Are Libertarians a Political Force? by David Boaz

Some lively debate this week on our papers on the libertarian vote and on the broader questions of how many libertarians there are, whether they're a voting bloc, and whether they might be targets for both parties. Ed Kilgore, managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, wrote in the New Republic that any possible alliance between liberals and libertarians is shown to have gone by the wayside in Cato's new paper, "The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama," even though, he says, " modern liberals and libertarians share common ideological roots in eighteenth and nineteenth century Anglo-American liberalism, ... these groups have a sociocultural affinity," and "New Democrats" are more sympathetic to libertarian arguments on technological progress and free trade. But they just can't work together in the age of Obama. In National Review John Zogby and Zeljka Buturovic present some interesting data and conclude, "For the most part, libertarians are a fraction within the conservative coalition — not a stand-alone movement." They find that only 2 percent of poll respondents claim the label "libertarian," and those people rate themselves firmly to the center-right on a 9-point scale. At the Corner I respond:
“Libertarian” is an unfamiliar word to most people, even people who actually hold broadly libertarian views. Rasmussen found that 4 percent identified themselves that way, and a Center for American Progress poll found 6 percent — but 13 percent of young people. But there are other ways to measure libertarian sentiment....we found that 14 percent gave libertarian answers to all three questions. Gallup asks two questions — one on the size of government, one on “promoting traditional values” — every year and finds about 20 percent of respondents give libertarian answers to both questions (23 percent in 2009).... On the second point, yes, we’ve found that the 14-15 percent of libertarian voters we identify usually vote about 70 percent Republican. But not always. ... In 2004 George W. Bush got only 59 percent of the libertarian vote, and in 2006 libertarians gave only about 54 percent of their votes to Republican congressional candidates. ...  From the perspective of politicians and their advisers, I think it’s fair to say that these libertarians are a not-entirely-reliable part of the broad Republican constituency. After the 2006 election ... the underreported story was a 24-point swing of libertarians away from Republican congressional candidates between 2002 and 2006. That’s a point Republican strategists — and Democrats — ought to ponder. And there’s a footnote that might become main text in the next few years: In 2008, even as libertarians generally returned to the 70 percent Republican fold, young libertarians (18 to 29) gave a majority of their votes to Obama. Maybe these younger voters will come to their senses. Or maybe the Republican brand just isn’t very appealing to young voters (who are, for instance, strongly supportive of gay marriage and overwhelmingly supportive of gays in the military).
Find more data on the libertarian vote in the paper David Kirby and I did in 2006, "The Libertarian Vote," or in our just-published paper, "The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama," or in this possibly corroborating data from the Tarrance Group, which found that 23 percent of respondents described themselves as fiscally conservative but liberal or moderate on social issues.

Posted on February 22, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Return of Dan Coats by David Boaz

