Quotulatiousness

August 20, 2014

Vice.com – prepare yourself for President Rand Paul

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Vice is not a venue that normally has nice things to say about any Republican, but they go out of their way to do so for Rand Paul in this profile by Grace Wyler:

For the past two years, from the moment Ron Paul called off the Revolution and headed back to Texas, the political establishment has been eagerly waiting for his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, to run for president. They’ve watched with amusement as Paul popped up around the country — in Iowa and New Hampshire, at Evangelical powwows, Howard University, the ACLU — and at the top of early 2016 polls. Unlike his father, it’s hard to deny that he Paul is a “serious” candidate. But the idea that he could actually be elected President of the United States? That’s never been taken very seriously.

But with half of the GOP’s 2016 bench trying to avoid prison time and Democrats spinning their wheels in Obama’s second-term rut, the idea of a President Rand Paul is starting to sound less and less crazy. On issues like criminal justice reform, mass surveillance, and drug policy, Paul is casting himself as Another Option, carving out new space as the candidate who can make room for both small-government libertarians and other voters — young people and minorities, mostly — who don’t see either party as particularly effective or relevant. And some of what he’s saying makes a lot of sense.

Take Paul’s comments about the events in Ferguson, Missouri. In an op-ed published by Time on Thursday, the Kentucky Senator laid out a remarkably blunt, even angry, assessment of the racial tensions at the center of this week’s riots, linking policing issues to his broader critique of the federal government.

[...]

On other issues, too, Paul has been able to find unexpected common ground with voters outside of the aging, white GOP base. His views on issues like medical marijuana, federal sentencing laws, government spying, drones, and military intervention are much more closely aligned with public opinion — particularly among young voters — than those of any of his potential 2016 Republican rivals, and also of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. This is probably not, as last week’s New York Times Magazine suggested, the harbinger of some national libertarian moment. But it does give Paul the space to expand his appeal with the younger generation of voters — something the Republican Party admits it needs to do if it ever wants to win another presidential election.

August 12, 2014

“Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

J.D. Tuccille on five libertarian issues that should matter just as much to non-libertarians:

Are libertarians just Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man? That’s what many critics of the libertarian movement, and its seemingly looming moment in American history (as reported by the New York Times) would have you believe. But maybe we’re smoking that grass because we’re all too aware of what government officials do with that money (and to us all) when they get their hands on it (Ayn Rand did provide some cautionary tales, if you care to read her books).

Below are just five of the many issues on which libertarian journalists, independent think-tankers, state-challenging politicians, and freedom-loving litigators, among others, have worked to preserve and extend our liberty over the years. These are issues that matter to us. We think they should matter to you too — and they already may.

America’s Insane Incarceration Rate

“Every ten or eleven people that you meet, someone is going to either know someone in prison, has been in prison with a record, or you met them and they are going off to prison,” Michael Stoll, co-author of Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?, told Reason last year.

Those who now fill the nation’s jails, prisons, and detention centers, says the Prison Policy Initiative, number about 2.4 million people.

[...]

The Insane War on Drugs

The easiest way to get thrown behind bars in recent years has been by using, buying, selling, or merely possessing an intoxicant that doesn’t meet politicians’ approval. Prohibition of alcohol may have failed, but the impulse to prohibit — and to penalize those who don’t or won’t get with the program, continues in laws against marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and myriad other substances.

[...]

Whatever the Hell Happened to Police in This Country

You can’t have prisons groaning full of people busted for drug violations without somebody to put them there. That somebody is inevitably law enforcement in all its various permutations—though you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an occupying army, given the military tactics, equipment, and mindset that so many police departments have adopted.

[...]

Small Business-Killing Meddling

Government officials don’t have to unleash uniformed minions on you to make your life miserable — they can do the same thing with a web of red tape and a plague of inspectors. The challenge of making an honest living can become almost impossible when burdened with bureaucracy.

[...]

