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Libertarian History/Philosophy



All Reason.com articles with the "Libertarian History/Philosophy" tag.



Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:19:58 -0400

 



Is Secession by Referendum Libertarian?

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

I have concerns about secession by referendum. Individual secession, of course, is no problem; that's simply libertarianism. Before I get into my reasons, let me stipulate that smaller political jurisdictions are on net preferable to larger ones if for no other reason than the lower cost of exit. That in itself may constrain government impositions. Competition is good, and a race to reduce oppression would obviously be laudable by libertarian standards. But governments of any kind may find ways to collude with one another to minimize the effects of competition. Governments today cooperate with one another to catch tax evaders. Let me also put on the record my conviction that nation-states have no right to use force to stop any component from seceding. They have no legitimate claim on anyone's allegiance. However, let's not forget that smaller, more local governments can be oppressive too, possibly more so than larger centralized ones. Many things factor into this. At any rate, Little Nationalism can be as destructive of human flourishing as Big Nationalism. My concerns about group (not individual) secession are over the process of peaceful separation, namely, the referendum. Libertarians have long criticized political democracy—that is, the settling of "public" matters by majority vote either directly or through so-called representatives—as inherently violative of individual rights. By what authority does a majority lord it over a minority? Well, doesn't this critique apply to referenda on secession? The chance of unanimity is tiny in any particular case, so why should the individuals who constitute a numerical minority be forced to dissociate from a nation-state and be subjugated by a new nation-state simply because the majority decreed it? A dissenting minority might not be concentrated in one area that could easily secede from the newly seceded territory and remain with the original country or form its own country. What then? True, dissenting individuals would presumably be free to relocate, but why should people have to abandon their homes because of a majority's preference? That hardly seems fair. It sounds like "love it or leave it." In the recent referendum in Catalonia, over 177,000 people—nearly 8 percent of the 43 percent of registered voters who cast ballots—voted against secession. A lot of people don't want to split from Spain. Of course, this does not justify the central government's violent interference with the referendum or the separation. There's is nothing sacred about today's nation-states, which were all built from conquest, myth, and historical contingency. But the rights of the members of a minority in a secessionist community still ought not to be ignored by advocates of individual liberty. Too often libertarian defenders of particular acts of secession talk as if the population unanimously favored the spit. Individualists shouldn't overlook individuals. The case of the Southern secession from the United States is even clearer than the one in Catalonia. No public referendum was held. Instead, so-called representatives did the voting. But even if a public referendum had been held, slaves would not have been allowed to vote—and they were the reason for the secession in the first place (at least in the lower South). Again, this doesn't justify Lincoln's war, but it certainly cast a shadow over secession as a libertarian act. Some of the best criticism of democratic decision-making came from the legal scholar Bruno Leoni, whose collection of papers, Freedom and the Law (expanded third edition), deserves more attention than it gets. In the final chapter of the expanded edition (but not in the original), "Voting versus the Market," Leoni dissected majority rule in a coercive state context. (I discuss Leoni's analysis in "The Crazy Arithmetic of Voting.") Leoni took issue with Anthony Downs's famous description of majority rule, in which Downs wrote, The basic arguments in favor of simple majority rule rest upon the premise that every voter should have equal weight with every other voter. Henc[...]



Stossel: Ayn Rand–The Author People Love to Hate

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 11:00:00 -0400

60 years ago today, Atlas Shrugged was published. The novel still sells 100,000 copies a year.

But not everyone will celebrate the book's anniversary. Ayn Rand is someone people love to hate. Years after her death, people still feel compelled to attack her ideas.

A recent John Oliver segment said her philosophy, objectivism, "is just a nice way of saying 'being a selfish asshole.'"

Fortunately, not all people think that way. Many young people, discovering Rand for the first time, say her ideas inspire them. Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a free market advocacy group that promotes Atlas Shrugged on college campuses, says "it's surprising how much appetite there is" for Rand's ideas. Stossel challenges him, saying, "no, college students are socialists!" Kirk responds, "They're not socialists… 60% say they think socialism is a good idea and then 70% say they don't want to pay higher taxes and they don't trust the government. They just don't understand what socialism really is."

Driena Sixto discovered Rand through Turning Point USA. "I brought to class a ton of laptop stickers that said 'This laptop was brought to you by capitalism.' Towards the end of the semester I had most of the class on my side."

Jennifer Grossman, CEO of the Atlas Society, argues that it's important to expose young people to Rand's work because "Fiction is more powerful than facts."

Facts matter more. But often it's fiction that expands people's minds and changes how they think.

Produced by Naomi Brockwell. Edited by Joshua Swain.




