Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’

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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It’s not that much fun to be a libertarian, at least if you work in public policy.

You spend your days hoping that “Public Choice” can be overcome, which means you’re laboring to fulfill Sisyphean tasks.

  • Trying to convince politicians and bureaucrats to voluntary give up power and control over the economy. Good luck with that.
  • Trying to convince voters that it’s not right use government coercion to steal other people’s money. An increasingly hard task.

Needless to say, these are not easy tasks, which is why most of my time is spent playing defense. In other words, I’m trying to prevent government from getting even bigger.

But what if there was an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start all over? Imagine a libertarian fantasy world, where proponents of freedom decide the proper size and scope of government?

Well, that fantasy world exists, sort of. It’s called Liberland, an island in the Danube River that isn’t claimed by either Serbia or Croatia. So a group of libertarians, led by Vít Jedlička, claimed the island and announced the creation of the Free Republic of Liberland.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that neither Serbia nor Croatia recognize Vit’s claim. Indeed, Croatian police arrest people who set foot on the island, which is rather strange since Croatia says the island isn’t Croatian territory (Wikipedia has the details on Liberland’s status).

Notwithstanding these obstacles, the Liberland community is relentlessly hopeful of a good outcome. Indeed, they just held a conference to mark Liberland’s second anniversary.

And I was asked to speak about the ideal fiscal policy for this new country. Here’s my speech, which begins with a discussion of government as a “stationary bandit” and then explores some of the theoretical issues of setting up a freedom-oriented society.

Yes, I realize I’m talking about the theoretical nature of a theoretical state, but I very much enjoyed this opportunity to engage in a Walter Mitty-style dream about how Liberland might operate.

And I even had Liberland’s president as an assistant for my talk.

After spending the first part of my speech contemplating the theoretical nature of a Liberland government (or private governance), I spend the last part of the speech explaining that the public sector should be very small because there are very few genuine “public goods.”

I discussed the Rahn Curve and cited the data showing that the federal government was a very tiny burden for much of America’s history.

I also pointed out that the burden of government was similarly modest in other western nations during the 1800s and early 1900s, which was when those countries went from agricultural poverty to middle-class prosperity.

And I pointed out that taxation would be a trivial issue if Liberland came into existence and has a very small government.

For those interested in the idea of new libertarian societies, there’s “seasteading.”

Seasteading, the concept of building freer societies upon unincorporated parts of the world’s oceans, is one of those so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas within liberty/stateless circles. Long discussed, presented, talked about, mulled over, most cranks like myself mentally pocketed the idea years ago. Compelling enough, definitely, but it seemed wishful, immediately impractical. …The concept of seasteading really begins in earnest with Patri Friedman, grandson of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. The third generation Friedman doesn’t shy away from his famous lineage, which also includes anarcho-capitalist philosopher father David Friedman. …Mr Friedman vowed to take theory into practice. Real world. Right now. He, along with gadfly investor Peter Thiel, founded The Seasteading Institute. …The Seasteading Institute has inked a deal with French Polynesia for a trial city off their shores. It’s happening.

And “special economic zones” are another example of libertarian-style governance.

…two kinds of special jurisdictions — private communities and “Special Economic Zones” — are quietly taking over functions and providing options that traditional polities cannot or will not. This gentle revolution has already brought comparative wealth and better living to millions of people… In a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a government creates exceptions to its own rules — a select haven from the status quo that prevails elsewhere in the national territory. The goal, says the World Bank, is to create a “business environment that is intended to be more liberal from a policy perspective and more effective from an administrative perspective than that of the national territory.” …The antecedents of modern SEZs date from 166 BCE, when Roman authorities made the island of Delos a free port, exempting traders from the usual taxes in order to stimulate local commerce. …The astonishing growth in SEZs qualifies as a revolution of sorts, but not the usual, political kind. Instead of being imposed by domestic or foreign enemies, this revolution has come from within, allowed or even encouraged by existing authorities.

And here’s a video about Liberland for those interested.

Let’s close with some wonkiness by looking at some academic research about fiscal policy and the evolution of government.

We’ll start with some excerpts from Tanzi and Schuknecht’s analysis of Public Spending in the 20th Century.