Peace

You can’t enjoy life, liberty, and prosperity if your ass has been shot off in some politician’s bloody military adventure. And libertarian-oriented lawmakers feature prominently among the “wacko-birds” denounced by uber-hawk, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.). Specifically, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) ranked proudly among those called out for opposing drone assassinations and unprovoked interventions in other countries’ affairs.

August 8, 2014

David Harsanyi is remarkably unimpressed with the “Libertarian moment” talk

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:59

In The Federalist, David Harsanyi goes out of his way to stamp out any libertarian optimism that the typical American voter is becoming more in favour of free minds and free markets:

A libertarian — according to the dictionary, at least — is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.

Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.

Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.

[...]

The case for libertarian political success always seems to hinge on the idea of pleasing the left on social issues — namely, on abortion. So why is that the most successful libertarians — and really we’re talking about Republicans like Justin Amash and Rand Paul — rarely focus on the issues that allegedly define the “libertarian moment.” Paul has taken a moderate, incremental approach on gay marriage. He’s strongly pro-life. And he’s the most successful libertarian politician in America. Many social conservatives are giving Paul’s libertarian views on foreign policy, the NSA, and sentencing reform a fair hearing. Which would not have happened if he had moved strongly to the left on social issues.

Democrats will never be able to accept libertarian fiscal policy. It’s far more likely that conservatives will end up adopting a more laissez faire, let-the-states-decide outlook out of necessity. So maybe the more apt political question should be: how do libertarians and social conservatives coexist? That hasn’t happened yet. Until it does there is no libertarian moment in American politics.

August 7, 2014

“Let’s say Ron Paul is Nirvana … Then Rand Paul — he’s Pearl Jam”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

Republican politicians as bands? In the New York Times? Fascinating. Here’s Matt Welch responding to the article:

The New York Times Magazine has just published a 6,600-word exploration of, essentially, whether, Nick Gillespie is right when he says “The libertarian moment is now.” Writer Robert Draper, author of the terrific 1991 book Rolling Stone Magazine: An Uncensored History, and more recently When the Tea Party Came to Town, takes an entertaining tour through various antechambers of the libertarian movement, from Reason‘s gin-swilling D.C. headquarters, through the Free State Project’s anarchic PorcFest, to the offices of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), in search of ever-elusive answers about what these libertarians want, how/if they plan to use two-party system to get there, and whether 2016 will be the presidential cycle when the burgeoning libertarianism of the millennial generation will produce a political realignment.

You’ll come for the Kennedy Ron Paul/Nirvana quote, stay for the Nick Gillespie/Lou Reed comparison, savor David Frum’s delicious contempt, and be left rooting for a clarifying Rand Paul/Hillary Clinton showdown.

July 2, 2014

QotD: The myths about libertarianism

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:05

Whenever I talk to people about libertarianism, they usually dismiss it right off because of all the misconceptions that are floating about. They seem to have no understanding of what libertarianism is actually. This is largely thanks to all the years of government schooling, as well as the falsehoods perpetrated by the lamestream media. Usually their objections are based on falsehoods that are repeated often in government school textbooks and by talking heads who don’t know Jack about libertarianism.

They seem to believe the myth that the free market was a gigantic cesspool that was letter cleansed by the purity of government. This is largely based on a work of fiction created by Upton Sinclair, even though it was largely debunked by two different investigations performed under two different branches of government. They also seem to have the cartoon image of the greedy “Robber Barons” who supposedly created monopolies so they could line their wallets, while the poor became poorer. Never mind that they actually found ways to produce cheaper goods, which gave the poor greater access to them.

That is why there are so many people who believe that the government is the end all solution to everything. They have become so accustomed to having the government interfere in their daily lives that they can’t imagine life without it. That is why people make straw man arguments against libertarianism. Well, that and intellectual laziness also plays a strong part in it. The same intellectual laziness that I have seen in many creationists who constantly attack evolution without even bothering to open a science book to find out what they are arguing against.