Smith Students Get Lecture on Libertarian Connection to 'Traditional Bigotry'

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 09:31:00 -0400

At Smith College last week, students were treated to a discussion on the connection between libertarians and "traditional bigotry." The full title of the talk, from activist and academic Loretta Ross, is "Connections Between Far Right, Religious Right, Economic Conservatives, Libertarians, and Traditional Bigotry." (Perhaps "Everyone to the Right of Me in Any Capacity Is a Bigot" was already taken.) Ross is regularly an associate professor at Hampshire College, where she teaches a course called "White Supremacy in the Age of Trump." It's part of a four-week discussion series that Ross is leading at Smith, the historic Massachusetts women's college. Next month, Smith will bring Democracy in Chains author Nancy McClean—who hates libertarians so much she can't imagine anyone would be critical of her book without a Koch Brothers-orchestrated conspiracy—to campus. As a private educational institution, Smith can certainly offer whatever programming its administrators please. And far be it for me to judge Ross' talk by its title—that's the kind of illiberal nonsense that helped get my panel on Title IX booted from another private university campus last week. In an email, Ross tells me her talk is "about the way white supremacy infiltrates and affects all political parties, and races and genders of people, regardless of their political labels." In any case, it's odd to lump libertarianism, an ideology centered on natural rights and the inherent worth of the individual, in with more collective-oriented ideologies like those espoused by religious conservatives or the "far right." We also don't have much in common with either group when it comes to social and cultural concerns. Alas, this tendency is all too typical from Democrats and other liberals, who often can't or won't imagine a paradigm beyond the left/right divide. Hence libertarians—who defended marriage equality, ending the drug war, and demilitarizing police long before Democrats did—must be right-wing because we also favor deregulation and gun rights. Traditionally, libertarianism—like most movements—has included people all over the morality and tolerance scale. It's an intellectual and political tradition with roots in radical equality movements that also led to racist fever swamps like LewRockwell.com. It's not a perfect movement, by any means, but its heroes include some of the most outspoken historical critics of traditional bigotry. And its current adherants have been vociferous opponents of alt-right bigotry and populist nationalism more broadly. For more of Reason's recent output on the subject, see: What the Alt-Right Gets Wrong Libertarianism Isn't a 'Gateway Drug' to the Alt-Right Is There Really an 'Insidious Libertarian to Alt-Right Pipeline'? Alt-Right Leader Richard Spencer Crashed a Student Libertarian Conference and Was Shunned [...]



Libertarianism Isn't a 'Gateway Drug' to the Alt-Right

Sun, 03 Sep 2017 00:01:00 -0400

How ridiculous it is for Matt Lewis of The Daily Beast to write, "It seems observably true that libertarianism is disproportionately a gateway drug to the alt-right." To say the libertarian movement is a "gateway drug" is to say more than that some prominent members of the alt-right once called themselves libertarians. It's also to say that alt-rightism provides a purer form of what those members had found in libertarianism (aka original liberalism, or simply liberalism). A good measure of ignorance of liberalism is required to entertain this thought. Libertarianism is a more formal version of (classical) liberalism, the social philosophy that blossomed in the 18th century but had roots in previous ages. The liberal worldview was self-consciously universal, applicable to all people everywhere because all human beings had the same basic requirements for flourishing. Religion and culture mattered only because they might explain variations in the ways free people pursued the good life. But the basics were expected to be more or less the same because people are people, that is, "created" equal. Liberalism has recognized the importance of respect for property to the quest for the good life. This is not difficult to fathom. How can one flourish in an environment in which one's possessions are subject to confiscation by the state or freelance marauders? This point is reinforced when one remembers that plans can extend over many months and years. Who would delay consumption a long period without reasonable certainty of being able to enjoy the fruits of one's labor and forbearance? So, yes, private property is central to liberalism. But liberals have historically seen property as an institution engendering not exclusion, but inclusion. Free trade and the widest possible division of labor have been just as dear to liberals as property rights—the connection is obvious. You see this clearly in Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises. Mises in particular located the source of wider social living in the perceived potential for gains from trade and toleration. Liberals have seen the division of labor and free trade as indispensable to human flourishing, but those things cannot exist securely without mutual respect for every person's title to their own stuff. As an institution, property was of a piece with cosmopolitanism and exchange of all kinds. That's why a "pure" race or culture is as chimerical as a "pure" language. Sure, property also authorizes owners to exclude from its use those they wish to exclude for whatever reason. But that hardly seems to have been the focus of liberals. Rather, property was about ever-greater opportunities for interaction—race, culture, and national borders notwithstanding. The exclusionary side of property could explain why some individuals flirted with libertarianism before going on to circles of racial and religious bigotry. Perhaps those individuals were attracted to the exclusionary features of property but then got turned off when they saw the overriding lure of inclusion that property and trade present. So they moved on. Another explanation is that some people are attracted to a "fringe" movement not because of anything particular to it but because like the idea of being a big fish in a small pond. If for some reason one pond doesn't suit, they may jump to another "fringier" pond. No matter how hard one might try, it is impossible to twist libertarianism into something it is not. Property can be used to advance bigotry, but so can a printing press or a website. No one thinks this negative potential taints the ideas of free trade and free speech, which predominantly foster increased contact across former divides. Likewise, the wish of some to use property in the cause of bigotry does not detract from the institution's monumental contribution to peace and harmony among diverse people. Maybe a few self-described libertarians cling to the idea that property is essentially about exclusion, but they are fated to hit a wall: l[...]



