Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

What’s the difference between libertarians and conservatives? I’ve touched on that issue before, citing some interesting research which suggests that the underlying difference involves cultural factors such as attitudes about authority.

But let’s narrow the question and look at the specific issue of how conservatives and libertarians differ on people’s right to make decisions about their own bodies.

By the way, this is not a discussion of abortion, which involves another person (or fetus, or baby, or clump of cells, or whatever you want to call it). Since there’s no consensus libertarian view on this issue (other than not having it subsidized by the government), I’ll let others fight it out over whether mothers should be able to abort.

Today, I want to look at whether people should be free to control their own bodies in cases when there’s a much more clear-cut case that there is no harm to others.

The obvious example is drug use. Libertarians believe that people should be able to use drugs, even if we happen to think they’re being stupid.

And I can’t help noting that more and more conservatives are realizing that the Drug War does more harm than good.

But let’s use a different example. The Washington Post recently reported that the government of India wants to prevent low-income women from improving their lives.

The issue is whether these women should be able to act as surrogate mothers.

India is one of the top countries in the world for couples searching for surrogacy that can be done far more cheaply than in the United States and elsewhere. It is a booming — and largely unregulated — business in India, with thousands of clinics forming the backbone of an estimated $400 million-a-year industry.

Before I continue, I can’t resist pointing out that – if we use words properly – the industry is regulated. But the regulation is very efficient because it’s the result of private contracts, not government edicts.

That being said, let’s not get distracted. The main issue is whether these voluntary contracts somehow are exploitative.

Critics have long said that fertility clinics and their clients exploit surrogate mothers — often poor and illiterate women from rural areas who are paid little.

But how on earth is this type of arrangement bad for Indian women?!?

A surrogate mother profiled in The Washington Post was paid $8,000: an amount 12 times what she made as a garment worker.

The article doesn’t specify whether the surrogate mother was paid 12 times what she earned in a year, or whether the pay was for the nine-month period of pregnancy.

Regardless, the woman clearly was a big winner.

Yet this practice somehow arouses antagonism among India’s political elite.

India’s Supreme Court recently labeled it “surrogacy tourism” and called for a ban. The government submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court on Wednesday saying that it “does not support commercial surrogacy” and that “no foreigners can avail surrogacy services in India,” although the service would still be available to Indian couples.

I’m not sure why Supreme Court Justices are lobbying for legislation. Maybe India’s system somehow enables that kind of grandstanding.

But it’s not good for poor Indians, or the Indian economy.

More than 6,000 surrogate babies are born in India per year, about half of them to foreign couples, according to one industry estimate. “We are taken aback by the government’s stand against foreign nationals,” said Jagatjeet Singh, a surrogacy consultant in New Delhi. “On one hand, the government is promoting foreign investment and the medical tourism industry. And on the other, they are talking of banning foreign nationals from coming to India for surrogate babies. There are dual standards.”

My guess is that richer people in India (such as members of the political elite) don’t like being reminded that their nation is poor.

They’re probably somewhat chagrined and embarrassed that they live in a country where thousands of women will jump at the chance to rent their wombs to foreigners.

But even if that’s an understandable emotion (I’m a bit ashamed when foreigners ask me about FATCA, for instance), that doesn’t justify laws banning voluntary exchange between consenting adults.

Moreover, renting a womb isn’t like working in a strip club or being a prostitute. As a libertarian, I don’t want to criminalize those professions, which just makes life harder for women in difficult circumstances. But we can all understand why there’s some degree of shame associated with stripping and hooking.

Heck, I can even understand why some folks don’t like voluntary kidney sales. It’s human nature, after all, to prefer a world where nobody is ever tempted to make big decisions for reasons of financial duress.

Earning money by being a surrogate mother, by contrast, seems perfectly benign. Perhaps somewhat akin to guys who make money by going to sperm banks.

P.S. A related issue is “sweatshops,” which some folks want to ban even though that denies poor people an opportunity to climb the economic ladder and improve their lives.

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A couple of days ago, I (sort of) applauded Senator Bernie Sanders. Not for his views, which are based on primitive redistributionism, but because he challenged Republicans to state whether they support capitalism.

And I think it would be very revealing to see which GOPers were willing to openly embrace free markets, hopefully for both moral and economic reasons.

