Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

I have just posted a couple of my working papers to SSRN for those who are interested. They are as follows:

  1. Public Policy and Quality of Life: An Empirical Analysis of Interstate Migration, 2000-2012
    Individuals and households choose their political jurisdiction of residence on the basis of expected income differentials and jurisdiction-specific characteristics covered by the general term “amenities.” In addition to fixed characteristics like climate and terrain, amenities may include public policies, as in the well-known Tiebout model of migration. Do Americans reveal preferences for certain public policies by tending to migrate toward jurisdictions that offer them? This article tests whether state government involvement in fiscal policy, business regulation, and civil and personal liberties more often reflects an amenity or a disamenity for Americans willing to move. As identification strategies, the article estimates spatial, matched-neighbors, and dyadic models of net interstate migration for all 50 states, covering the years 2000-2012. The evidence suggests that cost of living, which is in turn strongly correlated with land-use regulation, strongly deters in-migration, while both fiscal and regulatory components of “economic freedom” attract new residents. There is less robust evidence that “personal freedom” attracts residents.
  2. Civil Libertarianism-Communitarianism: A State Policy Ideology Dimension
    This paper investigates the existence of a second dimension of state policy ideology orthogonal to the traditional left-right dimension: civil libertarianism-communitarianism. It argues that voter attitudes toward nonviolent acts that are sometimes crimes, particularly weapons and drugs offenses, are in part distinct from their liberal or conservative ideologies, and cause systematic variation in states’ policies toward these acts. The hypotheses are tested with a structural equation model of state policies that combines “confirmatory factor analysis” with linear regression. The existence of a second dimension of state policy essentially uncorrelated with left-right ideology and loading onto gun control, marijuana, and other criminal justice policies is confirmed. Moreover, this dimension of policy ideology relates in the expected fashion to urbanization and the strength of ideological libertarianism in the state electorate. The results suggest that the libertarian-communitarian divide represents an enduring dimension of policy-making in the United States.

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Matt Zwolinski of Bleeding Heart Libertarians has written an excellent series of posts on the libertarian justification of property rights. Here‘s the latest.

The first and most important thing to note about both Locke and Nozick’s arguments is that, unlike utilitarian arguments, they are individualistic rather than collectivistic in nature. For the utilitarian, all that matters in justifying an action (or an institution like property rights) is its effect on overall well-being. On the utilitarian view, then, property rights are justified if the overall benefits they produce are greater than the overall harms they produce, regardless of how those benefits and harms are distributed among different individuals.

For Locke and Nozick, on the other hand, property rights are only justified if they benefit (or at least do not harm) each and every individual. Now, this probably seems like an extremely tough argumentative hurdle for the defender of property to clear. Could it really be the case that each and every individual is better off under a system of private property rights than he would have been without one?

The answer is, or can be, yes. Almost everyone today is vastly better off, and freer, because of the system of private property rights. In those rare, possibly pathological cases in which a person is worse off due to the system of property rights, the Lockean justification of property rights provides a rationale for some kind of “re”distribution as a matter of justice, a point that Matt notes at the end but defers to a future essay. In the event, this is one area where I tend to agree with BHL’ers: there should be a basic income of sort to replace the welfare state, which would probably have to be set at a few thousand dollars a year in the present-day United States in order to ensure that literally everyone is better off due to the private property system, despite its coercive nature.

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Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, there have been some interesting posts recently on moralized and non-moralized conceptions of freedom. Jason Brennan says defining liberty to mean only negative liberty is “linguistic revisionism” without philosophic import. He then makes the case that bleeding-heart libertarianism (or Rawlsianism or various other non-traditionally-libertarian conceptions of property rights) does not necessarily violate the “non-aggression axiom.” Finally, he argues against moralized conceptions of freedom. I agree with the first two posts but not the last one.

It’s true that people use “freedom” to mean different things. Hobbes infamously defined it as the absence of physical constraint. Jason prefers something like “ability to realize one’s ends.” Both of these definitions are non-moralized. As Jason makes clear, positive liberty is not only not good by definition, it is not always good. My freedom to swing my fist into your nose unprovoked does not deserve respect — but it’s still freedom, in this non-moralized sense.

Now, Jason is absolutely right that nothing substantive turns on how we define our terms. He’s also right that simply defining freedom as justice (that which is, in the final analysis, right) abuses ordinary language and is tautological. On the other hand, I will note a tension between the claim that positive liberty is not always good and this claim:

The thing that Marxists and others mean by “positive liberty” is valuable and worth promoting. One of the best arguments for classical liberal institutions is that as a matter of fact they do a good job getting people positive liberty.

