Comment Archive: Response to Matt Zwolinski on Rothbard

I hate doing posts like this, but the comment section on Bleeding Heart Libertarians is again acting up. So to preserve my comment in case of an error, here is my comment on Matt Zwolinski’s blog post on Murray Rothbard:


Inasmuch as Rothbard actually made people question the state itself, and thus give them the alternative framework to “the state must do everything,” I can give him credit. But I think in the end Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism may have damaged the liberty movement more than it helped. One of the reasons people don’t take libertarianism seriously is because we have a ton of people running around saying we should just abolish government entirely. People don’t generally take those radical approaches that easily, not unless there is mass starvation and violence going on.

Also, the paleo strategy was really, really bad. That alone should make one question Rothbard’s judgement, if he was a “happy warrior,” and if someone would want to hang out with him. By all accounts he was kind of nutty, and if he’s writing newsletters blaming blacks for all of society’s ills, then he’s kind of not a charming and delightful person, but just a racist with a veneer of geniality.

I agree with Brennan. Rothbard is a hack, and his disciple Rockwell (and that other guy, Hoppe) has continued tainting libertarianism with some pretty despicable ideas. I’m not sure I would give him three cheers, let alone seven. Maybe one. And it would be lukewarm.

I will agree with you on that there shouldn’t be a war between BHL and LvMI types. Except for when the LvMI types express some abhorrent views on race and sexuality, but other than that, you are correct. There is a lot of common ground. (Although praxeology befuddles me a bit…)

This isn’t the first time BHL’s comment section has cocked up. For some reason their Disqus install periodically develops amnesia. I literally saw the comment number change before my eyes from 1 to 0 and back to 1 again.

Hopefully we’ll be back to me regularly posting short quips about how I’m going to be back to posting about non-political and non-theological topics but then post incessantly about politics and theology.

A Truly American Centrism

Before this week continues into the bloody mess that is the website, and the PR fiasco Obamacare is becoming for liberals and Democrats, I wanted to examine something far more promising and hopeful for America: that of the growing, silent middle.

Last week, a study from Esquire and NBC News identified a “New American Center” made up of disaffected Americans. NBC headlined their blog post with “Why our nation isn’t as divided as we think” and argued that our country, outside of the most vocal (and annoying) folks on both extremes, really isn’t that polarized. However, both Ramesh Ponnuru and Josh Feldman took issue with the study, noting that there weren’t many non-centrist categories to be in, and that the vast majority of the center was (in Ponnuru’s words) “irreligious and white.” Huh. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I fell in the exact middle when I took the online quiz.

Despite these flaws in the Esquire/NBC “study,” I still think there is an American center, I’m just not sure if it’s new. But there is a new and growing field in the realm of political philosophy that is American centrism, and always has been, it’s only been given a name recently. That field is market democracy, launched and identified by Harvard political philosopher John Tomasi, and explained at length in his fantastic book Free Market Fairness.

What is market democracy? Tomasi calls it a “research program,” which sounds clunky but apparently is perfectly apt, as classical liberalism is also sort of a “research program.” But more specifically, market democracy is:

a deliberative form of liberalism that is sensitive to the moral insights of libertarianism. Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice.

In the above quote, when Tomasi says “liberalism,” he is not just speaking about classical liberalism, but all liberalism. Tomasi divides the liberal camp into two shores on the sides of an ocean: on one side, the libertarians and classical liberals; on the other, the “high liberals” like Rawls and your average lefty who think that economic liberties are not that important and the free market is not the greatest thing in the world.

Tomasi operates from an essentially Rawlsian viewpoint, and indeed his entire book is about taking on the Rawlsian enterprise and forming a hybrid between it and classical liberalism and libertarianism. He takes the Rawlsian framework seriously, but notes that if you do so, then you must also take economic liberties seriously. Although “high liberals” who follow Rawls almost always single out economic liberties to be ignored, marginalized, or otherwise downgraded in importance, Tomasi makes the case that if you follow the rule that governments are about treating democratic citizens with dignity, then you must also give them the dignity of owning a business and earning profits. Thus, anyone who follows in the steps of Rawls–which is most academic liberals, though I think it’s a vanishingly small number of “liberals” and progressives you meet on campus or on the street or on the Internet–must also be a strong proponent of economic liberties and the free market if they want to be consistent.

