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Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’

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 fundamental problem with redistributionist economic policy?

As a libertarian, I would answer with a philosophical argument against coercion. I think it is immoral for vote-seeking politicians, using the threat of imprisonment, to rob Peter to subsidize Paul.

But as an economist, the problem is incentives. Simply stated, redistribution from Peter to Paul undermines the incentive of either to produce. And the greater the level of plunder, as we see from extreme examples such as Venezuela and North Korea, the greater the damage.

This is a lesson that we should have learned from the earliest days of American history.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Richard Ebeling explains a very important lesson about incentives and human behavior. He begins by pointing out how the Pilgrims initially created a collectivist economic system.

The English Puritans…wanted to turn their backs on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World. …they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. …all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

But this system – what a shock – didn’t work.

What resulted is recorded in the journal of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. …The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

Commenting about the downside of a system based on communal sharing, Richard shares a simple lesson in economics.

Because of the disincentives and resentments that spread among the population, crops were sparse and the rationed equal shares from the collective harvest were not enough to ward off starvation and death. Two years of communism in practice had left alive only a fraction of the original number of the Plymouth colonists.

And he also shows the economic lesson to be learned when the Pilgrims abandoned collectivism for private property.

Private ownership meant that there was now a close link between work and reward. Industry became the order of the day as the men and women in each family went to the fields on their separate private farms. When the harvest time came, not only did many families produce enough for their own needs, but they had surpluses that they could freely exchange with their neighbors for mutual benefit and improvement. …Hard experience had taught the Plymouth colonists the fallacy and error in the ideas of that since the time of the ancient Greeks had promised paradise through collectivism rather than individualism. …This is the lesson of the First Thanksgiving. …the triumph of capitalism over the failure of collectivism in all its forms.

The adverse consequences of 17th-century collectivism are examined in this video from Reason, which I try to share every Thanksgiving.

By the way, the Pilgrims weren’t the only early Americans to make the mistake of collectivist economics.

An article from the Mises Institute discusses a similar failed experiment in Jamestown.

The Jamestown colony in Virginia had similar experiences as they started under the same rules:

  1.  They were to own nothing.
  2.  They were to receive only as much food and clothing as they needed.
  3.  Everything that the men secured from trade or produced from the land had to go into the common storehouse.

Of the 104 men that started the Jamestown colony in 1607 only 38 survived the first year and even those had to be marched to the fields “to the beat of a drum” simply to grow food to keep them alive in the next year.

Fortunately, the Jamestown settlers learned that socialism doesn’t work.

And when a system based on private property was created, the results were spectacular.

Captain John Smith writes after the common store concept was abandoned:

When our people were fed out of the common store, and labored jointly together, glad was he could slip from his labor, or slumber over his task he cared not how, nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true pains in a week, as now for themselves they will do in a day. … We reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty, as now three or four do provide for themselves.

Gee, people produce much more when they keep the fruits of their labor. What a radical concept!

On a more serious note, the lessons from Plymouth and Jamestown are the same lessons from France and Cuba.

The more government there is in a nation (imagine a spectrum of statism), the worse its economy will perform.

Let’s close with a Thanksgiving-themed addition to our collection of libertarian humor. This guy obviously prefers the moral argument against statism.

Not that I would recommend going overboard with libertarian intensity at a family gathering. Then you come across like the libertarian chicken, or the “missionary” from the 24-types-of-libertarians collage.

Just have friends and family sign up for International Liberty!

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I have an entire page dedicated to libertarian-related humor.

Unfortunately, the majority of my collection makes fun of libertarians. So I’m always on the lookout for new items that will even up the balance.

And here’s something clever, at least for people who are familiar with both Gary Johnson’s failure to know the supposed significance of a Syrian city and the “nobody cares” scene from Jurassic Park.

Heck, it’s not that libertarian-leaning voters don’t care whether the Libertarian Party candidate is familiar with Aleppo. They probably view it is a plus that he hasn’t paid attention to a war that is none of America’s business.

Our second item builds upon the very clever libertarian version of Star Wars from Reason.

We now have Libertarian Star Trek!

Since I’m a fiscal policy wonk, I especially appreciated the part about pork-barrel spending about two minutes into the video. And if you think the point is exaggerated, click here and here for 21st-century examples.

The whole video is clever.

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The presidential contest between Clinton and Trump (can we shorten that to “Clump”?) is so depressing that it’s time to distract ourselves with some libertarian humor.