But if positive liberty is not only not good-by-definition but is also not good-by-inference, then the mere fact that a system tends to promote positive liberty is not a point in that system’s favor. The fact that system X makes it easy for people to swing their fists into other people’s faces whenever they want, thus helping them achieve their ends, is not a point in favor of the justice of system X. Now, the claim might be that swinging fists into people’s faces hurts the positive liberty of those victims, and I agree — but I don’t agree that we can simply sum up positive liberties across people and truthfully say that everyone ought to try to maximize that sum. That’s a controversial moral claim. Indeed, Matt Zwolinski refutes the view strongly here, and even says, “No serious libertarian intellectuals think about libertarianism in terms of maximizing liberty.” I don’t know how this statement squares with what Jason says he and David Schmidtz are arguing about how we ought to evaluate the regime of negative liberty.

Furthermore, I don’t think we can rule out all moralized conceptions of freedom as tautological. People in ordinary language use freedom in a moralized but non-tautological sense all the time. When someone says, “I can say what I want, it’s a free country,” she’s not saying, “It’s a country where I can realize my ends.” She’s saying something like, “In this country, we are not supposed to be subject to the arbitrary domination of others’ wills.” Freedom as non-domination means a great deal to people, arguably more than the mere ability to realize one’s own ends. The reason slavery is so repugnant is not really that it makes the slave unhappy, but that it enshrines an extreme form of inequality and domination. (I’m making a substantive, controversial moral claim here.)

But freedom as non-domination is also not the whole of justice. Marxists like G.A. Cohen arguably accept non-domination just as much as libertarian anarchists like Murray Rothbard. They just disagree about the proper conception of property rights, which also belongs to the domain of justice. Now, if you are persuaded about the libertarian account of property rights, then a Marxist regime imposed without consent looks like unjust domination, un-freedom. Still, even if we read back into “freedom” claims about justice, freedom-as-non-domination is not tautological: it doesn’t simply define freedom as justice. Yet it is a moralized conception of freedom common in everyday discourse.


Jason Brennan responds by e-mail:

Thanks for posting that. Does this clear up things?

1. I don’t literally mean that positive liberty is always good, but rather that it tends to be good and tends to be worth promoting. Schmidtz and I talk at some length in BHOL about how there’s not clear measure of positive liberty, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make good estimates. If people are living longer, have more options, have more money, have more technology, etc, they will usually have more positive liberty.

2. I prefer to use non-moralized definitions of liberty: Neg lib = absence of obstacles, pos lib = power or capacity. But Schmidtz and I note that in common language, we often mean much more specific ideas when we use the terms “liberty” or “freedom”. If someone says, “X is a free country,” we assume she means they protect a wide range of negative liberties. My raise gave me the freedom to enjoy life, we assume she means positive liberty as capacity/power. And so on.

Schmidtz and I would agree with Matt Z and Nozick that negative rights are side constraints–we shouldn’t have a utilitarianism of rights. But negative and positive liberty are different. Negative liberty first and foremost should be respected, and then promoted. Positive liberty is to be promoted (when it’s good, and if doing so is consistent with our rights).

My response to Jason:

Thanks for the response. It clarifies a great deal. I clearly misread your position on positive freedom. I can’t quarrel with your description of the conceptual landscape below. Substantively, too, we’re not far apart, though I don’t think it’s generally morally impermissible to refrain from promoting the positive liberty of humanity in general (for instance, in order to focus on one’s own life projects).

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From “A Thought Experiment on Freedom,” I thought these comments were worth highlighting.


Freedom is more than marginal tax rates and the monetary value of different policies. Is there a way to calculate it though? I don’t know. I think of something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need a hierarchy of liberty/freedom that focuses on the fundamentals. I’ve never read an argument suggesting this, but why not prioritize in the order of life, liberty, and then property. So it’s not just a list, it’s a list of goals in order of importance.


Would you feel differently if the country with the lower tax rate destroyed not human beings, but something truly commodifiable? Say, $70 million a year in randomly selected houses or automobiles. Otherwise your reluctance to embrace the “greater freedom” in the lower-tax country is nothing more than your recognition that a human life is not truly commodifiable, regardless of how it is statistically valued.


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Imagine two countries, each the size of the U.S. In one of them, the average tax rate is 1% (of income) lower than the other, but unlike the other it randomly selects ten innocent individuals for execution each year (perhaps ritual human sacrifice!). Assuming personal income of $12 trillion like the United States, the lower tax rate in this country allows for more freedom worth $120 billion a year, by our method. If the statistical value of a life is $7 million, however, the execution policy only costs $70 million a year in freedom. Thus, not only is the human-sacrifice state with a slightly lower tax rate “freer” by this crude metric, but it is not even close.

