The Hillarys and the Huckabees

In a recent op-ed I dub the two kinds of enemies of freedom in America “the Hillarys and the Huckabees.” I think it has a nice ring.

Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee are classic examples of two strains of big-government thinking in a country that otherwise prefers small government. Hillary is the quintessential nanny-state liberal who is determined to have the government take care of adult Americans the way parents take care of children. Huckabee wants the government to stamp out sin and make us all do God’s will as he sees it….

But, despite that heritage of freedom, we’ve always got the Hillarys and the Huckabees and the other people who think they could run our lives better than we can. The Huckabees on the right continue to resist the cultural changes of the 1960s, and the Hillarys on the left continue to resist the economic changes of the 1980s.

The “Huckabees” want to censor cable television because they don’t think you can be trusted to decide what your family should watch. They support bans on drugs, pornography, gambling and violent video games because you just don’t know what’s good for you. They want prayer in the schools and sound science out. They want to subsidize heterosexual marriage and ban gay marriage. They want government to take the place of God and stamp out sin on earth. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a classic Huckabee, complains about “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone.”

The “Hillarys,” meanwhile, want to raise taxes because they think they can spend your money more wisely than you can. They don’t believe in school choice because you don’t know how to choose a school for your children. They think they can handle your retirement savings and health care better than you can. They think, as Hillary Clinton has advocated, that the government should produce video lectures on how to burp a baby and how to brush your teeth and have them “running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait.”

The Huckabees want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. The Hillarys want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences.

Posted on March 26, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

The Candidates and the Libertarian Vote

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of Reason have a great cover story in Politics, the new and livelier update of Campaigns and Elections magazine.  Titled “Tuned Out,” the article says that “politics is a lagging indicator of American society,” so this year’s presidential candidates are “channeling shopworn agendas and tired identities to a body politic desperate for a new political era.”

They predict that today’s individualist, consumer-driven culture will eventually produce a politics to match. “Much of this new activity will be explicitly libertarian, since the decentralization of control and individual empowerment is so deeply embedded in Internet technology and culture…. The Long Tail future of politics just as surely belongs to the president and party that figures out the secret to success is giving away power by letting the voter decide more of what matters.”

We can only hope. The cover illustration for the article, showing a Fountainhead-reading, South Park-watching young voter impervious to the appeals of the two old parties, reminded me of this recent “Zippy the Pinhead” cartoon, which also contrasted two big-government parties with leave-me-alone independents (click for larger version):

For more on libertarian voters, go here and here.

Posted on March 18, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

The Freedom Movement Surges on Broadway

Move over, George Clooney. Libertarianism is the hottest new thing among serious artists. One of our greatest living playwrights, David Mamet, has just announced that he has given up “brain-dead liberalism” for a new appreciation of capitalism and constitutionalism.

As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart….

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long….

And I began to question my hatred for “the Corporations”—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live…

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow….

I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

David Mamet. In the Village Voice. Ouch. Limousine liberals must be crying in their Pellegrino.

But he’s not the only one. Tom Stoppard, another candidate for the title of greatest living playwright, recently admitted to being a “timid libertarian” in an interview with Time:

Stoppard has always stood apart from many other British playwrights of his generation, like David Hare, for avoiding an overtly political (usually left-wing) point of view. He describes his politics as “timid libertarian.” Yet he can rev up a pretty bold rant on Britain’s “highly regulated society,” which he thinks is “betraying the principle of parliamentary democracy.” There was the garden party he threw recently, for example, where because there was a pond on the property, he was required to hire two lifeguards. “The whole notion that we’re all responsible for ourselves and we don’t actually have to have nannies busybodying all around us, that’s all going now. And I don’t even know in whose interest it’s supposed to be or who wishes it to be so. It seems to be like a lava flow, which nobody ordered up. Of course, one does know in whose interest it is. It’s in the interests of battalions of civil servants in jobs that never existed 10 years ago.”

This was no surprise to fans–such as the British political theorist Norman Barry–who had seen themes of freedom, responsibility, morality, and anti-communism (he was born in Czechoslovakia, though his family left before the communists replaced the Nazis in power) in his plays.

Poor Hollywood. Still mired in old, outmoded left-liberalism as high culture moves toward an embrace of freedom.

