Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Libertarian moment has arrived

Since this blog started, back in September, 2008, readers have seen numerous comments regarding the inefficiencies of the public sector and the greater efficiencies of the private sector; the power of markets relative to the powerlessness of monetary policy and spending to stimulate growth; and the fatal flaws of legislation (e.g., Obamacare) that pretends to better organize significant portions of the U.S. economy. This has been the weakest recovery on record not because government has failed to do enough, but because government has done far too much: too much "stimulus," too much regulation, and too many mandates. It is my fondest hope that the electorate is beginning to understand this, and that the 2016 elections will result in a mandate for less, rather than more, government. 

Readers will also know that I am a huge fan and supporter of the Cato Institute. The scholars who inhabit Cato are some of the best thinkers on the planet.

Cato's David Boaz is arguably the best spokesman for what it means to be a "Libertarian." He recently published The Libertarian Mind, an excellent book that explains the Libertarian world view in a way that most people can understand, yet in a way which too few people have seen. The book was distilled in a superb essay in Cato's recent Policy Report, which I highly, highly recommend. Here are just a few excerpts—read them, but please read the whole thing if you possibly can. His main point is that too many politicians these days—on both sides of the aisle—try to convince us that our collective identities are more important than our individual needs and ambitions. That sleight of hand can and does lead to huge problems that, fortunately, can be solved by fairly simple remedies.

Individuals are, in all cases, the source and foundation of creativity, activity, and society. Only individuals can think, love, pursue projects, act. Groups don’t have plans or intentions. Only individuals are capable of choice, in the sense of anticipating the outcomes of alternative courses of action and weighing the consequences. Individuals, of course, often create and deliberate in groups, but it is the individual mind that ultimately makes choices. Most important, only individuals can take responsibility for their actions.

But what about society? Doesn’t society have rights? Isn’t society responsible for lots of problems? Society is vitally important to individuals. It is to achieve the benefits of interaction with others, as Locke and Hume explained, that individuals enter into society and establish a system of rights. But at the conceptual level, we must understand that society is composed of individuals. It has no independent existence.

The human need for cooperation has helped to create vast and complex networks of trust, credit, and exchange. For such networks to function, we need several things: a willingness on the part of most people to cooperate with others and to keep their promises, the freedom to refuse to do business with those who refuse to live up to their commitments, a legal system that enforces the fulfillment of contracts, and a market economy that allows us to produce and exchange goods and services on the basis of secure property rights and individual consent.
Today libertarians believe, as John Stuart Mill famously wrote, that “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” That applies to gay people and to everyone else. Thus libertarians oppose laws criminalizing any consensual sexual activity among adults, in the United States and elsewhere. Many libertarians argue for the complete privatization of marriage, making marriage a matter of individual contract and for some people a religious ceremony, thus removing any need for state recognition of marriages.
How fares the individual in America today? Conservatives, liberals, and communitarians all complain at times about “excessive individualism,” generally meaning that Americans seem more interested in their own jobs and families than in the schemes of social planners, pundits, and Washington interest groups. However, the real problem in America today is not an excess of individual freedom but the myriad ways in which government infringes on the rights and dignity of individuals.
Libertarians sometimes say, “Conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. Liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and wiping your nose. Libertarians want to treat you as an adult.” Libertarianism is the kind of individualism that is appropriate to a free society: treating adults as adults, letting them make their own decisions even when they make mistakes, trusting them to find the best solutions for their own lives.


Benjamin Cole said...

Hear, hear. Even if polygamy becomes the norm and gambling-drug den-brothel emporiums line OC beaches, I am a libertarian to the end!

Hans said...

I hope you are correct, Mr Grannis.

Since 1/3 of all Americans are now
living on the public taxer dole and the governmental unit sector remains the largest industry (and still growing)
I do not share your optimism.

What can be change through the legislative means, can and will be undone by future generations whom lack the ability to understand the course of historical events.

The concentration of power in WDC is enormous, which undermines not only the economy but our liberties as well.

The only answer to this ongoing issue, are state conventions in order to modify current amendments or to established new ones.

Time is fleeting and 2025 is fast approaching.

Matthew Grech said...

Like many who read this blog, I'm libertarian to the core.