Which is truly the freer country, assuming they are exactly alike in all other respects? And by how much?

The first paragraph above comes from the forthcoming third edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.

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Libertarians have generally opposed government mandates to participate in commerce on moral, economic, and constitutional grounds. Certainly, a federal government mandate to buy private health insurance contradicts standard libertarian understandings of the right to property and self-determination and the ability of individuals to decide for themselves their need for insurance (and concomitant skepticism of paternalist justifications for government involvement in health insurance), and runs afoul of textualist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. A state government mandate would not violate the Constitution, but libertarians would nevertheless still tend to oppose it on the moral and economic grounds already cited.

However, there is one type of insurance mandate to which standard libertarian objections fall short. This is not to say, by any means, that all libertarians would support it, merely that opposition would have to find grounding in contingent, disputable facts. The mandate to which I refer is a requirement that (more…)

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Which public policies make an economy better for business? One way to answer this question is to ask businesspeople. Two recent surveys ask businesspeople to rank the American states on their friendliness toward business.

Now, libertarians often remind us that friendliness toward business is not the same as friendliness toward markets. Indeed, libertarians believe that many of their favored policies, such as abolishing trade protection, corporate welfare, and regulations that privilege big business, will redound to the benefit of workers and small business owners. What’s so interesting about these two surveys is that they are of different types of business owners: CEOs of large companies and small businesspeople. The first survey was conducted by Chief Executive magazine and the second by thumbtack.com in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation. By relating respondents’ views about the friendliness of their states to those states’ actual policies, we can see where big and small businesses agree and disagree about which policies are most important for their success.

My first step was to draw out of these survey data those numbers that relate specifically to different states’ policy environments, as opposed to other aspects of the economic climate. From the CEO survey, therefore, I took the taxation/regulation score given for each state (higher is better). From the small business survey, I took the “Regulations” component grades. Unfortunately, the small business survey does not include raw scores for each state, so I simply quantified the grades as follows: A+ = 0, A = 1, A- = 2, and so on, up to F = 11. The small business survey only covers 45 states, but for these states, the correlation between CEO and small business scores was -0.76. Since higher is better in the CEO survey and lower is better in the small business survey, that high correlation indicates a surprising degree of agreement between large and small businesses about states’ friendliness toward their businesses.

Nevertheless, there may remain some important differences in which policies large and small businesses prioritize. To get a handle on this question, (more…)

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  1. Jordan Rappaport, “Moving to Nice Weather,” Regional Science and Urban Economics. U.S. residents have been moving en masse to places with nice weather. Well known is the migration towards places with warm winters, which is often attributed to the introduction of air conditioning. But people have also been moving to places with cooler, less-humid summers, which is the opposite of what is expected from the introduction of air conditioning. Nor can the movement to nice weather be primarily explained by shifting industrial composition or by migration of the elderly. Instead, a large portion of weather-related movement appears to be driven by an increased valuation of nice weather as a consumption amenity, probably due to broad-based rising per capita income.
  2. Nathan J. Ashby, “Freedom and International Migration,” Southern Economic Journal. Economic freedom attracts immigrants.
  3. Duggan, Hjalmarsson, & Jacob, “The Short Term and Localized Effect of Gun Shows: Evidence from California and Texas,” Review of Economics and Statistics. We examine the effect of more than 3,400 gun shows using data from Gun and Knife Show Calendar and vital statistics data from California and Texas. Considering the one month following each show and a surrounding area ranging from 80 to 2,000 square miles, we find no evidence that gun shows increase either gun homicides or suicides. The similarity of our estimates for California and Texas suggests that the much tighter California gun show regulations do not substantially reduce the number of firearms-related deaths in that state. Using incident-level crime data for Houston, Texas, we also find no evidence of an effect on other crime categories.

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Having taken on left-liberals in my last post, it’s only fair to take a shot at the right too. Here‘s the Deseret News editorializing on why our recommendations for Utah are wrong:

The report’s authors are clear about their definition of freedom. “In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others,” they write. But few personal behaviors can intrude more on the rights of others than drinking alcohol and gambling… [T]he enormous alcohol industry, relentlessly pushing everything from glamorous images to new products such as sweet-flavored alco-pops, would, if left unfettered, eventually rob more people of freedoms.

The line taken here seems to be that if you make bad decisions that decrease your life satisfaction, you have lost freedom (to whom?). And if you encourage someone to make a decision that might be bad, you’ve violated his rights. For the benefit of the Deseret News, I’ve compiled a new list of policy recommendations for Utah based on this new definition of freedom:

1. The enormous credit card industry gets people hooked on cheap credit, and the debt they take on means less freedom. Enact a state monopoly of credit.