Transhumanism and Libertarianism Are Entirely Compatible

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 11:45:00 -0400

A fight over whether or not transhumanism can be libertarian broke out over at The American Conservative. The contretemps began with an article by Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager. Istvan is also seeking to become the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of California. In "The Growing World of Libertarian Transhumanism," Istvan optimistically asserts that "freedom from the government will allow radical science to go on undisturbed." Zoltan defines transhumanism as "the international movement of using science and technology to radically change the human being and human experience. Its primary goal is to deliver and embrace a utopian techno-optimistic world." Due to rapid technological progress "the world is shifting under our feet—and libertarian transhumanism is a sure way to navigate the chaos to make sure we arrive at the best future possible." Kai Weiss, a researcher at the Austrian Economics Center and Hayek Institute in Vienna, Austria, swiftly denounced the piece. "Transhumanism should be rejected by libertarians as an abomination of human evolution," he wrote. Clearly there is some disagreement. Weiss is correct that Istvan doesn't expend much intellectual effort linking transhumanism with libertarian thinking. Istvan largely assumes that people seeking to flourish should have the freedom to enhance their bodies and minds and those of their children without much government interference. So what abominable transhumanist technologies does Weiss denounce? Weiss includes defeating death, robotic hearts, virtual reality sex, telepathy via mind-reading headsets, brain implants, ectogenesis, artificial intelligence, exoskeleton suits, designer babies, and gene editing tech. "At no point [does Istvan] wonder if we should even strive for these technologies," Weiss thunders. While Istvan may not wonder, Weiss fails to make a single argument against these technological developments: It is apparently self-evident to him that they are evil. As with all new technologies, unintended consequences are inevitable and people can and will surely misuse them. Libertarians know all too well that vigilance against government abuse of modern technologies is vital. These worries do not, however, constitute preemptive arguments for preventing people from voluntarily seeking to use the fruits of innovation to work out how to live the best lives that they can. Oddly, as a riposte against libertarian transhumanism, Weiss cites Christian conservative Rod Dreher's assertion that "choice matters more than what is chosen. The Technological Man is not concerned with what he should desire; rather, he is preoccupied with how he can acquire or accomplish what he desires." This is a non-sequitur. Of course, libertarians (and one hopes most other folks) are concerned about what it is that we should desire. The central question is who, if anyone, has the right to stop us from pursuing our private and non-aggressive desires once we've applied our intellects and moral imaginations to figuring out what it is that we want? Progressives and conservatives believe government has extensive authority to tell citizens how to live their lives. Libertarians do not. On that count, Weiss is entirely correct to call out Istvan for succumbing to authoritarianism when he advocates for licensing reproduction as a way to prevent overpopulation. As someone who evidently thinks he is committed to enlarging human liberty, Weiss would do well to ponder this observation from economics Nobelist Friedrich Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty: Nowhere is freedom more important than where our ignorance is greatest—at the boundaries of knowledge, in other words, where nobody can predict what lies a step ahead….the ultimate aim of freedom is the enlargement of those capacities in which man surpasses his ancestors and to which each generation must endeavor to add its share—its share in the growth of knowledge and the gradual advance of moral and ae[...]



CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman: 'I Don't Mind Being Told What To Do. I Just Won't Do It.'

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 12:10:00 -0400

(image) "I don't mind being told what to do," said CrossFit founder Greg Glassman recently. "I just won't do it. Say anything you want."

Spoken like a true libertarian.

But Glassman's libertarian bona fides go beyond an individualistic streak. In a new 60 Minutes segment, Glassman credits his program's success with a free market approach to franchising and a personal belief in what we might (to borrow a buzzword) call "conscious capitalism."

Chances are, you know someone devoted to CrossFit. Part fitness regimen, part gym, part spectator sport, and part lifestyle, CrossFit—now the largest fitness chain in the world—was launched by Glassman in 2001 and now boasts around 14,000 gyms, or "boxes," globally. Glassman is sole owner and director of the private company, which is estimated to be worth millions.

