Is the Libertarian Moment Over?

That’s the question Dave Weigel asks at the Washington Post. His premise is that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign seems to have slowed down, so maybe that means any “libertarian moment” has passed. (I’d say Weigel asks, but doesn’t answer, the question.)

Nick Gillespie of Reason correctly tells Weigel that ideological movements and moments aren’t tied to any one political leader: “It’s a mistake to conflate Rand Paul’s electoral success with that of the libertarian moment.”

Gillespie also says Paul would be more successful if he were more libertarian:

“Rand Paul’s high visibility is better understood as a consequence of the libertarian moment than its cause. There’s a reason why he’s been at his most electrifying and popular precisely when he is at his most libertarian: calling out the surveillance state, for instance, and leading the charge against reckless interventions in Syria and Libya.”…

“Hopefully his father’s endorsement will goad him to become THE libertarian alternative,” says Gillespie, “rather than the seventh or eighth or 10th most conservative candidate in the GOP race.”

And of course the election is just beginning. The Donald Trump circus has dominated the past month, but eventually the differences between serious candidates such as Bush, Walker, and Paul will get more attention. And in that competition Paul’s “libertarianish” approach will stand out against a dozen candidates racing to the right.
 

Weigel isn’t the first to raise the question of whether the rise of ISIS, with its brutal videos, set back a rising tide of non-interventionist sentiment among American voters. As I told Weigel, “I still think the growing aversion to intervention will reassert itself reasonably soon.” The temporary success of ISIS won’t wipe out 15 years of war-weariness. As soon as February, when the voting starts, voters may be reverting to their skepticism about intervention.

 
Ed Crane has written, in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, that a plurality of Americans support free enterprise, social tolerance, and “a healthy skepticism of foreign military adventurism.” David Brooks wrote recently that the swing voters in 2016 will be people who don’t think big government is the path to economic growth and don’t know why a presidential candidate would open his campaign at Jerry Falwell’s university. Those are the voters who push American politics in a libertarian direction.
 
You can see that libertarian direction in this chart put together by David Bier, who elaborated on what it shows here:
 
Libertarian Trends by David Bier
In any case, we shouldn’t judge freedom by what politicians and voters are doing in any particular year. We live in a world where we have extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence to more people – gay people can get married! – where we have all the knowledge in the history of the world in our pockets, where politicians and police are increasingly monitored, where unregulated or lightly regulated technologies are challenging comfortable monopolies. 
 
Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have taken the idea of “the libertarian moment” far beyond politics and elections, as in this article that I quoted in the introduction to The Libertarian Reader:
We are in fact living at the cusp of what should be called the Libertarian Moment, the dawning not of some fabled, clichéd, and loosey-goosey Age of Aquarius but a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over every aspect of our lives, from 401(k)s to hot and cold running coffee drinks, from life-saving pharmaceuticals to online dating services. This is now a world where it’s more possible than ever to live your life on your own terms; it’s an early rough draft version of the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick’s glimmering “utopia of utopias.” Due to exponential advances in technology, broad-based increases in wealth, the ongoing networking of the world via trade and culture, and the decline of both state and private institutions of repression, never before has it been easier for more individuals to chart their own course and steer their lives by the stars as they see the sky….
 
This new century of the individual, which makes the Me Decade look positively communitarian in comparison, will have far-reaching implications wherever individuals swarm together in commerce, culture, or politics….
 
The Internet alone has created entire new economies, modes of scattered and decentralized organization and work, and a hyper-individualization that would have shocked the Founding Fathers.
And of course if we move beyond the United States to the world, it’s pretty clear that the large trends in the world – not without counter-trends – are toward human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, democratic governance, and freer markets. If we’re not quite in a libertarian moment, we’re in a libertarianish era.

Posted on August 17, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Is the Libertarian Moment Over?

That’s the question Dave Weigel asks at the Washington Post. His premise is that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign seems to have slowed down, so maybe that means any “libertarian moment” has passed. (I’d say Weigel asks, but doesn’t answer, the question.)

Nick Gillespie of Reason correctly tells Weigel that ideological movements and moments aren’t tied to any one political leader: “It’s a mistake to conflate Rand Paul’s electoral success with that of the libertarian moment.”

