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Libertarian History/Philosophy



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



Published: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 23:28:34 -0500

 



Everything You Wanted To Know About The Volokh Conspiracy: Podcast

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:05:00 -0500

"Intellectual honesty isn't just refraining from lying," says UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh in the newest Reason Podcast. "It's mentioning the arguments against you and explaining why you think that they're mistaken, as opposed to just omitting them, hoping that the audience isn't going to catch on." Volokh is the founder of The Volokh Conspiracy, "one of the most widely read legal blogs in the United States" [which] "has more influence in the field—and more direct impact—than most law reviews." The blog is written by mostly libertarian and libertarian-leaning law professors and court watchers, so we're excited as hell at Reason to now be hosting the Volokh Conspiracy on our website. It will remain editorially independent from Reason, though all of our readers will find much of interest and value in its content, which ranges from in-depth yet accessible glosses on the most important legal cases of the moment to disquisitions on pop culture. Volokh explained to me a few weeks ago that the blog began chafing under its home at The Washington Post partly because of that publication's paywall and partly because the newspaper would censor curse words even when they appeared in court documents that Volokh conspiracists were analyzing. When Volokh suggested Reason.com would be a good home for the blog, I instantly agreed, only adding that we would insist on publishing curse words even when they weren't strictly necessary. In a wide-ranging interview about The Volokh Conspiracy, Volokh discussed the site's aims, why he thinks the government is sometimes right to force business owners to serve customers they don't like, and his high opinion (so far) of Donald Trump's appointments to the federal judiciary. In an age of deep polarization and intellectually mendacious debates, the Volokh Conspiracy remains a straight shooter when it comes to pursuing what its contributors see as the truth. "I hope even our libertarian readers appreciate that," says Volokh, "because then they know that when we do take a view that they agree with more, that's because we really, sincerely believe it and think it's the best argument, and sometimes perhaps they see that there are some points in which conservatives, or even liberals or moderates, might be more correct than the libertarian orthodoxy." Audio 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/368556689%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-ZGC8S&color=%23f37021&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" 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. Please check any quotes against audio to ensure accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Today, we're talking with Eugene Volokh. He's a UCLA law professor and perhaps better known as the proprietor of The Volokh Conspiracy, a long-running legal group blog that I am excited to announce is coming to Reason.com. After being its own site and then being perched at The Washington Post for a long time, it is now coming to Reason.com. Eugene, thanks so much for talking to us. Eugene Volokh: Thank you very much for talking to me. Gillespie: Let's talk about The Volokh Conspiracy, which is obviously the premier group legal blog on the planet, I'm willing to say. There are, I guess, certain parts of Africa and some of the 'Stan' countries, I'm not familiar with their law blogs, but I'm pretty sure that The Volokh Conspiracy is still big there, too. What is the aim of The Volokh Conspiracy, for listeners or readers of Reason who may not be fully familiar with it? Volokh: Sure. We're mostly law professors, and we blog mostly about law. We also blog about whatever we please. Part of the aim is to have fun, for us to have fun, but the way we have fun is by talking to the public and often hearin[...]