Sean Gangol, “Misconceptions”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2013-12-08

June 12, 2014

Repost: Ballot Box Irregularities

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:54

I first posted this article in 2004. I repost it every election:

Ballot Box Irregularities, Canadian Style

This article in Reason Hit and Run talks about the recent decision to allow partisan ballot-challengers to monitor the voting in Ohio. In Canada, these people are called “scrutineers” and they have a vital job.

No, I’m not kidding about the vital part. Each candidate has the right to appoint a scrutineer for every poll in the riding (usually only the Liberal, NDP, and Conservative parties can manage to field that much manpower). I was a scrutineer during a federal byelection in the mid-1980′s in a Toronto-area riding, but I had five polls to monitor (all were in the same school gymnasium). This was my first real experience of how dirty the political system can be.

The scrutineers have the right to challenge voters — although I don’t remember any challenges being issued at any of my polls — similar to the Ohio situation, I believe. They also have the right to be present during the vote count and to challenge the validity of individual ballots. Their job is to maximize the vote for their candidate and minimize the vote for their opponents.

Canadian ballots are pretty straightforward items: they are small, folded slips of paper with each candidate’s name listed alphabetically and a circle to indicate a vote for that candidate. A valid vote will have only one mark inside one of the circles (an X is the preferred mark). An invalid vote might have:

  • No markings at all (a blank ballot)
  • More than one circle marked (a spoiled ballot)
  • Some mark other than an X (this is where the scrutineers become important).

After the polls close, the poll clerk and the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) secure the unused ballots and then open the ballot box in the presence of any accredited scrutineers. The clerk and DRO then count all the ballots, indicating valid votes for candidates and invalid ballots. The scrutineers can challenge any ballot and it must be set aside and reconsidered after the rest of the ballots are counted.

A challenged ballot must be defended by one of the scrutineers or it is considered to be invalid and the vote is not counted. The clerk and DRO have the power to make the decision, but in practice a noisy scrutineer can usually bully the DRO into accepting all their challenges. I didn’t realize just how easy it was to screw with the system until I’d been a scrutineer and watched it happen over and over again.

This is the key reason why minor party candidates poll so badly in Canadian elections: they don’t have enough (or, in many cases, any) scrutineers to defend their votes. In my experience in that Toronto-area byelection, I personally saved nearly 4% of the total vote my candidate received (in the entire riding) by counter-challenging challenged ballots. We totalled just over 400 votes in the riding (in just about 100 polls) — 21 of them in my polls. I got 15 of those votes allowed, when they would otherwise have been disallowed by the DRO.

There was no legal reason to disallow those votes: they were clearly marked with an X and had no other marks on them; they were challenged because they were votes for a minor candidate. As it was, I had a heck of a time running from poll to poll in order to get my counter-challenges in (I probably missed a few votes by not being able to get back to a poll in time).

The Libertarians only had six or seven scrutineers, covering less than a third of the polls in this riding. If the challenge rate was typical in my poll, then instead of the 400-odd votes, we actually received nearly 2000 votes — but most of them were not counted.

Yes, even 2000 votes would not have swung the election, but 2000 people willing to vote for a “fringe” party would be a good argument against those “throwing away your vote” criticisms. Voters are weird creatures in some ways: they like to feel that their votes actually matter. Voting for someone who espouses views you like, then discovering that only a few others feel the same way will discourage most voters from voting that way again in future.

Another reason that minor party votes matter (that I neglected to mention in the original post) is that parties receive funding based on their vote totals in the previous election. Disallowing minor party votes also deprives those parties of the funding they would otherwise be entitled to next time around. For the bigger parties, this is trivial, but for minor parties, this may be critical to them being able to stay active — and visible to voters — between elections.

June 10, 2014

The Catholic case against libertarianism

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:14

First, let’s talk about the evils of the free market and how God wants to abolish free exchange of goods for our spiritual and moral welfare, shall we?