Posted on March 12, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Libertarian Philosophy

Libertarians for Obama?

At Freedom Communications, the media company founded by the tenacious libertarian publisher R. C. Hoiles, which is still largely family-owned and freedom-oriented, they had an internal lunch debate on presidential politics the other day. According to Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, their corporate philosopher Tibor Machan advocated voting for the Libertarian Party. But the company’s CEO, Scott Flanders, had a different view:

But there was a hush as Flanders reasoned that Obama is the best candidate to work on four top libertarian reforms: 1) Iraq withdrawal, 2) restoring the separation of church and state; 3) easing off victimless crimes such as drug use; 4) curtailing the Patriot Act.

As it happens, a few days earlier I had talked to a leading libertarian writer, who told me that he supposed he’d vote for Obama on the basis of the Iraq issue.

Libertarian voters should be up for grabs this year, the Republicans having done such an effective job of pushing them away. But the Democrats don’t seem to be making much of a pitch for them. At the last Democratic debate, Clinton and Obama spent the first 30 minutes proclaiming their devotion to socialized medicine and protectionism. But maybe issues of peace and civil liberties — combined with the Republicans’ loss of credibility on fiscal and economic issues — really will push some libertarians into the arms of the Democrats, especially if the Democratic nominee is not self-proclaimed “government junkie” Hillary Clinton.

Posted on February 29, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

The Politics of Freedom: Libertarianism with Sizzle

Brian Doherty, the author of the magisterial Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, has some generous things to say about my new book The Politics of Freedom in Sunday’s New York Post. I especially like the subtitle in the version: “sells the libertarian message with sizzle.”

Brian discusses my claims about the extent of libertarianism among American voters and writes:

Whatever the near-term prospects for libertarian political victories, The Politics of Freedom reminds you of the service libertarians provide to public discourse: They can point out the hypocrisy, power grabs, hubris and counterproductive folly issuing from Washington under either political brand name since they are beholden to neither. …

No major political party has fully embraced the implications of the proper role of government that follow from Boaz’s simple limited-government vision. But when expressed that plainly, it’s a moral vision many Americans can cheer.

The Politics of Freedom is available at all fine bookstores, at Amazon, and from the Cato Institute.

Posted on February 26, 2008  Posted to Cato Publications,Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

Here’s to You, Mrs. Swedenburg

Juanita Swedenburg, the Virginia winemaker who took her battle for economic liberty to the Supreme Court and won, died June 9 at the age of 82. Clint Bolick, who argued her case as a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, discussed it in his new book David’s Hammer:

My curiosity was sparked, however, during a visit in the early 1990s to a small winery in bucolic Middleburg, Virginia. The proprietor was a striking older woman, Juanita Swedenburg, who owned and operated the winery with her husband. She produced several good wines, including a chardonnay with the toastiest nose I can remember. We got to talking and Mrs. Swedenburg asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that, among other things, I challenged regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, she exclaimed, “Have I got a regulation for you!”

Most states, it turned out, prohibited direct interstate shipments of wine to consumers. So that if tourists from another state visited Mrs. Swedenburg’s winery and asked how they could obtain her wines back home, she would have to reply, “You can’t.” …

As a descendant of settlers who fought in the American Revolution, Mrs. Swedenburg was outraged that such a stupid law could exist in a nation with the greatest free-enterprise system in the world.

Eventually, Bolick writes, the Institute for Justice took Mrs. Swedenburg’s case to the Supreme Court. He argued against a New York law, and Stanford law school dean Kathleen Sullivan (who also spoke recently at the Cato Institute) argued against a similar Michigan law. The Court ruled 5-4 that such laws “deprive citizens of their right to have access to the markets of other States on equal terms.” When Bolick launched his new book at the Cato Institute in April, Mrs. Swedenburg was sitting in the front row.

Juanita Swedenburg was the kind of citizen a free republic needs. After a career in the foreign service, she and her husband “retired” to a Virginia farm that had been in business since 1762. They set up a winery and worked seven days a week to make it a success. As the Washington Post says, “Mrs. Swedenburg did not take the Constitution for granted.” She knew that there was something wrong with a law that prevented willing customers from buying the fruits of her labors, wherever they lived. And when she found a lawyer who shared her enthusiasm for both wine and constitutional liberty, she pressed him to take the case on behalf of her and her customers.

