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Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

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’m not a big fan of paternalism because of my libertarian belief that people should be free to govern their own lives.

That’s true even if they make choices that I think are foolish.

Needless to say, many politicians don’t share this laissez-faire perspective.

But not all governments are equally intrusive. Epicenter has released a new version of the Nanny State Index, allowing us to see which EU nations have the most onerous rules governing private behavior.

The Index has been charting the slide towards coercive paternalism since 2016 and there is little good news to report this year. Once again, Finland tops the league table but although it maintains a strong lead, other countries are closing the gap. …Whether it is food, drink, vaping or smoking, the lifestyle regulators have the wind in their sails… In general, the story is one of a constantly expanding nanny state raising prices and trampling freedom. The blame lies overwhelmingly with domestic governments, not with the European Union. Although the EU has made the situation worse with its counter-productive policies on tobacco and e-cigarettes, it cannot be held responsible for regressive taxation, draconian smoking bans and excessive regulation of alcohol and food. The gulf between the more liberal countries at the bottom of the Index and the more heavy-handed countries at the top shows how much latitude member states have. Treating your citizens like children is, by and large, a domestic policy choice.

As you can see from this table, Finland is the worst, followed by two of the (otherwise sensible) Baltic nations.

Meanwhile, Germany gets the best score, followed by Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The report’s author, Christopher Snowdon of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, observes that nanny-state policies don’t even achieve their putative goal of longer lifespans.

Insofar as ‘public health’ campaigners acknowledge the damage done by their policies, they argue that it is more than offset by the benefit to health – the ends justify the means. But there is little evidence that countries with more paternalistic policies enjoy greater health or longevity. As Figure 1 shows below, there is no correlation whatsoever between Nanny State Index scores and life expectancy.

Here’s the chart showing the lack of a relationship between paternalism and longevity.

By contrast, there is a correlation between economic prosperity and life expectancy.

…there is a strong, statistically significant relationship between health and wealth. Figure 4 shows the relationship between life expectancy and economic prosperity as measured by per capita GDP. This suggests that pursuing economic growth would bring much greater benefits to health than coercive efforts to control personal behaviour with bans and taxes.

Here’s the chart from the study showing the relationship between the two variables.

The obvious takeaway is that European governments should focus on policies that expand economic liberty if they truly care about the well-being of their citizens.

P.S. What about the United States? I’m not sure where we would rank in the Nanny State Index. Though we do have some indication of which states have a more laissez-faire attitude. When I wrote about Freedom in the 50 States back in 2013, I noted that Massachusetts ranked #1 in the “bachelor party” category (based on issues such as booze, hookers, fireworks, and drugs). That category doesn’t exist int he most-recent edition, but Nebraska ranks #1 in the “victimless crimes” category.

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I’ve previously argued that “freedom of association” is the best way of dealing with thorny social issues such as baking cakes for gay weddings and transgender bathroom usage.

Simply stated, people should have the freedom to do business with each other – or not do business with each other – based on their personal preferences.

I may disapprove of how various people exercise those preferences, but I wouldn’t ask a politician or bureaucrat to intervene.

Which brings us to today’s topic. Here are some excerpts from a New York Post story about a not-quite-women-only business.

The Wing was supposed to be the ultimate sanctuary for women: decidedly feminine in design, with walls and furniture in shades of millennial pink and a thermometer set at a women’s-clothing-friendly 72 degrees. …It offers perks that other co-working spaces can’t match — showers stocked with high-end beauty products…the company’s expansion and popularity has brought up a completely different issue…men wanting to come in and hang out. …it’s not against the rules for men to be at the lady lair, which costs anywhere from $185 to $250 a month in the US to join. But that’s only because legally the company can’t ban men. …The problem, multiple members have told The Post, is that the men physically take up too much space with their bigger bodies… While they aren’t using the members-only changing rooms and showers (yet), they are in the guest bathrooms. …The Wing…never had a membership policy, because, reps say, they didn’t think they’d need one. Instead, they simply billed themselves as a women’s co-working space and social club. …the New York City Commission on Human Rights…in 2018 opened an investigation into the company. The Wing’s large membership — more than 11,000 worldwide, according to reps — meant it couldn’t pass as a “social club,” and therefore can’t discriminate based on gender.

My reaction is that the New York City Commission on Human Rights should mind its own business.

If women want a female-only place to interact and do business, it’s not the job of government to interfere.

Yes, that means discrimination against men. Maybe that’s wrong, at least on some level, but not everything that’s wrong should be illegal.

Here’s another example, though the discrimination is based on politics rather than gender. As reported by the Hill, a California restaurant wants freedom not to associate with overt Trump supporters.

A restaurant owner and award-winning author in California tweeted that he will no longer serve customers who wear “Make America Great Again” hats at his eatery. “It hasn’t happened yet, but if you come to my restaurant wearing a MAGA cap, you aren’t getting served…”Some diners told The Associated Press on Thursday that they understand the restaurant owner’s position but added that they have mixed feelings about the ban. …“I see where he’s coming from, but I don’t think you should just keep people out because of a hat,” Jamie Hwang, a San Mateo resident, told the news agency. Another diner, Esther Shek, told the publication that she believes the hats have “come to represent racism, intolerance, exclusivity” but also added that López-Alt’s choice to refuse supporters of the president might spell trouble later.

In this case, I definitely think the restaurant owner is being petty. But I also recognize that it’s his restaurant. It’s his money and it’s his property.

By the way, it’s worth noting that freedom of association is a two-way street.

It means private businesses can refuse customers, but it also means customers can reject businesses.

A black couple in Georgia turned away a white repairman who showed up to their house while flying a large Confederate flag, leaving the couple in utter “disbelief” before saying he wasn’t welcome. …After a polite conversation with the contractor, Brown said, he was in “disbelief” that the man he hired from Facebook’s local marketplace would think the flag was acceptable to fly during house calls. Brown’s wife then came outside and bluntly turned the man away, video shows. …The repairman offered to remove the flag, but the damage was already done. He later reached out to the couple on Facebook to say he didn’t mean to offend them, Zeke Brown told ABC News. Brown replied to the contractor, explaining that the flag is “extremely offensive” to people of color while urging him to do some research.

Incidentally, I may be a bit of a Pollyanna on these issues, but I’m glad that the contractor reached out to the couple with an apology.

Having spent many years in Georgia and having interacted occasionally with people who displayed confederate flags, I concluded that very few of them were motivated by racial animus. It was more a form of social signalling about being rural, or being a hell raiser (a la Dukes of Hazard).

That being said, they obviously were not sensitive to the fact that blacks had a much more jaundiced view of what the flag represents.

Which is why I hope many of them eventually had the kind of epiphany that led a Texas man to get rid of his rebel flag tattoo. Simply stated, we should care about the feelings of others.

But I’m digressing.

Let’s conclude by addressing the negative aspect of freedom of association, which is that some bad people will discriminate for odious reasons.

The stereotypical example is a business in Alabama in 1958 that refused to serve black customers. This is partly inaccurate because much of the discrimination during that era was the result of government policies that mandated segregation (a.k.a., the Jim Crow laws).

But I’m sure there was also plenty of genuinely private discrimination.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that such discrimination generally is punished by market forces.

And the best news is that our society is now increasingly vigilant against bias.

For instance, the Washington Post reported about a bakery that gained customers for being welcoming to everyone.