Former Indiana senator Dan Coats is running for his old seat again, 12 years after he left Congress and turned the seat over the now-retiring Evan Bayh.  Coats says he's very concerned that "our elected officials in Washington continue to run up massive deficits, recklessly borrowing and spending record amounts of taxpayer money with no regard for the future generations of Americans who will inherit this staggering and ever-increasing debt," and he has the support of conservative congressional leader Mike Pence. But I remember a Senator Dan Coats who enthusiastically promoted big, paternalist government. In the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review, I responded to a Coats essay on his "Project for American Renewal," launched with Bill Bennett, this way:
Coats says that the Project for American Renewal "is not a government plan to rebuild civil society" and that he favors "a radical form of devolution [that] would redistribute power directly to families, grass-roots community organizations, and private and religious charities." But in practice he apparently believes that the federal government should tax American citizens, bring their money to Washington, and then dole it out to sensible state and local programs and responsible private institutions. Surely we have learned that government grants do not create strong, creative, vibrant private organizations. Rather, organizations that depend on government funding will have to follow government rules, will be unable to respond effectively to changing needs, and will get caught up in games of grantsmanship and bureaucratic empire-building. Moreover, nearly every one of his bills would further entangle the federal government in the institutions of civil society. Under the Role Model Academy Act, the federal government would "establish an innovative residential academy for at-risk youth." Under the Mentor Schools Act, the feds would provide grants to school districts wanting to develop and operate "same gender" schools. The Character Development Act would give school districts demonstration grants to work with community groups to develop mentoring programs. The Family Reconciliation Act would "provide additional federal funding . . . to implement a waiting period and pre-divorce counseling" for couples with children. Many of these bills are intended to address real problems, such as the effects of divorce on children and the terrible plight of children trapped in fatherless, crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhoods. But why is it appropriate or effective for the federal government to intrude into these problems? Surely local school districts should decide whether to build same-sex schools or residential academies for at-risk youth; and if the people of, say, Detroit decide that such options would make sense, any theory of responsible, accountable government would suggest that the local city council or school board both make that decision and raise the funds to carry it out. Many of Coats's bills deal with symptoms -- they try to reform public housing by setting aside units for married couples or to provide mentors for children without fathers -- rather than dealing with the real problem, a welfare system that guarantees every teenager her choice of an abortion or an apartment if she gets pregnant. Some of the bills accept the federal Leviathan as a given and tinker with it -- for instance, by requiring that every federal dollar spent on family planning be matched by another dollar spent on abstinence education and adoption services. Others just follow the failed liberal policy of handing out federal dollars for whatever Congress thinks is a good idea -- school choice, restitution to crime victims, maternity homes, community crime-watch programs. Over the past 60 years, we've watched the federal government intrude more and more deeply into our lives. We've seen well-intentioned government programs become corrupted by the ideologues and bureaucrats placed in charge. We've seen schools and charities get hooked on federal dollars. The nature of government doesn't change when it is charged with carrying out conservative social engineering rather than liberal social engineering. Read more...

Posted on February 22, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Conservatism and Gay Rights by David Boaz

We had a spirited forum at Cato on Wednesday on the question "Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?" Nick Herbert, who is likely to be part of the British Cabinet in another 100 days, gave a powerful and pathbreaking speech on the Tory Party's new inclusiveness. In the video below you can find his remarks beginning at about the 3:00 mark, where he says, "I'm delighted to be here at Cato, the guardian of true liberalism." Andrew Sullivan (24:00) gave a moving and eloquent defense of a conservatism that has a place for gay people, declaring himself "to the right of Nick, a Thatcherite rather than a 'One Nation' Tory." And Maggie Gallagher (39:15) did an admirable job of presenting her own views to an audience she knew was very skeptical. Then the fireworks began (51:50). Andrew denounced my question -- reflecting many complaints I'd received before the reform -- about whether he can really be considered a conservative at this point. "Preposterous," he declared. There followed sharp exchanges on hate crimes, marriage, adoption, religious liberty, and the state of conservatism today. Watch it all here: Or listen to a podcast of Nick Herbert's speech. Subscribe to Cato's podcasts on iTunes here.

Posted on February 19, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Hayek Boom by David Boaz