Like John Peter Zenger, Rosa Parks, Allan Bakke, Michael Hardwick, Bill Barlow, and many others, Mrs. Swedenburg made our constitutional rights real by using them. Raise a glass to her memory.

Posted on June 12, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Constitutional Studies,General,Law & Legal Issues,Libertarian Philosophy

George Will and the Ideological Switcheroo

George Will has a thoughtful column titled (in the Washington Post, at least) “The Case for Conservatism.” You might say that it demonstrates that George Will has accepted modernity, because his definitions of liberalism and conservatism are thoroughly modern, not historical. Consider:

Today conservatives tend to favor freedom…. Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government.

Traditionally, of course, it was liberals who favored freedom and minimal government. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as a ”political doctrine that takes the abuse of power, and thus the freedom of the individual, as the central problem of government.” Wikipedia is similar: “Liberalism refers to a broad array of related doctrines, ideologies, philosophical views, and political traditions which advocate individual liberty…. Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights.”

Conservatism, on the other hand, according to Britannica, is a “political philosophy that emphasizes the value of traditional institutions and practices.” In many societies, of course, freedom is not a traditional practice. George Will may be talking strictly about American conservatism, in which case it is plausible to say that a conservative should want to preserve the traditional American institutions and practice of liberty and limited government. I have often wondered, what does it mean to be a conservative in a nation founded in libertarian revolution If it means preserving the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, then a conservative is a libertarian — or what used to be called a liberal.

But what if one wants to conserve something else Who’s to say that the principles of 1776 are the right thing to conserve What if you wanted to conserve Southern plantation society Or the rights and privileges of the British monarchy Or the institutions of the Dark Ages Or the traditional Indian practice of suttee, in which widows are expected to immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre


Posted on June 1, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

State to Young People: You Belong to Me

Under the benign headline “Turning Apathy Into Good Deeds,” former secretary of defense Melvin Laird endorses a strikingly authoritarian proposal: “a system of compulsory universal civil service for young people.” Laird recognizes that the military doesn’t need all the recruits a draft would produce and that today’s high-tech military needs longer-term training and commitment. But the drawn-out war in Iraq threatens to discourage future enlistments. So “universal service” might pressure just enough young people to join the army, while also producing a bumper crop of slave labor for schools, Head Start, Peace Corps, hospitals, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the State Department.

Laird thinks such a program would “foster a culture of responsibility for our democracy.” Not among free and responsible people, it wouldn’t. It may be no accident that Laird repeatedly mentions democracy, but the words freedom and liberty–the fundamental values of America, which our constitutional republic was created to protect–do not appear in his piece.

Laird does not address how you square compulsory service with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Laird’s proposed “service” is clearly involuntary.

For generations and centuries, old people have complained that today’s young people just don’t appreciate the sacrifices of their elders. They talk too loud and they don’t care about the community. They need, in the words of William James, “to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas.”

And meanwhile, they can do a lot of useful things that we older taxpayers would like to have done but don’t want to pay for. After all, in a market economy, if you want more people working in hospitals or day-care centers, you can pay them to do so. And if you don’t think $2.9 trillion is enough to pay for all the useful services of the federal government, you can propose a tax increase. But how much easier it might seem just to commandeer four million free or cheap laborers.

Of course, they’re not really so cheap. You do have to pay them something. And you’ll need massive new layers of bureaucracy to manage four million people (the approximate number of Americans who turn 18 each year).

And then there are the opportunity costs. Workers will be allocated to government make-work jobs instead of the jobs where the market demand is strongest. The economy will be less efficient and less productive. As Doug Bandow writes, “paying young people to sweep floors entails the cost of forgoing whatever else we could do with that money and the cost of forgoing whatever else those young people could do with their time. An additional dollar spent on medical research might be a better investment than one used to add an extra hospital helper; an additional young person who finished school and entered the field of biogenetics might increase social welfare more than one more kid shelving books in a library.”

What kind of message does compulsory service send to young people It tells them that they are national resources, state property, that they do not own themselves. That’s not the message the Founders thought they were sending in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It’s not an attitude appropriate for citizens of a free society. It’s a collectivist, authoritarian concept. It says, with much less charm than the old song, “You belong to me.”