Nino Barbalace…opened a bakery and cafe in Dorchester, Mass. …He affixed a tiny pride flag to his restaurant’s window for the pride parade in June, and it has remained there since. Then came the Yelp review.“Well, that flag says all when you delve deeper and see the real customer base here, it’s clearly geared and catered ONLY to those who rally behind the rainbow flag.” That alarmed Barbalace, who posted an image of the one-star review on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “All are welcome at Zia Gianna, even this gentleman. We’d love to show him some kindness…” Barbalace wrote in his post on Aug. 13. …Customers rallied in response. Tiffany Andrade told Fox 25 that she dropped by the cafe on Friday to offer support. …“We love your place, and love your love for everyone no matter what,” one customer said. Another said: “Haven’t been in to your restaurant before, but now I’m putting it on my must-visit list. Love is love is love. Keep flying that flag!”

Kudos to Mr. Barbalace, by the way, for reaching out to the unfriendly reviewer.

The United States has made great progress and is one of the most tolerant places in the world.

But there’s always room for more progress and you’re far more likely to change hearts and minds with outreach – Daryl Davis and Matthew Stevenson are role models – rather than demonization.

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What’s the world’s freest nation?

I’ve suggested that Australia as an option if the United States ever suffers a Greek-style collapse, but my answer wasn’t based solely on that country’s level of freedom.

Another option is to look at Economic Freedom of the World, which is an excellent resource, but it only measures the degree to which a nation allows free markets.

If you want to know the world’s freest nation, the best option is to peruse the Human Freedom IndexFirst released in 2013, it combines economic freedom and personal freedom.

The 2018 version has just been published, and, as you can see, New Zealand is the world’s most-libertarian nation, followed by Switzerland and Hong Kong. The United States is tied with Sweden for #17.

If you scan the top-20 list, you’ll notice that North America, Western Europe, and the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand) dominate.

And that also is apparent on this map (darker is better). So maybe “western civilization” isn’t so bad after all.

Here is an explanation of the report’s guiding methodology. Simply stated, it’s a ranking of “negative liberty,” which is basically freedom from government coercion.

The Human Freedom Index casts a wide net in an attempt to capture as broad a set of freedoms as could be clearly identified and measured. …Freedom in our usage is a social concept that recognizes the dignity of individuals and is defined by the absence of coercive constraint. …Freedom thus implies that individuals have the right to lead their lives as they wish as long as they respect the equal rights of others. Isaiah Berlin best elucidated this notion of freedom, commonly known as negative liberty. In the simplest terms, negative liberty means noninterference by others. …This index is thus an attempt to measure the extent to which the negative rights of individuals are respected in the countries observed. By negative rights, we mean freedom from interference—predominantly by government—in people’s right to choose to do, say, or think anything they want, provided that it does not infringe on the rights of others to do likewise.

Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between personal freedom and economic freedom.

Though it’s not a perfect correlation. The Index highlights some of the exceptions.

Some countries ranked consistently high in the human freedom subindexes, including Switzerland and New Zealand, which ranked in the top 10 in both personal and economic freedom. By contrast, some countries that ranked high on personal freedom rank significantly lower in economic freedom. For example, Sweden ranked 3rd in personal freedom but 43rd in economic freedom; Slovenia ranked 23rd in personal freedom but 71st in economic freedom; and Argentina ranked in 42nd place in personal freedom but 160th in economic freedom. Similarly, some countries that ranked high on economic freedom found themselves significantly lower in personal freedom. For example, Singapore ranked in 2nd place in economic freedom while ranking 62nd in personal freedom; the United Arab Emirates ranked 37th in economic freedom but 149th in personal freedom; and Qatar ranked 38th in economic freedom but 134th in personal freedom.

This raises an interesting question. If you had to move, and assuming you couldn’t move to a nation that offered both types of freedom, would you prefer a place like Sweden or a place like Singapore?

As an economist, my bias would be to choose Singapore.

But if you look at the nations in the top-10 for personal freedom, they’re all great place to live (and they tend to be very market-oriented other than their big welfare states). So I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for instead choosing Sweden.

P.S. There are some very attractive micro-states that were not including in the Human Freedom Index, presumably because of inadequate data. I suspect places such as Bermuda, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and the Cayman Islands would all get very high scores if they were included.

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Why are there so few liberty-oriented societies compared to the number of places with statist governments?

And why does it seem like the size and scope of government keeps expanding around the world?

If I’m feeling optimistic, I’ll disagree with the tone of those questions. There are reasons to be cheerful, after all. the Soviet Empire collapsed and there’s solid data that global economic liberty has increased over the past few decades. And for those who care about evidence, there’s a slam-dunk argument that smaller government means more prosperity.

But if I’m feeling pessimistic, I’ll look at grim numbers suggesting that the burden of government automatically will expand because of demographic change. And I also worry about eroding societal capital, with more and more people thinking it’s okay to live off the government. And let’s not forget “public choice,” the theory that explains why politicians have an incentive to make government bigger.

I go back and forth on whether the glass is half full or half empty, and I’m not sure which side is winning. All I can say for sure is that Americans are getting increasingly polarized as we have big fights about the proper role of government.

Which is why I’ve always thought decentralization would be a good idea. No just for policy reasons, but also for domestic tranquility. All the leftists could move to places such as California, Illinois, and New Jersey and vote themselves Greek-style government. And all the advocates of limited government could move to more laissez-faire states such as New Hampshire, Texas, and South Dakota.

We don’t need a national divorce, not even the humorous version. We just need Swiss-style federalism.

But statists will never agree to that approach. And these two sentences from Reddit‘s Libertarian page succinctly explain the left’s opposition.

This guy nails it.

Libertarians have no objection to a bunch of statists creating some sort of socialist or communist mini-society, so long as it’s voluntary. Indeed, we’ve periodically had experimental societies in America based on Marxist principles. Starting with the Pilgrims (who learned from their mistake). And I still laugh every time I think about Bernie Sanders getting ejected from a hippie commune because he was too lazy to do his share of the common work.

But this tolerance isn’t a two-way street. Libertarians will let socialists create statist systems inside a free society, but the left won’t allow libertarian outposts in statist societies.

Heck, our statist friends don’t even like it when other nations have pro-market policy. That’s one of the reasons international bureaucracies always persecute so-called tax havens. Folks on the left may be misguided, but they’re usually not stupid. They know that statist systems will quickly fail if productive people have the ability to move themselves (or at least their money) across national borders.

The bottom line is that federalism is good because it means people can easily move when a government imposes bad policy. This is also a recipe for tolerance and tranquility, though only one side sees it that way.

P.S. The left is so hostile to tax havens that a bureaucrat from the U.S. Treasury accused me of “being disloyal” to America. A former Senator said my actions to defend low-tax jurisdictions were akin to “trading with the enemy.” And the bureaucrats at the OECD actually threatened to throw me in a Mexican jail for defending tax competition.

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I’ve shared a number of online tests that allow users to see where they fit on the political spectrum.

But if you don’t like taking quizzes, you can simply scan this list of issues and see where libertarians fit between conservatives and liberals.

Heck, even Playboy has something similar that allows readers (as opposed to lookers, if you know what I mean) to see where they belong.

But the quickest test is from the Advocates of Self Government. It involves 10 very simple questions and it can be finished in one minute.