Classical economists thought that the government’s role should be limited to national defense, police, and administration because government “cannot have any other rational function but the legitimate defense of individual rights” (Bastiat, 1944–5). …For classical economists, the government role should be small… The countries’ institutional frameworks, such as the U.S. Constitution, did not specify any other economic role for the state. Consequently, in the last century, public spending was minimal in a number of industrialized countries for which data for 1870 could be found… In the United States, government expenditure was about 7 percent of GDP, and, in most newly industrialized European countries of the period, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, or the Netherlands, expenditure did not exceed 10 percent of GDP. A leading French economist of the time, Paul Leroy-Beaulieu (1888), addressing the question of the proper share of taxes in the economy, suggested that a share of 5–6 percent was moderate while a share beyond 12 percent had to be considered “exorbitant” and would damage the growth prospects of an economy.

Hmmm, I though Bastiat was the only good French economist. But Monsieur Leroy-Beaulieu obviously is a very sensible person.

Now let’s look at historical estimates of tax revenue, as presented in a study from two academics published by the London School of Economics.

…it was states in Europe that were the first to permanently break cycles of gains and losses in centralized fiscal and coercive capacity and build towards the modern state system. …we divide the annual per capita central tax revenues in silver by the daily wages of unskilled workers in silver. …The daily wages of unskilled urban workers in grams of silver…are available annually for most polities and in the absence of reliable estimates for per capita income, are frequently used by economic historians as a proxy for per capita income for this period. …During the first half of the sixteenth century, annual tax revenues per capita did not exceed 5 days of unskilled urban wages in most European countries. The only exceptions were the small and highly urbanized entities such as Venice and Holland. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, …many others had reached the 10 to 15 daily wages range and annual per capita revenues of the central administration in the Dutch Republic exceeded 20 days of urban wages. It is worth noting that the middle group where annual per capita revenues reached 10 to 15 daily wages included not only the more urbanized western European countries such as England, France, Spain and Venice but also the more rural and agricultural countries in central and eastern Europe such as Austria

Here’s a chart from the study that gives an idea of the tax burden in various nations from 1500-1800.

Last but not least, we have a very detailed study about the evolution of the state from economists at George Mason University. I’ve culled some of the key passages.

Recent scholarship in both political economy and development economics has emphasized the importance of state capacity in explaining why some countries have succeeded in achieving economic development whereas others have not. This literature points to the role of state capacity in explaining the durability of institutions that are both conducive to markets and to economic growth. …This literature recognizes both that predatory behavior by states is frequently a cause of economic stagnation and that well-functioning states can provide the institutional framework necessary for sustained economic growth. … Economies governed by strong, cohesive, and constrained states are better able to overcome vested interests and avoid disastrous economic policies, while societies ruled by weak states are prone to rentseeking, corruption and civil war. State capacity, therefore, can complement market-supporting institutions in providing a conducive setting for economic development. This insight was understood by Adam Smith who noted the importance of the provision of peace, justice, and easy taxation (Smith, 1763). …Economic growth in the absence of sufficient state capacity was not self-sustaining precisely because economically successful societies attracted predators. …Greater state capacity enabled the states of western Europe to escape from this violence trap in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. …Well functioning markets are not only required for allocative economic efficiency, they also provide the necessary conditions for sustained economic growth over time. But markets cannot operate in an institutional vacuum. They require property rights that are well defined and enforced and rely on governance institutions that can arbitrate claims and disputes. Governance institutions do not have to be provided by a state—that is by an organization that claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a circumscribed territory. Historically there are many instances of market actors developing their own governance mechanisms in the absence of state enforcement through private-order arrangements… The state is certainly not required for either impersonal trade or for the emergence of rules of behavior and the rule of law. What the historical record suggests, however, is that during the relevant centuries prior to the industrial revolution, commerce and trade came increasingly under the purview of the public-order institutions. …State capacity, as we have noted, need not promote economic growth. States with high capacity can pursue destructive economic policies. Rather the point is that state capacity can be beneficial for growth when the state is constrained by law. One of the reasons for this is that high capacity states have the ability to enforce general rules. This ability is closely linked to what social scientists typically mean by rule of law. …What enables some societies to build effective states—states that are able to provide basic public goods but which are constrained and limited in scope and scale? …The origins of modern economic growth are to be found in the expansion of market exchange and trade that gave rise to a more sophisticated and complex division of labor that rewarded innovation and to the cultural and potentially non-economic factors that helped spur innovation (Howes, 2016; McCloskey, 2016; Mokyr, 2016). The importance of the rise of high capacity states to this story is that these states helped to provide the institutional conditions that either enabled growth and innovation to take place or at least prevented their destruction through warfare or rent-seeking. The emergence of sustained economic growth in the nineteenth century was associated with strong but limited states. Twentieth century ambitions to use state power to remold societies either ended in failure or were at least partially reversed. We have focused on the recent literature linking the rise of the modern state to positive economic outcomes, but do not want to give the impression that we are neglecting how easy it is for governments to destroy economies (e.g., Shleifer and Vishny, 1998; Easterly, 2001).