Something strange happened in Washington last week: A panel of Catholic intellectuals and clergy, led by His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga, was convened to denounce a political philosophy under the headline “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism.” The conference was mainly about free-market economics rather than libertarianism per se, and it was an excellent reminder that the hierarchy of the Church has no special grace to pronounce upon matters of specific economic organization. The best that can be said of the clergy’s corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence.

[...]

The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production — i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time — is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did. One of the great ironies of our times is that so many of the descendents of the old Catholic immigrant working class have found themselves attracted to an American Buddhism that, with its love of ornate titles, its costumes, its fascination with apostolic succession, and its increasingly coddled professional clergy, is a 21st-century expression of Buddhism apparently committed to transforming itself — plus ça change! — into 15th-century Catholicism. Perhaps it should not be entirely surprising that it has embraced the same intellectual errors.

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and likeminded thinkers, stuck as they are in the hopelessly 19th-century distributist model of economic analysis, apparently are incapable of thinking through the implications of their own dogma. The question of how certain goods are “distributed” in society is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute. To put it in Christian terms, all of the great givers in Scripture — the Good Samaritan, the widow with her mite, Joseph of Arimathea — had something to give. If the Good Samaritan had been the Poor Samaritan, with no resources to dedicate to the stranger’s care, then the poor waylaid traveler would have been out of luck. All the good intentions that we may muster are not half so useful to a hungry person as a loaf of bread.

Those who put distribution at the top of their list of priorities both make the error of assuming the existence of some exogenous agency that oversees distribution (that being the Distribution Fairy) and entirely ignore the vital question of what gets produced and by whom. Poverty is the direct by-product of low levels of production; the United States and Singapore are fat and happy with $53,101 and $64,584 in per capita economic output, respectively; Zimbabwe, which endured the services of a government very much interested in the redistribution of capital, gets to divide up $788 per person per year, meaning that under circumstances of perfect mathematical equality life would still be miserable for everybody. Sweden can carve up its per capita pie however it likes, but it’s still going to be 22.5 percent smaller than the U.S. pie and less than two-thirds the size of Singapore’s tasty pastry. You cannot redistribute what you don’t have — and that holds true not only for countries but, finally, for the planet and the species, which of course is what globalization is all about. That men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad.

Andrew Echevarria uses Tinder to connect with Trinity-Spadina voters

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:45

Liam asked if I’d covered the innovative voter reach-out campaign being conducted by Libertarian candidate Andrew Echevarria in the Trinity-Spadina riding:

Andrew Echevarria Libertarian Tinder postMuch like love, wooing voters sometimes requires dabbling in the art of seduction.

That’s how MPP hopeful Andrew Echevarria sees it. The Ontario Libertarian Party candidate for Trinity-Spadina is using Tinder to connect with young people in the downtown riding, hoping to score votes the same way others score dates.

“I catch their eye,” said Echevarria, who joined the online dating app recently. “Tinder is a great moment to catch someone when they’re just hanging out.”

Toronto Tinder users may recognize the dark-haired, well-suited Echevarria as they swipe left and right through the app’s GPS-enabled library of potential romances. He set his search limit to the scope of the riding and has already been inundated with love connections.

However, he keeps his intentions up front.

“Tired of dating the same old politicians who lie just to get your ballot? Hook up with Liberty!” he teases, listing his age as 24. Those interested can “swipe right to debate or learn more.”

About 50 people — 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women, Echevarria guesses — have swiped right.

While it might sound like a gimmick, the neuroscience grad from the University of Toronto said he genuinely believes Tinder is an effective way of enticing students and young professionals who are unfamiliar with libertarian politics, which he says are defined by “the protection of individual rights and freedoms.”