Libertarianism Has Nothing to Offer Populist Authoritarians

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 08:00:00 -0500

I am mystified by the claim that the long-standing libertarian critique of democracy furnishes aid and comfort to conservatives who display a taste for populist authoritarianism. Let me say at the outset that the libertarian critique has nothing to offer those who would impose legal or social disabilities on racial, ethnic, religious, and other minorities. If white supremacists see something helpful here, they are mere opportunists who would find something helpful to their cause in anything they looked at. Right off the top we may ask where is this right-wing antipathy to democracy. On the contrary, I see a right-wing embrace of democracy even in the age of Trump. (Rush Limbaugh has long called himself the "doctor of democracy.") Which branch of government have conservatives of all stripes railed against most vigorously for decades? It's the judiciary, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. And what have the courts done to make conservatives so angry? They have invalidated actions of legislators—the supposed elected representatives of the people. Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia were not the first conservatives to inveigh against unelected judges for vetoing the will of the people as expressed through the democratic branches of government. Bork, whose defeat at the hands of Democrats as Ronald Reagan's nominee for the Supreme Court, energized conservatives with his articulate defense of—wait for it— majoritarianism. Libertarians opposed him for that reason. I once heard Scalia say his job was not to strike down legislative acts that were unconstitutional, just those that were "really unconstitutional." (I did not add the emphasis.) (We note here in passing that public choice analysis demonstrates that majority rule is in fact a chimera because special interests, as a result of collective-action problems among other things, are better positioned than the unorganized masses to achieve decisive clout over policy-making. Moreover, representative government was devised as a scam to defuse public opposition to what their rulers were doing.) By pointing all this out, I do not deny the authoritarian element on the right, which Trump has brought to the forefront. There's an unappreciated connection among democracy, populism, and authoritarianism, which Friedrich Hayek noted in The Road to Serfdom. Democracy is inevitably slow and messy; it can bog down in endless debate and factionalism. Then, under certain circumstances, it can produce a strongman who condemns the dithering and promises swift action to carry out the "will of the people." In contrast to conservatives, so-called liberal Democrats typically applaud court interference with legislatures, including Congress. (Remember, among others, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade.) So who are the democrats and who are the anti-democrats? Are libertarians responsible for the Democratic Party's support for judges who strike down democratically enacted laws? To be sure, both "liberals" and conservatives are opportunists. They support judicial activism when it suits their agendas and oppose it when it does not. And, as Ilya Somin notes, each side tries to keep the other side's supporters from expressing themselves democratically, for example, through gerrymandering. But neither has been influenced by the libertarian critique of democracy. Still, it is conservatives who make opposition to the courts their signature issue—to the point of being willing to elect any Republican president on the grounds that judicial appointments matter above all else. It is libertarians (such as Randy Barnett) who have consistently espoused "principled judicial activism" over the conservatives' beloved "judicial restraint." Principled judicial activism is the maxim that judges should refuse to defer to the people's legislatures when freedom is at stake. It is otherwise known as the presumption of liberty. More generally, progressives, such as those who dominate the Democrats today, have long favored anti-democratic entities like independent regulatory agencies, which [...]



Stossel: Happy Thanksgiving!

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:00:00 -0500

Did you know that the pilgrims almost starved after they arrived at Plymouth Rock? That's because they were forced to farm "collectively." The corporation that funded the expedition said, "grow food together. Divide the harvest equally."

This is a terrible idea. It creates what economists call the "tragedy of the commons." When you share property and the results of your work, people farm until the land is barren, don't work as hard, or steal food from others.

John Stossel gathers young people from Students For Liberty and runs an experiment to demonstrate this "tragedy of the commons." It shows the solution is private property, which is what saved the pilgrims.

Governor William Bradford finally decided to "assign each family a parcel of land". Once the pilgrims had property rights, they became much more productive and brought in huge harvests -- which they were then able to share with the Indians.

So this Thanksgiving feast, don't forget to say "thanks, private property!"




Egoism

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:00:00 -0400

(image) The most famous individualist anarchist journal of 19th century America was Liberty, edited by the fiery polemicist Benjamin Tucker. But Liberty wasn't the movement's only periodical, and anyone interested in that period of libertarian history should welcome any chance to examine the outlets edited by figures with different sensibilities. So it's good to see Georgia and Henry Replogle's journal Egoism reprinted in a hefty new book, Egoism: The First Two Volumes, 1890–1892 (Union of Egoists).

In some ways Tucker and the Replogles were peas in a pod: Each mixed the radical egoism of Max Stirner with the monetary schemes of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. But there are differences here too, with Egoism putting a stronger stress on feminism and free love. Neither Replogle was as talented a writer as Tucker, and the range of contributors here isn't as large as Tucker's stable. But if Egoism wasn't ultimately as good a publication as Liberty, it's still interesting in its own right.