"One reason CrossFit's grown so fast is because just about anyone who wants to open a 'box' can after paying a $3,000 yearly fee and passing a two-day seminar," reports 60 Minutes. "It's how the company makes most of its money."

Glassman quickly shuts down skepticism from interviewer Sharon Alfonsi about this process:

Sharyn Alfonsi: "Two days to take a course, then I can open a gym?"

Greg Glassman: Amazing, huh?

Sharyn Alfonsi: I mean, to me, is that enough?

Greg Glassman: Well, the— here was the alternative. Here's what it used to be: All ya had to have was the money. And you don't even have to take a test. That's where every other chain came from, someone just launched 'em.

The show goes on to report that "unlike most gym chains, Glassman...relinquishes nearly all control over his affiliates," a philosophy they attribute to his being "a die-hard libertarian." (CrossFit and Glassman have previously donated to the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason.)

There are no rules, for instance, about one CrossFit gym locating too close to another; Glassman's philosophy is that the strongest will survive.

Sharyn Alfonsi: —they can do it any way they want to do it.

Greg Glassman: —this isn't Kentucky Fried Chicken or— yeah, it's— it's CrossFit.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You let them do what they want to do once they—

Greg Glassman: I do.

Information about CrossFit exercises and philosophy can all be found for free on the company's website. "How does that make sense?" asks Alfonsi.

Greg Glassman: Yeah. It didn't until we did it, you know, the more video we give away, the more money we make.

In other words, Glassman isn't capitalizing on some secret knowledge or specialized equipment that only CrossFit boxes contain but creating the kind of program and philosophy that thrives on community. Explaining CrossFit's enviable business growth, Glassman explained, "I'm not trying to grow a business...I'm doing the right things for the right people for the right reasons."

Kudos to Glassman for demonstrating what libertarians like to preach to oft-resistant audiences: doing the right thing can be profitable, and doing the profitable thing can be right.

Reason TV talked to Glassman in 2013. Check out the interview below:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-EB0XyBUl0U" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">




The Google Memo Exposes a Libertarian Blindspot When It Comes To Power

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 10:45:00 -0400

[This piece has been edited to correct Peter Singer's ideological orientation. Explanation at end of article.] The "Google Memo" (read it here) raises at least two big questions from a specifically libertarian perspective: When does an employer have a right to fire an employee and how do social pressures work to shut down speech that makes powerful people uncomfortable? The answer to the first question is pretty clear-cut, at least when talking about an at-will employee: Google (and other employers) should and do have extremely broad rights to fire any worker at any time. Exceptions rightly exist (and depending on the state one lives in, there may be fewer or more legal exceptions recognized by the courts) but they are narrow. Critics fear that at-will employment will result in chronic job instability, but no firm thrives over time by firing its workers on a regular basis and without good reasons (at-will employment also gives workers the not-insignificant ability to leave a situation without having to explain themselves or negotiate out of contractual obligations). The vast majority of Americans have never signed an employment contract (in nearly three decades of adult work, I know I never have) and are not the worse off for it. Shortly before the memo's author was fired, Google's vice president of diversity, integrity, and governance wrote Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we'll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, "Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. 'Nuff said." You might think that such values would have meant that James Damore, who penned the memo, might have been lauded for raising the issues he did, if not necessarily the way he did. Just earlier this year, at a shareholder meeting of Google's parent corporation Alphabet, chairman Eric Schmidt told an audience, "The company was founded under the principles of freedom of expression, diversity, inclusiveness and science-based thinking." But whether you agree with Google's specific decision in this case, there should be no question that it has the right to fire people. If a company does that consistently for arbitrary and unconvincing reasons (ranging from enforcing ideological consistency in non-ideological organizations to erratic management to whatever), it will have huge trouble attracting and keeping talent. But in a free society, every company should have the right to put itself out fo business through bad management practices. James Damore says that his most-recent performance review at Google rated him as "superb, which is the top few percentile" at the company. Supporters of the firing say that nobody at the company would want to work with a person who publicly questioned the announced demographic diversity goals at Google, a fact belied by reports that "over half" of Google employees don't think he should have been let go. If his firing causes more morale problems than it solves, that's Google's problem and it shouldn't erode confidence in the system of at-will employment. The second question raised by the Google Memo—dubbed "an anti-diversity screed" by Gizmodo, the site that posted it in its entirety apparently without reading it—is a more-complicated and interesting topic from a libertarian point of view. Damore titled his memo "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," and management's quick response to it underscores his titular implication, which is that political correctness has in many ways stymied any sort of good-faith conversation about issues touching on race, class, gender, and other highly charged topics. If libertarians instinctively only think about state power as worthy of cri[...]