And it turns out that I’m a libertarian (gee, what a surprise).

If you take this quiz and you’re also a libertarian, congratulations.

That means you’re a decent person.

It also makes your life very simple. Here’s a list that shows why it’s so easy to be a libertarian. You basically decide that you’re not going to tell other people what sort of decisions they’re allowed to make. I guess you could call it a “mind your own business” or a “live and let live” approach to life. I call it basic politeness.

By the way, none of this implies you have to like the decisions of other people. Libertarianism is about tolerance, not approval.

I’ve already admitted, for instance, that I don’t like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. But that doesn’t mean that I want to use government coercion to stop other people from those activities.

The bottom line is that libertarians want people to be free to make their own choices so long as they’re not infringing on the rights of others (which is why “Don’t like murder? Don’t commit one” doesn’t belong on the above list).

Now that I’ve explained why it’s easy to be libertarian, now let’s look at why it can make your life difficult.

Simply stated, if you value individual liberty, you can drive yourself crazy thinking about all the foolish and counterproductive policies imposed by governments.

To make matters worse, it’s very difficult to ignore the bad policies of government. It’s not like you can simply choose not to pay tax.

So until Liberland gets going and we have an option of a free society, this image is a good summary of why it’s difficult to be a libertarian.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hardcore anarcho-capitalist, classical liberal, small-government conservative, or run-of-the-mill libertarian, you’ll be coerced into something you don’t like thanks to big government.

P.S. I found both these images on Reddit‘s Libertarian page. Always a fun place to visit.

P.P.S. While we’re waiting for Liberland, the three best options for libertarians are Hong Kong, Switzerland, and New Zealand.

P.P.P.S. Though I must warn you that there are risks if you publicly identify as libertarian. You may get stereotyped. Or you may even be subjected to vicious notes on your windshield.

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I wrote a couple of days ago about a global ranking showing which nations enjoy the most personal and economic freedom.

Surprisingly, European nations dominated the top 20, which suggests (given the depressing amount of statism in Europe) that libertarians have a lot of work to do if we want good liberty-oriented role models for the world.

Heck, even the top three jurisdictions (Hong Kong, Switzerland, and New Zealand), while very admirable compared to most other nations, still have too much government.

In the fight for libertarian policy, we face several obstacles, including the “public choice” pressure for ever-growing government, as well as the fact that we simply need to learn how to be more persuasive.

And if we want to be more persuasive, we need to somehow convince people to apply sensible principles in a consistent manner. And this is why this Venn Diagram from Mark Perry’s collection is so valuable. It’s addressed to leftists and it challenges them to consistently apply their beliefs about the liberty of consenting adults.

Mark obviously hopes that the people who think there should be freedom for personal relationships will realize that it is inconsistent to simultaneously want to restrict freedom in economic relationships (in this case, the freedom to accept a job that doesn’t pay as much as some politicians would prefer).

But the Venn Diagram also could apply to conservatives by changing a few words. Folks on the right generally understand that consenting adults should be free to engage in voluntary economic exchange, but they sometimes want to limit consenting adults in the personal sphere.

By the way, a belief in freedom doesn’t imply that people have to be happy about the choices others make. You can think that it’s wrong and sad and unfortunate that some people have very limited skills and are able to earn only $5 per hour in the marketplace. And you can you personally disapprove of certain relationships between consenting adults.

Libertarianism is simply the principle and theory that you don’t support government coercion to prevent other adults from engaging in behaviors that you don’t like. Assuming, of course, that other people’s actions don’t conflict with your rights to life, liberty, and property.

P.S. You can enjoy other Mark Perry Venn Diagrams here, here, here, and here (newly added).

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Libertarians are sometimes described as people who don’t want the government to interfere in either the bedroom or boardroom, which is a shorthand way of saying that there should be both personal freedom and economic freedom.

Based on this preference for liberty and a desire to avoid government coercion, what’s the most libertarian nation in the world? Is it Australia, which I recommended as the best option for escaping Americans if the U.S. becomes a failed welfare state?

Not quite. According to the new Human Freedom Index, Australia gets a very good score, but the most libertarian-oriented place in the world isn’t even a country. It’s Hong Kong, a “special administrative region” of China.

Hong Kong earns its high score thank to it’s number-one status for economic freedom, combined with a top-20 score for personal freedom.

For what it’s worth, European nations dominate the rankings. Other than top-rated Hong Kong, New Zealand (#3), Canada (tied for #6), and Australia (tied for #6), every single nation in the top 20 is from the other side of the Atlantic.

So kudos to our friends from across the ocean. Most of them have big welfare states, but at least they compensate with free market policy in other areas, along with lots of personal freedom.

And what about the United States? We’re ranked #23, which certainly is decent considering that there are 159 countries that are scored, but obviously not worthy of superlatives.

The infographic below contains the specific scores for the United States. As you can see, our economic freedom score (7.75 out of 10) is worse – in absolute terms – than our personal freedom score (8.79 out of 10). But since more nations (especially in Europe) get high scores for personal freedom, our relative ranking for economic freedom (16 our of 159) is better than our relative ranking for personal freedom (28 our of 159).

And if we look at the sub-categories for personal freedom on the left side, you’ll notice that America’s main problem is a very mediocre score for rule of law. Thanks, Obama!

Let’s now look at the nations that have the most personal freedom.

I already mentioned that the United States is in 28th place, so we obviously don’t show up on this top-20 list. But you will find 17 European nations, along with Australia (tied for #12), Canada (#15), and Hong Kong (tied for #19).

By the way, Switzerland is the only nation to be in the top 10 for both personal and economic freedom. So maybe that country’s improbable success isn’t so improbable after all. You do the right thing and you get good results.

And honorable mention to Ireland, Australia, and the United Kingdom for just missing being in the top 10 in both categories.

In case you’re wondering why Hong Kong had the highest overall score even though it was “only” #19 for personal freedom, the answer is that the jurisdiction scores so much higher for economic liberty than the European nations.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I find it surprising that China, which ranks rather low for overall freedom (141 out of 159), is so tolerant of widespread freedom in Hong Kong. I assume (hope?) this is a positive sign that China will evolve in a positive direction.

P.P.S. The very last country on the list is Libya, so perhaps we can conclude that the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama intervention has not produced good results. Meanwhile, I’m guessing that the thugs in Caracas (154 out of 159) are happy that Venezuela isn’t in last place.

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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.

Wow.

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.

photo1

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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In the pre-World War I era, the fiscal burden of government was very modest in North America and Western Europe.

Total government spending consumed only about 10 percent of economic output, historical-size-of-govtmost nations were free from the plague of the income tax, and the value-added tax hadn’t even been invented.

Today, by contrast, every major nation has an onerous income tax and the VAT is ubiquitous. These punitive tax systems exist largely because – on average –  the burden of government spending now consumes more than 40 percent of GDP.

To be blunt, fiscal policy has moved dramatically in the wrong direction over the past 100-plus years. And thanks to demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs, things are going to get much worse according to BIS, OECD, and IMF projections.

Long-Run GDPWhile these numbers, both past and future, are a bit depressing, they also present a challenge to advocates of small government. If taxes and spending are bad for growth, why did the United States (and other nations in the Western world) enjoy considerable prosperity all through the 20th Century?