And I’m even willing so share such humor when libertarians are the target of mockery.

We have a new addition to that list. Here’s Ron Paul selling Libertarios, a “deregulated cereal.”

I have to confess that I laughed when I first saw this. The “prizes inside” on the lower left is an especially clever touch.

I suppose I should take this opportunity to explain why “Libertarios” wouldn’t actually exist in a genuine free market.

  • First (and I can’t believe I actually have to explain this), it’s not profitable to poison/kill/nauseate/irritate customers. Investors are not going to sink a bunch of their money (building factories, buying raw materials, marketing, etc) into a cereal without making sure there is some reasonable expectation that the product will be sufficiently attractive to generate a profit.
  • Second, libertarian theory very explicitly embraces the use of the legal system to impose costs and penalties on those who (presumably by accident) do things that cause harm to others. So when mistakes happen (as they will in any system), there is a mechanism for monetary compensation. Perhaps even more important, unfettered markets produce a web of “mutually reinforcing private regulation.”

The bottom line is that people value health and safety, so markets naturally will seek to provide these things. In part because most people are decent human beings. But even if some folks aren’t good, there will be pressure to provide health and safety simply because it’s a way to earn profits and avoid costs.

Some people have a hard time believing this, which is why they embrace command-and-control regulation.

And they periodically cite examples of how mandates and red tape from government are supposedly correlated with good outcomes. One of my favorite examples is the data showing a decline in workplace deaths after the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fans of OSHA think this is a slam-dunk argument showing the benefits of regulation.

Perhaps, but then they need to explain why workplace deaths were consistently falling way before OSHA was ever created. When you look at a chart with long-run historical data, the most obvious conclusion is that the bureaucracy and accompanying red tape hasn’t had any positive impact.

In other words, workplace deaths have been falling for a very long time. Mostly because such tragedies are very bad for the bottom line, and also because societies can afford more health and safety as they get richer.

Went out of business Executives lost jobs Investors lost money Civil penalties imposed

So, yes, laugh at the Libertarios humor, but also keep in mind that in a genuine free market that such a cereal never would exist.

And if it did somehow materialize, the box actually would be accompanied by some additional information (which I have helpfully added since I’m a thoughtful person).

By the way, if you’re still not convinced, take a trip to North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, or some other statist paradise. I’m sure you won’t be able to get honest data on workplace deaths, but you’ll quickly learn about the limits of command-and-control health-and-safety regulation if you buy a bunch of consumer products.

P.S. Needless to say, I also have a collection of explicitly pro-libertarian humor.

Libertarian Jesus scolding modern statists.

This poster about confused statists.

The libertarian version of a sex fantasy.

The theory and reality of occupational licensing.

Libertarian Star Wars.

I also have lots of anti-big government humor (I especially like these cartoons), but the above list are the jokes and images I have that are based on a purely libertarian perspective.

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It’s difficult to be a libertarian.

Politicians and bureaucrats do so many foolish things that you can spending your entire day being outraged.

But that’s probably not healthy, so it’s good to keep things in perspective with some political humor.

Even if libertarians are the ones being mocked, and that’s the case for my most-viewed post on libertarian humor.

Fortunately, some libertarians are capable of generating anti-government humor.

Such as Libertarian Jesus, which has been my most-popular example of pro-libertarian humor.

And here’s a new addition to my collection. We can all relax because Los Angeles is dealing the crisis of…GASP…driving past the same spot twice in a 6-hour period! And somebody at Reddit decided this merited some sarcastic applause.

Huh?!? I’m trying to imagine what could motivate such a law.

  • Does Los Angeles actually have a problem with people driving past the same point every six hours?
  • What victims are being saved thanks to this law?
  • Do cops in the city really have nothing better to do with their time?
  • If this street is between you and your local supermarket, do you have to…ahem…cruise the produce section for six hours before heading home?

Being a diligent researcher, I tried to find the answer to these question. Lo and behold, here’s the relevant passage from the underlying law establishing L.A.M.C. 80.36.10.

This Ordinance is urgently necessary for the preservation of the public health and safety. Cruising has resulted in the congregating of persons in certain areas engaging in destructive activities. It has also resulted in traffic congestion.

The law doesn’t tell us what “destructive activities” are being facilitated by driving past the same spot more than once in a six-hour period.

Though I’m guessing it must have something to do with the drug trade or prostitution.