2. Television and books encourage people to sit at home rather than get up and exercise, resulting in an epidemic of obesity and, of course, violating their victims’ rights. Tightly regulate their use.

3. Many people get involved in mistaken relationships when they are young, sometimes resulting in children and often resulting in heartbreak. Clearly these young lovers have taken away each other’s freedoms. Ban fornication. Fund a virtue police to monitor young couples. Iran has a system that works, at least compared to decadent, unfree societies in the West.

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Matt Yglesias throws some scorn the way of Freedom in the 50 States 2011:

Reasonable people can disagree as to whether there’s more freedom in Los Angeles or Brooklyn, and there may be good reasons to move from either place to Sioux Falls, but obviously “for the freedom” is not one of those reasons. For the lower taxes? Sure. Because there’s less government regulation? Maybe so. But because there’s more freedom? Clearly not. They say that they “explicitly ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework” but all that goes to show is that their understanding of the individual rights framework offers an unsound conception of freedom. These answers are clearly and uncontroversially mistaken.

Because he doesn’t propose any alternative conception of freedom, it’s unclear precisely in what way he thinks that the libertarian conception of freedom is mistaken. But it’s even more perplexing how he comes to the conclusion that the ranking “refutes” the libertarian conception of freedom. California lost 4.4% of its 2000 population over the next 9 years to other states, on net. New York lost 8.9% of its 2000 population over the next 9 years to other states, on net. New Hampshire, by contrast, enjoyed a net gain of 2.8% of its 2000 population over the same period. South Dakota’s net in-migration was 0.8%. The study finds that freer states experience more net in-migration, controlling for climate.

So let’s get this straight: People are fleeing a state with gorgeous year-round climate, world-class universities, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood and flocking to a wintry, windswept state with… the Badlands. People are fleeing a state with Wall Street, the Met, the Yankees, and Broadway for a wintry, rural state with… the Old Man of the Mountain. Wait, he’s gone now too. The omitted variable? Libertarian freedom. And that makes all the difference.

So how do libgressives define freedom? They often seem to conflate freedom and utility. (See for instance the quotes at the end of this story.) But surely a man locked in a cell hooked to an experience machine isn’t really free, is he?

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I’ve just gotten back from a Cato Institute event discussing the new study, Freedom in the 50 States, with my coauthor William Ruger, John Samples, and Michael Barone. I’ll post the video when it’s available. The Mercatus site for the study allows you to download the study and to use a calculator to see how states would change on the index if they made certain policy reforms. They’ve also put together this nice little video for the project:

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At Volokh, Ilya Somin presents the evidence that people vote for economic freedom with their feet internationally and domestically. Pileus on inter-state migration here.

Update:  Somin has more on this issue here.  And of course, please feel free to examine the original study comparing the states cited by both Eric Crampton and Somin.

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Many may have forgotten that Milton Friedman begins Capitalism and Freedom with a critique of President Kennedy’s inaugural speech.  It is well-worth another look – so dig out your dusty and yellowed copy and read the introduction again.  The key line is this one:

The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country.

Given the context, Friedman clearly (mis)uses the term country as a stand-in for government or state.  Understanding this makes his critique even more powerful, otherwise it would sound a lot closer to Rand than the Friedman who believed in private charity and wouldn’t have a problem with sacrificing for the good of others in the community as long it was voluntary.

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At the NY Times‘ Economix blog, Ed Glaeser takes up explanations for the relative population growth enjoyed by Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, compared to relative decline in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. If we ignore international migration, which tends to increase the population of Mexican border states especially, and natural increase, then the population shift is really the result of inter-state migration. So why have people been leaving most of the Northeast and fleeing to the South and Southwest?

Glaeser notes two explanations: sunshine and public policy. People tend to leave cold states for warm states. But that fact alone can’t explain all or even most of the migration that we see. Here’s Glaeser on the policy explanation: (more…)

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Police are using regulatory inspections as a pretext for warrantless, apparently racially biased searches. If you’re going to support occupational and business licensing, you’re going to have to accept a hobbled Fourth Amendment.

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The Financial Times has an interesting piece and photo essay on Kennesaw, Georgia, where gun ownership is legally required. 

Naturally, I disagree with any law forcing individuals to purchase something from the private sector – whether it is health insurance or a gun.  However, as laws go, this is pretty harmless since it is not enforced and there are numerous exceptions.  What I do like about it is that it represents a certain spiritedness that is lacking in so many other places.  As the author points out, “This is not just about gun rights, but about independence; it is about a desire to keep the government in check.” 