How Freedom Made Us Rich

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 13:00:00 -0400

"In [1492], if you were going to bet on who was going to have a 'Great Enrichment,'" says University of Illinois at Chicago economist Deirdre McCloskey, "you would have been crazy not to bet on China because China had the most advanced commercial institutions, the most advanced ship building technology, [and] the most advanced machinery all together." But it didn't work out that way. "My claim," McCloskey says, "is that liberty was the key to modern economic growth." In her new book, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, the third volume in a trilogy, McCloskey argues that our vast accumulation of wealth over the past two hundred years— which she's dubbed "The Great Enrichment"—was the result of "massively better ideas in technology and institutions." Where did they arise from? &tag=reasonmagazineA"A new liberty and dignity for commoners," she argues, "expressed as the ideology of European liberalism." McCloskey sat down with Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest, the annual convention for libertarians in Las Vegas, for a wide-ranging conversation on topics including the roots of "The Great Enrichment," why her gender reassignment surgery was an "expression of [her] libertarianism", and the importance of advocating policies that "actually help the poor" instead of just "making people feel good about helping the poor. McCloskey is also a Reason columnist. Her archive is here. Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Justin Monticello. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason and today we are sitting down with Deirdre McCloskey. She's an Emeritus Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author most recently of Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World. She's also a columnist for Reason Magazine. Deirdre, thanks so much for talking with us. Long time contributing editor to Reason as well. McCloskey: I'm extremely pleased to be here and ... Gillespie: Well, your latest column, because I think this puts us right into a lot of current discussions, is titled The Myth of Technological Unemployment. McCloskey: Yeah. Gillespie: The subhead is, if the nightmare of technological unemployment were true, it would have already happened repeatedly and massively. In it, you take issue with a lot of libertarian or free-market economists who are talking about how we've reached the end of technological innovation or productivity growth and yeah, we're going to have to find something to do for people who are replaced by robots. McCloskey: Yeah. Gillespie: What's wrong with that? McCloskey: I think it's just completely wrong. My friend, Tyler Cowen, my friends at George Mason think maybe it's time for an intervention and Tyler, we think maybe we should send him to dry out somewhere because he seems to have gone crazy on this and he's not alone. I mean, there are people like Bob Gordon wrote a book last year, which was very successful. Gillespie: Which argued that basically say goodbye to 2%, ... McCloskey: Exactly. Gillespie: ... even 2% economic growth. McCloskey: Exactly. Innovation in the United States is finished and we've invented all the window screens and drop ceilings we're ever going to invent. There are a whole bunch of things wrong with it. One is that it doesn't make a lot of quantitative sense. In Tyler's book, which is called Average is Over, he's got a chart, which he says, "Summarizes my point." It's terrible. See the falling share of labor in national income. You look closely at the chart, which is one of these Time Magazine charts, it goes down like that. It turns out it's gone from 63%[...]



Immigration Brings Out the Social Engineers

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Immigration brings out the social engineers and central planners across the political establishment. We see this clearly in the debate over Donald Trump's support for legislation that would cut legal immigration in half while tilting it toward well-educated English-speakers and against low-skilled non-English-speakers. Even establishment opponents of Trump's position believe "we" must update the immigration system to better serve "the economy." But they disagree on particulars. Trumpsters think the economy needs only scientists and inventors (preferably future Nobel Prize winners, I suppose), while Republican and Democratic anti-Trumpsters counter that the economy also needs some unskilled workers to pick crops in the hot sun and do menial work in luxury resorts, which Americans apparently don't want to do. But what is this thing they call "the economy," which has needs? Social engineers of all parties and persuasions talk as though an economy is some kind of mechanism to be centrally fine-tuned and overhauled occasionally according to a plan. Even those who style themselves free enterprisers display the central-planning mentality when it comes to immigration. Contrary to this establishment view, the economy is not a mechanism. It is, rather, hundreds of millions of American producers and consumers, who also happen to be embedded in a global marketplace. Why can't they be trusted, without the direction of politicians, to decide for themselves what they need and to engage in social cooperation—that is, among other things, to trade goods and services—to obtain it? It is we whom the social engineers wish to manipulate. In the process they would cruelly keep poor people in perpetual misery and political oppression by locking them out of America. Why? Because the economy doesn't need them. Like all central planners, the immigration planners exhibit what F. A. Hayek called "the pretense of knowledge." Do these presumptuous frauds know what specific skills will be demanded in the future? To know that, they would have to know what products will be demanded in the future. But we don't know what we'll want because lots of things have not been invented yet. And we can't predict who will invent them. People who today have few skills and who speak no English will be among those who make our lives better. Let them come here to make better lives for themselves. That's their right, which is justification enough. But we will benefit too. Notice, also, that advocates of immigration control—progressive and conservative—often say the economy doesn't have enough jobs for the people already here. So how can we let more in? This assumes the "size" the economy is fixed and that more people would result in smaller shares for everyone. But if we stop thinking of the economy as a mechanism and start thinking of it as an unending series of exchanges between people seeking their betterment, we can see through this fallacy. Newcomers are both producers and consumers. Therefore their entry into our society presents new opportunities on both the supply and demand sides. In a freed economy this would portend higher living standards for everyone. (Regarding today's wage pessimism, see Bryan Caplan here.) Resources are not fixed, as evidenced by the fact that seven billion people are far wealthier today than much smaller world populations were in previous ages. In fact, resources—that is, useful materials—are not even natural. As the great economist Julian Simon taught us, what we call natural resources are merely useless things and even detriments until someone exercising intelligence—"the ultimate resource"—discovers how we may use them to make our lives better. Not so long ago, you would have paid dearly to remove crude oil from your land. Then a chemist distilled kerosene from it. Kerosene was better and cheaper than wha[...]



