar to the triangle I created back in 2019).

If you prefer a shorter way of describing libertarians, this image is a decent summary.

By the way, if you want to know whether you’re a libertarian, just take one of these quizzes.

And, if you get a high score, you don’t necessarily have to become a weird libertarian. Like the guy in this image.

It’s better to be the kind of libertarian (you have 24 choices) who gets into pointless arguments.

For what it’s worth, I’m the type of person who became a libertarian simply because I don’t like the inane, foolish, corrupt, destructive, petty, nonsensical, wasteful, and brainless decisions of politicians and bureaucrats (both in America and abroad).

So you can see why this is my favorite image from today’s choices.

If you want other humorous but serious visual depictions of libertarianism, click here, here, and here.

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Since even I’m not wonky enough to write about serious topics on Christmas, I have an annual tradition (2019, 2018, 2017, etc, dating back to 2009) of sharing libertarian-themed holiday humor.

Here’s this year’s version, starting with a cartoon that also belongs in my collection of socialism humor.

Next we have evidence that Santa Claus is real.

Though perhaps not as likeable as we thought, so this belong in my collection of cartoons that symbolize government.

This next item probably belongs with my collection of anti-libertarian humor because only Randian types can turn Scrooge into the hero of the story.

And this gem from Michael Ramirez would definitely be applicable if I was still sharing coronavirus-themed humor.

For what it’s worth, Santa seems to have an ongoing problem with law enforcement.

I’m sure there will be bipartisan agreement on our next item.

As usual, I save my favorite item for the end.

This great cartoon from Gary Varvel is very timely considering what’s happening in Washington (and also with a similar message to this 2014 Eric Allie cartoon).

Though, to be fair, politicians like playing Santa Claus 365 days a year.

P.S. As usual, I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas.

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Yesterday’s column featured anti-libertarian humor. Normally, I don’t believe in providing equal time (you’ll never find me writing about the benefits of higher taxes or more spending), but clever political humor is exempt from that rule.

So enjoy pro-libertarian humor, starting with this anthem from Dominic Frisby.

What’s especially clever is that Frisby used the music from the Russian national anthem. That’s a very good example of repurposing.

It goes without saying that Liberland should adopt this song.

Our next item is this meme, which is especially amusing to me since I’ve made this exact argument.

Heck, we’re crazy enough to like the idea of private roads, so there wouldn’t be any point of a government car registry in our libertarian fantasy world.

Let’s shift to politics, where there’s been a lot of over-heated rhetoric about whether divisions in American society will lead to insurrection and strife.

If so, this clever meme warns both Democrats and Republicans they should be careful what they wish for.

This next item appealed to me for the obvious reason.

Last but not least, here’s Ron Swanson initiating a helpless victim into libertarianism.

Needless to say, he’s right about Franklin Roosevelt.

P.S. Dominic Frisby also deserves applause for his video about Brexit.

P.P.S. The entire collection of pro-and-con libertarian humor is available here.

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The good thing about being a libertarian is that governments around the world are constantly doing things that reinforce the wisdom of our ideas.

The bad thing about being a libertarian is that politicians very rarely care about – or act upon – our ideas for better policy (thank you, public choice).

To add insult to injury, we also get mocked, usually for being doctrinaire and/or dorky.

Today’s column will feature new examples of anti-libertarian satire. We’ll start with a story about a Libertarian Doofus.

This clever jab would be even better if the person who put it together understood the difference between commensurate and consummate, but let’s not get hung hung up on details.

The point is that libertarians have a reputation for dorkiness, particularly when it comes to romance. Indeed, Garth Tundrell is actually the fifth iteration of Libertarian Doofus (see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV).

Our next item isn’t satire. It’s a real-life report, by at Vox, about the failure of a libertarian community in New Hampshire.

But I’m sharing it today because libertarians are definitely the target of some mockery.

Every ideology produces its own brand of fanatics, but there’s something special about libertarianism. …they…tend to be cocksure about core principles in a way most people aren’t. If you’ve ever encountered a freshly minted Ayn Rand enthusiast, you know what I mean. And yet one of the things that makes political philosophy so amusing is that it’s mostly abstract. You can’t really prove anything — it’s just a never-ending argument about values. Every now and again, though, reality intervenes in a way that illustrates the absurdity of particular ideas. Something like this happened in the mid-2000s in a small New Hampshire town called Grafton. …The experiment was called the “Free Town Project” (it later became the “Free State Project”), and the goal was simple: take over Grafton’s local government and turn it into a libertarian utopia. The movement was cooked up by a small group of ragtag libertarian activists who saw in Grafton a unique opportunity to realize their dreams of a perfectly logical and perfectly market-based community. Needless to say, utopia never arrived, but the bears did!