June 5, 2014

Mother Jones on the Rothbard-Koch feud

Filed under: History, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:00

I met Murray Rothbard a few years before he died, sharing a panel with him at a Libertarian event in Toronto. He was a fascinating, but uncomfortable man to talk with (at least on my brief acquaintance). He was an ideological fundamentalist and had no time for those who wanted to “water down” the libertarian message to make it more acceptable to the general public. In Mother Jones, Daniel Schulman reports on the bitter break between Charles Koch and Rothbard not long after the founding of the Cato Institute over exactly that kind of issue:

Long before Charles Koch became the left’s public enemy number one (or two, depending on where David Koch falls in the rankings), some of his most vocal detractors were not liberals but fellow libertarians. None of his erstwhile allies would come to loathe him more fiercely than Murray Rothbard, one of the movement’s intellectual forefathers, with whom Charles had worked closely to elevate libertarianism from a fringy cadre of radical thinkers to a genuine and growing mass movement.

In the 1970s, Charles helped fund Rothbard’s work, as the economist churned out treatise after treatise denouncing the tyranny of government. Rothbard was a man with a plan when it came to movement-building. Where some libertarians had bickered over whether to advance the cause through an academic or an activist approach, Rothbard argued that the solution wasn’t to choose one path, but both. Charles was taken with his strategic vision.

Rothbard dreamt of creating a libertarian think tank to bolster the movement’s intellectual capacity. Charles Koch made this a reality in 1977, when he co-founded the Cato Institute with Rothbard and Ed Crane, then the chairman of the national Libertarian Party. This was a high point for libertarianism, when a busy hive of libertarian organizing buzzed on San Francisco’s Montgomery Street, home to Cato and a handful of other ideological operations bankrolled by Charles Koch.

But the relationship between Cato’s co-founders soon soured.

Rothbard, who was feisty by nature, chafed under the regime of Crane and Koch — the libertarian movement’s primary financier at that time. His breaking point came during the 1980 election, when David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee. Rothbard and his supporters felt that, in a bid for national legitimacy, David Koch and his running mate, Ed Clark, had watered down the core tenets of libertarianism to make their philosophy more palatable to the masses. Americans today would consider their platform — which called for abolishing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and eliminating federal agencies including the EPA and the Department of Energy — a radical one. But to Rothbard and his circle, it wasn’t radical enough. For instance, the Clark-Koch ticket stopped short of calling for the outright repeal of the income tax. And Clark, to Rothbard’s horror, had even defined libertarianism as “low-tax liberalism” in a TV interview.

Following the 1980 election, in which the Clark-Koch campaign claimed a little over one percent of the popular vote, Rothbard did not hold back. He penned a scathing polemic titled “The Clark Campaign: Never Again,” in which he wrote that Ed Clark and David Koch had “sold their souls — ours, unfortunately, along with it — for a mess of pottage, and they didn’t even get the pottage.” Thanks in part to Rothbard’s rabble-rousing, factional feuds and recriminations splintered the libertarian movement just as it was gaining momentum. A few months after Rothbard’s diatribe, Charles Koch and Ed Crane tossed him out of the Cato Institute and voided his shares in the think tank (which was set up, under Kansas law, as a nonprofit corporation with stockholders), a rebuke that turned their libertarian brother-in-arms into a lifelong adversary.

The Rothbard-Koch split was only the biggest of a lot of factional in-fighting in the movement in those days. Even in the outermost fringes of the movement (in Canada, for example), we had lots of splinters-of-splinters micro-movements going on (which is why the Monty Python skit about the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean People’s Front and the Judean Popular People’s Front “Splitters!” rings so true for me). Some days, we made the Communists/Marxist-Leninists look like sane, sensible co-operative folks.

May 30, 2014

New book exposes the Koch brothers

Filed under: Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

Nick Gillespie in the Daily Beast, recommending that everyone read the new exposé by Mother Jones senior editor Daniel Schulman. But not for the reasons you’d expect:

Clark-Koch LP 1980 election buttonAs a libertarian, I’m always slow to tell people what they should do. But if you care about politics and the ultimately far more powerful cultural direction of these United States, the new book by Daniel Schulman, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty is mandatory reading.