Of course, that spiritedness is improperly channeled here – as, unfortunately, is often the case with so many conservative Americans.  The answer to the state overreaching in one place isn’t to extend it in another.  But this is the sort of sentiment, that if properly channeled, can help forestall further erosion of our liberties – and if we are real lucky, perhaps even some restoration.  Of course, this assumes that people actually desire to be free, something that wiser minds than my own have questioned.    

(BTW, given that the Confederate cause shows up more than once in this piece on Kennesaw, it is worth noting the following: As a Yankee, a libertarian, and someone absolutely opposed to slavery and racism, I don’t share the respect for the Confederacy so often seen in the American South by even those who profess some love of liberty.  While I understand that the Confederate flag, for some, represents opposition to the federal government, I really wish that modern day “rebels” would seek out a more positive symbol of their resistance [some suggestions are posted here, including one wisely adopted by the Tea Party Movement].  For libertarians, there is so much to dislike about the CSA and so many better models of resistance.  As David Beito and Charles Nuckolls rightly conclude: “If the Confederate multiculturalists believe in liberty, as many of them assert, they will stop waving the Confederate Battle Flag, abandon the cause of a nation state that championed an unforgivable violation of inalienable rights, and embrace the rich American heritage of individualism.”).

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Clearly, the recession caused state revenues to fall short of projections, opening up budget deficits. However, some states dealt with more serious fiscal problems than others. California’s, New York’s, and Illinois’ woes have been in the news quite a bit lately.

A new paper by Matt Mitchell at the Mercatus Center finds that states with more less spending as a percentage of income, more growth in spending per capita in the two decades prior, less stringent balanced budget requirements, and less economic freedom have had bigger budget gaps. From the study:

Using Jason Sorens and William Ruger’s measure of economic freedom, I found that other factors being equal, the most-economically free states tended to have budget gaps that were 25 percentage points smaller than the least-free states.

One implication of this research, it seems to me, is that federal bailouts of highly indebted states encourage more spending and less economic freedom in the future.

(Disclosure: Work on the Ruger-Sorens Index of personal and economic freedom was funded by the Mercatus Center.)

UPDATE: corrected & clarified findings on government spending.

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Conor Friedersdorf says no, but at Mother Jones Kevin Drum totes up the scorecard and says, pretty much, yes:

If you can find liberals who favor charter schools, less regulation of small businesses, and an end to Fannie Mae, that’s well and good. But that’s 10% or less of my worldview. I also favor high marginal tax rates on the rich, national healthcare, full funding for Social Security, more spending on early childhood education, stiff regulations on the financial industry, robust environmental rules, a strong labor movement, a cap-and-trade regime to reduce carbon emissions, a major assault on income inequality, more and better public transit, and plenty of other lefty ambitions… If we lived in Drum World I figure combined government expenditures would be 40-45% of GDP and the funding source for all that would be strongly progressive.

The only problem with this is that Drum underestimates the expense of what he wants to accomplish. According to usgovernmentspending.com, total government spending in the U.S. in 2009 was about 42% of GDP (up from 36% the year before), and we aren’t anywhere close to Drum World. He mentions Sweden favorably – well, Sweden has government spending around 60% of GDP.

Now, I think total government spending somewhat overestimates the true fiscal impact of government on the economy, because much of that spending consists of direct transfers to individuals, who then spend their money in the market, and some of it also consists of building things like roads. Government consumption is a very conservative estimate of the fiscal burden of government, consisting of government spending on its own operations (wages and goods). (Of course, it excludes regulatory burden.) According to the OECD, in 2008 government consumption was 16.7% of US GDP, compared with 26.0% in Sweden and 26.7% in Denmark. The lowest in the OECD? Mexico (10.6%) and Switzerland (10.8%). Switzerland – that land of impoverished people starving in the streets, that dystopia of megacorporations enslaving and brutalizing their employees – has a government more than 35% smaller than that of the U.S… in 2008.

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In the WSJ yesterday, Peggy Noonan argued that President Obama might have been well served if he had had some “adult supervision”—someone, that is, older and wiser who could have advised Obama to steer away from issues that appealed to him out of his youthful but naive enthusiasm and toward issues that mattered more for the country. She suggests such a person could have told him to hold off on health care reform and concentrate on the economy instead.

Noonan is going in the right direction, but she did not get to the heart of the matter. It is not, as she says, that “youth has outlived its usefulness,” but rather that the adults are acting like children.