The core message is that the key to prosperity is having a state strong enough and effective enough to provide rule of law, but to somehow constrain that state so that it doesn’t venture into destructive redistribution policies.

This is why competition between governments played a key role in the economic development of the western world. When governments have to worry about productive resources escaping, that forces them to focus on things that help an economy (i.e., rule of law) while minimizing the policies that hinder prosperity (i.e., high taxes and spending).

P.S. I got a nice surprise at the conference. I was made a citizens of Liberland.

P.P.S. America’s Founding Fathers dealt with the same issues that I discussed at the Liberland conference. Their solution was a constitution that explicitly limited the size and scope of the federal government. As I noted in my speech, that system worked reasonably well until the 1930s. Now we’ve gone so far in the other direction that the Supreme Court says Washington can compel us to buy things from cronyist companies.

Avoiding the same fate will be a major challenge for Liberland. Assuming, of course, it gets off the ground.

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The true test of libertarianism is Professor Bryan Caplan’s famous 64-question quiz.

Though if you don’t have time for that many questions, there’s also a very simple “circle test.”

Now we have a new poll for those of us that are tempted by such things. I don’t know who put it together, but I was intrigued by the four-axis approach.

8values is, in essence, a political quiz that attempts to assign percentages for eight different political values. You will be presented by a statement, and then you will answer with your opinion on the statement, from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree, with each answer slightly affecting your scores. At the end of the quiz, your answers will be compared to the maximum possible for each value, thus giving you a percentage. …In addition to matching you to the eight values, the quiz also attempts to match you to a political ideology.

But before getting to results, I feel obliged to nitpick about the methodology.

Some of the questions don’t make sense. Or, to be more specific, one’s answers might be radically different depending on how the question is interpreted.

For instance, statists would probably answer “strongly agree” to this question about education, based on the assumption that government should spend more money (regardless of dismal results).

I wound up picking “neutral” because I want universal school choice, which would produce better-than-adequate education, but I also don’t like the notion that people have rights that are predicated on access to other people’s money.

I also didn’t like this question on foreign policy. I like peaceful relations with other nations, but in some cases peace is more likely if the United States is strong. In other words, Reagan’s position of “peace through strength.”

Last but not least, I also answered “neutral” to this question about surveillance. I don’t want pervasive spying by government on ordinary people (money laundering laws, for instance), but I also don’t object to effective monitoring – with proper judicial oversight – of bad people.

Anyhow, with those caveats out of the way, here are my results.

The good news is that I’m in the “Libertarian Capitalism” category. Though I’m a bit chagrined that I only got 72.4 percent on the wealth-equality axis. Though maybe equality in this case captures my support for the rule of law and my opposition to cronyism. In which case I’m happy.

I don’t have any strong reaction to my scores on the might-peace and tradition-progress axes. But I’m disappointed to only have 70 percent on the liberty-authority axis.

For what it’s worth, my overall score was the same in this quiz as it was for the “definitive political orientation test.”

P.S. The worst political quiz I ever took was the one that pegged me as a “moderate” with “few strong opinions.”

P.P.S. Reason’s political candidate quiz, by contrast, produced a much more logical conclusion.

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It’s time to make a very serious point, albeit with a bit of humor and sarcasm.

A couple of years ago, I shared an image of Libertarian Jesus to make the point that it’s absurd to equate compassion and virtue with government-coerced redistribution.

We all can agree – at least I hope – that it is admirable to help the less fortunate with our own time and/or money. Indeed, I’m proud that Americans are much more likely to be genuinely generous than people from other countries (and it’s also worth noting that people from conservative states are more generous than people from leftist states).

But some of our statist friends go awry when they think it’s also noble and selfless to support higher tax rates and bigger government. How is it compassionate, I ask them, to forcibly give away someone else’s money? Especially when those policies actually undermine progress in the fight against poverty!