Like most liberty-minded people, I don’t think the government should make it illegal for people to do stupid things to themselves. I believe in being tough on crime, but a real crime has to have a real victim.

But let’s set aside my libertarian grousing and focus on a practical issue.

If I’m a random idiot looking to buy some drugs or sex, what’s to prevent me from driving to the relevant part of town and conducting that transaction without circling past the same spot more than one time?

Since I don’t consume drugs and don’t consort with prostitutes (other than the non-sexual ones that are so common in Washington), maybe there’s something about those markets that I don’t understand. So perhaps a no-cruising rule will have a genuinely disruptive effect.

I’m guessing though, that this is akin to money-laundering laws, which were passed – at least in theory – to discourage crime by making it harder for crooks to get their loot into the financial system.

But these laws have imposed very high costs on law-abiding people and institutions while having no measurable impact on actual criminal activity.

So it’s very likely that anti-cruising laws in Los Angeles won’t have any impact of drugs or prostitution.

P.S. It’s not libertarian-specific humor, but let’s end with a joke about how President Obama dealt money-laundering laws.

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I will always have fond feelings for Playboy, though not for the stereotypical reason.

My appreciation for the magazine is largely based on the fact that I got a very nice honorarium from the German version back in the 1990s for writing an assessment of Bill Clinton’s likely approach to economic policy (confession: he turned out to be much better than I predicted).

Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten almost all of the German I learned in high school, so I can’t read the translated version of the article that appeared in the magazine.

Now Playboy has done something else that I appreciate, putting together a very clever matrix showing what Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens think about various policy issues.

It’s obviously satire, but it’s very clever and effective because it does a good job of capturing stereotypes from each group (just like this poster showing 24 types of libertarians).

As you can see, the “libertarian chicken” obviously provided the answers for the third column.

In addition to mind-your-own-business Libertarians, Playboy gives us abortion-über-alles Democrats, elitist Republicans, and fuzzy-headed Greens. A bit of truth in all those caricatures.

So kudos to them for mocking all parties equally. Comedy Central probably wouldn’t be losing so many viewers if it also took this even-handed approach.

P.S. If you like libertarian-oriented humor (both pro and con), then click here and here.

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I’m a bleeding heart libertarian in that I get most upset about statist policies that make life harder for disadvantaged people so that folks with more money can get undeserved goodies.

  • For instance, I despise anti-school choice leftists because they value political support from teacher unions more than they value opportunity for poor kids.
  • And I get very agitated that about the Export-Import Bank, which is a form of corporate welfare that transfers money from the general population to the rich.

Another example is occupational licensing, which occurs when politicians require newcomers to jump through expensive and/or time-consuming hoops before getting “permission” to provide a good or service. These licensing rules create unjust profits for established businesses by hindering competition, and they are especially burdensome for poor people, all of which is explained in this superb video from the Institute for Justice.

But if there’s a sliver lining to that dark cloud, it’s this image that I will add to my collection of libertarian humor. To be fair, I don’t know if it counts as purely libertarian humor, but I saw it on Reddit‘s libertarian page and it definitely makes the right points.

If you like libertarian humor, both pro and con, click here, here, and here for other examples.

P.S. Let’s close by sharing some good news on a serious topic.

Unlike the short-sighted politicians in the United States, the crowd in Australia seems a bit more level-headed on the issue of competitive corporate taxation. Here are some excerpts from a story in the U.K.-based Guardian.

The Turnbull government has given big business exactly what it wants – a substantial tax cut. It has also extended the Abbott government’s small business tax package by giving small and medium businesses more tax cuts and incentives. …“Our corporate tax rate is high by international standards and well above the average for OECD countries and those in the Asian region,” the budget papers say. “This will make Australian companies more internationally competitive in a tough global market place.” The government plans to cut the corporate tax rate significantly, from 30% to 25%. …The cut will be phased in over 10 years… The treasurer, Scott Morrison, says treasury modelling suggests the measures will grow the economy by 1% over the long term. He says they will lead to higher living standards, via increased business investment and more jobs.

I certainly don’t think “significantly” is a word to describe a modest five-percentage-point reduction in the rate, but kudos to Aussie politicians for moving in the right direction. I also like the part about “treasury modelling,” which suggests that the Australians also have a sensible approach on the issue of static scoring vs. dynamic scoring.

So perhaps now you can understand why Australia is my choice if (when?) the welfare state collapses in the United States (though I’m still of the opinion that the Swiss are the world’s most sensible people).

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