Do Too Many Libertarians Celebrate a False 'Perfection of the Market'? [Podcast]

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 14:00:00 -0400

No recent book has caused a bigger splash in libertarian circles than Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains. The Duke historian avers that Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan, who helped created what's known as public choice economics, had racist, segregationist intentions in his life's work of analyzing what he called "politics without romance"; that the Koch brothers—Charles and David—are not-so-secretly controlling politics in the U.S. and are devoted to disenfranchising Americans, especially racial and ethnic minorities; and that libertarians are deeply indebted to the pro-slavery philosophy of John C. Calhoun and that we wish "back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation." None of this is true, but that doesn't mean MacLean should go unchallenged—or that libertarians don't need to explain themselves better if we want to gain more influence in contemporary debates over politics, culture, and ideas. In the latest Reason Podcast, Nick Gillespie talks with Michael Munger of Duke's political science department, who has written a caustic, fair, and even generous review of MacLean's book for the Independent Institute. Even as he categorizes Democracy in Chains as a "work of speculative historical fiction" that was "in many cases illuminating," he concludes that her book is wrong in almost every meaningful way, from gauging Buchanan's influence on libertarianism to her inconsistent views toward majoritarian rule as an absolute good to her attempts to smear Buchanan as a backward-looking racial conservative. Munger, who ran for governor of North Carolina as a Libertarian in 2008 and maintains a vital Twitter account at @mungowitz, also discusses how that experience changed his understanding of politics, why he's a "directionalist" advocating incremental policy changes rather a "destinationist" insisting on immediate implementation of utopian programs, and how the movement's heavy emphasis on economics has retarded libertarianism's wider appeal. "Many libertarians celebrate something like the perfection of the market," he says. "And so we end up playing defense. When someone says, 'Look at these problems with the market,' we say, 'No, no. Actually, the problem is state intervention, the problem is regulation. If we get rid of those things, then perfection will be restored.' The argument that I see for libertarianism is not the perfection of markets, it's the imperfections of the state, the institutions of the state." It's a wide-ranging conversation that touches on growing up in a working-class, segregated milieu and possible futures for the libertarian movement. Munger's home page is here. Read Reason's coverage of Democracy in Chains here. Audio post production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/336311909%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-SEUG7&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie. This is the Reason Podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today I'm talking with Mike Munger, a political scientist at Duke, about the new book Democracy in Chains by a Duke historian, Nancy MacLean. In her controversial work, MacLean argues, among other things, that Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan, who helped create what is known as public choice economics, had racist seg[...]



To Duke Historian Nancy MacLean, Advocating Free Markets Is Something 'The World Has Never Seen Anything Like...Before'