I sometimes get asked this question after speeches or panel discussions on fiscal policy. In some cases, the person making the inquiry is genuinely curious. In other cases, it’s a leftist asking a “gotcha” question.

I’ve generally had two responses.

1. The European fiscal crisis shows that the chickens have finally come home to roost. More specifically, the private economy can withstand a lot of bad policy, but there is a tipping point at which big government leads to massive societal damage.

2. Bad fiscal policy has been offset by good reforms in other areas. More specifically, I explain that there are five major policy factors that determine economic performance and I assert that bad developments in fiscal policy have been offset by improvements in trade policy, regulatory policy, monetary policy, and rule of law/property rights.

I think the first response is reasonably effective. It’s hard for statists to deny that big government has created a fiscal and economic nightmare in many European nations.

But I’ve never been satisfied with the second response because I haven’t had the necessary data to prove my assertion.

However, thanks to Professor Leandro Prados de la Escosura in Madrid, that’s no longer the case. He’s put together some fascinating data measuring economic freedom in North America and Western Europe from 1850-present. And since he doesn’t include fiscal policy, we can see the degree to which there have been improvements in other areas that might offset the rising burden of taxes and spending.

Here’s one of his charts, which shows the growth of economic freedom over time. For obvious reasons, he doesn’t include the periods surrounding World War I and World War II, but those gaps don’t make much of a difference. You can clearly see that non-fiscal economic freedom has improved significantly over the past 150-plus years.

Economic Freedom 1850-2007

Most of the improvement took place in two stages, before 1910 and after 1980.

It’s also worth noting that things got much worse during the 1930s, so it appears the developed world suffered from the same bad policies that Hoover and FDR were imposing in the United States.

Indeed, here’s another chart, which highlights various periods and shows which policies were moving in the right direction or wrong direction.

Economic Freedom Changes 1850-2007

As you can see, the West enjoyed the biggest improvements between 1850-1880 and after 1980 (let’s give thanks to Reagan and Thatcher).

There also were modest improvements in 1880-1910 and 1950-1960. But there was a big drop in freedom between the World War I and World War II, and you can also see policy stagnation in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the way, I wonder what we would see if we had data from 2007-2014. Based on the statist policies of Bush and Obama, as well as bad policy in other major nations such as France and Japan, it’s quite likely that the line would be heading in the wrong direction.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the main topic.

The moral of the story is that we’ve been lucky. Bad fiscal policy has been offset by better policy in other areas. We’re suffering from bigger government, but at least we’ve moved in the direction of free markets.

That being said, we may now be in an era when bad fiscal policy augments bad policy in other areas.

For further information, this video explains the components of economic success.

P.S. I’ve written before that government bureaucrats don’t work as hard as folks employed in the economy’s productive sector.

Well, that’s becoming official policy in some parts of Sweden.

A section of employees of the municipality of Gothenburg will now work an hour less a day… The measure is being self-consciously conceived of as an experiment, with a group of municipal employees working fewer hours and a control group working regular hours – all on the same pay. …Mats Pilhem, the city’s Left-wing deputy mayor, told The Local Sweden that he hoped “staff members would take fewer sick days and feel better mentally and physically after working shorter days”.

Heck, if you want fewer sick days, just tell them they never have to show up for work. And I’m sure they’ll “feel better mentally and physically” with that schedule.

I’m also amused by this passage from the article.

Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, a UK-based think tank, welcomed the proposals. “Shorter working hours create a more committed and stable workforce,” Ms Coote told The Telegraph.

Gee, what a surprise. If you overpay a group of people and tell them they can spend more time at home, they’ll be very anxious to keep those jobs.

Sounds like a great deal…unless you’re a taxpayer.

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I have some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that politicians have come up with another proposal for an additional tax.

Some people like prohibition

Some people like prohibition

The good news is that they can only impose this new tax if they ease up on the silly Drug War.

That creates a bit of a quandary if you believe in freedom and small government.

But, on net, it’s a move in the right direction.

We have two examples to share. The first is from South America, where the government of Uruguay seems poised to legalize marijuana. Here are some blurbs from an AP report.

Uruguay is pushing ahead to create a legal marijuana market… The Senate planned to debate the pot plan Tuesday, with approval by the ruling coalition widely expected before the night is over. Because senators turned away all requests for amendments after it passed the lower chamber, their vote will be final.

One reason for this proposed reform is to fight organized crime.

President Jose Mujica says the point is not to promote marijuana use, but to push out organized crime. The government hopes that when licensed growers, providers and users can openly trade in the drug, illegal traffickers will be denied their profits and go away.

Let’s give President Mujica an A+ for economics. He recognizes that criminalization creates a black market.

But Uruguay politicians are not exactly dreamy-headed libertarians. Big government would be involved.

Socialist Deputy Julio Bango, who co-authored the proposal, told The Associated Press that “this is not a law to liberalize marijuana consumption, but rather to regulate it. Today there is a market dominated by drug traffickers. We want the state to dominate it.”

And the article also mentions that legalization would be accompanied by heavy taxes. I don’t like that part, but there’s no question this would be a net plus for liberty and crime reduction.

Some lawmakers in New York also seem to understand that prohibition is illogical. Here are some excerpts from a local news report.

State Sen. Liz Krueger’s measure — the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act — would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana under state law. “It will take the market in marijuana away from the criminal enterprises, just as happened when alcohol prohibition was ended,” she said at a City Hall press conference.

Kudos to Krueger for her grasp of incentives. The Drug War is just as foolish – and just as good for criminals – as prohibition.

Though I wonder whether Sen. Krueger is being too greedy.

“It would establish an excise tax of $50 an ounce of marijuana and authorize localities to charge a sales tax on retail sales if they wish to,” Krueger said. …Liu estimates that a pot tax would generate $431 million in New York City alone.

I’ve never done drugs, so I’m not familiar with the market, but I do know that if the tax is too high on a legal product, you create a black market.

That happens with cigarettes, for instance, and we examples of excessive taxation causing less revenue from Bulgaria, Romania, and Ireland. And we’ve even seen this Laffer Curve effect in Washington, DC.

Last but not least, we should never forget that the Drug War is a horrifying example of Mitchell’s Law, with one bad policy leading to another bad policy.

The War on Drugs, for example, is the reason why politicians imposed costly and ineffective anti-money laundering laws. As well as disgusting and reprehensible asset forfeiture laws.

P.S. Libertarians are not the only ones to think the drug war is foolish. Yes, you find libertarians such as John Stossel and Gary Johnson on the list of those who want to end prohibition. But you also find John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

P.P.S. This is not an issue of whether you approve of pot use. You can be strongly against drugs, like me, but also realize that it makes no sense for government to get involved. Particularly since criminals are the ones who benefit.

P.P.P.S. The Drug War gives the government immense powers to engage in bad policy.

Or sometimes the Drug War merely exposes government stupidity.

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I’m a very straight-laced guy. Some would even say boring. I’ve never done drugs, for instance.

But not because they’re illegal. I’ve never done drugs for the reason that I’ve never smoked cigarettes. Just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. And I encourage friends and family to have the same approach.

That being said, I’ve never thought we should criminalize things simply because I don’t like them.

Particularly when it would make a lot more sense to focus law enforcement resources on stopping crimes against people and property. This new video from Learn Liberty explains further.

But this isn’t about cost-benefit analysis. Watch this powerful video from Reason TV about how one family has been victimized by drug prohibition.