With this in mind, here’s another great example of Libertarian Jesus (h/t: Reddit).

Amen (pun intended), I’m going to add this to my collection of libertarian humor.

But don’t overlook the serious part of the message. As Cal Thomas succinctly explained, it’s hardly a display of religious devotion when you use coercion to spend other people’s money.

This is why I’ve been critical of Pope Francis. His heart may be in the right place, but he’s misguided about the policies that actually help the less fortunate.

For what it’s worth, it would be helpful if he was guided by the moral wisdom of Walter Williams rather than the destructive statism of Juan Peron.

P.S. I’m rather amused that socialists, when looking for Christmas-themed heroes, could only identify people who practice non-coercive generosity.

P.P.S. On a separate topic, Al Gore blames climate change for Brexit.

Brexit was caused in part by climate change, former US Vice-President Al Gore has said, warning that extreme weather is creating political instability “the world will find extremely difficult to deal with”.

I’m beginning to lose track and get confused. Our statist friends have told us that climate change causes AIDS and terrorism, which are bad things. But now they’re telling us climate change caused Brexit, which is a good thing.

Maybe the real lesson is that Al Gore and his friends are crackpots.

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I’ve shared several surveys that people can take to determine whether they are libertarian.

Now the good folks from FreedomFest are taking this to the next level by conducting a survey to determine the “50 Most Influential Libertarians.”

I invite everyone to participate by clicking here, especially since filling out the survey gives you a $100 discount when registering for this year’s FreedomFest (to be held in mid-July).

Having worked in libertarian circles for many decades, I’m going to look at each of the categories and take a guess on who will get the most votes and also give my two cents on which of the people are the most under-appreciated.

We’ll start with libertarian authors.

I’m guessing P.J. O’Rourke will get first place in this category, though Robert Higgs and Charles Murray also are possibilities.

The most under-appreciated choice is James Bovard. I’ve known Jim for decades and his writing is both principled and entertaining. I’ve shared several of his columns if you want to get a taste.

Now let’s move the business and finance category.

I actually know only about half of the people on this list, so take my views here with a grain of salt. For my guess on who will win, I’m torn between listing David Koch and Charles Koch, who have done so much to build libertarian institutions, and Steve Forbes, who has done so much to popularize free markets.

For the most under-appreciated libertarian, I’m going with John Aglialoro. How can you not applaud a guy who finally delivered a movie version of Atlas Shrugged?

Now let’s look at libertarian celebrities.

I have no idea who will win this category. I’m wondering if voters will pick the biggest celebrity, meaning perhaps Clint Eastwood.

It’s also hard to pick the most under-appreciated libertarian in this category. But I’ll go with Penn Jillette. I’ve seen his Las Vegas show (Penn and Teller) two times and I imagine hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans have been both entertained and enlightened by the experience.

By the way, I wonder why Howard Stern wasn’t listed.

Time now for the top libertarian in freedom organizations.

This is another hard-to-guess category. If I’m basing my choice on (deserved) celebrity status, I would have to pick between Mark Skousen, who has made FreedomFest a must-attend event, Jeffrey Tucker, the guy who is dramatically expanding FEE’s outreach, and Johan Norberg, who is famous for his short videos on freedom.

For under-appreciated libertarians, Tom Palmer deserves praise as one of the most determined and effective libertarians ever to traverse the globe (literally and figuratively). And Barbara Kolm deserves some sort of prize for her yeomanlike (yeowomanlike?) efforts to save Europe with her annual Free Market Road Show.

Let’s shift to the media category.

I would be stunned if John Stossel didn’t win this category, though Judge Napolitano and the guys from Reason may give him a tough race.

My choice for under-appreciated libertarian would be Neal Boortz or Julie Borowski.

The big oversight is that Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit isn’t listed.

Here are the choices for politics.

I assume there’s not much suspense on who will win. If Ron Paul doesn’t come in first place, I’ll eat my hat. Actually, I retract that offer. Based on my less-than-impressive election predictions, I no longer feel confident about my ability to prognosticate. But I still think Ron Paul wins, perhaps followed by his son.

For under-appreciated libertarians, I’m going with Justin Amash and Thomas Massie. It is very helpful to have a couple of solid libertarians in the House of Reprehensibles. They probably should have included Congressman Brat as well.

Here’s another very difficult category, the top libertarian professors.