For the article, Mr. Illing interviewed Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, author of a new book titled A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear. Here’s some of what Mr. Hongoltz-Hetling said about the Grafton experiment.

…a bunch of loosely affiliated national libertarians…chose a town in rural New Hampshire called Grafton that already had fewer than 1,000 people in it. And they just showed up and started working to take over the town government and get rid of every rule and regulation and tax expense that they could. …so all of a sudden the people in Grafton woke up to the fact that their town was in the process of being invaded by a bunch of idealistic libertarians. …They tried unsuccessfully to withdraw from the school district and to completely discontinue paying for road repairs, or to declare Grafton a United Nations free zone, some of the outlandish things like that. But they did find that a lot of existing Grafton residents would be happy to cut town services to the bone. And so they successfully put a stranglehold on things like police services, things like road services and fire services and even the public library. …Basically, Grafton became a Wild West, frontier-type town. …the bears in the area started to take notice… Free Towners…just threw their waste out how they wanted. They didn’t want the government to tell them how to manage their potential bear attractants. …So they started aggressively raiding food and became less likely to run away when a human showed up. …more bear attacks will come. Luckily, no one’s been killed, but people have been pretty badly injured.

The moral of this story, I guess, is that libertarianism leads to bear attacks.

But that’s presumably better than the supposed libertarian policies contained in this cartoon (some of my lefty friends actually believe this).

For what it’s worth, this mimics the satire about Ron Paul’s breakfast, but isn’t nearly as clever and funny.

We’ll close with this look at how libertarians perceive themselves vs what they actually are.

Ouch. Since I spend much of my time in front of a computer, this one hurts.

Sort of like the final two images in this collage.

But I guess that’s better than being some of these libertarians.

P.S. You can peruse the entire collection of libertarian humor, including pro-libertarian items, by clicking here.

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Even if these things are simply click-bait, I can’t resist taking online tests and quizzes that ostensibly reveal a person’s philosophical outlook.

Today, I’m writing about another version. It’s called the Six-Triangle Test and it’s supposedly special because you get three-dimensional analyses of your approach to various issues.

You can take a 72-question test or a 144-question test, depending on how much time you have (or your tolerance level).

As is often the case, I think some of the questions are poorly worded. For instance, there are people in Bangladesh who presumably work much harder than any of us, yet they don’t make much money because what actually matters is productivity per hour worked. So this question left me with mixed feelings. I assume I should answer “strongly agree,” but that’s not technically accurate.

Likewise, I wanted to answer “strongly disagree” on this next statement because I assume that would be the most pro-free market answer. That being said, while I view capitalism as a system that generates mass prosperity, doesn’t the existence of “public goods” suggest that it’s not the answer to everything?

I also wasn’t sure how to respond to this statement about international cooperation. Does that mean open trade? If so, my response is “strongly agree.” But if cooperation means a global tax cartel, my answer is “strongly disagree.”

Here’s one more example. Does free education mean dumping kids into sub-par government schools? Or does it mean comprehensive school choice? Needless to say, there are wildly different answers depending on how the statement is interpreted (for what it’s worth, I’m assuming “strongly agree” is interpreted as a left-wing answer).

I realize that I’m being somewhat pedantic, but I figure I should share my concerns.

In any event, before giving my results, I want to nit-pick one other aspect of the test.

It’s designed to measure your ideology on six different issues – economics, personal freedom, culture, equality, government, and foreign policy. And it uses three different ways of measuring those six issues.

In many cases, such as the approach to economics, I think this makes a lot of sense. Your answers determine whether you want socialism (“control”), laissez-faire (“markets”), or a mixed approach (“regulation”).

That being said, I don’t like how they measure responses to equality. More specifically, “burden” implies that if you oppose redistribution, then you somehow don’t want others to succeed.

At the risk of stating the obvious, redistribution tends to trap people in poverty and dependency. At the very least, the description is misguided.

With that final bit of grousing out of the way, here are my results.

But that doesn’t tell you much unless you know what the symbols mean.

So here are my results for each category, based on the three variables.

Other than my already-discussed qualms about the way equality is measured, I’m happy with the results. I am a fanatic for markets over government, I have a minarchist view of government as opposed to statism (or anarcho-capitalism), and otherwise believe in freedom.

Regarding the results for equality, I am pleased that I got 0% for equality of outcomes. In other words, nobody can accuse me of having Kamala Harris’ warped point of view.

P.S. Here’s the link again to the test if you want to take it. Feel free to share your results in the comments section, along with any analysis.

P.P.S. I don’t object to “moderate isolationism” as a summary of my views on foreign policy, but don’t understand why I got 31.3 percent for “imperialism” and also wonder whether they use the right definition of globalism (i.e., globalization rather than global governance).