I was recently having yet another discussion with one of my children about cause and effect. Decisions lead to actions, and actions have consequences. When the consequences of decisions are good, you generally get positive feedback, which is the signal that your decisions that led to them were good ones; by contrast, when consequences are bad, the negative feedback is the signal that the decisions leading to them were bad. A good parent gradually allows a greater range of decisions to be made by the child as she gets older, and at the same time the parent gradually exposes his child to more and more of the consequences of her decisions so that she can develop the judgment required to one day be an adult and navigate a complicated world on her own.

It struck me, as we were talking, just how close the conversation we had matched the kind of discussion so many American adults, including in particular many of our political leaders, need to have. When the ten-year-old blows his lunch money on gumballs and Silly Bands, his parents can, after a stern lecture, bail him out. From this, however, he might get the idea that money comes from “somewhere else” (his parents), and that when he needs it, there’ll always be more there. He may have no notion of wealth production, of the complicated and delicate institutional and cultural mechanisms required to allow for the production of wealth, of the fact that wealth is limited, or of the fact that wealth comes only from the productive labor of actual individual human beings.

The “money comes from Dad” theory of economics is understandable, and even a bit charming, in a ten-year-old. Like the “milk comes from the grocery store” theory of production, it is false and fantastical on all the important points, but the full story is complicated and unnecessary for children to master—until, that is, they become adults. As adults they will need to take responsibility for the budget of their own family. They will therefore need to understand about the scarcity of resources, about the relation between decisions and consequences, about the tradeoffs involved in spending their time, talents, and treasure in one way rather than another.

The good parent gradually exposes children to more of these realities as they mature, to help prepare their powers of judgment for the rigors of independent and free—but also responsible and thus accountable—adulthood.

Therein lies the problem, I think, for much of our culture today. Too many adults have been sheltered from too much of this reality for too long. Their powers of independent judgment have suffered commensurately. Through more expedients than one cares to count, governments at all levels and many other institutions have conspired to sever the link between decisions and consequences, and thus to prevent the feedback from reality that is necessary to develop adult judgment. This is all done with the best of intentions: we wish to diminish the pain from bad consequences. But like so many good intentions, this one can, when taken too far, issue in unintended bad consequences. Those consequences may be unintended, but they are real; and a growing population of adults with juvenile worldviews and immature judgment is very real, and very worrisome, consequence.

The story I tell here is abbreviated, of course, but I think it has more to it than one might initially suppose. Many of our political leaders today are either academics or career politicians. Whatever else one might say about those two lines of work, neither is conducive to the production of worldviews or judgment informed by the rigors of reality. Both worlds in fact take enormous pains to insulate themselves from those rigors—in both cases, one supposes, to free their members to ascend intellectually to apprehension of The Good, which is, as Plato explained, necessary to rule well. We might debate whether either group is actually apprehending The Good, but there is much less debate, I think, about whether such people are fit rulers.

Consider just this one question: What economic worldview is likely to be adopted by people who have spent their entire lives in academia? Who went from kindergarten to grade school to high school to college to graduate school to the professoriate, never having taken part in the economy’s productive sectors? Everything seems easy and simple to someone who knows nothing about it, and people who are smart, as academics and politicians usually are, can be easily led to believe that they need no experience with something to understand it well enough.

To come back, finally, to where we began: It should not surprise us that our political leaders do not understand wealth production, do not appreciate how difficult it is to run a general store let alone an industry, do not let their ignorance stop them from boldly undertaking to manage them anyway, and will be shocked, shocked when things do not turn out as well as they had imagined they would. This is exactly what happens when adolescents try for the first time to run their own finances. Just imagine what would be the result if you put your adolescent in charge of your family’s entire household economy.

Unfortunately, we do not have to imagine it.

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In a recent series of posts (finale here), I estimated the size of the liberty constituency in each state by conducting a principal components analysis of four variables: per capita donors to the Ron Paul campaign, unexplained Ron Paul primary vote share, mean Libertarian Party presidential vote share 1996-2004, and Libertarian Party presidential vote share in 2008. Then, I regressed estimates of individual freedom from the Ruger-Sorens Index on the estimate of liberty constituency size, finding that states with larger liberty constituencies have more freedom.

Some conversations have raised the possibility of using these regression results to predict the effect of the Free State Project (see an exchange with Patri Friedman here). The idea is that I could plug in hypothetical values for New Hampshire on all the four variables above, assuming that they get 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 more libertarian activists. In other words, given my estimate of the effect of the size of the liberty constituency on freedom, what would be expected to happen to freedom in NH if the liberty constituency in that state grew?