Bruce Caldwell, editor of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek and Director of the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University, writes in today's Washington Post about the booming interest in Hayek:
Friedrich Hayek, Nobel-prize winning economist and well-known proponent of free markets, is having a big month. He was last seen rap-debating with John Maynard Keynes in the viral video above, (in which Hayek is portrayed as the sober voice of reason while Keynes overindulges at a party at the Fed). His 1944 book, "The Road to Serfdom," provided the theme for John Stossel's Fox Business News program on Valentine's Day. Hayek, who died in 1992, is also reemerging as a bestselling author. A new edition of Hayek's seminal book, "The Road to Serfdom," was published in March 2007 by the University of Chicago Press as part of a series called "The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek," for which I serve as editor. For over a year-and-a-half, the book sold respectably, at a clip of about 600 copies a month. But then, in November 2008, sales more than quadrupled, and they haven't slowed down since. What's more, the Kindle edition went on sale in late May 2009 and is now the best-selling book that the University of Chicago Press has offered in that format.
I reported on the rising sales of The Road to Serfdom last July. I argued that a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Dick Armey had sent sales jumping in February. Caldwell has a slightly different answer. After noting the general concern about President Obama's big-government program and the talk about socialized medicine, he writes:
But perhaps the biggest stimulus to sales was, well, the stimulus package. The macroeconomic analyses of John Maynard Keynes had gone quickly out of vogue in the 1970s, when a decade of stagflation delivered a death blow to the notion of Keynesian fine-tuning of the economy. But in early 2009, people were talking about Keynes again, and indeed the fiscal stimulus package, to the extent that it had a theoretical underpinning, would find one in Keynesian economics.... Because Keynes and Hayek actually did have a great debate over their rival theoretical models of a monetary economy in the early 1930s, just as the Slump of 1930 was turning into the Great Depression, it seemed natural for opponents of these policies to turn to Hayek's writings. (For those who are interested in this episode, I recommend a perusal of volume 9 of The Collected Works, Contra Keynes and Cambridge.) Not only is "The Road to Serfdom" still relevant in our own time, it has something else going for it, too. It is actually readable. Anyone who has tried to master Keynes's "General Theory," or for that matter Hayek's rival title "Prices and Production," will find the going pretty tough. Not so for "The Road to Serfdom," a book that was condensed by Reader's Digest in April 1945, just as the war in Europe was ending. Plus, "The Road to Serfdom" is, simply put, a great, evocative title. And with 10 percent unemployment, people certainly have more time to read it. In the end, however, I think that the underlying reason for the sustained interest in Hayek's book is that it taps into a profound dissatisfaction in the public mind with the machinations of its government. Both Presidents Bush and Obama have presided over huge growth in the size of the federal government and in the size of the federal deficit, with little obvious effect on unemployment. Things seem out of control.
Whether it was the financial crisis, the stimulus package, Dick Armey's endorsement, or general fears about the growth of government, I'm glad to see people rediscovering F. A. Hayek. His ideas are a good foundation for a coherent and consistent response to the collectivist resurgence that now seems to be on the defensive.

Posted on February 17, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

King Canute, Abraham Lincoln, and Wishful Thinking by David Boaz

King Canute famously demonstrated to his advisers that even a king couldn't stop the sea from rising. Abraham Lincoln told his visitors that calling a dog's tail a leg doesn't make it a leg. But lots of people these days think that passing a law automatically makes things happen, that you can pass a law against drug use or racism or homelessness and solve a problem. Today I heard a traffic reporter on WAMU public radio demonstrate just how widespread that assumption is, at least in Washington. About 9:20 a.m. he said, "The federal government opened on time today [after a week of closings and yesterday's delayed opening], so most federal workers are already sitting at their desks." Well, I was stuck in a miles-long backup on snow-blocked roads, and I'm guessing that a lot of the people in the other cars were federal employees. Just because you declare that the federal government will open on time doesn't automatically mean that federal employees will get there on time. You have to take into account realities like weather, slow clearing of roads, and people's unwillingness to start their commute much earlier than normal. Reality, alas, interferes with a lot of grand plans.