One of the great aspects of market democracy, in my mind, is it’s focus not just to a social justice that takes free markets and economic liberties seriously, but also the concept of “responsible self-authorship.” Tomasi describes it thusly:

This, I believe, is not just deeply powerful and inspirational, but is actually very acutely American. Even in 21st century America, with welfare queens and people constantly demanding more welfare, most folks believe that people have their own lives to own and run, and seek to do the same for themselves. Those who agitate the loudest for more wealth redistribution are largely on the far left, and only get so much attention thanks to a frankly pathetic news system which paints a picture of poverty being far larger than it is.

Because it is a research program and not a blueprint for government or even public policy, market democracy allows a lot of room for variation and nuance. Tomasi himself outlines three concepts in his book that fall within the market democratic paradigm: democratic laissez-faire (a very minarchist government that provides minimalist safety net features), democratic limited government (a slightly larger government that resembles suggestions by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman), and “Free Market Fairness” itself, though it is a tad more abstract than the other two. What’s interesting to note is that Tomasi is not hostile to some welfare, though it is far more limited. Instead, Tomasi notes how free market capitalism has made especially the worst off in society far better than even the best off in non-capitalist societies, and (rightly) trusts in that ability to do much of the heavy lifting on poverty reduction. However, he still notes with praise for government actions to take care of the most indigent amongst us, and joins company with such luminaries as Friedrich Hayek. The concept of a guaranteed minimum income or a universal basic income do get mentioned in this book with some positive tones.

This is what I think American centrism truly is: respect for each other as individuals leading our own lives, while accepting some help for the truly, truly needy, with those falling in that category being those who are so needy they can’t even run their own lives. Although most right-libertarians would attack market democracy on the basis that it is a contradiction, when viewed through this lens, it most certainly isn’t.

The first (major) party that truly latches onto market democracy—free market individualism combined with a concern for social justice defined as responsible self-authorship—will dominate the American center and be able to take solid control of the political process. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you like gridlock) neither party is anywhere close to embracing this.

The Democrats and the left are most certainly not interested in treating Americans as responsible self-authors. They seek to infantilize and coddle Americans every step of the way, by paying for their insurance and dictating what they can eat, drink, wear, drive, and so on. And although masked by a veneer of progressivism and social justice concerns, the left is really just crony capitalism in disguise—robbing the poor to feed the rich. Everywhere the left is trying to administer our lives, from Obamacare fiasco to the overreaching EPA, while simultaneously giving fat loans to political allies and cronies in big business and writing more and more regulations to protect their friends from market competition that might actually force them to reduce their prices.

Regrettably, the right isn’t much better. There is, out there, a sensible center-right movement. A great representative of this is the R Street Institute (disclosure: I have blogged for R Street in the past). Unfortunately, as this brilliant webcomic shows, almost the entire right-half has been taken over by the far right. These are folks who are trying to push their own socio-cultural views on everyone else in America, and in the process ignore two things that are absolutely essential for a modern, democratic state to thrive: cultural liberalism and liberal neutrality.

By cultural liberalism, I broadly mean the freedom to march to the beat of a different drummer. Liberal neutrality is the government part of this, that the state should not promote any conception of what “the good” is. Considering the vast variety of opinions, backgrounds, viewpoints, and so on and so forth that exist in an active democratic society, not taking these two points as a given and a foundation for all public policy is suicide. When you have different groups trying to impose their views on each other, you’re not going to have any peace. Better to just have a truce and let people go their own way. Otherwise you’ll get what we have now.

And, on both sides, we have a great deal of just plain tribalism. That doesn’t help anybody.

I have noticed that centrism, in America, typically is described as a sort of movement that is led by Thomas Friedman and would be willing and able to elect Mike Bloomberg president. That sort of technocratic lefty-lite centrism doesn’t really exist beyond the DC-Boston corridor. Instead, I think it’s much closer to the idea of market democracy.

The interesting bit is that market democracy is not too far off from libertarianism, at least not a moderate rendition of it. I think market democracy can be libertarianism 3.0, and indeed must be if we’re going to get liberty pushed forward in this country. The anarcho-capitalist path of just abolishing government is a political dead end. And while I am attracted to Objectivist thought, regrettably the way that Rand phrased her philosophy has made it an instant turn-off for all but a small contingent of Americans. It seems to me that the only long-term, viable path for libertarianism is market democracy. And while it’s not exactly the same thing, there is already a burgeoning movement called “bleeding heart libertarianism” which combines free market individualism with social justice concerns.