It’s impossible to make good selections since there are so many good choices. If you put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Walter Williams or Thomas Sowell emerge in first place because they’ve both done such a great job over the decades with their books and columns.

It’s also difficult to pick the most under-appreciated libertarian. The crowd from George Mason University is superb, Richard Epstein and Randy Barnett are amazing legal minds, and the Schoollands do great work.

But I suppose I’ll go with either James Gwartney, since his work on Economic Freedom of the World is so valuable, or Deirdre McCloskey, who deserves praise for her books and other works.

By the way, it’s a terrible oversight that Robert Murphy and Ed Stringham are not on the list.

Last but not least, we have the think tank crowd.

It goes without saying that the Cato Institute (America’s most principled and effective think tank) should win this category. And you have lots of Cato people from which to choose, so pretend you’re a dead person in Chicago and vote early and vote often.

For the most under-appreciated libertarian, I’m going to pick someone who isn’t even on the list. Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center deserves lots of write-in votes. Not only did she escape France, but she’s been one of the most effective and determined policy economists in Washington. If you need any extra convincing, just watch this video.

Once again, here’s the link for those who want to take the survey.

P.S. On another issue, Paul Krugman once again has attacked me for my comments about California. For those  interested, here is my response.

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When trying to educate people about the superiority of free enterprise over statism, I generally show them long-run data comparing market-oriented jurisdictions with those that have state-driven economies. Here are some of my favorite examples.

It’s my hope that when readers look at these comparisons, they will recognize the value of economic freedom because it is very obvious that ordinary people become far more prosperous when government is small.

But there’s also another way of determining which approach is superior. Just look and see what happens when people are allowed to vote with their feet. Or, just as important, look at places where people are not allowed to vote with their feet.

The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, for instance, existed to prevent people from escaping the horror of Soviet communism. Likewise, people in North Korea and Cuba don’t have the freedom to emigrate.

Totalitarian governments realize that their citizens would escape en masse if they had the chance.

In free countries, by contrast, there’s no need to imprison people.

And that’s why this Imgur image is not only funny, but also a good summary of population shifts around the world.

I’ll definitely have to add this to my collection of libertarian humor.

To be sure, not everybody who moves from a statist hellhole to a prosperous capitalist society is motivated by an appreciation for liberty. They may simply want a better life and have no idea that national prosperity is a function of economic liberty.

And they may not even want to earn a better life. They may simply want to get on the gravy train of government handouts (which is why I’m not a fan of America’s dependency-inducing refugee program).

But I’m digressing. The simple moral of today’s story is that decent societies don’t have to imprison their citizens. That only happens in place where government is not only big, but also evil.

P.S. Unlike some libertarians, I like borders.

P.P.S. People also vote with their feet inside nations, and the lesson to be learned is that smaller governments attract more people.

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Back in 2014, I looked at the vitally important battle over whether Santa Claus is a liberal or conservative.

Let’s now broaden that debate and contemplate the difference between libertarian Christmas and socialist Christmas.

We’ll start with this much-deserved jab at socialists, the people who continue to believe in coerced equality even though such systems always produce misery for ordinary people (though insiders often manage to get rich).

Sort of reminds me of this Chuck Asay cartoon.

And just in case anyone thinks libertarians don’t get into the Christmas spirit, here’s a new video from Reason TV showing the various gifts you can get for libertarians.

And if you like libertarian-themed Christmas videos, here’s another Reason production showing Santa Claus getting harassed by the TSA.

So what about the socialists?

Well, they definitely believe that government should be Santa Claus. Indeed, I’ve shared Christmas-themed cartoons making this point on many occasions (see here and here, for example).

But here’s something from the pro-socialist perspective. The goal is obviously to equate goodness with statism.

I like the Charlie Brown humor. That’s a nice touch. But there’s a too-big-to-ignore problem with the central message of this poster.

None of the examples involve government-coerced redistribution, which is the defining characteristic of the American left. Instead, we have five examples of voluntary goodness, a characteristic that is more commonly found where capitalism flourishes.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that supposedly selfish capitalists in America give far more to charity than supposedly compassionate Europeans. And you won’t be surprised to learn that people is red states are far more generous than people in blue states.

In other words, leftists are Scrooges with their own money who then try to mitigate their guilt by using coercive government to redistribute other people’s money.

Sounds like they should heed the words of Libertarian Jesus.

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