Now ask yourself what purpose it served to have local cops basically entrap that unfortunate kid? If you come up with an answer, you have a very creative imagination.

Also keep in mind that the War on Drugs is the reason why politicians imposed costly and ineffective anti-money laundering laws. As well as disgusting and reprehensible asset forfeiture laws.

One misguided government policy leading to two other bad policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

P.S. Drugs do impose costs, but they’re mostly incurred by moronic users. Though there sometimes are collateral victims, such as kids whose parents allow their lives to get messed up. That’s why it would be nice if drugs somehow didn’t exist. Heck, the same things could be said about booze. Or tobacco. But they do exist. The libertarian position isn’t that these things are good. Instead, our position is that prohibition does more harm than good.

P.P.S. Just in case you think I’m an outlier, I invite you to read the thoughts of John McCain, John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

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What do John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson all have in common?

And let’s add voters from the states of Colorado and Washington to this list. So what unites this unusual collection of people?

They’ve all expressed doubts about the War on Drugs. And that’s a good thing.

As explained in this video, the Drug War has been a very costly failure. Indeed, it’s been such a boondoggle that we can now add John McCain to the list of those who think maybe it’s time to consider decriminalization.

McCain Drug WarSen. John McCain (R-AZ) signaled Thursday that he’s receptive to legalizing pot. Tim Steller, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star, reported over Twitter from a town hall in Tucson, Ariz. that McCain cited the “will of the people” in expressing an openness to legalization.

I’m glad Senator McCain is moving in the right direction, though I’m not sure I like his reasoning. The “will of the people” sometimes means two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

I much prefer the logical arguments of my Cato colleague Jeffrey Miron, who is a Senior Lecturer in economics at Harvard. Here’s some of what he recently wrote for the Huffington Post.

I have come to regard legalization as a policy no-brainer. Virtually all the effects would be positive, with minimal risks of significant negatives. An important piece of that research has been examination of drug policy in the Netherlands, where marijuana is virtually, although not quite technically, legal.

Jeff just visited Amsterdam and here’s what he found in that supposed den of iniquity.

Legalization advocates point to Amsterdam as evidence that legalization works, at least for marijuana. Legalization critics, such as former White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, believe instead that Dutch policy is flawed, generating crime and nuisance effects. Only first-hand observation could give me a clear view of which description is more accurate. …the Red Light District could not have felt safer or more normal. Yes, marijuana was widely available. …But nothing about the District felt unsafe, or suggested elevated crime or violence; I have felt less safe in many American and European cities. …The absence of violence is not surprising. Prohibition, not drug use, is the main reason for the association between violence and drugs, prostitution, gambling, or any banned good. In a legal market, participants resolve disputes with lawyers, courts, and arbitration. In an illegal market, they cannot use these methods and resort to violence instead. Thus the critical determinant of violence is whether an industry is legal, as the history of alcohol prohibition illustrates. That industry was violent during the 1920-1933 period, when the federal and many state governments banned alcohol, but not before or after. And if the government banned tobacco, or coffee, or ice cream, or any good with substantial demand and imperfect substitutes, a violent black market would arise.

There’s no evidence, by the way, that legalization means more drug use.

In 2009, the past year marijuana use rate was 11.3 percent in the United States but only 7.0 percent in the Netherlands. This does not prove that legalization lowers drug use; many other factors are at play. But these data hardly support the claim that prohibition has a material impact in reducing use. When we were toured Amsterdam on a canal barge, the guide commented that, “Despite legal drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam is a safe city.” My son, who has heard me rant about prohibition for years, looked up and quipped, “He should have said “Because drugs and prostitution are legal, right?” Exactly.

Sounds like Jeff’s done a good job as a father (and if I’m allowed to brag, I haven’t done a bad job either).

In closing, let me emphasize that libertarian does not mean libertine. My Republican friends are wrong when they think libertarians are like the guy in the upper left of this poster.

You can support legalization without being a drug user or without thinking that it’s a good idea for other people to smoke pot. Heck, I’m probably one of a small minority of people in my generation to never try any drug.

But that doesn’t mean I want to squander lots of tax money and reduce human freedom to persecute others who are engaged in victimless activities. Especially when it means a massive increase in the power of government!

Let’s not forget, after all, that politicians used the Drug War as an excuse to enact reprehensible and costly laws on asset forfeiture and money laundering. One foolish policy leads to a couple of other misguided policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

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Whether they’re banning bake sales, federalizing school lunch menus, or criminalizing Big Gulps, the nanny-staters feel they have some special wisdom that gives them the right to tell other people how to live their lives.

This irks libertarians since we value human liberty, even if it means people sometimes make foolish choices. But so long as you’re not interfering with someone else’s rights, we don’t think government should dictate your private behavior.

Parternalists obviously disagree. For a very reasonable explanation of this mindset, here’s some of Cass Sunstein’s work, as excerpted by The New Republic.

What seems to unify paternalistic approaches, however diverse, is that government does not believe that people’s choices will promote their welfare, and it is taking steps to influence or alter people’s choices for their own good.

In other words, people are sometimes dumb and the government at the very least needs to nudge them in the right direction.

Sunstein outlines the objections to this approach, largely focusing on the fact that the market process will discourage bad behaviors.

To the committed antipaternalist, government should not short-circuit the valuable process of learning by doing. If people make mistakes about diets, drinks, love, or investments, they can obtain valuable lessons, and those lessons can make their lives a lot better. …In a market economy, companies compete with one another, and people are free to choose among a wide range of options. If a car has terrible fuel economy, and if it costs a lot of money to operate, fewer people will buy it. As a result, companies will produce more fuel-efficient cars. Some consumers may be fooled or tricked, but in the long run, free competition and open markets will help. On this view, paternalism presents a major risk, because it may freeze the process of competition.

Not surprisingly, Sunstein argues that the market process is sometimes inadequate.

…even if we are inclined to think that individuals are generally the best judges of how to make their own lives go well, the word generally is important. With that qualification, we can see that the objections to paternalism depend on some empirical judgments. …The relationship between freedom of choice and welfare is being tested, with complex results. Sometimes people’s means do not promote their own ends. Behavioral economists have identified a number of reasons that people’s choices do not always promote their welfare. …sometimes we fail to take steps that really are in our interest. Human beings often procrastinate, and the long-term may not be so salient to us. We can be tempted by emotional appeals. Sometimes we do not take steps that would make our lives go a lot better. If welfare is our guide, means paternalism might be required, not forbidden.

To be fair, Sunstein recognizes that many antipaternalists are motivated by freedom, not some abstract measure of human welfare.

Suppose that we are not so focused on welfare and that we believe that freedom of choice has a special and independent status. We might think that people have a right to choose, even if their choices cause harm, and that government cannot legitimately intrude on that right, even if it does in fact know best. …Many of the most deeply felt objections to paternalism are based on an intuition or judgment of this kind. They often take the form of a question: By what right can government legitimately interfere with the choices of free adults?

This passage captures my view.

I actually agree with paternalists in that there are lots of people who make bad choices. I think a major problem is that these people over-value the positive feelings they get from “bad” behaviors today and under-value the harm  that those behaviors will cause in the future.

At the risk of making a sweeping judgement, I even think the biggest barrier to upward mobility is that some people don’t have a properly developed sense of deferred gratification.