In summary, there is a distinctly American centrism out there, and that centrism is market democracy, combining free market individualism with social justice. The idea of “responsible self-authorship” makes a lot of sense and should be the basis for politics. And I really, really wish one of these parties would come to it’s freaking senses and embrace it before things get worse. Though I won’t hold my breath.

A fine comment on cronyism

By yours truly, of course:

Newsflash: government does not mitigate the excesses of “capitalism.” What it does it exacerbate the excesses of corporatism. By creating a system where profit depends on political connections and lobbying, by having a government big enough to intervene in the economy and choose winners and losers, you’re creating cronyism.

How do you have cronyism in a (classical) liberal economic system, aka capitalism? You can’t really, because the entire economic system is predicated on fulfilling customers’ needs and providing value to society, not by lobbying and buying elections.

Your legislators are bought and paid for, and not by you. Why progressives willingly continue to be Big Businesses’ useful idiots I will never understand. Quit playing into corporations’ hands by giving them the tools to ban their competition and pad their executive paychecks.


Individual Sovereignty, Humanism, and Libertarianism


AUTHOR’S NOTE: I intend to update and add to this at a later date. I consider it to be somewhat incomplete at the moment.

I apologize for this post; it’s a bit spread out because of the way I got to the topic in question.

Over the weekend, NYPD officers attempted to subdue an apparently crazy person in Times Square. I say attempted, because all they really did was bulletspray and hit two completely innocent bystanders–one an elderly lady in a walker. This, after the bulletspray fest last year outside the Empire State Building, and also earlier this year when the LAPD, during the Dorner manhunt, bulletsprayed a completely random car that didn’t look anything like the vehicle that was on their APB.

Naturally, I spoke out against this. I think police brutality and police incompetence are serious issues that deserve more of a national discussion. Unlike talk about the deficit and the debt ceiling, or foreign policy, or the minutiae of economic regulation, police reform and criminal justice reform touches on Americans directly. It affects citizens in a very immediate sense–usually by killing them. Yet for some reason, despite all the deaths logged by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, or the other horrendous activities reported by CopBlock, or the crazy stories of civil asset forfeiture run amok, or even Third Amendment violations, it seems to me that nobody is really talking about this in a meaningful way. Politicians sweep it under the rug and go on to start another shouting match about the debt ceiling or them brown people coming over the border.

I also noted that one of the scariest things that is happening is the militarization of police around the country, something I noted last year for United Liberty, and which is the subject of a recent book by Radley Balko. This led to a gun control activist to start yelling about how the police were arming themselves with military hardware because the NRA had weakened gun laws and led to rampant armament of the populace. Naturally, I disagreed. We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and then somehow suicide entered into the equation. I’ll let my Storify speak for itself:

I went off on a rant about humanism and individual sovereignty.

This leads me to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post, which is atheism, libertarianism, and what it really means to be a humanist.

A long time ago, I blogged about the silliness that is Atheism+, a new “movement” that tried to merge atheism with third-wave feminism and far-left progressivism by basically being assholes to everybody. One of the most important points is that atheism does not lead to anything directly. Atheism, being merely the rejection of belief in a supernatural entity or entities, doesn’t really entail anything beyond that. Even though I would really like to agree with this blog post that says atheism leads to libertarianism, even that is really not true. How, exactly, does lack of a belief in a supernatural entity lead to a libertarian leap? It doesn’t. There is no underlying philosophical foundation there. The previous author talks about controlling your own life and thinking for yourself, but that is not ipso facto atheism.

There is a difference, though, between atheism and humanism. Atheism is a philosophical position. Humanism is to atheism what Christianity is to theism (sort of). While there is a long running argument over whether or not humanism is a religion (other terms include “life stance,” a “replacement for religion,” which I think both works and yet doesn’t), it sort of fits the bill. Just barely.

What is humanism, though? Let’ see a couple of definitions:

  1. (Philosophy) the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
  2. (Philosophy) a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church

Note that: human reason. Human autonomy. Exactly the things that I mentioned above in my Twitter rant.