Written by a senior editor for the lefty magazine Mother Jones, the book is hugely revelatory, though not in a way that will please or flatter the conspiracy theories of Democrats, liberals, and progressives who vilify the Kansas-raised billionaires Charles and David Koch for fun and profit. Sons of Wichita chronicles the post-World War II transformation of a mid-size oil-and-ranching family business into the second-largest privately held company in the United States. From a straight business angle, it’s riveting and illuminating not just about how Koch Industries — makers of “energy, food, building and agricultural materials…and…products [that] intersect every day with the lives of every American” — evolved over the past 60 years but also how the larger U.S. economy changed and globalized.

But what’s far more interesting — and important to contemporary America — is the way in which Schulman documents the absolute seriousness with which Charles and David have always taken specifically libertarian ideas and their signal role in helping to create a “freedom movement” to counter what they have long seen as a more effective mix of educational, activist, and intellectual groups on the broadly defined left. By treating the Koch brothers’ activities in critical but fair terms, Sons of Wichita points to what I like to think of as Libertarianism 3.0, a political and cultural development that, if successful, will not only frustrate the left but fundamentally alter the right by creating fusion between forces of social tolerance and fiscal responsibility.

May 28, 2014

Ontario election 2014 – the local front

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

Click to download full-size PDF

Click to download full-size PDF

So far, the local candidates have been almost invisible here in Whitby-Oshawa. Last week, we had a canvasser show up for Progressive Conservative candidate Christine Elliot (the incumbent MPP), but that’s literally it. As far as I know, this is the complete list of registered candidates for the riding:

  • Christine Elliott, Progressive Conservative
  • Ryan Kelly, NDP
  • Ajay Krishnan, Liberal
  • Stacey Leadbetter, Green
  • Douglas Thom, Freedom Party

The Ontario Libertarian Party issued a press release the other day, boasting that they were “in a position to form a majority government”. Which sounds great, but all it really means is they’re finally running enough candidates that, should they all be elected, the OLP would have enough seats to form a majority. A subtle distinction, I’m sure you’d agree.

However, despite the massed ranks of OLP sacrificial lambs candidates, they don’t have one in Whitby-Oshawa. This means that instead of wasting my vote by voting Libertarian, I’ll waste my ballot on Douglas Thom of the Freedom Party (“Splitters!“).

CBC News has a profile of the riding here. For other Ontario ridings, you can look them up here.

May 15, 2014

The “typical American voter [is] a moderate national socialist who strongly supports state intervention in many areas”

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:42

Kevin Williamson responds to Michael Lind’s recent hit piece on Bryan Caplan:

Mr. Lind’s piece contains no analysis. Like a great deal of what currently passes for commentary, it is mostly a half-organized swarm of insults out of which emerges the occasional tendentious misstatement of Professor Caplan’s views and those of the libertarian thinkers with whom he is sometimes associated. Mr. Lind begins by bemoaning our alleged national descent into plutocracy and writes: “Some on the libertarian right have responded to this research by welcoming our new plutocratic overlords. Among these is Bryan Caplan.” Professor Caplan, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter, is a trenchant critic of electoral decision-making. Voters, he argues, suffer from specific, predictable biases — anti-market bias, anti-foreign bias, make-work bias, and pessimistic bias — that causes them to hold, and act on, untrue beliefs about the way the world works. Being an economist, Professor Caplan focuses on what voters believe about economics vs. what professional economists believe. He characterizes the typical American voter as a moderate national socialist who strongly supports state intervention in many areas, and remarks, “Given public opinion, the policies of First World democracies are surprisingly libertarian.”