But not let’s look at this issue from another perspective. Why do some folks on the left oppose capitalism?

I suppose there are several answers. Old-fashioned communists and socialists actually thought capitalism was inferior and they wanted the government to directly plan the economy, run the factories, and allocate resources.

Most leftists today admit that central planning doesn’t work and you need a market-based price system, so their arguments against capitalism usually are based on two other factors.

  1. The rich somehow exploit the poor and wind up with too big a slice of the economic pie. The solution is high tax rates and redistribution.
  2. Capitalism is inherently unstable, causing painful recessions. The solution is to have lots of regulations to somehow prevent bad things.

I think both those arguments are misguided since the first is based on the inaccurate presumption that the economy is a fixed pie and the second overlooks the fact that government intervention almost always deserves the blame for downturns and panics.

Today, though, I want to focus on a new argument against capitalism. Some guy named Matt Bruenig recently argued in the Washington Post that capitalism is coercive.

I’m not joking. This wasn’t parody. He really is serious that a system based on voluntary exchange is anti-freedom.

Here are some excerpts from his column.

Capitalism is a coercive economic system that creates persistent patterns of economic deprivation. …it is well established that capitalism is fundamentally built upon threats of force. …When the physical resources necessary for production are privately held in the hands of very few, as in the United States, the majority of the population is forced to submit itself to well-financed employers in order to live.

And how does he propose to deal with the supposedly coercive nature of capitalism?

Simple, the government should give everybody money so they don’t have to work

To secure freedom and prosperity for all, it may ultimately be necessary to supplement the welfare state with a universal basic income — a program that would provide all citizens with a basic level of financial support, regardless of whether they’re employed. …no amount of labor regulation can ever undo the fact that workers are confronted daily with the choice between obeying a supervisor or losing all their income. The only way to break the coercion at the core of the employment relationship is to give people the genuine ability to say no to their employers. And the only way to make that feasible is to guarantee that working-age adults, at least, have some way to support themselves whether they work or not.


I don’t suppose Mr. Bruenig has thought through what happens if too many people decide to stop working so they can live off the “universal basic income.”

Welfare State Wagon CartoonsCall me crazy, but I suspect the number of people riding in the wagon would exponentially expand while an ever-growing share people pulling the wagon would decide to “go Galt.”

Of course, some leftists are smart enough to realize that somebody has to produce before the government can redistribute.

But anybody capable of writing these sentences obviously isn’t moored to reality.

True freedom requires freedom from destitution and freedom from the demands of the employer. Capitalism ensures neither, but a universal basic income, if successful, could provide both.

While he’s at it, why doesn’t he wave his magic wand so every little boy can play major league baseball and every little girl can have a pet unicorn?

I’ve previously expressed skepticism about the notion of a government-guaranteed income. The fact that Mr. Bruenig thinks it’s a good idea is confirmation that this idea should be rejected.

P.S. I have a Moocher Hall of Fame to celebrate disreputable deadbeats and a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame to highlight overpaid and underworked civil servants. Maybe it’s time to have some sort of Hall of Fame for statists who say make really bizarre arguments. Mr. Bruenig could join Mr. Murphy, Ms. vanden Heuvel, and Mr. Yglesias as charter members.

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I’m a huge fan of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

I always share the annual rankings when they’re released and I routinely cite EFW measures when writing about individual countries.

But even a wonky economist like me realizes that there is more to life than economic liberty. So I was very excited to see that Ian Vásquez of the Cato Institute and Tanja Porčnik of the Visio Institute have put together The Human Freedom Index.

Here’s their description of the Index and some of the key findings.

The Human Freedom Index… presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom… The HFI covers 152 countries for 2012, the most recent year for which sufficient data is available. …The United States is ranked in 20th place. Other countries rank as follows: Germany (12), Chile (18), Japan (28), France (33), Singapore (43), South Africa (70), India (75), Brazil (82), Russia (111), China (132), Nigeria (139), Saudi Arabia (141), Venezuela (144), Zimbabwe (149), and Iran (152).

Hong Kong and Switzerland are the top jurisdictions.

Here’s the Freedom Index‘s top 20, including scores on both personal freedom and economic freedom.

The United States barely cracks the top 20. We rank #12 for economic freedom but only #31 for personal freedom.

It’s worth noting that overall freedom is strongly correlated with prosperity.