Melvin Laird should be ashamed. So should John Edwards.

Posted on May 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Civil Liberties,Defense & National Security,General,Libertarian Philosophy

Sharks and the Tragedy of the Commons

The global shark population may be sharply declining, according to an article in the Washington Post. Actually, the article never quite gives a number for the global population, but it does warn that “something must be done to prevent sharks from disappearing from the planet.” And there are suggestive reports like this:

In March, a team of Canadian and U.S. scientists calculated that between 1970 and 2005, the number of scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks may have declined by more than 97 percent along the East Coast, and that the population of bull, dusky and smooth hammerhead sharks dropped by more than 99 percent. Globally, 16 percent of 328 surveyed shark species are described by the World Conservation Union as threatened with extinction.

Post reporter Juliet Eilperin notes that shark attacks can be big news, but in reality sharks kill about 4 people a year worldwide, while people kill “26 million to 73 million sharks annually.”

Why kill sharks To make money, of course, mostly for the Asian delicacy shark-fin soup. Shark fins are much more valuable than shark meat. Mexican shark hunters say they get $100 a kilogram for shark fins but only $1.50 a kilo for meat.

Unlike fish that reproduce in large numbers starting at an early age, most sharks take years to reach sexual maturity and produce only a few offspring at a time. Shark fishermen also tend to target pregnant females, which are more profitable because they are larger. As a result, said Michael Sutton, director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans, “there is no such thing as a sustainable shark fishery.”

So OK, here’s where Eilperin should have said, “Wait a minute . . . if there’s money to be made, why would greedy capitalists want to destroy the goose that lays the golden egg Shouldn’t they want to maximize their long-term profits ” And if she had, she might have run into a concept called “the tragedy of the commons.” Owners try to maximize the long-term value of their property. Timber owners don’t cut down all the trees and sell them this year; they cut and replant at a sustainable rate. But when people don’t own things, they have no incentive to maintain the long-term value. That’s why passenger pigeons went extinct, but chickens did not; why the buffalo was nearly exterminated but not the cow. (more…)

Posted on May 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Economics & Economic Philosophy,Environment & Climate,Int'l Economics & Development,Libertarian Philosophy

A Brave Heart for Atlas Shrugged

Randall Wallace’s script for the movie Atlas Shrugged is 129 pages long, according to an interview in Script magazine. That seems pretty short for such a massive novel. According to one TV critic, “On a two-hour movie, the average screenplay runs 120 pages. Maybe 125. For ‘A Few Good Men,’ [the famously dialogue-heavy] Aaron Sorkin’s weighed in at 149. For ‘Schindler’s List,’ on which he did a final ‘dialogue polish’: 183 pages.” I don’t think they’re going to include John Galt’s Speech.

Wallace says he has finished the screenplay, and it’s been “greenlit” by the studio. Angelina Jolie has been signed to play Dagny Taggart, and the movie may be in theaters next summer.

Wallace was nominated for an Oscar for his script for Braveheart, another movie popular with many libertarians. He first read the novel when his son at Duke University recommended it. Wallace gave his son C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which suggests some interesting dinner-table conversations. (He’s also writing a screenplay for Lewis’s Screwtape Letters.)

Wallace found a familiar theme in Atlas Shrugged:

The assertion that change occurs when heroic individuals are willing to stand up–and further, that people in the herd want to be heroic individuals but aren’t encouraged to do so until they find a leader worth following–is very much in Braveheart, and it’s something thoroughly ingrained in the American psyche.

Wallace himself does not claim to be an Objectivist or a libertarian. He seems to be more enamored with the idea of great ideas than with the ideas themselves. And many fans of Atlas Shrugged are going to be skeptical that you can capture its essence in two hours. But I think Wallace is correct to say that a movie is not a book on screen. It has to be a creative work in its own medium. If it works well, it will introduce the ideas and the book to millions of new readers.

Wallace may direct the movie as well. The New York Times tells the story of the 35-year struggle to bring Atlas Shrugged to the big screen, with key roles played by Godfather producer Albert Ruddy and Objectivist businessman John Aglialaro. Script magazine is here, but the Wallace interview is not online.

Posted on May 23, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Libertarian Philosophy

About David Boaz

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