My reader was not satisfied with the answer I offered in Libertarians and Politics. Here are a few more thoughts.
1. For economic libertarians who do seek to engage in politics, I do not think that the current environment is conducive to success. I use the modifier “economic,” because the same dominant progressive ideology that stifles economic libertarianism is quite friendly to libertarian positions on many social issues.
2. Perhaps one way to change the environment is to engage in political action and failing. The old Goldwater-made-Reagan-Possible theory. I am not terribly sold on that one.
3. I think that public schools are a major problem. Whether you think they make a difference at the margin in terms of student learning (I am skeptical), they probably are somewhat effective at progressive brainwashing. If you don’t believe that, consider what an uphill battle one faces trying to explain the beneficial effects of the capitalist system on reducing poverty, conserving natural resources, and so on.
4. The strong component of progressivism in the identity of intellectuals is another major problem. In order to feel welcome among highly-educated people, you have to affirm belief in ideas that are at best dubious and at worst just flat-out wrong. It takes too much courage these days to question progressive dogma in certain segments of the population, including non-Orthodox Jews
Suzanne Mettler writes,
Tougher regulations of the for-profits, long overdue, are the quickest way to help the poorest Americans who seek college degrees. States, too, should be held accountable; a perverse incentive permits them to gain more in federal student aid if they commit less of their own resources to helping poorer students. Nonprofit schools must also be responsible partners with government in furthering opportunity. Lawmakers should curtail the money we spend on tuition tax policies and for-profits, and invest more in Pell grants and community colleges.
She views the problem in higher education as one of distribution. In Three Languages of Politics terms, she implies that for-profit schools and conservative politicians are the oppressors, and lower-income youth are the oppressed.
My own view is that we are sending many students to college who are not prepared for the traditional liberal-arts college. From a public policy perspective, this is banging your head against the wall. I would not defend current policy in higher education, but I think that investing more in Pell grants and community colleges would not lead to different results.
Pointer from Mark Thoma.
A reader asks,
Don’t libertarians tend to be teenagers (of any age) who want to remain “pure” and righteous and above it all? Don’t libertarians therefore foster a culture of impotence and failure?
The issue is whether or not libertarians should engage in politics. Those of us on the libertarian side of things are inclined to see the political process as a poor way to arrive at decisions. So there is a case for trying to escape from that process and instead focus on work and family. However, to paraphrase Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
One approach would be for libertarians to focus more on the level of overall theory and principles, rather than on specific policies or candidates. Your goal is to try to convince those around you of the advantages of individual choice over collective politics. I am not sure that this approach overcomes the reader’s concern. I am not sure that the reader’s concern can in fact be addressed successfully.
Joseph Bottum writes,
We live in what can only be called a spiritual age, swayed by its metaphysical fears and hungers, when we imagine that our ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but actually evil. When we assume that past ages, and the people who lived in them, are defined by the systematic crimes of history. When we suppose that some vast ethical miasma, racism, radicalism, cultural self-hatred, selfish blindness, determines the beliefs of classes other than our own. When we can make no rhetorical distinction between absolute wickedness and the people with whom we disagree.
Read the whole thing. The theme of political beliefs becoming a substitute for religion is an interesting one. I think that many human organizations, including corporations, religions, and political parties, exploit our need for tribal affiliation.
Megan McArdle writes,
the way that people and groups respond when they’re told that their plan is not working out as intended. Basically, there are three responses you can have:
- My plan was defective: I should change something.
The world is defective: The plan is great, but we clearly need to do even more of this.
- The information is wrong, and my plan is actually working very well.
The first answer is rarely the one that people go to.
Pointer from Tyler Cowen.
This can be as true of people in business as it is of people in government. But in business, you face what Eamonn Butler calls in The Best Book on the Market the World of Truth. If you do not fix what is broken, you lose money and go out of business. In government, you just keep telling people that Obamacare won’t cost jobs.
James Lindgren reports,
in 2012 a majority of Democrats (51.6%) cannot correctly answer both that the earth revolves around the Sun and that this takes a year. Republicans fare a bit better, with only 38.9% failing to get both correct.
I file this under “libertarian thought,” because to me it speaks to the issue of how romantic one should be about democratic voting.
Society needs a coercive mechanism strong enough to keep defectors in line, but fair enough to command the allegiance of individuals, who must share the costs of creating that larger and mutually beneficial social order. The social contract that Locke said brought individuals out of the state of nature was one such device. The want of individual consent was displaced by a consciously designed substantive program to protect both liberty and property in ways that left all members of society better off than they were in the state of nature. Only constrained coercion can overcome the holdout problems needed to implement any principle of nonaggression.
Read the whole thing. He frames it as a disagreement with Rand Paul. However, most of the criticism seems addressed to Murray Rothbard, rather than at positions that Rand Paul has taken.
In my own thinking, I am increasingly leaning toward the view that government over a large territory and population is the problem. Government at a community level (think of a condo association) is tolerable because of the ease of exit. As you scale up government, the benefits tend to decline and the abuses tend to increase.
Cass Sunstein writes,
The first is a wildly exaggerated sense of risks — a belief that if government is engaging in certain action (such as surveillance or gun control), it will inevitably use its authority so as to jeopardize civil liberties and perhaps democracy itself. In practice, of course, the risk might be real. But paranoid libertarians are convinced of its reality whether or not they have good reason for their conviction.
He lists five signs of libertarian paranoia. I expected to hate the article, but I agree with it more than I disagree. In the three-axis model, paranoia means seeing others as representing the “bad” end of your preferred axis. So when a libertarian thinks that conservatives and progressives are merely out to crush liberty and expand coercion, that is a paranoid libertarian.
Similarly, when a conservative thinks that progressives and libertarians are merely out to tear down civilization and replace it with barbarism, then that is a paranoid conservative. Finally, when a progressive thinks that conservatives and libertarians are merely out to help the oppressors keep down the oppressed, then that is a paranoid progressive.
My latest book review.
In Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us, author Avi Tuschman interprets political attitudes in terms of human evolutionary strategies. Conservatives have personalities that align with one set of strategies, and liberals have personalities that align with another. It is an intriguing analysis, but one to which I have a number of objections.
Tuschman’s thesis is that conservatism is fundamentally about marrying within the tribe (endogamy). Liberalism is fundamentally about exogamy.
In my own Three Languages book, I try not to demand and oversimplify ideological views. I talk about the three axes as languages that are used to achieve closure on issues and demonize those who disagree. However, I assume that people arrive at their views via reason.
Tuschman does not credit people with reason. However you rationalize your beliefs on immigration or gay marriage, if you are antagonistic it is because you are inclined toward endogamy and if you are favorable it is because you are inclined toward exogamy.
Co-winner of the first Nobel Prize in economics. The profile, by Arild Sæther and Ib E. Eriksen, is devastating. Frisch became an ardent supporter of central planning. The authors quote him writing
The blinkers will fall once and for all at the end of the 1960s (perhaps before). At this time the Soviets will have surpassed the US in industrial production. But then it will be too late for the West to see the truth. (Frisch 1961a)
To me, the moral of the story is that you can be very confident, highly respected, and completely wrong.