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While there’s still some ongoing election drama, it’s time to remind ourselves that politics is merely the means to an end. The goal of public policy should be to promote freedom and prosperity.

I don’t particularly care whether people call this agenda libertarianism, small-government conservatism, or classical liberalism.

Heck, call it Reaganism.

Whatever you call it, this philosophy is nicely captured by this image.

I mostly focus on the economic arguments for liberty.

But maybe this cartoon will make libertarianism more appealing to some people.

I was thinking about saving this final image for July 4, 2021, but I think it’s a nice reminder that Americans historically have had- and hopefully still have – a rebellious spirit.

This is why I periodically share stories about civil disobedience.

And I hope to come across many more examples, on issues ranging from red tape to gun control.

P.S. Many Americans try to avoid jury duty. If I knew I could be a juror on a case like this, I would relish the opportunity to practice jury nullification, which is a judicial version of civil disobedience.

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Being Libertarian

Back in 2018, I shared five images that capture what it means to be libertarian.

Let’s do the same thing today, except we’ll first start with a video that is interesting overall, but has some specific insights about libertarians from 5:45-7:20.

Now let’s look at our five new images.

We’ll start with the all-important point that there’s a big difference between wanting good things and thinking that government is the way to achieve good things.

Our second contribution shows the libertarian claim that they are the philosophical descendants of America’s Founders (even Alexander Hamilton).

 

Our third contribution is from Reddit’s libertarian page and it captures the movement’s laissez-faire spirit.

Next we have another reminder that government was the most dangerous entity in the 20th century (and presumably in all history).

Last but not least, here’s a powerful set of images that underscores the giant difference between legality and morality.

P.S. There’s another interesting video on Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of libertarians at the end of this column. And you can read more of his analysis here.

P.P.S. You can learn more about libertarian self-identification here and here.

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Yesterday’s column mocked Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her crazy leftism (though WordPress inexplicably posted it as July 1 rather than August 1).

So today, let’s fire in the opposite direction and enjoy some libertarian-themed satire.

Our first example points out that there’s sometimes a difference between libertarians in theory and libertarians in reality (very reminiscent of this image).

I also found this next image amusing (though I can’t resist pointing out that a libertarian society would have things like traffic lights for the simple reason that the the people operating private roads would have an incentive to maintain a smooth flow of traffic).

Reminds me of the equally funny (but equally inaccurate) example of libertarian breakfast cereal.

Here’s a libertarian brain, at least according to the left-wing stereotype. Since I have an entire collection of libertarian humor, much of which involves self-mockery, I like to think my “satire recognition lobe” is reasonably well developed.

I assume there’s a reason for fedora/trilby section, but I don’t know what it is.

For what it’s worth, my anti-Venezuela and anti-tax lobes are very advanced.

Last but not least, I do have some pro-libertarian satire today.

Heck, name one thing that isn’t regulated, prohibited, or taxed.

All of which reminds me that libertarians get very frustrated when the free market gets blamed for crises that occur because of all the regulation, prohibition, and taxation that does exist (think Great Depression, 2008 financial crisis, etc).

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Libertarians believe in limited government for both moral reasons (government coercion is bad) and utilitarian reasons (nations with small government enjoy much higher levels of prosperity than countries with bigger governments).

But if small government is good, would no government be even better? That’s the core argument of so-called anarcho-capitalists or voluntaryists.

To understand this approach, let’s start with the video from Learn Liberty, featuring Professor Bryan Caplan of George Mason University.

And here’s a video from Reason featuring David Friedman.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I was very happy to hear him embrace jurisdictional competition toward the end of the interview (and I also agree with him that this is a reason to be skeptical about the European Union’s pro-centralization mindset).

But let’s stick with the main topic. Is anarcho-capitalism a good idea?

Defenders of the idea frequently make the point that it’s got to be better than what we have now.

Which is the message of this sarcastic meme.

But let’s take a more serious look at the topic.

At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three big questions that always get asked about how a society could exist with no government:

  • What to do about pollution?
  • What to do about crime?
  • And what to do about national defense?

David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom is the classic tome on anarcho-capitalism.

First published in 1973, here’s what he says about pollution.