So I think paternalists often are right, but I disagree with the notion that government should coerce people and impose “good” choices. Simply stated, freedom and liberty matter to me.

To butcher a very important quote, “I may disagree with your decision to smoke cigarettes and guzzle 32 oz. sodas, but I will defend to the death your right to do so.”

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I won’t defend to the death your right to be foolish. But I’ll surely write a snarky blog post.

Let’s close by acknowledging there are some gray areas. What about the idea that government can “nudge” us to make better choices? A classic example is a government rule to automatically sign new workers up for things such as 401(k) plans, but then give them the ability to opt out.

I don’t want government to interfere with private employment contracts, but that type of policy is obviously not nearly as objectionable as banning Big Gulps.

And you can come up with other proposals that might even pass muster with rabid libertarians. If a high school has a consumer finance class that teaches people about compounding and present value, that presumably will nudge them to be more pro-saving.

Is there anything wrong with that? Probably not, though we hard-core libertarians would argue that such lessons presumably would be part of the market-based education system.

In other words, there’s a reason why our answer to just about every question is “less government.” Not only is that a good philosophy, it’s also the way of getting the best results.

P.S. If Sunstein’s name sounds familiar, it may be because I have criticized him for endorsing more redistribution based on FDR’s awful Economic Bill of Rights.

On the other hand, I have favorably cited his research to show that too much regulation can cause needless deaths.

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The woman who saved the United Kingdom has died.

A Great Woman

I got to meet Margaret Thatcher a couple of times and felt lucky each time that I was in the presence of someone who put her nation’s interests first and was not guided by political expediency.

Such a rare trait for someone in public life.

The best tribute I can offer is to share some of her remarks that capture both her strong principles and her effective communication skills.

Here’s a clip from her famous speech stating that there’s “no such thing as public money.”

Can you imagine today’s spineless Tory politicians making such statements. Hardly, they’re too busy criticizing taxpayers for not voluntarily paying extra tax!

And here’s her powerful performance in the House of Commons exposing the left for being willing to impoverish the poor if it meant those with higher incomes suffered even more.

I’ve said the same thing in some of my interviews, but she obviously said it much more effectively.

P.S. If you weren’t sufficiently inspired by Thatcher’s words, here’s Reagan’s tribute to Coolidge and also a memorable passage from his inaugural address.

P.P.S. Let’s not forget that Thatcher was an indispensable ally with Reagan in the fight against the barbarity of communism.

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Sometimes I myopically focus on fiscal policy, implying that the key to prosperity is small government.

But I’ll freely admit that growth is maximized when you have small government AND free markets.

That being said, our goal should be to expand freedom, not merely to have the largest possible GDP.

Which is why the Freedom Index is a good complement to Economic Freedom of the World.

It shows, for instance, that Singapore may be ranked #2 for economic freedom, but it is only #39 when you look at all freedoms.

We also have a comprehensive ranking of economic and personal freedom for the 50 states.

Here are the full rankings from the newly released Freedom in the 50 States from the Mercatus Center, showing North Dakota as the state with the most freedom, with South Dakota (#2), Tennessee (#3), New Hampshire (#4), and Oklahoma (#5) also deserving praise for high scores.

Mercatus State Freedom Ranking

What makes Freedom in the 50 States so interesting is that you can mix and match variables based on your own preferences.

I checked the “fiscal” and “tax burden” categories, and South Dakota (no state income tax!) jumped to #1 for both of those measures.

You won’t be surprised to learn that New York is the worst state, not only overall, but also for various fiscal policy measures.

Who would have guessed, by the way, that there’s a “bachelor party” category based on laws governing alcohol, marijuana, prostitution, and fireworks. Interesting, Massachusetts is ranked #1, though I suspect most guys will still opt for #3-ranked Nevada.

P.S. I must be learning. I grew up in New York, which is #50 in the rankings of freedom in the states, and then in Connecticut, which ranks only #40. But I went to college in Georgia, which is #9 in the rankings, and I now live in the Virginia, which is #8. But I somehow doubt that I’ll ever wind up in North Dakota.

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A month ago, I answered a question about reconciling the absence of libertarian societies with the supposed superiority of libertarian principles.

I gave an uncharacteristically optimistic response, arguing that the world in many ways has become more free thanks to libertarian policies (or, to be more accurate, a decline in statism).

This led to several follow-up questions, mostly premised on the notion that I must be smoking crack to think government has become less of a burden. My defense would be that the world is more free than it was 40 years ago, but probably less free than it was 10 years ago, so it depends on your benchmark. And I definitely agree that the world is trending toward less freedom (with these charts being a very sobering example).

But the question that caught my eye, and makes for a good follow-up, comes from a reader in Missouri: “Why aren’t libertarians more persuasive?”

To elaborate, the question assumes that libertarianism is the right approach and that the evidence supports libertarian policies, so another way of phrasing the question is: “What is wrong with libertarians that they can’t sell libertarian ideas?”

Rising DependencyThe easy and simple answer is to say the problem is that the people are too susceptible to being bribed by politicians. As illustrated by the chart, more and more Americans are getting hooked on the heroin of government dependency.

And as more Americans adopt the moocher mindset found in Vermont, libertarians have a hard time developing a winning message.

But I think the reader is really asking whether the problem with libertarianism is…well, libertarians.

This is a fair question. Having given hundreds of speeches and engaged in thousands of conversation, I can say that many people make the following assumptions about libertarians.

1. On economic policy, libertarians don’t care about the poor. Since I work on fiscal issues, this is the one I deal with all the time. I try to explain – ad nauseam – that we want smaller government and more economic freedom because faster growth is the only effective way to lower poverty and help the poor. But a lot of people think we’re defending the status quo.

2. On social policy, libertarians are libertines, embracing and endorsing hedonism. This is probably the most common stereotype, and there definitely are libertarians who are motivated by a desire to get rid of laws that impinge on their freedom to do things like smoke pot. But the libertarian position is not that pot is good, but rather that prohibition is bad.

3. On foreign policy, libertarians are oblivious to external threats such as al Qaeda. I’ve had several people, for instance, complain about Ron Paul opposing the killing of Osama bin Laden, and they assume that means libertarians are somehow the modern-day equivalent of Soviet appeasers. Yet our message is that we favor national defense, but that we think we’ll have far less need to defend ourselves if we stop intervening in ways that have nothing to do with national security.

4. And in general, libertarians are ultra-individualists who reject concepts such as community, family, and nation. While it’s true that libertarians are motivated by individual freedom, opposition to government coercion does not imply that people can’t be good neighbors or good parents. Indeed, we would argue that a free society promotes private virtue. And there’s nothing inconsistent with patriotism and libertarianism, as illustrated by this t-shirt.

Looking at what I’ve written, I realize I haven’t answered the question. All I’ve done is identified some stereotypes and explained why they’re not accurate.

So I’ll simply conclude by making a rather unremarkable observation that overcoming these perceptions is a big challenge for libertarians – assuming that we want to make greater inroads with the masses.

P.S. I got nagged by several readers for not posting a “Question of the Week” last weekend. What can I say, I’m old and forgetful. But you can always peruse previous versions if you’re somehow suffering.