Yes, said autonomy sometimes includes suicide. This is a tragic thing, but yet if we’re going to respect autonomy then we must respect that too. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t come up. What does come up all the time are small things, small decisions. Like the size of soda cup you’re buying, or your sexual orientation, or what sort of clothes you like to wear.

These decisions stem from our sapience, and come from our rationality. And if you’re going to be a human being, and not reject humanity, then you must embrace this sapience, and moreover, individual human sovereignty. Anything else is inhuman, full stop.

That’s why I think libertarianism and humanism naturally go together. If you’re a libertarian, that leads to humanism because you’re focused on freeing individuals from the power of a large government, and letting them control their lives; and humanism is all about human lives being front and center. If you’re a humanist, focusing on human lives and humanity, then you should naturally be a libertarian, because libertarianism embraces and encourages the natural essence of humanity, sapience.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time now ever since I heard about “thick libertarianism.” This is the idea that libertarianism entails other ideas that are not necessarily political, that there are consequences to being a libertarian. The idea, as far as I can determine, was formed by Charles Johnson, also known as RadGeek, a left-libertarian blogger. Here is a good reading list to start on if you want to know more about thick libertarianism and libertarian morality:

  1. The post where it all (sorta) began, “Libertarianism Through Thick & Thin” by Charles Johnson
  2. Libertarianism: Thick and Thin“, by Matt Zwolinski
  3. Libertarianism and Morality” by Fernando Teson
  4. Libertarian Social Morality: Progressive, Conservative, or Liberal?” by Kevin Vallier
  5. BONUS: “The Libertarian Middle Way“, by Randy Barnett

Johnson explores several different forms of thick libertarianism, or shades of thickness, really. Two of these are “strategic thickness–causes of liberty,” and “thickness from consequences–the effects of liberty.” I think both of these lead toward humanism. The first because, as Johnson himself notes:

Or, to take a less controversial example, many if not most libertarians, throughout the history of the movement, have argued that there are good reasons for libertarians to promote a culture in which reason and independent thinking are highly valued, and blind conformism is treated with contempt. But if this is a good thing for liberty, it must be for reasons other than some kind of entailment of the non-aggression principle. Certainly everyone has a right to believe things simply because everybody believes it, or to do things simply because everybody does it, as long as their conformism respects the equal rights of independent thinkers to think independently and act independently with their own person and property. It is logically conceivable that a society could be rigidly conformist while remaining entirely free; it would just have to be the case that the individual people within that society were, by and large, psychologically and culturally inclined to be so docile, and so sensitive to social disapproval, ostracism, and verbal peer pressure, that they all voluntarily chose to go along with the crowd.

Technically, reason itself doesn’t require libertarianism, but if we’re going to promote a society where there is limited government and people have individual responsibility for their own actions, then you’re going to promote reason. And when you do that, you find yourself heading towards freethought, which heads towards humanism…

The other, “effects of liberty,” is simply the same thing but in reverse. A society of free people is going to lead towards humanism in one way or another. If we’re going to give people power over their own lives, there is going to be less power from the Church.

I’m not saying that one cannot be a Christian and a libertarian at the same time, but there is a tension there between the Christian and libertarian elements that I don’t think you get from being an atheist libertarian or a humanist one. For centuries, the Christian Church has been a state unto itself, passing edicts and laws and being very forceful in demanding people to bow to its will, or at least the will of whomever at the time was wearing the most outrageous hat. God is described as a king, with ultimate power, and everyone is to bow down and obey him. Indeed, for a long time, free will was ignored, and the Church was extremely authoritative. Although various Christian denominations have undergone rebranding efforts over the past couple of centuries, dealing with the rise of (classical) liberalism, Christianity is still very much a top-down, hierarchical, authoritative institution. “Follow our commands or burn in hell forever.” Not exactly a lot of leeway there.

I should also point out that I don’t exactly agree with many of the various “Humanist Manifestos” either. A lot of what I’ve seen published suggests that many want to make humanism lean towards some variety of socialism or social democracy–but then, I see these people as not being fully humanist either. If they’re going to take so many decisions away from individuals and put it in the hands of a nebulous, all-powerful state, then they’re not embracing the very essence of humanity either. Just because I use the term “humanist” doesn’t mean I’m talking about the party line of the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the IHEU. I’m talking solely about a human-centered philosophy that lacks supernatural elements.