The pollution problem exists because certain things, such as the air or the ocean, are not property. Anyone who wishes to use them as garbage dumps is free to do so. If the pollution were done to something that belonged to someone, the owner would permit it only if the pollutor were willing to pay him more than the damage done. …The ideal solution is to convert unowned resources into property. One could, for instance, adopt the principle that people living along a river have a property right in the river itself and that anyone who lowers the value of the river to them by polluting it, without first getting their consent, is liable to suit. …Some things, such as air, are extraordinarily difficult to deal with in this way. …The simplest solution to such a paradox is to permit parties injured by air pollution to sue for damages—presumably in class actions, by many victims against many pollutors. I would not be able to shut down your blast furnace merely by proving that a sufficiently sensitive instrument could occasionally detect sulfur dioxide in my air. But, if the concentration were high enough to be offensive, I could sue you for the damage done. At present, pollution is ‘controlled’ by governments. … Who gets away with it depends not on real costs but on politics. If pollutors must pay for their pollution, however avoidable or unavoidable, we will rapidly find out which ones can or cannot stop polluting.

Here’s how Friedman argues that crime would be handled (by the way, there’s a 2015 book by Ed Stringham, Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life, that takes a very rigorous look at the history and prevalence of private law).

Protection from coercion is an economic good. It is presently sold in a variety of forms—Brinks guards, locks, burglar alarms. As the effectiveness of government police declines, these market substitutes for the police, like market substitutes for the courts, become more popular. Suppose, then, that at some future time there are no government police, but instead private protection agencies. These agencies sell the service of protecting their clients against crime. Perhaps they also guarantee performance by insuring their clients against losses resulting from criminal acts. …In practice, once anarcho-capitalist institutions were well established, protection agencies would anticipate such difficulties and arrange contracts in advance. …In such a society law is produced on the market. A court supports itself by charging for the service of arbitrating disputes. Its success depends on its reputation for honesty, reliability, and promptness and on the desirability to potential customers of the particular set of laws it judges by. The immediate customers are protection agencies. But the protection agency is itself selling a product to its customers. …The most serious objection to free-market law is that plaintiff and defendant may not be able to agree on a common court. Obviously, a murderer would prefer a lenient judge. If the court were actually chosen by the disputants after the crime occurred, this might be an insuperable difficulty. Under the arrangements I have described, the court is chosen in advance by the protection agencies. There would hardly be enough murderers at any one time to support their own protective agency, one with a policy of patronizing courts that did not regard murder as a crime.

Though even Friedman is uncertain how national defense could be privatized.

National defense has traditionally been regarded, even by believers in a severely limited state, as a fundamental function of government. … the usual solution is to use government force— taxation—to make those benefited (and others) pay… national defense—defense against nations—must defend areas of national size, whether or not they contain nations. It is thus a public good, and one with a very large public. …The cost of a minimal national defense is only about $20 billion to $40 billion a year. The value to those protected is several hundred billion dollars a year. National defense is thus a public good worth about ten times what it costs; this may make it easier, although not easy, to devise some noncoercive way of financing it. … a national defense agency might raise enough money to finance national defense without taxation. Obviously, a system that depends on local agencies evolved for a different purpose or a ramshackle system financed by charity, passport sales, and threats to Hawaiian insurance companies is economically very imperfect. So is a system financed by coercion and run by government. …What will I do if, when all other functions of our government have been abolished, I conclude that there is no effective way to defend against aggressive foreign governments save by national defense financed by taxes—financed, in other words, by money taken by force from the taxpayers? In such a situation I would not try to abolish that last vestige of government. I do not like paying taxes, but I would rather pay them to Washington than to Moscow—the rates are lower. I would still regard the government as a criminal organization, but one which was, by a freak of fate, temporarily useful.

For what it’s worth, anarcho-capitalism may be moving from theory to reality.

At least in small doses.

I’ve previously written about Liberland, a tiny would-be independent entity on some unclaimed land between Serbia and Croatia.

There’s also the idea of libertarian-themed floating communities that would be independent of any government.

The U.K.-based Daily Mail wrote about the idea back in 2017.

Stunning concept images for the world’s first first floating nation have been released as part of a project bankrolled by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. The plans will see the seabound city-state, complete with a handful of hotels, homes, offices, restaurants and more, built in the Pacific Ocean off the island of Tahiti… The scheme is the creation of the nonprofit Seasteading Institute, which hopes to ‘liberate humanity from politicians’. The radical plans could see the creation of an independent nation that will float in international waters and operate within its own laws. …the fantasy looks to be coming closer to reality with companies, academics and architects from the Seasteading Institute working on a prototype… Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute, said he wants to see ‘thousands’ of rogue floating cities by 2050, each of them ‘offering different ways of governance’. …’We can create a huge diversity of governments for a huge diversity of people.’ …The Institute claims it will ‘give people the freedom to choose the government they want instead of being stuck with the government they get’. If inhabitants disagree with the city’s government, they could paddle their colony to another city, forcing governments to work to attract citizens.

It’s worth noting, though, that a seasteading community was supposed to start this year, and that deadline apparently won’t be met.

Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, or that it won’t happen, but we’re still waiting to see if it actually happens and how well it will work.

There’s also the idea of anarcho-capitalism in small pieces.