Posted on February 17, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

China’s Dilemma by David Boaz

In the Wall Street Journal, Ian Buruma puts Google's conflict with China in its historical context: the long struggle by China's leaders to have the benefits of knowledge and trade from around the world without loosening their own hold on the Chinese people:
One way of dealing with this problem was to separate "practical knowledge" from "essential" culture, or ti-yong in Chinese. Western technology was fine, as long as it didn't interfere with Chinese morals and politics. In practice, however, this was not feasible. Political ideas came to China, along with science, economics, and Western religion. And they did help to undermine the old established order. One of these ideas was Marxism, but once Mao had unified China under his totalitarian regime, he managed for several decades to insulate the Chinese from notions that might undermine his power. Once China opened up to the world for business again in the late 1970s, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the old problem of information control emerged once again. Deng and his technocrats wanted to have the benefit of modern economic and technological ideas, but, like the 19th century mandarins, they wished to ban thoughts which Deng called "spiritual pollution." The kind of pollution he had in mind was partly cultural (sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll), but mainly political (human rights and democracy).
Way back in 1979, David Ramsay Steele of the Libertarian Alliance in Great Britain wrote about the changes beginning in China. He quoted authors in the official Beijing Review who were explaining that China would adopt the good aspects of the West -- technology, innovation, entrepreneurship -- without adopting its liberal values. “We should do better than the Japanese,” the authors wrote. “They have learnt from the United States not only computer science but also strip-tease. For us it is a matter of acquiring the best of the developed capitalist countries while rejecting their philosophy.” But, Steele replied, countries like China have a choice. “You play the game of catallaxy, or you do not play it. If you do not play it, you remain wretched. But if you play it, you must play it. You want computer science? Then you have to put up with striptease.” As I wrote on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, China is launched on a long process of economic growth and openness to the world, which is inevitably leading to political unrest and challenges to established authority. I believe that the changes in China over the past generation are the greatest story in the world -- more than a billion people brought from totalitarianism to a largely capitalist economic system that is eroding the continuing authoritarianism of the political system. In the long run, I think that the attractions of growth and openness will overwhelm the rulers' attempt to maintain their hold on power. But that process is rarely entirely peaceful, and we can expect conflicts of all kinds as this struggle proceeds.

Posted on February 16, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Washington Is Booming in the Bush-Obama Years by David Boaz

Unemployment is high in most of the country, but the Washington area is adding jobs -- at least in the government sector:
Walking around the District, Abel Lomax can't help but look around and think: What recession? After a stint abroad, it took the 27-year-old just four months to find a job with the government -- not bad for the Great Recession. And the neighborhoods where he spends his time sport new restaurants crowded with patrons enjoying Czech Pilseners and Wagyu beef brisket.... With thousands of new federal and government-related jobs, Washington has benefited from some of the circumstances that have caused Main Streets to go dark elsewhere. The government has taken a greater oversight role on the financial sector, and companies have been drawn to the area because of its economic stability.
But even in Washington, people in the productive sector of the economy are not doing so well.
About 42,000 local jobs were lost over the past year, most of them in less-affluent areas and among lower-paying positions in retail and construction.... From November 2008 through November 2009, about 27,000 jobs were created in the Washington area, among them positions for lawyers, lobbyists, accountants, federal workers, educators, health professionals and government workers, according to an analysis by Fuller. Of the 42,000 jobs lost, about 16,000 were in construction, 9,000 in retail and about 11,000 in financial and information fields that had been in decline since before the recession.
Find more on the Washington boom in the Bush years (and here) and in the Obama years (and here).

Posted on February 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Krugman: The Hubris of Central Planning by David Boaz

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman discusses the Euro and the problem of Greece. He hastens to note that the problem is not debts, deficits, and government profligacy, which it sure might seem like to the untrained eye. But he fingers a different and deeper problem:
No, the real story behind the euromess lies not in the profligacy of politicians but in the arrogance of elites — specifically, the policy elites who pushed Europe into adopting a single currency well before the continent was ready for such an experiment.... It’s an ugly picture. But it’s important to understand the nature of Europe’s fatal flaw. Yes, some governments were irresponsible; but the fundamental problem was hubris, the arrogant belief that Europe could make a single currency work despite strong reasons to believe that it wasn’t ready.
Now, you'll note that Krugman says that Europe wasn't yet "ready" for a single currency, suggesting that in some happy day it will be. Because of course the logic of history is always to move toward centralization and conformity, right? Nevertheless, it's great to see Paul Krugman criticizing the arrogance of elites and the hubris of the centralizing impulse.