Gillespie also says Paul would be more successful if he were more libertarian:

“Rand Paul’s high visibility is better understood as a consequence of the libertarian moment than its cause. There’s a reason why he’s been at his most electrifying and popular precisely when he is at his most libertarian: calling out the surveillance state, for instance, and leading the charge against reckless interventions in Syria and Libya.”…

“Hopefully his father’s endorsement will goad him to become THE libertarian alternative,” says Gillespie, “rather than the seventh or eighth or 10th most conservative candidate in the GOP race.”

And of course the election is just beginning. The Donald Trump circus has dominated the past month, but eventually the differences between serious candidates such as Bush, Walker, and Paul will get more attention. And in that competition Paul’s “libertarianish” approach will stand out against a dozen candidates racing to the right.
 

Weigel isn’t the first to raise the question of whether the rise of ISIS, with its brutal videos, set back a rising tide of non-interventionist sentiment among American voters. As I told Weigel, “I still think the growing aversion to intervention will reassert itself reasonably soon.” The temporary success of ISIS won’t wipe out 15 years of war-weariness. As soon as February, when the voting starts, voters may be reverting to their skepticism about intervention.

 
Ed Crane has written, in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, that a plurality of Americans support free enterprise, social tolerance, and “a healthy skepticism of foreign military adventurism.” David Brooks wrote recently that the swing voters in 2016 will be people who don’t think big government is the path to economic growth and don’t know why a presidential candidate would open his campaign at Jerry Falwell’s university. Those are the voters who push American politics in a libertarian direction.
 
You can see that libertarian direction in this chart put together by David Bier, who elaborated on what it shows here:
 
Libertarian Trends by David Bier
In any case, we shouldn’t judge freedom by what politicians and voters are doing in any particular year. We live in a world where we have extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence to more people – gay people can get married! – where we have all the knowledge in the history of the world in our pockets, where politicians and police are increasingly monitored, where unregulated or lightly regulated technologies are challenging comfortable monopolies. 
 
Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have taken the idea of “the libertarian moment” far beyond politics and elections, as in this article that I quoted in the introduction to The Libertarian Reader:
We are in fact living at the cusp of what should be called the Libertarian Moment, the dawning not of some fabled, clichéd, and loosey-goosey Age of Aquarius but a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over every aspect of our lives, from 401(k)s to hot and cold running coffee drinks, from life-saving pharmaceuticals to online dating services. This is now a world where it’s more possible than ever to live your life on your own terms; it’s an early rough draft version of the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick’s glimmering “utopia of utopias.” Due to exponential advances in technology, broad-based increases in wealth, the ongoing networking of the world via trade and culture, and the decline of both state and private institutions of repression, never before has it been easier for more individuals to chart their own course and steer their lives by the stars as they see the sky….
 
This new century of the individual, which makes the Me Decade look positively communitarian in comparison, will have far-reaching implications wherever individuals swarm together in commerce, culture, or politics….
 
The Internet alone has created entire new economies, modes of scattered and decentralized organization and work, and a hyper-individualization that would have shocked the Founding Fathers.
And of course if we move beyond the United States to the world, it’s pretty clear that the large trends in the world – not without counter-trends – are toward human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, democratic governance, and freer markets. If we’re not quite in a libertarian moment, we’re in a libertarianish era.

Posted on August 17, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Scott Walker and the new Milwaukee arena on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes

Posted on August 13, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Should Prostitution Be Legalized?

Does three make a trend? I can’t recall hearing much discussion of legalizing prostitution in the recent past, and suddenly this week I’ve seen three significant reports in the media. Are they straws in the wind? Could the legalization of prostitution be the next social reform to come to the fore?

First, last Thursday the Telegraph reported on a new study from the venerable free-market think tank in London, the Institute for Economic Affairs:

The sex trade should be fully decriminalised because feminism has left modern men starved of sex, one of Baroness Thatcher’s favourirte think-tanks claims.

A controversial new paper published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) calls for Britain’s prostitution laws to be scrapped, insisting it is “inevitable” that men will resort to paying for sex as women become more empowered through participation in the workplace.

As IEA notes, the paper got plenty of publicity in the British media.