Some introductory material provides historical context for the journal, including the entertaining tale of the editors' brief stay in the town of Liberal, Missouri. Founded as an alleged haven for free thought by George Walser, a man who hoped to ban both churches and saloons from his city, Liberal attracted and then repelled the Replogles, who were driven out for espousing free love. Walser later converted to spiritualism, and in time the town would host vast conventions of people hoping to speak with the dead.




Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Early LSD Guru

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 12:23:00 -0400

(image) One of the odder episodes in the Truman/Eisenhower days of the libertarian movement involves Gerald Heard, a mystic whose ideas took hold in the higher echelons of the Foundation for Economic Education and a now-mostly-forgotten free-market group called Spiritual Mobilization. Heard's syncretic spiritual path eventually led him to mescaline and LSD, which some of his market-loving students then tried under his guidance. In the meantime, Heard's articles graced the pages of The Freeman and Faith and Freedom, journals that were generally associated with the right wing of libertarianism but were apparently open nonetheless to a little proto–New Age thought.

Heard was also a novelist, and his corpus includes three books about "Mr. Mycroft," a retired Sherlock Holmes living incognito under his brother's name. And the first of those books, 1941's A Taste of Honey, was adapted in an ABC anthology series called The Elgin Hour, with Boris Karloff as Mr. Mycroft. I haven't read the novel, but as told here the story is a lightly comic, lightly horrific tale about a man who murders his victims with specially engineered killer bees. The plot is a bit on the thin side, but it's fun to watch Karloff, who plays up his character's eccentricities so much that at times he feels less like Sherlock Holmes than a lost incarnation of Doctor Who.

The show originally aired on February 22, 1955, but I think it makes better viewing in the week before Halloween:

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

The novel was adapted again in 1966 as a movie called The Deadly Bees, this time without the Mr. Mycroft character. To see the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of that one, go here. For past Halloween installments of the Friday A/V Club, you can watch haunted-house comedies here, vintage Halloween safety films here, and a punk show at a mental hospital here. Yet more Friday A/V Club posts are here. And Gerald Heard's articles for The Freeman are here. I find them almost unreadable but your mileage may very.




Just How Much Did Nancy MacLean Get Wrong?

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 09:10:00 -0400

Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains, an error-filled screed against Nobel Prize–winning economist James Buchanan, is one of five finalists for a National Book Award. Is that honor deserved? It is worth considering, as the award's nominators did not, that nearly every reviewer with actual independent knowledge about her book's topics has pointed out a startling range of errors of citation, interpretation, narrative, and fact. (This includes my own review in the October Reason, in which I demonstrate that a central element of her historical narrative—that in the 1990s Buchanan's ideas became the secret influence behind the political machine run by billionaire Charles Koch—is based on an absurd and unsupportable reading of the only textual evidence she offers.) MacLean still refuses to engage any of her critics on points of substance. Economic historian Phil Magness, currently teaching at Berry College, has been one of MacLean's most diligent critics. In his review of her book for Modern Age, Magness explains that MacLean unambiguously presents the servicing of segregationist politicians as the raison d'être for the TJC's [Thomas Jefferson Center, which Buchanan ran] activities at the University of Virginia. She depicts Buchanan as having "taken his cues from [Virginia senator and leading segregationist] Harry Byrd and Jack Kilpatrick," the segregationist editor of the Richmond News-Leader. In that review and in a series of highly detailed posts on his blog, Magness has delved deeply into that portion of MacLean's book, and especially into her attempts to link the segregationist cause to the work Buchanan and collaborator G. Warren Nutter did pushing for school vouchers in post-Brown Virginia. As Magness notes, MacLean has a pattern of suggesting things she knows she can't prove: MacLean generally stops short of linking Buchanan and Byrd outright, and does so by necessity. There is no evidence the two ever crossed paths in any substantive way. So instead of calling Buchanan a segregationist, she simply contends that he utilized the opportunity of segregation to advance a libertarian school voucher agenda at the expense of black students. To get to Byrd, she advances historically unsupported claims of a connection between Buchanan and Byrd-allied newspaper editor James J. Kilpatrick. But even more so, she relies on Buchanan's own presumed silence on segregation to "read between the lines" of his voucher advocacy and discern a motive that is not evident from any straightforward reading. While taking MacLean's arguments apart, Magness turned up a good deal of evidence that she either missed or ignored: • As early as 1948, Buchanan was writing (as an economic analyst, not as a full-throated moralist) that racial segregation is an "inefficient" system that requires "improvement." As Magness summarized, Buchanan's analysis held that "forcing states with segregation to bear the costs of this inefficiency themselves could become an effective fiscal mechanism to incentivize integration." • The TJC hosted in 1958, and published in 1960, an explicitly anti-segregation talk by one of Buchanan's mentors, Frank Knight. (Among other things, Knight said that "Equality before the law means that there is equal opportunity for everyone to find or make his own place in society. This ideal was dishonored in the breach rather than honored in the observance for some time into the age of liberalism, notably by this country in the matter of racial discrimination.") As Magness explains, "Buchanan hosted Knight for these explicitly anti-segregationist remarks in the spring of 1958, which was also the high water mark of Sen. Harry Flood Byrd Sr.'s 'massive resistance' fight against Brown v. Board. If...Buchanan, Nutter, and the TJC were trying to service the segregationist political establishment of Virginia, as has been charged, then playing host to Knight's anti-discriminatory lecture and later publ[...]