Such as private police, as happened in Sharpstown, Texas.

One thing that holds many Libertarians back from converting to free-market anarchism is the idea of the police force. Many libertarians believe that one of the few functions that the government should have is the provision of police within society. …One town, though, did privatize the police… Sharpstown, Texas, is not an actual town, but rather a community. They purchase services from S.E.A.L. Security Services, LLC, a completely private firm that provides policing services. The results have been quite astounding. Their director of operations, James Alexander, gave a rundown of the success of the firm… In the 20 months leading up to February of 2015, S.E.A.L. successfully brought crime down 61%. Alexander’s numbers have been disputed, though, by Jim Bingham, president of the Sharpstown civic association. He claims that Alexander’s numbers are unbacked, and says instead that crime (particularly burglaries) went down about 32% over two years. …The people who work for the firm are private individuals being privately funded. They are subject to the same rules and regulation that go for regular people, meaning that they cannot murder or steal. Public police, on the other hand, are able to cite “stress” as an excuse for murdering unarmed black men and steal astronomical amounts of money from citizens in DUI checkpoints and through civil asset forfeiture.

This is a very appealing idea, especially given the serious problems we’re seeing with government-operated police departments.

Let’s close with some anarcho-capitalist humor (yes, that is a genre). We’ll start with a Hitler parody about seasteading.

Here’s an example of anarcho-capitalist humor from Reddit’s libertarian page.

Here’s a related example from Reddit.

Last but not least, we have an explanation of taxation and consent.

In the interests of balance, here’s a meme making fun of anarcho-capitalists.

And I’ll close with a takeoff on the old song, There’s no business like show business.

A couple of the above memes are based on the notion that taxation is based on coercion, or even theft.

To be fair, recognizing that taxation is coercive doesn’t make someone an anarcho-capitalist.

My two cents is that taxation is coercive, but I’m nonetheless a traditional limited-government libertarian. I’d like to believe that that the anarcho-capitalists are correct, but I haven’t been convinced.

That being said, I believe in a big tent. As far as I’m concerned, let’s all agree to get rid of the 90 percent of government that we all recognize is counterproductive. Once we get to that stage, then we can squabble over how much of the rest to eliminate.

P.S. Though the said reality is that we’ll almost surely instead spend the rest of our lives fighting to keep government from grabbing ever-more control over the economy and its output.

P.P.S. If you want to see where you rank, there are several online tests and quizzes.

For what it’s worth, the Political Sextant Quiz says I am close to being an anarcho-capitalist, though my closest match is minarchism.

And if you’re willing to answer 64 questions, I very much recommend Bryan Caplan’s Libertarian Purity Test. The good news is that I got a 94. The bad news is that the top score (which definitely would qualify someone as an anarcho-capitalist) is 160.

P.P.P.S. If you enjoyed the Hitler parody above (and it’s always a good idea to mock genocidal socialists), here are other examples.

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I sometimes wonder why libertarians aren’t more persuasive given that there’s so much evidence for our economic and social views.

The answer may have something to do with matters such as psychology. Let’s take a closer look at this issue, starting with a video from Johan Norberg.

Johan’s point is that the real gap is between classical liberals (i.e., libertarians) and statists.

Though most of the research and analysis is based on potential differences between conservatives and liberals, as conventionally defined.

For instance, in a column for the U.K.-based Guardian, Arlie Hochschild writes about differences in awareness on the right and left.

…what’s startling is the further finding that higher education does not improve a person’s perceptions – and sometimes even hurts it. In their survey answers, highly educated Republicans were no more accurate in their ideas about Democratic opinion than poorly educated Republicans. For Democrats, the education effect was even worse: the more educated a Democrat is, according to the study, the less he or she understands the Republican worldview. “This effect,” the report says, “is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree.” …Even more than their Republican counterparts, highly educated Democrats tend to live in exclusively Democratic enclaves. The more they report “almost all my friends hold the same political views”, the worse their guesses on what Republicans think. …Although in principle more tolerant of political diversity, highly educated – and mostly urban – Democrats live, ironically, with less of it.

And here’s a tweet about educated folks on the left being more likely to live in a bubble.

Regarding the issue of how different ideologies respond to external threats (supposedly a major driver of philosophical differences), Ross Douthat analyzed how conservatives responded to coronavirus in a column for the New York Times.

…an influential body of literature has attempted to psychologize the partisan divide — to identify conservative and liberal personality types, right-wing or left-wing minds or brains… In its crudest form this literature just amounts to liberal self-congratulation, with survey questions and regression analyses deployed to “prove” with “science” that liberals are broad-minded freethinkers and conservatives are cramped authoritarians. But…Haidt argues that conservatives actually have more diverse moral intuitions than liberals, encompassing categories like purity and loyalty as well as care and fairness, and that the right-wing mind therefore sometimes understands the left-wing mind better than vice versa. …the political responses to the pandemic have put these psychological theories to a very interesting test.