But I’ll try to compensate for my oversight with some humor. Since this post is about the supposed shortcoming of libertarians, here’s some self-mocking humor. We’ll start with a video portraying Somalia as a libertarian paradise, followed by cartoons on libertarian ice fishing and libertarian lifeguards, then an info-graphic showing 24 types of libertarians, and close with a poster showing how the world sees libertarians.

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I realize the sequester kicks in tomorrow and I should be writing about that rare opportunity to control the burden of government spending.

To be sure, my fingers are crossed that Republicans won’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and I’ve been busy on Capitol Hill talking to folks about the issue, but this post already says everything you need to know about that topic.

It’s time to switch gears, particularly since I have a soft spot for feel-good stories.

And what could be more heart-tugging than a story about the right to keep and bear tanks?

Here are some blurbs from the Wall Street Journal.

Weapons buffs may stock semiautomatics in the gun safe. But nothing makes a statement like having an Army tank in the garage. …there are several hundred to 1,000 private tank owners in the U.S. …Brothers Ken and Gene Neal, owners of Bullet Proof Diesel, a truck-parts manufacturer in Mesa, Ariz., once took their 1966 British Chieftain tank into the desert and joyfully backed it over a rusty car. When their insurance agent inquired about their plans for the tank, the Neal brothers emailed back, “We are going to use it to take over the world.” Says Ken Neal, 45: “A tank is cool.”

Private Tank

The latest in home defense

But is it legal?

Yup, and it can even have a working gun if you’re willing to fork over $200 for a permit.

A tank in the U.S. can have operational guns, if the owner has a federal Destructive Device permit, and state laws don’t prohibit it. The permit costs $200, and the applicant must swear he hasn’t been a “fugitive from justice,” “adjudicated mentally defective” or convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A local law-enforcement official, usually a sheriff or police chief, has to sign off on the application. Tanks generally aren’t street-legal, so owners usually drive them off-road or on other private property. Some say local authorities sometimes make exceptions for parades, a quick test drive or a trip to the gas station.

But won’t tanks in private hands lead to horrible crimes? Doesn’t seem that way, particularly since the story mentions that the only tank used in a crime was one taken from a government armory.

And in sensible places such as Texas, local police think a tank is “awesome,” not a cause for hysteria.

Earlier this month, Mr. Bauer, the Texas banker, took his Chaffee out for a spin in his warehouse parking lot. He had rigged the .50-caliber machine gun on the turret with a propane system that generates the noise and muzzle flash of gunfire, without the bullets. He fired off several bursts. Minutes later, two Port Lavaca police cruisers pulled up. The first officer rolled down the window and asked dryly: “You know why we’re here, right?” Mr. Bauer assured him that no actual rounds had been fired. …The second policeman, Jeremy Marshall, got out of his car and eyeballed Mr. Bauer’s tank. “Awesome,” he said.

Meanwhile, a 6-year old boy in Maryland is suspended for making a gun shape with his fingers and a 5-year old girl in Pennsylvania is busted for having a pink plastic gun that shoots bubbles.

The best of America…and the worst of America.

But we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. Most able-bodied men in Switzerland have fully automatic guns (i.e., capable of continuous firing) in their homes, so it’s an open question which nation is more “awesome.”

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While I generally have a happy-go-lucky attitude toward life, I’m pessimistic about public policy.

So when I got an email asking me how I would reconcile the supposed superiority of libertarian principles with the absence of libertarian societies, I initially was tempted to assert that our principles are sound and then give reasons why I nonetheless expect freedom to continuously diminish.

There are probably other reasons, but I think you get the idea. No wonder I’ve been speculating about where people should move when America descends into Greek-style economic chaos.

But I want to be uncharacteristically optimistic and explain why libertarian principles are still very relevant and that the outlook is better than we think.

So while I don’t expect that there will ever be a libertarian Nirvana, I also don’t think it’s time to throw in the towel and meekly accept the yoke of statism.

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I’ve always been a big fan of Economic Freedom of the World because it provides a balanced and neutral measure of which nations do best in providing free markets and small government.

And I like it even when it gives me bad news. It’s somewhat depressing, after all, to read that the United States has dropped from the #3 nation when Bill Clinton left office to the #18 country in the most recent index.

But for all its many positive attributes, Economic Freedom of the World isn’t a comprehensive measure of liberty. That’s why I’m very glad to see that Ian Vasquez and Tanja Stumberger have put together a Freedom Index designed to measure economic and personal liberty.

And since they’re both sensible people, their definition of personal liberty is very sound – i.e., the freedom to be left alone and not harassed, persecuted, or annoyed by government.

Here’s their description of what the Freedom Index is designed to measure.

…we use indicators that are as consistent as possible with the concept of negative liberty: the absence of coercive constraint on the individual. We do not attempt to measure positive freedom…nor do we measure so-called “claim freedoms,” which often become government-imposed attempts at realizing positive freedoms (e.g., the “right” or freedom to a have job or housing). …This index of freedom also does not incorporate measures of democracy or “political freedom.” …Democracy may be more consistent than other forms of government at safeguarding freedom, but it is not freedom, nor does it necessarily guarantee freedom. …We combine economic freedom measures from the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index with measures of what we somewhat imprecisely call civil or personal  freedoms. The economic freedom index and the personal freedom index we devise each receive half the weight in the overall index.

Here are some additional details on the personal freedom score.

For the personal freedom sub-index, we use 34 variables covering 123 countries… The index is divided into four categories: 1) Security and  Safety; 2) Freedom of Movement; 3) Freedom of Expression; and 4) Relationship Freedoms. …We have tried to capture the degree to which  people are free to enjoy the major civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, and association and assembly—in each country in our survey.  In addition, we include indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, and legal discrimination against homosexuals.

So how do nations compare with this system?

New Zealand is the nation with the most freedom, followed by the Netherlands and Hong Kong. The United States is #7

Freedom Index Top 20

By the way, if you’re wondering about places to avoid on your next overseas vacation, Zimbabwe is in last place, followed by Burma and Pakistan.

And if you want to maximize your personal liberty, but aren’t as concerned about economic liberty, the top nations are the Netherlands (9.5), Uruguay (9.4), and Norway/Japan/New Zealand (9.2).

If you want to experiment with a life of very limited personal liberty, your “best” choices are Pakistan (3.1), Zimbabwe (3.2), Sri Lanka (3.4), and Iran (3.6).

Last but not least, here’s the video I narrated from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity that explains in more detail the economic-freedom component of the Freedom Index.

Hmmm…more growth and prosperity with free markets and small government. Such a novel concept!

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For five consecutive weekends, I responded to your “questions of the week.”

That involved queries about my views on when the monetary system will begin to unravel, whether I hated Republicans, what I thought about Senator Jim DeMint moving over to the Heritage Foundation, the degree to which the media is biased, and if my opinions have changed on any issues.

But last weekend, I got too wrapped up in other topics and neglected to answer any of the questions I received. So I’ll try to compensate by answering one question today and another tomorrow.

Today’s query actually is a request, not a question: “Take the Quiz and Tell Us How Libertarian You Are?”

Libertarian QuizAt first I thought this was going to be a request to take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, put together by the Advocates for Self Government.

And that would have been an easy test since it involves only 10 questions. I’ve done if before and I’m a pure libertarian.

But the reader instead sent me the much more detailed test put together by Professor Bryan Caplan of George Mason University.

This means answering 64 questions, though it doesn’t actually take that long to complete.