To do this, I first added 2000 Ron Paul donors and Libertarian Party voters to the state, along with 4000 Ron Paul voters. (Why? Because elsewhere I’ve found that each additional Free Stater in a New Hampshire town generated two additional votes for Ron Paul. Now, of course, there probably won’t be another Ron Paul campaign, but there will be other ways in which libertarian constituencies evince themselves – remember, I’m just trying to get a reliable measure of the size of the liberty bloc; the inputs as such don’t matter.) Then I figured out how that would change the estimate of the size of the libertarian bloc in New Hampshire. The aggressive assumption behind this move is worth noting. In particular, I’m assuming that the overall ideological distribution in NH on the libertarian-populist dimension shifts as a result of these activists. In other words, the overall relationship behind number of activists and size of liberty constituency remains constant – the liberty activists don’t just become an ideological ghetto. Presumably, it will take some time for activists moving into the state to have an effect on the mindset of the people already there, so the estimates I’m giving here are for a fairly optimistic, long-run-ish view of what the FSP can accomplish. (On the other hand, I’m assuming that the state remains fairly liberal on the left-right spectrum, which might be a pessimistic assumption.)

Now that I have a hypothetical value for New Hampshire’s future liberty constituency, I can plug that into the regression equation to see what value of freedom pops out, assuming that New Hampshire remains the same on every other variable. I do this by running 1000 simulations of the freedom regression, so that I can pull out a margin of error. When I do this, I find that New Hampshire’s expected freedom value increases by 0.37 on 0-1 scale, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.017-0.685. OK, what do those numbers mean? Well, that’s roughly the difference between New Hampshire and Nebraska today, or between Nebraska and New Jersey. That’s still pretty abstract, though.

To get a more concrete sense of what that means, I played around with the state policy data to see what changes would correspond to that kind of increase in freedom. I cut state and local spending by 3% of personal income (from 17.3%) and state and local taxes by 1.5% of personal income, from 8.4% (these don’t match up, because federal grants cover roughly half of state spending). Then I cut government employment by 2% of the workforce, from 10.8%. Then I gave New Hampshire Alaska’s gun laws (concealed carry without a permit and removal of some other minor regulations). Then I completely privatized wine and liquor and cut beer taxes to zero. Then I completely legalized marijuana possession, legalized cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, and decriminalized cultivation and sale for recreational use. (No state is actually this good.) Then I completely deregulated homeschooling: no testing, recordkeeping, or even notice required. (No state is actually this good.) Finally, I gave New Hampshire same-sex marriage, because, well, it already has that – but it got it after our data came out. That got New Hampshire up to the expected level of freedom after having had 2000 activists move in.

Now, there is a good bit of uncertainty about this estimate. It could be that these 2000 activists will have a much bigger or much smaller effect on freedom. The bottom end of the 95% confidence interval corresponds to just same-sex marriage, the gun law change, and medical marijuana. Not a huge deal. The upper end corresponds to everything mentioned, plus adding right-to-work, adopting the best existing occupational licensing regime in the country (Indiana’s, just 20% of the workforce licensed, compared to NH’s 23%), reducing victimless crime arrests by about 50%, to Hawaii’s levels, repealing all smoking bans on private property, abolishing cigarette taxes, legalizing prostitution, abolishing all campaign finance regulations, and cutting state and local debt burden by about a half. By that point, New Hampshire starts to look like a mix of Amsterdam and Alaska on personal freedoms and Hong Kong on economic freedom.

What about if 10,000 activists move to NH? Well, the freedom regression model doesn’t build in diminishing returns, so the simulations yield a predicted change in freedom of 1.46, roughly five times that predicted for 2,000 activists, unsurprisingly. At that point, we’re talking about cutting government to the bone, including tax and spending reductions of 50% or more and abolishing all of the remaining petty, paternalistic restrictions on freedom that we code, from gambling laws to sobriety checkpoints, legalizing assisted suicide, and completely deregulating education, complete with a strong tax credit-based school choice program, in addition to everything previously mentioned.

But at this point we are so far outside the range of observed politics that I strongly caution against taking these inferences all that seriously. It is possible to push a regression model much further than it can bear. I simply wish to get a sense of the orders of magnitude of change that might be possible with the FSP’s success.

In conclusion, it appears that with 2,000 activists who are smart about educating the general voting public and do not isolate themselves, the long-term gains to freedom in New Hampshire could be fairly extensive, though not approaching what anyone would describe as a “libertarian utopia.” It’s at about 4,000 effective libertarian activists that we could reasonably expect NH to start to look like the Amsterdam/Alaska/Hong Kong hybrid.