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 13:53:00 -0400

Duke University historian Nancy MacLean recently issued Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, an alas quite hot book that purports to expose the dark secrets of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan and the "radical right"/libertarian movement he's allegedly the brains behind. MacLean has been convincingly accused by many who understand his work and the libertarian movement with both less built-in hostility and more actual knowledge than she has (including me here at Reason) of getting nearly everything wrong, from fact to interpretation. She recently took to the Chronicle of Higher Education to allegedly reply to her critics. A quick wrap up of many specific problems found in her book by her critics—by no means all—that MacLean ignores even while allegedly "respond[ing] to her critics," and which the editors at the Chronicle let her ignore: • Her claim of meaningful similarity between John Calhoun's constitutional vision and that of Buchanan and his public choice school cannot be reasonably maintained. • Her assertion that the modern public choice/libertarian constitutionalist vision has nothing to do with James Madison is not true. • Buchanan did not, contra MacLean, believe that all taxation above voluntary giving is theft akin to a mugger in the park. • She attributed to Buchanan the belief that those receiving government aid "are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to… animals who are dependent" though he used that phrase to describe the attitude that was the opposite of his. • Her attribution of Buchanan's use of the Hobbesian term "Leviathan" to (racist, uncoincidentally for her rhetorical smear purposes) Southern Agrarian poet Donald Davidson rather than, well, Hobbes, falls apart with study of when and how Buchanan began using the term in his work. • She regularly cites libertarian thinkers as saying nasty things implying a contempt for the poor or for democracy that are not supported by the full context of the quotes; victims of her malicious misinterpretation including David Boaz and Tyler Cowen. It's a pattern of hostile incomprehension, and her "response" indicates that this is partly because she's deep-down unable to view thinkers or funders who advocate limiting government's scope, expense, or power any other way. MacLean speaks to none of the above specific critiques of her book in the Chronicle, merely generically complaining about being attacked and insisting that people who critique her work clearly hadn't read or understood it, or linking to people who sophistically defend some possible meanings in a manner far more subtle and complicated than she bothered to do. Mostly eschewing factual or interpretational specifics, she reached instead for sympathy by complaining these specific critiques on her methods and understanding as a historian made her "feel vulnerable and exposed" and interpreting an intellectual metaphor for a physical threat. She does a cute turnaround insisting against all evidence that those who praised her book were the only ones who read it, and that the very political forces she inveighs against in her book "helped create the current toxicity" allegedly exemplified by academic experts explaining how she got so many things so very wrong in her attempt to make her readers hate and fear anyone who wants to restrict government's power to manage our lives. She certainly does not address a core problem with her book I detailed in my review: the "historical fact" upon which her entire thesis depends, her book's distinguishing selling point, which she claims to have uniquely discovered through diligent archival work, that James Buchanan was the secret influence behind the political funding machine of Charles Koch and that that[...]



Jeff Flake's Conscience Is Good for Libertarians—and the Country

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 10:20:00 -0400

"We've been compromised...by forces...of populism and protectionism, isolationism, xenophobia," says Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, about his own Republican Party. In a new book that borrows a title from Barry Goldwater, an NPR interview, and a no-holds-barred column in Politico, Flake is making the case that the GOP and President Trump are dishonest and disinterested in limiting the size, scope, and spending of government. He has impeccable credentials as a libertarian-leaning politician who once ran the free-market Goldwater Institute in Phoenix. Flake is a dedicated free-trader and defender of immigration who accompanied Reason on our trip to Cuba in 2016. Since arriving in Congress in 2001, he has passionately attacked the Cuba embargo as misguided, immoral, and ineffective: "We preach the gospel of contact and commerce and trade and travel, yet with Cuba we turn around and say, 'No, it's not going to work there.' It just seemed to be a glaring inconsistency in our foreign policy." An "unapologetic member of the Gang of Eight" that sound comprehensive immigration reform, he is one of the few remaining Republicans in high office to champion higher levels of legal immigration both as a humanitarian gesture and as a practical boon to the country. Flake tells NPR that his discontent "is a long time in coming. I got here in Washington in 2001.... And we got [President George W. Bush's education overhaul law] No Child Left Behind, which was, I thought, big federal overreach into local education policy. And then we got the prescription drug benefit, which added about $7 trillion in unfunded liabilities. I didn't think that was a very conservative thing to do." As important, Flake notes, When we couldn't argue that we were the party of limited government anymore, then that forced us into issues like flag burning or trying to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, things that we wouldn't have done otherwise if we would have been arguing about true principles of limited government or spending. He says that conservatives need "to be honest with people" about the causes of economic dislocation. While Donald Trump and his fellow populists wail about Mexico and China, Flake stays grounded in reality. "We manufacture twice as much as we did in the 1980s with one-third fewer workers and those productivity gains will continue. Globalization has happened and the question is: Do we harness it for our benefit or are we left behind by it?" In his Politico piece, Flake ranges close to calling for Trump's impeachment, or at least official censure, writing that "unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility." Flake says that revelations about Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and the president's bromance with Vladimir Putin were among the reasons he's channeling his inner Goldwater. Where should his party go from here?: First, we shouldn't hesitate to speak out if the president "plays to the base" in ways that damage the Republican Party's ability to grow and speak to a larger audience. Second, Republicans need to take the long view when it comes to issues like free trade: Populist and protectionist policies might play well in the short term, but they handicap the country in the long term. Third, Republicans need to stand up for institutions and prerogatives, like the Senate filibuster, that have served us well for more than two centuries. No wonder there have been whispers about Trump working to primary Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018. You might not agree with Jeff Flake on everything, but it's good to see a principled free-market, open-borders Republican going public with his discontent, especially because he's got a strong r[...]