Libertarian TestThe good news is that I got a 94, which sounds close to perfect.

The bad news is that the maximum score is 160, so I obviously fell far short of libertarian purity.

But even a 94 makes me a very unusual person. According to Professor Caplan’s grading system, I’ve “entered the heady realm of hard-core libertarianism.

Libertarian Test Summary

If you want to know why I got what appears to be a modest grade, it’s because the test basically measures whether you’re an anarcho-capitalist. And as I confessed back in 2011, when sharing this funny video poking fun at libertarianism, I’ve never been able to rationalize how to get rid of all government.

From an ideological perspective, I’d like to think that we could privatize courts, police, and national defense. But I just don’t see how the market would fill those roles.

So, yes, I’m a squish. But whenever anarcho-capitalists give me a hard time, I tell them that we should work together to get rid of 90 percent of government. Then we can squabble about what to do with the remaining 10 percent.

P.S. Since I shared the funny anti-libertarian video, I may as well share these other examples of humor targeting me and my fellow travelers.

And since sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, here’s some libertarian-produced humor mocking statists.

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The United Nations may be useful as a forum for world leaders, but it is not a productive place to develop policy. The international bureaucracy compulsively supports statist initiatives that would reduce individual liberty and expand the burden of government.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that the United Nations also wants to control the Internet. Actually, to be more specific, some nations want to regulate and censor the Internet and they are using the United Nations as a venue.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Gordon Crovitz explains this new threat. He starts by describing the laissez-faire system that currently exists and identifies the governments pushing for bad policy.

Who runs the Internet? For now, the answer remains no one, or at least no government, which explains the Web’s success as a new technology. But as of next week, unless the U.S. gets serious, the answer could be the United Nations. Many of the U.N.’s 193 member states oppose the open, uncontrolled nature of the Internet. Its interconnected global networks ignore national boundaries, making it hard for governments to censor or tax. And so, to send the freewheeling digital world back to the state control of the analog era, China, Russia, Iran and Arab countries are trying to hijack a U.N. agency that has nothing to do with the Internet. For more than a year, these countries have lobbied an agency called the International Telecommunications Union to take over the rules and workings of the Internet.

He then warns about the risk of government control.

Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day. …The self-regulating Internet means no one has to ask for permission to launch a website, and no government can tell network operators how to do their jobs. The arrangement has made the Internet a rare place of permissionless innovation.

Crovitz identifies some of the specific tax and regulatory threats.

Proposals for the new ITU treaty run to more than 200 pages. One idea is to apply the ITU’s long-distance telephone rules to the Internet by creating a “sender-party-pays” rule. International phone calls include a fee from the originating country to the local phone company at the receiving end. Under a sender-pays approach, U.S.-based websites would pay a local network for each visitor from overseas, effectively taxing firms such as Google and Facebook. …Regimes such as Russia and Iran also want an ITU rule letting them monitor Internet traffic routed through or to their countries, allowing them to eavesdrop or block access.

And he warns that the Obama Administration’s representative seems inadequately committed to advancing and protecting American interests.

The State Department’s top delegate to the Dubai conference, Terry Kramer, has pledged that the U.S. won’t let the ITU expand its authority to the Internet. But he hedged his warning in a recent presentation in Washington: “We don’t want to come across like we’re preaching to others.” To the contrary, the top job for the U.S. delegation at the ITU conference is to preach the virtues of the open Internet as forcefully as possible. Billions of online users are counting on America to make sure that their Internet is never handed over to authoritarian governments or to the U.N.

With all the support Obama got from Silicon Valley and the high-tech crowd, one would think this is an issue where the Administration would do the right thing. And it sounds like the U.S. is on the right side, but the real issue is whether the American representative is prepared to tell the dictators and kleptocrats to jump in a lake.

The moral of the story is that the United Nations should not be a policy forum. The bureaucrats seem to have no appreciation or understanding of how the economy works, perhaps because they live in a bubble and get tax-free salaries.

And I don’t say that out of animosity. The folks I’ve met from the United Nations have all been pleasant and I even participated in a U.N. conference as the token free-market supporter.

But just because someone’s nice, that doesn’t mean that they should have any power over my life or your life. And many of the nations pushing to control and regulate the Internet are governed by people who are neither nice nor pleasant.

P.S. You probably don’t want to know my innermost fantasies, but one of them involved the United Nations.

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Part of my job at the Cato Institute is to educate people about free markets and fiscal policy.

In some cases, that means providing information and analysis to those already sympathetic to limited government. There are many people who like the idea of lower tax burdens, for instance, but they may not have given much thought to the interaction of tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue, so that’s why I put together my Laffer Curve tutorial and why I wrote about this amazing data from the Reagan tax cuts.

The harder part of my job is reaching people with statist instincts. I wrote a post last week mocking an absurd example of Swedish egalitarianism, but I included some serious thoughts about why some people oppose liberty. How do I reach those people, especially when there’s some very interesting evidence showing fundamental differences in how liberals, conservatives, and libertarians see the world?

I don’t have a single answer to that question. Sometimes I use the utilitarian approach and show how capitalist nations outperform statist nations, as you can see in this comparison of North Korea and South Korea, and this post comparing Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela.

In other cases, I try a philosophical approach, one example of which is this video arguing against majoritarianism.

And sometimes I use horrifying anecdotes in hopes that people will realize the risks of unconstrained government.

But perhaps the folks at the Fund for American Studies have discovered a good way of educating statists. Take a look at this clever video.

P.S. Here’s another video from TFAS that uses an unusual tactic to get people to think about the value of capitalism and free markets.

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In this modern era where we’re all supposed to share our innermost thoughts, I’ve openly discussed my fantasies.

I confessed to the world, for instance, that I have a fantasy that involves about one-half of the adults in America. And I’ve also admitted to a fantasy involving Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Now I’m fantasizing about something new, and it’s all the fault of the Cato Institute. In a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, I have to watch tonight’s presidential debate in order to add my two cents to Cato’s live-blogging of the clash between Obama and Romney.

That got me thinking about some of my least-favorite episodes from past debates, and this moment from 1992 is high on my list (I had to watch that debate because my then-wife worked for the Bush Administration and I had to offer some insincere moral support).

The clip is a bit over three minutes, but it will only take a minute or so to see why this was such an unpleasant segment.

Here’s my latest fantasy. If there’s a similar question tonight, I hope either Romney or Obama gives the following response:

I’m not your daddy and you’re not my child. I’m running to be the President of the United States in order to oversee the legitimate executive branch responsibilities of the federal government. And I hope to reduce the burden of government to give you opportunities, not to take care of your needs. You’re an able-bodied adult. Take responsibility for your own life and provide for your own needs.

But I don’t expect my fantasy to get fulfilled. If a question like this is asked, both Obama and Romney almost surely will express sympathy and support.

The good news is that there have been a few politicians in American’s history who have been willing to say the right thing. Here’s a quote from Barry Goldwater that warms my heart.

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. …I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

The bad news is that he got his you-know-what kicked in the 1964 election.

On the other hand, America did elect a President who said during his inauguration that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

And a 2011 poll showed that Americans – unlike their European counterparts – do not believe it is government’s job to guarantee that “nobody is in need.”

In other words, Julia, the fictional moocher woman created by the Obama campaign, is not representative of America. At least not yet.

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