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In the third and final installment of this series (part 1 here, part 2 here), I investigate the truth of that hackneyed Margaret Mead quotation, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Is that really true when it comes to libertarians? To recap, in parts 1 and 2 of this series, I investigated whether votes for Ron Paul, per capita donations to Ron Paul, Libertarian presidential votes in 1996-2004, and Libertarian presidential votes in 2008 all correlate together at the state level. If they do consistently track together across the states, that fact implies that there is some underlying factor explaining all of them. It turns out that they do correlate together rather strongly, and I interpret the extracted common factor as the size of the liberty bloc in each state. So the question is – does this liberty bloc have any real influence on politics, or does its minority status doom it to irrelevance?

To test the political influence of libertarians, I model state respect for individual freedom as a function of libertarian constituency, liberal constituency, political institutions, and some demographic controls. In short, I’m trying to find out whether states with more libertarians are freer. The standard and most plausible way to interpret a correlation between state ideology and policy is causal: libertarians influence the political process in their states. It is also possible that libertarians tend to move to states that are freer to begin with, but most of us are not that footloose. Many of us end up stuck in places like New York. (Cough.)

The dependent variable in this regression model is state-level freedom, including both economic and personal freedom, as measured by the “Ruger-Sorens Index” (RSI) in our study “Freedom in the 50 States.” However, I’m going to use the latest and greatest data that haven’t been published yet (next version of the study coming out in January). This is the regression equation:

“Unionization” is the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining contracts in 1977 (I chose an early year because freedom can have reciprocal effects on unionization), “PctBlack” is the percentage of the state population that is black (the reason for including this variable is to capture well-known “racial threat” dynamics, whereby whites in states that have larger black populations are more racist), and “LegProf” is legislative professionalism, a technical term for how similar a state legislature is to Congress in terms of salary, staff, and session length. I expect states with more union members and racists to be less free, and states with well-paid legislators, large legislative staffs, and long sessions to be less free. Both the “liberal” and “libertarian” variables (defined in part 2 of this series) have been rescaled from 0 to 1.

Here are the results:

Regression with robust standard errors                 Number of obs =      50
F(  6,    43) =   23.16
Prob > F      =  0.0000
R-squared     =  0.7344
Root MSE      =  .11918

|               Robust
freedom     |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
libertarian |   .1731908   .0760284     2.28   0.028     .0198649    .3265167
liberal     |   .5440847   .2185759     2.49   0.017     .1032845    .9848849
liberalsq   |  -.8819435   .1994393    -4.42   0.000    -1.284151   -.4797358
union77     |   -.010695   .0028045    -3.81   0.000    -.0163508   -.0050391
estbkpct    |  -.0055999   .0019713    -2.84   0.007    -.0095754   -.0016244
legprof     |    -.37702   .1805852    -2.09   0.043    -.7412048   -.0128351
_cons       |   .9625205   .0842816    11.42   0.000     .7925504    1.132491

All my hypotheses are confirmed, and most interestingly, we see that states with more libertarians are freer. The effect of liberalism on freedom is less clear from a quick look at the table, so a plot will be more effective. Here is how liberalism affects freedom, when all other variables are set to their means:

So a little bit of liberalism might help, but a lot really hurts. Incidentally, I also tried including urbanization rate and percentage religious/Christian/evangelical, but none of those variables had any effect on freedom. The common perception among libertarians that more urbanized areas are less free is simply not true, once you control for things like unionization and liberal ideology.

To conclude, then, libertarians do make a difference, though not as much as liberals and conservatives make. If Idaho had only as many libertarians as Illinois, it would no longer be the fifth-freest state in the country; instead, it would be only about as free as Florida, Iowa, or North Dakota, slotting in at #11. If it had only as many libertarians as the least libertarian state, Mississippi, Idaho would be very close to Utah, around #20.


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Today an Arizona bill allowing police to arrest anyone not carrying valid identification went to the governor’s desk for her signature. The bill also makes lacking proper immigration papers a state misdemeanor offense. In a shocking display of gutlessness, John McCain has endorsed the bill, presumably because he’s facing a primary challenge from hard-rightist J.D. Hayworth.

I’m a privacy-conscious person, and if I’m cycling or walking around town (i.e., not driving), I try not to carry identification. The growing “papers, please” mentality in this country is just one more disturbing indication of how far the civil liberties revolution of mid-century is being rolled back.

Arizona was #12 in personal freedom in a study I co-authored based on 2007 data. I’ve got to think that with laws like this, they are going to drop a peg or two. FWIW, according to Wikipedia 26 states allow you to refuse to provide identification to police, even if you are being legally detained.

HT: Hit & Run

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