But in coldly assessing the chances that libertarianism becomes more pronounced in American politics, I'd have to say that we're losing. I hope that turns out to be wrong, but...

NormanB said...

"His main point is that..our collective identities are more important than our individual needs and ambitions."

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. Just more think tank crap done to appeal to the emotions, get folks mad. It hasn't worked.

People need to be told how their everyday economic lives will be better and why.

The 'why' is, in a nutshell, that government (and union) people have as their personal goal to keep their jobs and to get a fat pension. Their goal is not to make our lives better. They don't get paid for that.

So the less we let them do and the more we let people who have to improve our lives to make a living for themeselves the better off we become.

jm said...

Libertarianism means nothing but chaos, confusion, disorder and danger. You guys couldn't organize a two car funeral let alone the government of a small town.


Scott Grannis said...

jm: if you spent a little time with the website, I think you would be surprised by how little you know of Libertarianism.

jm said...

Yeah yeah Cato is the pure thing, everyone else falls short, and we are all ignorant boobs. I've heard that so many times from your ilk I'd be rich if I had a dollar each time. I've lived long enough and read enough about libertarianism to know how little libertarians agree about anything. The reason is your so-called philosophy is intellectually incoherent and denies reality. The current Republican field illustrates my point. It is positively full of libertarians who do nothing but war with each other. I'm sure the purpose is to divide us so that Democrats can win. Meanwhile dull Liberalism has already crowned its crooked queen, but the country cries out for a Conservatism which actually believes in something, and all you offer us is pot, fruits, nuts and flakes, and an invasion of low-wage workers while you ship our good jobs to the lowest labor markets you can find. The libertarian problem is essentially a problem of patriotism. You don't have any.


steve said...

jm, I guess I'd believe in conservatism more if they all weren't just "liberal light". government in the US is broke. period and end of story. LESS of it is always better. pretty freakin simple.

jm said...

Steve is for LESS of government being always better. You did say ALWAYS. So you mean like when we're being attacked by religious fanatics from a land far far away with nuclear weapons for example? or with biological weapons? Tell us where you stop the shrinking and why. To do so takes you out of the la la land of libertarianism into conservatism, or is it just alright with you that everyone not in a bunker gets wiped out?


Benjamin Cole said...

Btw, Rand Paul is running so we will see. Cruz is trying to gut him early....

steve said...

jm, obviously we're going to have government in our lives but are you seriously making the argument that national security/defense efficiently spends literally hundreds of billions per annum? c'mon, you sound like a smart guy. the reason they spend what they do is because they CAN. if their budgets were cut 10% I'm sure they'd adapt quite well.

jm said...


I didn't imply anything, you did by trying to put words in my mouth.

Yes, defense, like all of government, spends too much, and very inefficiently. We could start cutting its cost by eliminating its welfare aspects which involve feeding, educating and housing soldiers' families. Kick the women and the married out and reinstitute compulsory male service like we used to. Maybe the political pressure that kind of soldiery would exert as a result would do something to stop all these damn interventions. But even then money will be misspent because it is individuals who are not perfect doing it. Conservative politics is about how to get the most bang for the buck in spite of that. Libertarian politics includes crazies who throw up their hands and say that's not possible and want to spend absolutely nothing at all on defense. At some point something has to be spent, however inefficiently and excessively in someone's opinion, to accomplish something 150 guys at the local gun club with AR-15s simply cannot.


Hans said...

Jim, my hands are up don't talk and shoot.

Bathos matters!

Pathos matters more!

Kurt said...

Boaz says, “Conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do."

Maybe to a degree. But in my experience, it's the liberals and their brownshirts who are much more about telling us what we can and cannot do.

Johnny Bee Dawg said...

The fact that Hillary Clinton and her Cuban flag campaign logo are being embraced by half the country tells me we aren't through with big government collectivism at all. And the second and third place DEMs that the masses love (Elizabeth Warren & the O'Malley guy) are spouting even more Socialist clap trap than she is! The fact that these people are getting applause, being promoted heavily by mainstream media, and even considered viable by numerous vocal corporate leaders says we aren't thru jumping off the cliff yet. There is no great wave of pushback building like in 1980.