There is a great deal of agreement among the poor, the middle class, and the rich on most political issues, but the rich are significantly more libertarian than are the poor. As Professor Caplan notes, the wealthy and the poor both support raising the minimum wage, but the poor much more strongly so. You might think that that is a question of narrow self-interest, but self-interest, counterintuitively, has little effect on public opinion. And the rich are more libertarian than the poor not only on economic issues but also on social issues. The poor are “much more anti-gay,” Professor Caplan writes. “They’re much less opposed to restricting free speech to fight terrorism.” On the relatively few issues on which there is strong disagreement between the poor and the rich, the preferences of the rich have tended to prevail, and that pleases Professor Caplan, because that means that more libertarian policies are put into place than public opinion would suggest. “To avoid misinterpretation,” he writes, “this does not mean that American democracy has a strong tendency to supply the policies that most materially benefit the rich. It doesn’t.” But there is no avoiding misinterpretation when the opposite side is committed to misinterpreting you. Professor Caplan celebrates the advance of gay rights, pushback against the surveillance state, and, regrettably (especially for the author of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids), abortion rights, among other items on the progressive social agenda. Mr. Lind sees only a champion of plutocracy — because that is all he is inclined to see.

Mr. Lind, who shares with fellow former conservative David Brock the convert’s zeal, is something of a fanatic on the subject of libertarianism, and the bulk of his piece is dedicated to abominating every libertarian thinker he’s ever heard of, making the case that the abominable Professor Caplan should fit right in. He starts with the predictable home-run swing (“you might be tempted to dismiss Bryan Caplan as just another Koch-funded libertarian hack …” and follows up with “Koch-subsidized intelligentsia of the libertarian right,” “almost all of them are paid, directly or indirectly, by a handful of angry, arrogant rich guys,” “third-rate minds like Peter Thiel”), goes right into the shallow insults (“that near-oxymoron, libertarian thought”), and then proceeds to the greatest hits: “Ludwig von Mises praised Mussolini,” “Friedrich von Hayek” [NB: The Hayek family ceased being the “von Hayek” family in 1919, when Hayek was twelve, and he did not use the honorific himself, but that “von” sounds kind of Nazi-ish, so, there you have it] admired the military dictator Augusto Pinochet,” and closes out with moral preening: “Our squalid age of plutocratic democracy has found a thinker worthy of it.”

May 7, 2014

“[T]he embarrassingly dumb pseudo-issue of ‘thick’ versus ‘thin’ libertarianism”

Filed under: Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:03

L. Neil Smith has been off working on a pair of novels, so he only recently heard about “thick” and “thin” libertarianism. He’s underwhelmed:

One item that has broken through my self-imposed “cone of silence” is the embarrassingly dumb pseudo-issue of “thick” versus “thin” libertarianism. It’s an idea almost as stupid as “right” versus “left” libertarianism.

Read and understand this: a libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a proper libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Individuals who act consistently with this principle are genuine libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.

I call it the “Zero Aggression Principle”. Tell me: where’s the “right” and “left” to that? You’re either libertarian or you’re not. Period.

If I understand the pushers of this new conceptoid, they believe — and insist — there must be more to libertarianism than the Zero Aggression Principle, that we must incorporate into the movement and its underlying philosophy concerns that properly belong to creatures who have dirtied the word “liberal” so badly they now call themselves “progressives”.

Since I first became a conscious libertarian, 52 years ago (when you get to be my age, time flies whether you’re having fun or not), and certainly since the founding of the Libertarian Party, a decade later, there have always been individuals attempting to redefine libertarianism — usually downward—to suit their own prejudices and purposes.

[...]

I have always thought, and I believe that history backs me up in this, that it was a serious mistake to try to establish an Objectivist aesthetic. Aesthetics are purely arbitrary, a matter of whatever we’ve become accustomed to. Look at the way the idealized feminine form has changed (driven, some say, by the economics of feast and famine) from the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens to the images of Lesley “Twiggy” Lawson. Or, over a much shorter span, from Jayne Mansfield to Mia Farrow.