He then applies this analysis to the coronavirus.

If there was ever a crisis tailored to the conservative mind-set, surely it would be this one, with the main peril being that conservatives would wildly overreact to such a trigger. …As the disease spread and the debate went mainstream, liberal opinion mostly abandoned its anti-quarantine posture and swung toward a reasonable panic, while conservative opinion divided, with a large portion of the right following the lead of Trump himself, who spent crucial weeks trying to wish the crisis away. …figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity manifested a conservatism of tribal denial, owning the libs by minimizing the coronavirus threat. …one might say that the pandemic illustrates the power of partisan mood affiliation over any kind of deeper ideological mind-set. Or relatedly, it illustrates the ways in which under the right circumstances, people can easily swing between different moral intuitions. (This holds for liberals as well as conservatives: A good liberal will be as deferential to authority as any conservative when the authority has the right academic degrees…) …what we call “American conservatism” is probably more ideologically and psychologically heterogeneous than the conservative mind-set that social scientists aspire to measure and pin down. In particular, it includes an incredibly powerful streak of what you might call folk libertarianism… This mentality, with its reflexive Ayn Randism and its Panglossian hyper-individualism, is definitely essential to understanding part of the American right. But…I’m doubtful that it corresponds to any universal set of psychological tendencies that we could reasonably call conservative.

By the way, a new study by four social scientists, published in Nature, casts doubt on the earlier research regarding ideological differences in threat perception

About a decade ago, a study documented that conservatives have stronger physiological responses to threatening stimuli than liberals. This work launched an approach aimed at uncovering the biological roots of ideology. Despite wide-ranging scientific and popular impact, independent laboratories have not replicated the study. We conducted a pre-registered direct replication (n = 202) and conceptual replications in the United States (n = 352) and the Netherlands (n = 81). Our analyses do not support the conclusions of the original study, nor do we find evidence for broader claims regarding the effect of disgust and the existence of a physiological trait.

And another study by three social scientists in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin also casts doubt on the earlier research.

One consistent finding is that conservatives show higher disgust sensitivity than liberals. This finding, however, is predominantly based on assessments of disgust to specific elicitors, which confound individuals’ sensitivity and propensity to the experience of disgust with the extent to which they find specific elicitors disgusting. Across five studies, we vary specific elicitors of disgust, showing that the relations between political orientation and disgust sensitivity depend on the specific set of elicitors used. We also show that disgust sensitivity is not associated with political orientation when measured with an elicitor-unspecific scale. Taken together, our findings suggest that the differences between conservatives and liberals in disgust sensitivity are context dependent rather than a stable personality difference.

So maybe there’s not a meaningful difference between right and left with regards to matters such as disgust and threats.

But there seems to be plenty of evidence that there are differences in other areas.

Depending on political affiliation, Americans shop differently, as reported by Suzanne Kapner and Dante Chinni in the Wall Street Journal.

Consumer research data show Democrats have become more likely to wear Levi’s than their Republican counterparts. The opposite is true with Wrangler, which is now far more popular with Republicans. There is no simple explanation behind those consumer moves. Some of it is due to social and political stances companies are taking, such as Levi’s embrace of gun control. …the country is becoming more polarized along political lines, which is having an effect on brands that choose to stay out of the political fray. …Nearly 60% of 1,000 Americans surveyed by Edelman last year said they would choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. That is up from 47% in 2017.

Some of this makes sense to me. I have dramatically reduced my purchases at Dick’s, for example, because of the company’s opposition to the 2nd Amendment.

Here’s a graphic from the story. The self-selection of Fox and CNN viewers is especially noteworthy.

Folks on the right and left may even sleep differently, according to research published in the Journal of Politics by Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz at the University of Illinois.

This article proposes that chronotype (a person’s time-of-sleep preference) is a previously unidentified psychological correlate of political ideology. Chronotype may lead to political ideology through a motivated social cognitive process, ideology may shape sleep patterns through a desire to align with social norms, or ideology and chronotype may arise from common antecedents, such as genetics, socialization, or community influences. Analyses demonstrate a link between a morningness and conservatism in seven American samples and one British sample. This relationship is robust to controls for openness, conscientiousness, and demographics, including age, sex, income, and education.

Last but not least, Justin Lehmiller of the Kinsey Institute, in a column for Politico, says Republicans and Democrats have different fantasies.