Posted on February 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Is Madonna Eminent? Or Is This Just “Celebrity Domain”? by David Boaz

The AP reports:
In a land dispute pitting Madonna against African villagers, Malawi's government has sided with the pop star who has pumped millions into the impoverished Southern African country and adopted two of its children. Villagers have been refusing to move from a plot of land near the capital, Lilongwe, where Madonna wants to build a $15-million school for girls. The government, however, says it had originally planned to develop the plot, and only allowed the villagers to live there until a project was identified. Lilongwe District Commissioner Charles Kalemba, accompanied by other government officials and representatives from Madonna's Raising Malawi charity, on Thursday met with about 200 villagers and told them they would have to move. The villagers have been offered other government land. "Government allowed you to occupy this land because there was no project yet. But now that Madonna wants to build you a school you have to give way," Kalemba told the villagers. "You are lucky that Madonna has compensated you for your houses, gardens and trees."... Headman Binson Chinkhota urged residents to move, saying the school would benefit their children. But Amos Mkuyu said the $1 500 in compensation he received from Madonna for mango trees and three homes was not enough. He said his family had been living on his three-hectare plot for three generations.
Susette Kelo vs. Madonna -- that would be a great battle. As usual, the government has a beneficent purpose in taking these people's land. They took Kelo's home for a development that would yield "new jobs and increased tax revenue." They're taking Amos Mkuyu's home for a school.  But stealing land is not beneficent; it is not an act of kindness and charity. In this case the Malawian government says that the villagers are living on government land. But Mkuyu says his family has been there for three generations. Sounds like they thought it was theirs. For a discussion of collective and traditional property inspired by the movie "Avatar," click here. Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital, has spent a career showing how the lack of well-defined property rights hurts the poorest people in the world.

Posted on February 13, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

President Palin? by David Boaz

"Take Sarah Palin seriously," David Broder writes in the Washington Post. "In the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty -- and potentially, to Obama as well." Palin's own Captain Ahab, Andrew Sullivan, wrings his hands that she's the "leader of the opposition" and a real threat to be president. Time's Joe Klein goes even further: "Is Sarah Palin the favorite to win the Republican nomination and therefore someone to be taken absolutely seriously? You betcha." Yes, well, I'm old enough to remember that Newsweek prepared six covers for the week of the 1968 election (I was very precocious), and one of them proclaimed "President-elect George Wallace." Wasn't gonna happen. Nor is this. As for those who compare Palin to Ronald Reagan, yes, there are some similarities. They both lived in the West, they're both "conservative" in some sense, and they were both dismissed by effete East Coast intellectuals. But I see just a few differences:
  1. Reagan served eight years as governor of a very large state; he didn't quit after half a term.
  2. Reagan had spent a long time developing a real political philosophy, one that had changed a great deal during his adult life. In his time as president of the actors' union, 1947-52, he was known as a liberal, anti-communist Democrat. A long life of watching the world, paying taxes, and reading moved him to the libertarian right. Palin couldn't name any newspapers she reads. Reagan told Rowland Evans in an interview, "I've always been a voracious reader -- I have read the economic views of von Mises and Hayek, and ... Bastiat.... I know about Cobden and Bright in England -- and the elimination of the corn laws and so forth, the great burst of economy or prosperity for England that followed." Reagan thought a lot about what he believed, and his deep understanding of a set of political principles was perhaps his most notable characteristic when he emerged on the political stage.
  3. Reagan was smart and could articulate his views on public policy. One of the standard defenses of Palin is "liberals said Reagan was dumb." Yes, they did, even after he out-debated Bobby Kennedy in an internationally televised debate just months after he became governor. Democratic mandarin Clark Clifford, who didn't realize that the bank he chaired was run by actual criminals, famously called Reagan an "amiable dunce." But now that Reagan's hand-written radio commentary scripts have been published, no one really makes this claim any more. Read Reagan in His Own Hand, read the commentaries he wrote on yellow pads while being driven from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, and ask yourself: Could Sarah Palin do that?
Sarah Palin can be a dazzling performer. But she's still capable of saying that Obama could improve his chances for reelection if he "played the war card ... decided to declare war on Iran." Her articulation of political ideas remains remarkably thin. The Republican bench may be weak, but I don't think it's that weak.

Posted on February 11, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.

Commentator

Search