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher per capita income ($30,006) than those in other quartiles; the per capita income in the least-free quartile is $2,615. The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy. Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard. The findings in the HFI suggest that freedom plays an important role in human well-being

And here are some notes on methodology.

The authors give equal weighting to both personal freedom and economic freedom.

One of the biggest challenges in constructing any index is the organization and weighting of the variables. Our guiding principle is that the structure should be simple and transparent. …The economic freedom index receives half the weight in the overall index, while safety and security and other personal freedoms that make up our personal freedom index receive the remaining weight.

Speaking of which, here are the top-20 nations based on personal freedom. You can also see how they scored for economic freedom and overall freedom.

To be succinct, Northern European nations dominate these rankings, with some Anglosphere jurisdictions also getting good scores.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that nations with economic freedom also tend to have personal freedom, but there are interesting exceptions.

Consider Singapore, with ranks second for economic freedom. That makes the country economically dynamic, but Singapore only ranks #75 for personal freedom.

Another anomaly is Slovenia, which is in the top 20 for personal freedom, but has a dismal ranking of #105 for economic freedom.

By the way, the only two nations in the top 10 for both economic freedom and personal freedom are Switzerland and Finland.

I’ve already explained why Switzerland is one of the world’s best (and most rational) nations. Given Finland’s high ranking, I may have to augment the nice things I write about that country, even though I’m sure it’s too cold for my reptilian temperature preferences.

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If you want to go to a Presbyterian church instead of a Baptist church, should the government be able to interfere with that choice? Even if, for some bizarre reason, 95 percent of the population doesn’t like Presbyterians?

If you want to march up and down the sidewalk in front of City Hall with a sign that says the Mayor is an idiot, should the government be able to throw you in jail? Even if 95 percent of the population somehow has decided the Mayor is a genius?

Most Americans instinctively understand that the answer to all these question is no. Not just no, a big emphatic NO!

That’s because certain rights are guaranteed by our Constitution, regardless of whether an overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens feel otherwise.

And that’s what makes us a republic rather than a democracy.

But the bad news is that many of our rights in the Constitution no longer are protected.

For instance, Article I, Section 8, specifically enumerates (what are supposed to be) the very limited powers of Congress.

Our Founding Fathers thought it was okay for Congress to have the power to create courts, to coin money, to fund an army, and to have the authority to do a few other things.

But here are some things that are not on that list of enumerated powers (and certainly not included in the list of presidential powers either):

And the list could go on for several pages. The point is that the entire modern Washington-based welfare state, with all its redistribution and so-called social insurance, is inconsistent with the limited-government republic created by America’s Founders.

These programs exist today because the Supreme Court put ideology above the Constitution during the New Deal and, at least in the economic sphere, turned the nation from a constitutional republic into a democracy based on unconstrained majoritarianism.

Here’s some of Walter Williams wrote on the topic.

Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government. …James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” …John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” …The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. …the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” …In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. …Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. …ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner?

And click here for a video that explains in greater detail why majoritarianism is a bad idea.

But perhaps these cartoons will make it even easier to understand why 51 percent of the population shouldn’t be allowed to rape and pillage 49 percent of the population.

We’ll start with this depiction of modern elections, which was featured on a friend’s Facebook page.

And here’s one that I’ve shared before.

It highlights the dangers of majoritarianism, particularly if you happen to be a minority.

P.S. George Will has explained that the Supreme Court’s job is to protect Americans from democracy.

P.P.S. Here’s more analysis of the issue from Walter Williams.

P.P.P.S. Some leftists are totally oblivious about America’s system of government.

P.P.P.P.S. Though Republicans also don’t really understand what the Constitution requires.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Looking at the mess in the Middle East, I’ve argued we would be in much better shape if we promoted liberty instead of democracy.

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There’s a “convergence” theory in economics that suggests, over time, that “poor nations should catch up with rich nations.”

But in the real world, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

There’s an interesting and informative article at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank which explores this question. It asks why most low-income and middle-income nations are not “converging” with countries from the developed world.

…only a few countries have been able to catch up with the high per capita income levels of the developed world and stay there. By American living standards (as representative of the developed world), most developing countries since 1960 have remained or been “trapped” at a constant low-income level relative to the U.S. This “low- or middle-income trap” phenomenon raises concern about the validity of the neoclassical growth theory, which predicts global economic convergence. Specifically, the Solow growth model suggests that income levels in poor economies will grow relatively faster than developed nations and eventually converge or catch up to these economies through capital accumulation… But, with just a few exceptions, that is not happening.