I surveyed 4,175 adult Americans from all 50 states about what turns them on…one of the more intriguing things I uncovered was the political divide in our fantasy worlds. While self-identified Republicans and self-identified Democrats reported fantasizing with the same average frequency—several times per week—I found that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to fantasize about a range of activities that involve sex outside of marriage. Think things like infidelity, orgies and partner swapping… By contrast, self-identified Democrats were more likely than Republicans to fantasize about almost the entire spectrum of BDSM activities, from bondage to spanking to dominance-submission play. The largest Democrat-Republican divide on the BDSM spectrum was in masochism, which involves deriving pleasure from the experience of pain. …What connects Republicans and Democrats, I believe, is that their fantasies are at least partly driven by what they can’t have. …Interestingly, the single most commonly fantasized-about politician among both parties was the same: Sarah Palin (though Republicans were much more likely to have Palin fantasies than Democrats). Following Palin, the next most frequently mentioned politicians in Republicans’ fantasies were John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Nikki Haley. While, after Palin, Democrats fantasized about Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

Maybe I’m strange, but I’ve never met or seen an American politician that piqued my interest.

Though I will confess to occasionally having quirky libertarian fantasies, one of which does involve sex.

Speaking of quirky, folks on the left appear to have more issues with mental health.

Since I’ve asserted that folks on the left are “neurotic” and “guilt-ridden,” part of me agrees with these findings.

Though, to be fair, maybe they’re just more likely to visit healthcare providers.

I’ll conclude with what I will conveniently characterize as the most insightful research.

Three scholars, in an article for Current Psychology, find that libertarians are the smartest.

Previous studies consistently showed that analytic cognitive style (ACS) is negatively correlated with social conservatism, but there are mixed findings concerning its relation with economic conservatism. Most tests have relied on a unidimensional (liberal-conservative) operationalization of political orientation. Libertarians tend not only to identify themselves as conservative on this scale but also to score higher on ACS than liberals and conservatives.

Here’s the relevant chart from the study, courtesy of Rolf Degen.

Liberals can take some solace in that they score above conservatives, though there’s not much that can be said for self-identified moderates.

P.S. I started this column by noting that I want to understand how to be a more persuasive advocate for liberty. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but at least I can take comfort in that I will never be as deluded as this columnist who thinks he has discovered a way of becoming a more persuasive advocate for statism.

P.P.S. If you like this type of research, my previous columns on supposedly innate differences across ideologies can be found here, here, and here.

P.P.P.S. And here’s the research on the differences between libertarians and conservatives.

P.P.P.P.S. Here’s a humorous look at the difference between conservatives, liberals, and Texans.

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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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I had a chance to write about several interesting topics (Australian politics and policy, the economics of government spending, the structure of taxation) on my recent trip Down Under.

I also appeared on The Outsiders, one of Australia’s most popular political programs.

Here are a few links for those who want more information on some of the topics that were discussed.

  • Societal capital – I fear that there is a tipping point and that nations are doomed once people decide that it’s morally acceptable to use government coercion to live off the effort of others.
  • Demographics – Many nations face a built-in crisis because their redistribution programs are unaffordable now that people are living longer and having fewer children.
  • Social Security reform – It’s not pure libertarianism, but Australia’s system of private retirement accounts is vastly superior to America’s bankrupt tax-and-transfer Social Security system.
  • Socialism – It’s very troubling that many young people support the poisonous ideology of socialism, but I offered an optimistic spin that this doesn’t necessarily mean support for coercive statism.
  • Tax reform – Citing globalization as a driving factor, I couldn’t resist the temptation to spread the supply-side gospel of lower marginal tax rates on productive economic activity.
  • Donald Trump – As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, America’s president is an incoherent mix of good policies on tax and regulation mixed with bad policies on spending and trade.
  • Trade and protectionism – Speaking of trade, I argued that the trade deficit doesn’t matter and also suggested a sensible approach for dealing with China.

P.S. This interview was an encore performance. I also appeared on The Outsiders in 2017. Part of my plan to curry favor so that I can escape to Australia if (when?) America suffers Greek-style chaos.

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Today was the first full day of the annual Friedman Conference in Australia. I presented on tax competition as a means of controlling the “stationary bandit” of government.

Being at an event with several hundred libertarians reminds me that we are a strange group. In a good way, of course, but still easy to caricature.

So rather than write about a serious topic today, I’m going to augment my collection of libertarian humor.

They say we’re a bit dorky. There’s probably some truth to that. The good news is that we’re probably not going to cheat on our significant others since we’re too focused on changing minds.

But if Libertarian Doofus is any indication (see here, here, here, and here), we also don’t have much success with procreation. Here’s another example.

That being said, if we miraculously manage to procreate, we have some handy rules for raising kids.

(Though not all parents are sympathetic.)

Or maybe we opt for a same-sex partner.