What the Left Should Like about Public Choice

Sun, 30 Jul 2017 13:58:00 -0400

Although the public choice school of political economy has been demonized in a new work of putatively progressive fiction masquerading as intellectual history, good-faith leftists (if they don't already regard themselves as libertarians) may be surprised by how their cause could benefit from the insights of James Buchanan et al. (For reviews of the book I'm referring to, see among others this, this, and this. To keep up with the daily sightings of misquotations, fabrications, and smears, read Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.) Full disclosure: despite its many valuable insights, I find less to like in public choice theory, at least its most common variant, than many (nonlibertarian) leftists would. For one thing, I (like Murray Rothbard) don't share the view that the state is just another way (along with the market) in which we assert our personal preferences and obtain goods and services. (Public choice versus private choice.) The state is a predator and an exploiter, not a cooperative venture for the production of "public goods." I don't see how a hypothetical social contract or constitutional convention changes that. And I'm underwhelmed by the constitutional contractarian argument that, while the state indeed coerces, we in effect have consented to be subject to the state's threats of violence. On the other hand, I like the methodological and moral egalitarian individualism at the base of public choice—and so should all leftists of good faith. Everyone has the right to be free of aggression; no one is naturally endowed with authority over others. But I am uneasy about the fact that that the consequent unanimity principle in practice becomes something far less than literal unanimity. For me it's not enough that the decrees of legislatures are passed under constitutional rules everyone perhaps would agree to were they gathered at a convention. As Rothbard pointed out, such hypothetical unanimity can easily become a device to legitimize almost anything the government does. I realize that concern about the production of important "public goods," such as security and dispute resolution, underlies much of this, but perhaps this concern betrays an underappreciation for the power of entrepreneurship, technology, and cooperation through nonstate channels. For a long time some heavy thinkers thought lighthouses couldn't be produced on the market. As for the market production of security, a voluminous interdisciplinary literature has become available to show how feasible that would be. (Start here. By the way, it's wrong to think that a stateless society would lack a constitution.) Elements on the left should also be delighted by public choice scholars' development of the theory of privilege-seeking (or "rent-seeking"). It's an old observation, really: when the state's personnel have favors to dispense, people in the private sector will invest resources to obtain them. Such favors are by nature impositions on third parties. They may take the form of cash subsidies, taxes and regulations that hamper or quash competition and raise incomes in a nonmarket manner, and other devices. But the principle is the same: private- and government-sector individuals collude to use the state's coercive power to obtain what they could not obtain through voluntary exchange for mutual benefit. It's a theory of exploitation the good-faith left should embrace. By the same token, the state's personnel, seeing opportunities to sell favors, are just as likely to initiate the privilege-seeking process. In this sense, public choice scholars are right when they see the political arena as a series of exchanges. The big difference with the marketplace, however, is that in the political arena the largest group of people is forced to partic[...]



What Nancy MacLean Gets Wrong About James Buchanan

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:00:00 -0400

The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew [...]



'Humans of Freedom Fest': Portraits from the Largest Annual Gathering of Libertarians

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:56:00 -0400

Editor's note: FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas, is the largest annual gathering of libertarians in the country. Today is the first day of the four-day long conference, which is being headlined in its 10th year by William Shatner, John Stossel, Greg Gutfeld, and others. Taking inspiration from the site Humans of New York, Reason is happy to offer Humans of FreedomFest, a series of portraits and brief interviews with various attendees. This is the first installment.

Victor the SnakeMannn

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"This hand and this tattoo is in more pictures with celebrities than anybody else's hand or tattoo. I've got the most famous GOP tattoo."

Are you the black sheep of the family?

"Oh yeah. My dad was a Marine and a Democrat. And he was one of those guys who voted because of my mom, so his vote wouldn't be canceled out. I've been a conservative and a hippie for most of my life."

Jaden Stubbs and Roy Lee Stubbs

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"My dad couldn't make it to this year's [FreedomFest], so I came with [my cousin's Jaden's] family. I earned my money so I could come."—Roy Lee (above, right)

You earned your money so you could come?

"I work. I do a little bit of flooring. Construction. I'm helping pay for gas. Paying for food."

"Our parents teach us to be individuals."—Jaden

Nick Cooper

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What is your most controversial opinion?

"Among the general public? Eliminating the Federal Reserve. Among libertarians? I'm not a huge open-borders guy. There's a joke that if you get five libertarians in a room, you'll get 10 opinions."