The Truth About Niger

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Predictably, the news media spent most of last week examining words Donald Trump may or may not have spoken to the widow of an American Green Beret killed in Niger, in northwest Africa, in early October. Not only was this coverage tedious, it was largely pointless. We know Trump is a clumsy boor, and we also know that lots of people are ready to pounce on him for any sort of gaffe, real or imagined. Who cares? It's not news. But it was useful to those who wish to distract Americans from what really needs attention: the U.S. government's perpetual war. The media's efforts should have been devoted to exploring—really exploring—why Green Berets (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media's explanation.) That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it's all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country—no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story. Thus the establishment media see no need to present a dissenting view, say, from an analyst who would question the dogma that inserting American warriors into faraway conflicts whenever a warlord proclaims his allegiance to ISIS is in the "national interest." Patriotic media companies have no wish to expose their audiences to the idea that jihadists would be no threat to Americans who were left to mind their own business. Apparently the American people also must be shielded from anyone who might point out that the jihadist activity in Niger and neighboring Mali is directly related to the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, which enabled al-Qaeda and other Muslim militants to overthrow the secular regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. That Obama-Clinton operation in 2011, besides producing Qaddafi's grisly murder and turning Libya into a nightmare, facilitated the transfer of weapons and fanatical guerrillas from Libya to nearby countries in the Sahel — as well as Syria. Since then the U.S. government has been helping the French to "stabilize" its former colony Mali with surveillance drones and Green Berets based in Niger. Nice work, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. (Citizen Trump was an early advocate of U.S. intervention in Libya.) Need I remind you that the U.S./NATO regime-change operation in Libya was based on a lie? Obama later said his failure to foresee the consequences of the Libya intervention was the biggest mistake of his presidency. (For more on the unintended consequences for the Sahel, see articles here, here, and here.) So the media, which pretends to play a role in keeping Americans informed, have decided the people need not hear the truth behind the events in Niger. Instead, "reporters" and "analysts" perform their role as cheerleaders for the American Empire by declaring the dead men "heroes" and focusing on the tragedy that has befallen their families. Public scrutiny of the military operation is discouraged because it thought to detract from the Green Berets' heroism. What makes them heroes? They were killed by non-Americans in a foreign land while wearing military uniforms. That's all it takes, according to the gospel of what Andrew Bacevich calls the Church of America the Redeemer and its media choir. But are they really heroes? We can question this while feeling sorrow for the people who will never see their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers again. Reporters and analysts who emote over alleged heroism base their claim on the dubious proposition that the men were "serving their country" and "protecting our freedom." A brief examination, however, is enough to show this is not so, although the troops, their families, and many others believe it[...]



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 descri[...]



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 con[...]



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 t[...]



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

"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[...]



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 [...]