The purveyors of “thick” libertarianism are making a mistake as obvious and pathetically foolish as Rand’s. They want to take a 987 Porsche Boxter — the sleek, slim Zero Aggression Principle — glue cardboard shoeboxes, empty coffee cans, and dead cats on it at random, and herald it as something new and wonderful. But new and wonderful it ain’t.

It’s the same old crap.

A short term for “thick” libertarians is “liberals”.

April 14, 2014

In defence of limited corporate liability

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

The RSS feed that used to track Megan McArdle’s posts at Bloomberg View has been on the fritz for a couple of weeks, so I missed this article when it was posted earlier this month:

The argument for unlimited liability isn’t just a libertarian evergreen; it’s also something you occasionally hear from the far left, because it would basically make the corporate form untenable. Imagine, if you would, that by buying and holding the share of a firm for 10 minutes, you thereby subjected yourself to seizure of all your goods to satisfy potential lawsuit judgments — even if those judgments involved behavior that involved no legal liability at the time of the acts.

Not possible? That’s basically what happened with asbestos liability. Firms that had had no legal liability under the doctrines of the times in which the asbestos was sold or used suddenly found themselves driven into bankruptcy by massive settlements. Moreover, after the first wave of lawsuits exhausted the funds available to pay asbestos claims, plaintiffs’ lawyers started pushing to expand the number of pockets that could be dipped into.

A company that had never manufactured asbestos could be sued and have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lawsuits and settlements because it had once bought a company with an insulation division that had formerly manufactured asbestos — even though it had immediately sold off that division in the process of completing the merger. Insurers could be forced to pay out for the whole of a company’s liability if they had sold a company insurance for even a year between the time a company started making or using asbestos and the time that the plaintiff discovered the harm. And “harm” wasn’t limited to getting sick; you could sue for the emotional distress of worrying that you might get sick.

Kind of hard to imagine becoming a shareholder under those circumstances, isn’t it? Maybe you’d better put your money in the bank — a small, privately held bank, of course. Commerce would look something like it did in medieval Italy, where all economic activity was basically organized by the family or the partnership.

Growth would have to be financed by debt or by retained earnings. That’s how British firms financed expansion in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It’s how small businesses tend to finance expansion now.

The traditional libertarian answer is “insurance”, but that’s a non-starter as well.

To which I answer: What insurance company?

Insurers are also corporations, and their owners get the same valuable shield from liability that everyone else gets from the corporate form. They may have shareholders, or they may be mutually held by their policy holders, but either way, someone is getting protection from lawsuit by the same laws that protect General Motors Co. This sort of liability shield is vital for any large aggregation of capital requiring lots of contributors — which is basically the definition of an insurance company.

April 8, 2014

Ten un-answerable questions for libertarians

Filed under: Humour, Liberty — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:58

Uh-oh, Bleeding Heart Libertarians has spilled the beans:

10 Questions Libertarians Can’t Answer, and Hope You Won’t Ask!

Libertarianism philosophy is like a cockroach that scurries away once you shine the light of reason on it. Here are 10 hard questions libertarians can’t answer.

1. Which Koch brother has more authority over you? [...]
2. Which corporation should rule the world? [...]
3. When oppressing the poor, is it better to use kicks or punches? Or should you hire other poor people to beat up poor people for you? [...]
4. If you’re so smart, how come not everyone’s a libertarian? [...]
5. Wasn’t America libertarian in 1850? Or at least 1870? And isn’t American 2014 clearly better than American in 1850 or 1870? [...]
6. How could a libertarian society produce new generations? [...]
7. If Murray Rothbard was such a badass anarchist, why did he work for a state university? [...]
8. Come to think of it, how can libertarianism ever get going without stealing from the government? [...]
9. Which political leaders will you put on your currency? [...]
10. If capitalism is so awesome, why is anyone still poor? [...]

H/T to Julian Sanchez who offers this trigger warning:

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