Then on Tuesday Amnesty International voted, as the New York Times put it, “to support a policy that calls for decriminalization of the sex trade, including prostitution, payment for sex and brothel ownership.” The full policy, which still requires final approval from the board, can be found here. The new policy

is based on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference (bearing in mind that legitimate restrictions may be imposed on sex work, as noted below).

And then today I see this in the Washington Post:

D.C. Council member David Grosso said he is considering introducing legislation this fall that would decriminalize prostitution in the city and provide sex workers with resources to be safe and get out of the business if they want to.

Grosso’s announcement comes on the heels of Amnesty International’s controversial recommendation Tuesday calling for “full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.”

“It is something that my staff and I have been working on and thinking about for a few months now,” Grosso (I-At Large) said Wednesday. “Once the Amnesty report came out, it validated a lot of the concerns that I have of how we handle this in the District.”

I’ve heard journalists say that three examples make a trend. So maybe we’ve just spotted one.

In my long years of interviews and speeches on libertarianism, I’ve often encountered people who think that libertarians’ main interests are legalizing drugs and prostitution. Indeed, libertarians – including the Cato Institute – have been talking about the harmful effects of the drug war for a long time. But I’ve actually seen very little libertarian scholarship or activism around the issue of prostitution. There’s been some, but it’s been nothing like a major topic of discussion. The only analysis I can find on the Cato website is this Cato Unbound symposium.

Whether libertarians have led the way or not, I am intrigued to see these three straws in the wind in such close proximity. Who’s next?

Posted on August 13, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Scott Walker Hands $250 Million in Taxpayers’ Money to Billionaire Bucks Owners

Scott Walker touts his record as a fiscal conservative. But this morning, reports the Associated Press

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took a break from the presidential campaign trail Wednesday to commit $250 million in taxpayer money to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Walker’s come under a lot of criticism from both left and right for his arena funding plan, including an article I wrote at the Huffington Post after he defended his plan on ABC’s “This Week.” Such deals are paid for by average taxpayers to benefit millionaire players and billionaire owners. But millionaires and billionaires have more influence than average taxpayers, and the pictures around stadium deals are great: 

Calling the new NBA stadium a “dynamic attraction for the entire state of Wisconsin,” Walker signed the bill at the Wisconsin State Fair Park surrounded by state lawmakers, local officials and Bucks team president Peter Feigin.

The economics, not so good. Walker has claimed a ”return on investment” of three to one, which he says is “a good deal” for the taxpayers. Economists disagree. As Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys wrote in a 2004 Cato study criticizing the proposed D.C. stadium subsidy, “The wonder is that anyone finds such figures credible….

Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy. The net economic impact of professional sports in Washington, D.C., and the 36 other cities that hosted professional sports teams over nearly 30 years, was a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area.

Republican voters are looking for fiscal conservatives and straight talkers. We’re hearing a lot of denunciations of corporate welfare and crony capitalism. And here’s a leading conservative candidate for president sitting down in front of cameras to sign a bill handing $250 million in taxpayers’ money (Bloomberg says $400 million with interest) to wealthy owners of a sports team (some of whom, no doubt coincidentally, are large donors to his campaign), in defiance of free-market advocates and virtually all economists. Will the other Republican candidates take him on? Will they denounce this wasteful extravagance?

Or will we have to rely on John Oliver to do the job small-government Republicans ought to be doing?

 

Posted on August 12, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Republicans Looking for Libertarian Voters?

Recently I got an envelope at home that looked important. It had no return address, just a notice that said “DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT.” Trembling, I tore it open. The reply envelope inside also looked official, with “PROCESS IMMEDIATELY” emblazoned across the top. But since it was addressed to the Republican National Committee, I began to suspect that it wasn’t actually an OFFICIAL DOCUMENT. It did say that I had been specially selected “to represent voters in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District” and that I was receiving documents registered in my name, with tracking code J15PM110. The document must be returned by August, 17, 2015.

So in another words, just another dishonest communication from a political party. The dishonesty didn’t even wait for the letter, it started with the outer envelope.