That might create logistical challenges in terms of children, but it creates an opportunity to share this button.

The holy trinity of libertarianism: Sex, drugs, and guns. What every happy home needs!

I’ve saved the best for last.

In previous examples of libertarian humor, I’ve pointed out that you may not want libertarians at Thanksgiving dinner.

Well, it’s probably not a good idea to have them as night clerks at a hotel, either.

To be sure, this isn’t really a joke.

We are on a trajectory for economic misery. People do need wake-up calls if we’re going to avert Greek-style fiscal and economic chaos.

Though I realize that hotel guests probably don’t want that message right before bed.

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Time to augment our collection of libertarian-themed humor.

Today’s additions starts with might happen to me if I was hiding from a crazed murderer (h/t: Libertarian Reddit).

Actually, I wouldn’t get butchered for this reason since I’m not an anarcho-capitalist.

But I probably wouldn’t be able to resist blurting out that the United States prospered for 100-plus years without an income tax, or that taxes could be very low even with an elastic definition of what counts as public goods.

Next we have some clever Game-of-Thrones satire from the folks at Reason.

I’ve never seen the show, but that’s not necessary since this video perfectly captures the tendency of libertarians to make pedantic (albeit accurate) assertions.

Anyhow, if you liked the narrator of that video, you’ll also like this one, this one, and this one.

Now let’s look at a clever article from the satirists at Babylon Bee.

In an attempt to fulfill the biblical command in 1 Timothy 2 to lift up one’s leaders in prayer, local libertarian believer Stan Marshall asked God to cripple the government and bring it to a swift demise, sources confirmed Tuesday. …He prayed specifically for his local government leaders, that God would providentially deprive them of the “coerced funds” necessary to do their jobs, as well as for the country’s national leaders, that the Almighty would ignite a passionate revolution among the people in order to remove them from power. “Even if you disagree with the people in power, it’s a biblical mandate that we pray for our leaders, and I do that by asking the Lord to smite them each and every day,” he told reporters.

I imagine that most religious libertarians simply pray for politicians to have the wisdom to do as little as possible.

But I like the way Stan takes it to the next level.

Next, we have a doggie that takes after the libertarian chicken.

Let’s look at another example of libertarian-themed humor from Babylon Bee. In this case, libertarians prevail because we’re so relentlessly annoying about our ideas.

The U.S. government announced Monday it will be adopting more libertarian policies going forward, including lower taxes, greater support for civil liberties, and a drastically decentralized federal government, “if all the libertarians will agree to just shut up and stop complaining for like one freaking second.” The announcement was issued in the form of a joint statement by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government, and is contingent upon libertarians “chilling out a bit” and immediately ceasing from posting memes stating “Taxation is Theft” and “End the Fed” every single second they’re on the internet. …At publishing time, libertarians from across the country had refused to dial down the rhetoric even a little bit, calling the compromise “the greatest travesty since the British raised taxes on tea.”

Unrealistic? Of course.

But I’m willing to be extra annoying just in case this might work.

Next, we get a reappearance of Libertarian Dork.

And here’s an example (from Libertarian Reddit) of how I feel when I’m talking to people in Washington…followed by their reactions to my sensible statements.

Last but not least, here’s a potential reason why libertarianism faces an uphill battle.

You can find even better versions of this meme here and here.

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In the past, I’ve highlighted Christmas rivalries.

This Christmas, though, let’s just go with a libertarian theme. We’ll start with a new video from the clever folks at Reason.

Since the video mentioned Santa sneaking in the country and evading tariffs, here’s a cartoon strip featuring a protectionist Scrooge.

Poor Santa Claus.

He already buried by red tape and he’s been hassled by the IRS and other federal agencies.

Plus he has to deal with children who make impossible requests.

The last thing he needs is trade taxes reducing the amount of toys he can distribute.

But there is hope for a détente between Trump and Santa.

Now let’s focus on some good news.

Here’s a video about the blessings of capitalism. It has a Christmas theme, but free enterprise is a gift every single day of the year.

The above video makes a very Schumpeterian point about how capitalism is the system that best serves the needs of poor people.

But let’s not digress from out holiday theme.

We now have another video from Reason. Remy sings about how a corrupt tax code forces a very unsavory form of redistribution from the poor to the rich.

And if you liked that Remy video, he has a pair of great Christmas-themed videos (here and here) about the TSA.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. Here are Christmas carols to enlighten Keynesians.

P.P.S. Here’s a Christmas commercial for fans of the 2nd Amendment.

P.P.P.S. Jay Leno shared the best-ever Christmas joke.

P.P.P.P.S. Speaking of best-ever, you’ll understand why this Christmas present ranks among my favorites.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Here are some additional Christmas-themed TSA songs.

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