That, by itself, I think goes hand in hand with libertarianism. Sort of an odd topic to come to via police brutality and suicide, but that’s what happens when something has been bubbling under the surface for awhile and gets hit with a random act of tragedy.

Interesting discoveries in “God is Not Great”

God_is_not_greatI am in the middle of Chapter Eight of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens. I can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to it before. It’s actually a superb book, in that Hitchens is just a great writer, and his British tone is absolutely delightful to read.

Chapter Six, on evolution and the creation of man, is the most interesting one (so far) to me for a somewhat different reason. Hitchens makes the argument that evolution is far more miraculous than any supernatural tale of creation, and knocks down arguments about how a creator is required by examining how we get the results but without any direction. It just strikes me how similar it is to the concept of spontaneous order, promoted and defended by the great libertarian philosopher and economist Friedrich Hayek. (A good essay on this is his classic “Cosmos and Taxis“, which regrettably has nothing to do with space taxis. Bummer.)

It does make you wonder if there are connections between libertarianism and atheism there, or at least humanism (or at least science!). Sounds like a more attractive libertarianism to me than the paleotarian variant I see going around so darn much. (As you can imagine, I’m something of a “cosmotarian.”)

Libertarians: Don’t Bother With The Confederacy

I think the most telling words are right in the beginning:

“In the struggle for liberty, the symbols that we choose matter a lot. It matters how people perceive us. It matters what those symbols really mean.”

Too many libertarians that I know of don’t recognize this simple fact. They go around spouting all sorts of inane stuff, anarcho-capitalism and a bizarre love of the Confederacy among them, which turns people off from libertarianism. And it makes it harder for the rest of us to actually promote and grow this movement. We have the right ideas. We just need to be doing a better job promoting them.

As for the Confederacy itself, I honestly cannot fathom why anyone who calls themself a “libertarian” would ever justify or defend that. It’s bizarre (as I noted above). And it’s annoying as heck, especially because it’s so darn pernicious. I really don’t get it.

My Friend Suffered Because Police Are Out Of Control

I really need to pay attention to my Facebook feed more often.

A friend of mine, Crissy Brown, who I worked with last year, was arrested, thrown in jail, strip-searched, and detained for hours back in July–all because she didn’t pay a ticket for an expired license plate in a timely manner.

That is just messed up.

Crissy writes about her experience on Thoughts on Liberty. In her words:

While driving to work on Independence Day, I was pulled over by a Tuscaloosa cop for having expired tags. I had gotten a ticket for my expired license plate previously – and hadn’t taken care of it for the same reason my tags were expired: I’m a student waitress who barely gets by as it is.

The cop informed me there is a warrant out for my arrest (…”what?”), and without asking a single question, he handcuffed me and rummaged through my car.

I was three weeks late paying my prior ticket, and that is all it took to be given the total criminal treatment. He “helps” me into the back of the cop car, and this is when time stopped existing – stopped mattering at all.

I was taken to the police station, printed and photographed, then taken to jail to repeat the process. I asked so many questions, inquired (relatively) politely as to why some of the steps being taken were necessary, and I was told to “shut up” or just completely ignored at every turn.

As soon as I arrived at the police station, before I could make it through the metal detectors, I was pushed against a wall and made to stand there until a female officer could take the time to inappropriately touch – I mean frisk – me. As the woman ran her hands down my body and between my legs, three male officers stood behind me, watching the show.

From there, I was processed, which included stripping down in front of a female officer. While I stood before her naked, I asked the cop why it was necessary for me to be strip searched; she responded by calling me an asshole and deciding I needed to take a shower to, I suppose, wash the filth out of my mouth. I didn’t even get a towel to dry off with. She handed me a large, burlap-like orange set of scrubs, bedding, and a mattress. I was escorted down to population, made to walk along gray tape on the ground (it really pissed them off if you deviated from the “inmate line”), and then put in a holding cell that had more women than beds, two metal picnic tables, and an old fuzzy TV set.

I was in jail for a little over eight hours. For the last three, my family sat waiting for them to release me, wondering why it takes so long to process a bond. When they finally freed me, I thought to myself, “thank god this is over.”

Not even close.

That is beyond messed up.