But I wouldn’t take time to complain about mere political dishonesty. What I actually found interesting was the first question on my 2015 CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CENSUS. It was a simple question, asking how I describe my political ideology:

1. Do you generally identify yourself as a:

  • Conservative Republican
  • Moderate Republican
  • Independent Voter who leans Republican
  • Liberal Republican
  • Tea Party Member
  • Libertarian
  • Other____________________

So it’s nice to see that at last political professionals are noticing the existence of libertarian voters. My colleague David Kirby and I have been writing about libertarian voters for about nine years now, starting with our paper “The Libertarian Vote.” In that paper we found that some 13 to 15 percent of voters give libertarian answers to three standard questions about political values. (And as Clive Crook wrote in the Atlantic, why do so FEW Americans give such “characteristically American answers” to the questions?) The Gallup Poll, with a slightly easier test, found that 24 percent of respondents could be characterized as libertarians. David Kirby found that some 34 percent of Republicans hold libertarian views, which might just be what the RNC wants to investigate.

However, our studies have also shown that more voters hold libertarian views than know or accept the word “libertarian.” In a followup study done by Zogby International we found that only 9 percent of the voters we identified as libertarian chose the “libertarian” label. (That is, only 9 percent of 15 percent, or about 1.5 percent of the electorate.) Fifty percent chose “conservative” and 31 percent “moderate.” So the RNC survey, even if the results are actually tallied, is likely to underestimate the number of Republicans who hold libertarian views. A better question, which they didn’t ask, might be 

“Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?”

In the Zogby survey 59 percent of respondents answered “yes” to that question. When we made the question a little more provocative, adding the word “libertarian”–

“Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian?” 

–44 percent of respondents still said “yes.” Now that would be a fun question for the RNC to ask next time! Or indeed the DNC.

Posted on August 10, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Damn the Accountants! Full Speed Ahead on the Suez Canal Expansion

A Washington Post story on Egypt’s addition to the Suez Canal reminds me of stories about stadiums, arenas, and convention centers. First, there’s a leader with an edifice complex:

There was no public feasibility study, just an order from the new president. He wanted Egypt to dig a new Suez Canal. Oh, and he wanted it completed in a year.

That was last August. And on Thursday, with much pomp and circumstance, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi inaugurated the new waterway — an expansion of the original, really.

And then, as noted above, there was no real study. In the United States elected officials usually commission bogus studies that economists laugh at.

There’s the hoopla in place of sound economics:

For the past few weeks, the country has been bombarded with messages, slogans and propaganda — all extolling the virtues of what the government is calling Egypt’s “gift to the world.” The canal will double shipping traffic and change the world, officials say. In a countdown to the opening, the flagship state newspaper said: “48 hours… and the Egyptian dream is completed.”

Just this week the mayor of St. Louis, saved by a judge from having to endure a public vote on taxpayer funding for a new NFL stadium, exulted:

“Having an NFL team in a city is really, I think, a huge amenity,” he said. “It’s one of the things that make living in a big city fun.”

Like the stadiums, the new canal path wasn’t needed:

But less important amid the hyper-nationalist fervor, it seemed, is the fact that the $8 billion expansion of one of the world’s most important waterways probably wasn’t necessary….It will probably shave only a few hours off the time that vessels wait to traverse the canal. Global shipping, economists say, has been sluggish since the 2008-2009 world financial crisis.

As with stadiums and other grand municipal projects, economists scoff at the purported benefits:

“This is politics. [The government] wants to give the impression we are entering a new phase of the Egyptian economy,” said Ahmed Kamaly, an economics professor at the American University in Cairo. Egypt’s economy tanked with the turmoil of the Arab Spring, with foreign reserves plummeting and the tourism industry suffering.

“It’s all propaganda,” Kamaly said of government’s grand promises of a revived national economy. “The benefit is overestimated.”

Egypt wants to be known as a modern country. Well, spending taxpayers’ money on white elephants is certainly a characteristic of rich, advanced countries. But $8 billion is a lot even in the white elephant league.

Posted on August 8, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the first GOP debate and foreign policy on CBS KMEG’s Siouxland News at 10

Posted on August 7, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the first GOP debate and foreign policy on FOX KPTH’s Siouxland News at 9 on FOX 44

Posted on August 7, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the first GOP debate and foreign policy on NBC WPBN’s 7&4 News at 5PM

Posted on August 7, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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