Here’s a chart showing examples of nations that are – and aren’t – converging with the United States.

The authors analyze this data.

The figure above shows the rapid and persistent relative income growth (convergence) seen in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Ireland beginning in the late 1960s all through the early 2000s to catch up or converge to the higher level of per capita income in the U.S. …In sharp contrast, per capita income relative to the U.S. remained constant and stagnant at 10 percent to 30 percent of U.S. income in the group of Latin American countries, which remained stuck in the middle-income trap and showed no sign of convergence to higher income levels… The lack of convergence is even more striking among low-income countries. Countries such as Bangladesh, El Salvador, Mozambique and Niger are stuck in a poverty trap, where their relative per capita income is constant and stagnant at or below 5 percent of the U.S. level.

The article concludes by asking why some nations converge and others don’t.

Why do some countries remain stagnant in relative income levels while some others are able to continue growing faster than the frontier nations to achieve convergence? Is it caused by institutions, geographic locations or smart industrial policies?

I’ll offer my answer to this question, though it doesn’t require any special insight.

Simply stated, Solow’s Growth Theory is correct, but needs to be augmented. Yes, nations should converge, but that won’t happen unless they have similar economic policies.

And if relatively poor nations want to converge in the right direction, that means they should liberalize their economies by shrinking government and reducing intervention.

Take a second look at the above chart above and ask whether there’s a commonality for the jurisdictions that are converging with the United States?

Why have Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Ireland converged, while nations such as Mexico and Brazil remained flat?

The obvious answer is that the former group of jurisdictions have pursued, at least to some extent, pro-market policies.

Heck, they all rank among the world’s top-18 nations for economic freedom.

Hong Kong and Singapore have been role models for economic liberty for several decades, so it’s no surprise that their living standards have enjoyed the most impressive increase.

But if you dig into the data, you’ll also see that Taiwan’s jump began when it boosted economic freedom beginning in the late 1970s. And Ireland’s golden years began when it increased economic freedom beginning in the late 1980s.

The moral of the story is – or at least should be – very clear. Free markets and small government are the route to convergence.

Here’s a video tutorial.

And if you want some real-world examples of how nations with good policy “de-converge” from nations with bad policy, here’s a partial list.

* Chile vs. Argentina vs. Venezuela

* Hong Kong vs. Cuba

* North Korea vs. South Korea

* Cuba vs. Chile

* Ukraine vs. Poland

* Hong Kong vs. Argentina

* Singapore vs. Jamaica

* United States vs. Hong Kong and Singapore

* Botswana vs. other African nations

Gee, it’s almost enough to make you think there’s a relationship between good long-run growth and economic freedom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s easy to get discouraged if you believe in small government and individual liberty.

It seems that the burden of the public sector is always expanding and that politicians and bureaucrats are always figuring out new ways to restrict our freedoms.

But let’s not lose hope.

We still have a lot of economic liberty, particularly if you count non-fiscal policy factors.

And we still have the Second Amendment.

Heck, we don’t just have the right to keep and bear arms, we exercise that right in massive numbers.

Take a look at this impressive graphic. We’re #1 in some bad ways, but it seems we’re also #1 in a very good way.

Make sure to share this graphic with your statist friends and colleagues. It’s guaranteed to put them in a glum mood for the rest of the day!

And when you share this with your misguided acquaintances, ask them why guns don’t cause murder in nations such as Switzerland and Finland. Maybe you’ll have a breakthrough and they’ll confess that gun control isn’t the solution.

Incidentally, in addition to having lots of guns in America, we also are quite ready to defy the government if politicians try to take them away.

What’s happening in Connecticut is merely one example of this wonderful form of civil disobedience.

Since we’re on the topic of gun ownership vs. gun control, here’s another image that will cause heartburn for your leftist friends.

Schindler guns

Same theme as the 4th image in this post.

And let’s not forget the best-ever poster on gun control.

Last but not least, here’s a poster sent to me by the PotL.


It’s the same message found at the top of this post and at the bottom of this post.

If you want more info – both serious and humorous – on gun control, click here.

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