Humans generally understand the concept of “proportionality,” and not going overboard with things. We understand that you don’t physically beat someone up if they just happen to bump into you when walking down the street, nor do you give the death penalty to someone who has stolen your bike. There are limits to punishment and response.

At least, everyone understands this aside from local police. Not just in Alabama, but everywhere.

We are inundated with horrific stories of police abuse all the time, from the police evicting a family from a house so they could plot out a raid on their neighbors in Nevada, shoot unarmed passengers minding their own business, and leading to all the incidents that make up journalist Radley Balko’s new book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

While we’re trying to roll back the National Security Agency’s unreasonable domestic spying programs, try to end the droning of innocent people, and cut back spending, let’s not forget the plight of my friends like Crissy Brown. This is a real situation that everyone needs to get outraged about–because this time it was Crissy.

Next time, it will be you.

Libertarian Populism and Basic Income

UPDATE: Welcome, reason readers! Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @jdkolassa!

There’s been a new trend in political writing over the past few months: the notion of “libertarian populism.” After doing the autopsy on the Republican Party’s downright pathetic 2012 presidential campaign–something that the GOP should have won handily, but instead lost miserably–many have started to look towards some form of libertarianism as the GOP’s 2016 savior.

There are many, many positive developments from this, namely a focus on economic rather than social issues (which, let’s be frank, is a lose-lose proposition for the Republican Party–even abortion, though that’s more long-term) and directing fury at crony capitalism, that collusion between big government and big business that is the real problem, not any imagined socialism. And unlike some naysayers, I think a “libertarian populist” message would resonate well with voters–as long as the PR packaging is done right.

As far as I can figure out, the genesis of this recent trend began with Ross Douthat, when he wrote a blog post laying out a case for “reform conservatism,” another option for revitalizing the GOP and the larger conservative movement. It has some interesting points, though Peter Suderman over at reason took some exceptions to a few and asked why not adopt libertarianism rather than try and fix conservatism? Douthat then wrote a reply, entitled “Libertarian Populism and Its Limits.” (He does cite a tweet by Ben Domenech talking about “populist libertarianism,” but let’s call that a prequel.) I understand some of Douthat’s points, but as far as I can see he’s wrong on monetary policy and he doesn’t seem to grok how yes, we can sell Rand’s platform as being benefical to the folks on the lower rungs of the ladder (go read BHL for starters.)

(By the way, if you’re interested, Pascal Emmanuel Gobry has written a manifesto for reform conservatism over at Forbes. Not saying that I agree, it’s just interesting.)

The next day, Ben Domenech wrote on RCP the piece that seemed to really start it all, giving us an “agenda” for libertarian populism. The very next day he wrote a second essay responding to his responders, this one illuminating the challenges that libertarian populism faces. These two pieces are crucial, I think, for setting the this discussion up, but it didn’t stop there.

Earlier this month, Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner, which recently became a monthly publication, laid out a list of policy reforms for “economic populism,” but I think he really means “libertarian populism.” Then, Tim Carney,  “Mr. Anti-Crony Capitalist” himself, laid out a similar list of policy ideas in AEI, a sort of proto-manifesto. Gobry, again at Forbes, wrote glowingly about Carney’s piece.

But then, of course, there are the detractors.

There is, of course, Paul Krugman’s obligatory swipe, but let’s not mince words about Krugman–he’s a loon. More credible is criticism from Ramesh Ponnuru, a “reform conservative” (or “reformocon”) who notes that people won’t necessarily buy into libertarian populism, because folks don’t care about some of the more wonky ideas (a point that Ed Kilgore also jumped on–but who the hell listens to him?)

And where does this end up? With me, of course, adding my own voice into the mix.

Let me first pull together the items from Carney’s list and Caroll’s list, so we have an idea of what the core of a libertarian populist policy might look like:

  1. Tim Carney
    1. Break up the big banks, and/or place stricter safety and soundness rules on them
    2. Cut or eliminate the payroll tax
    3. End corporate welfare
    4. Cleaner tax code
    5. Health-care reform
    6. Kill anticompetitive regulations
    7. Address political privilege
  2. Conn Carroll
    1. Rollback the surveillance state
    2. End the Drug War
    3. End deportations
    4. Break up the banks
    5. Return infrastructure to the states
    6. Return education to the states
    7. End student loans
    8. Revenue-neutral tax simplification
    9. Market-tested health care

Obviously there is some overlap here. But we do get a broad outline for a reform agenda: break up the banks, return powers to the states, end subsidies and bailouts to big business, and enact institutional, structural reforms that benefit the little guy while weakening the big wealthy elites. This is a winning strategy all around.

Now, to issue some disagreement with Mr. Ponnuru. He writes:

I’m sympathetic to most of the items on Carney’s list — and those on the list that fellow populist Conn Carroll has compiled. Taken together, though, they do not seem to amount to a winning political platform. A Republican party that took on the U.S. Export-Import Bank might improve its image a bit, but how many Americans really care enough about the issue to change their votes based on it? Nor does freeing the food trucks seem like it would win many votes, however right it might be as a policy matter.

The libertarian populists sometimes seem to make the same political mistake as left-wing populists: Assuming that because most voters distrust big business and do not believe they share its interests, they are therefore looking for the politician who will most vocally take it on.

Cutting the payroll tax, unlike most of these ideas, would tangibly affect most people’s lives by raising their take-home pay. If Republicans proposed it, though, they would surely be accused of jeopardizing Social Security and Medicare, which seems like a rather large political defect. Other Carroll proposals, such as ending student loans and the mortgage deduction, seem likely to be unpopular even at first glance.

While I sympathize with his concerns, I think they’re misplaced. Yes, people are probably not up to date and therefore don’t really care as much about the Import-Export Bank. But that’s not a problem. All you need to say is this:

You only have $20,000. These big corporations have $20 billion. The government is taking your money and giving it to these big corporations! That’s messed up!

Boom. No in-depth, wonkish policy explanations necessary. Just use basic rhetoric and what is foremost on folks’ minds: the money in their wallets. Great success! And as for food trucks and Social Security, well, food trucks have more supporters than I think Mr. Ponnuru thinks they have, and there is a growing segment of Americans, young and old, who are getting very concerned about Social Security, and sooner or later those are going to have to be addressed anyways, there’s no escaping that.

I think this is a really great start, and indeed, a libertarian populist agenda married to “reform conservatism,” as Gobry suggests, may actually win at the polls. Putting families against big business is sure to get some people onboard. Believe me, I’m still very skeptical of libertarian-conservative fusionism–ultimately, it’s more of a tool for conservatives to boost their voter rolls than anything–but a fusionism where libertarians took the reins, focused more on economics instead of losing, divisive social issues, and focused on the moral worth of the individual rather than blindly talking about “society,” would be one I could get behind.

There are a couple of things I think this growing movement is missing, though, or at the very least, there are some things I think should be coupled with it. One should be a distaste or skepticism for mixing religion with politics. I make no bones about my being an igtheist, a nonreligious person, and I’m a fan of the new Republican Reason Caucus, a group explicitly formed to make the GOP more secular, more tolerant, and more rational (i.e., no more of this crap). Medium to long term, basing all political arguments on religious ones just isn’t going to work. 20% of Americans are nonreligious and that number is growing. Note that I am not saying that the GOP must become completely secular, but it must be become more secular, and just tone down some of the more fundamentalist Christian rhetoric–and yes, in the process, become more inclusive to gays and lesbians, and anyone of “alternative” lifestyles. Look back at recent history and note, when has the GOP won big? When it ignored social issues, tempered the religious rhetoric, and went straight for the economics and defending people’s wallets. When has it lost? When it started talking about “legitimate rape” and other nonsense.

We can definitely agree that individual churches should not have to bend their doctrine to fit a political will, and that they should not be forced to sanctify things that go against their beliefs, but that works two ways. Let’s stop bringing religion into politics and then we can start getting politics out of religion.

Second, I don’t really see anything about the social safety net. Yes, there’s a lot about reforming entitlements, but there’s precious little (from what I can see, anyways, I might be blind) to the more overall system of welfare. It’s a system plagued by redundancies and inefficiences, yet is still growing, all the while punishing people who increase their income and make themselves better off. This is insane. The government doesn’t even know how many are actually there, what they’re actually spending, or if they’re getting taxpayers’ money’s worth.

There is a reform path that I’ve talked about before, and that has been supported by such great minds as Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Miron: the Negative Income Tax. This would essentially create a guaranteed minimum income or universal basic income, ideas supported by Friedrich Hayek and Charles Murray, and would also do away with many other detestable things. First, by combining it with a flat tax (which is how both Friedman and Miron sketch it out) it would effectively do away with a ton of the IRS bureaucracy. Second, because it would be automatic, it would also effectively do away with a lot of the HHS and welfare bureaucracy, which is a good thing. (I would argue that bureaucracy, not government, is our real problem. Most anything which shrinks bureaucracy is a plus in my book.) Third, at the same time it’s helping the poor, it would also promote beneficial habits and behaviors, and possibly also increase entrepreneurship and push these folks to succeed. (As one friend of mine said, people will be more likely to take chances if they know they have something to catch them should they fail.) Fourth, with it in place we could abolish the minimum wage–a policy that hurts the poor more than it helps–and that would get employers to start hiring again. Fifth, it would also be politically successful, as let’s be honest: the vast majority of Americans, even conservative Americans, do not want to live in a country with no social safety net. That’s a view only shared by the most hardcore Tea Partiers, Nozickian libertarians, Randian Objectivists, and anarcho-capitalists. Proposing any sort of view that just cut away welfare without replacing it with something better is doomed to failure and mockery.

An NIT, on the other hand, if marketed properly and not conflated with other idiotic ideas, can be a very strong replacement. In my view, in addition to having the “general deduction” (which would be the threshold you’d have to cross before you starting paying taxes rather than receiving them) and a charitable deductino (don’t leave home without one!), I would also put in a system of tax credits for the five basic needs in modern society: the three classical ones–food, clothing, shelter (including rent, utilities, etc.)–and the two “new” needs I see–healthcare and education. Put that together, combine it with the pro-market reforms listed above, which should definitely make it easier to get ahead and make the prices of goods and services go down, and you have a winner for a more stable, more prosperous society. (And while we’re at it, let’s junk the corporate income tax. Better for the poor, as it turns out.)

That’s a really long blog post. But I think it’s necessary. There’s a very good thing happening here. But it needs a couple more ingredients to make it stick.

Nanoarchism / Nanarchism Bookmark

I am not writing a political post. (I am not writing a political post. I am not writing…) I am merely bookmarking something for later reference here where I can easily find it. But since it is interesting, I also want to share it.


I broadly identify with the “left-wing market anarchist” view but not literally with any “anarchism”. Rothbardians specifically (including left-Rothbardians) are clearly minarchists rather than literal anarchists. I call them “nano-archists” or “nanarchists”. The problem with various formulations of “anarchism” is precisely the denial of a state, which these formulations nonetheless suppose, blinding proponents to potential weaknesses of their formulation.

Even supposing that Rothbardian property rights constitute a sufficient system of justice, why expect people to respect these rights? “Private enforcement agencies” is no answer to this question. An enforcement agency need not enforce Rothbardian property rights, and I don’t imagine Rothbardian rights emerging from the interaction of many, competing enforcement agencies either.

We already have many, competing enforcement agencies. They are states, and they’re forever warring with each other without ever much enforcing Rothbardian property rights. Rothbard actually assumes a state enforcing particular standards of propriety universally, somehow constraining competing enforcement agencies to the enforcement of only these particular standards. Any meaningful analysis of his system or any similar system requires an explicit account of this state.

No offense meant to martinbrock for copying his comment here. But it is that good.

The Brazen Arrogance of Conservatives

Earlier this month, I wrote an essay for Cato Unbound regarding the topic of fusionism, which is a theory of sorts that libertarianism works best when slaved to conservatism. A blogger, by the name of Neal Dewing, took umbrage at this and wrote a response. Now, normally I am perfectly fine with this. But, in this case, Mr. Dewing wrote a very, very uninformed, poorly written blog post that made it clear he had no idea what he was talking about. It was so lousy, in fact, that Cato Unbound didn’t even want to post a response to it. Why bother recognizing such rubbish with a response? Best to ignore it and let it slip into obscure ignominy.

I, however, am of a different mind. While I concur that Mr. Dewing’s blog post is the epitome of stupidity, it is precisely because it is so full of errors that I must respond. Such garbage needs to be addressed, lest people think that, somehow, it is true. Rumors and lies must be quashed. And here I shall do the quashing. It is right. It is proper. It is necessary.

Without more further ado, here is what I wrote in response to Mr. Dewing:

Continue reading The Brazen Arrogance of Conservatives