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Over at Learn Liberty, I take up the question of what the rest of the world should do if Catalonia’s referendum on independence on October 1 succeeds, as is expected. I apply some straightforward assumptions about justice and individual freedom to the case. Secession is hard because it always involves violating some people’s rights — but then, so does stopping secession. The question has to be about how to preserve the greatest degree of freedom.

“Working from the premise that it is more just to allow people to live under a government they prefer, we can see the attraction of deciding controversies over sovereignty with a referendum. If more Catalans prefer to live under a Catalan state than wish to live under the Spanish state, then it is better to allow independence. If fewer do, then it is better to forbid it.”

I then take up some common objections to this formula and conclude that they do not apply to the Catalan case:

“In conclusion, the more Catalonia does to guarantee respect for the rights of all its citizens after independence, the more confident we can be that Catalonia’s independence should be recognized following a successful majority vote.”

More here.

My latest post at Learn Liberty explores the close parallels between certain arguments for immigration restrictions and gun restrictions:

A common argument for restricting immigration to the United States and other developed countries — maybe even the most plausible one — runs like this. Opening the borders will bring in people who will consume more public services than they pay for in taxes and who will vote for more statist politicians who support those public services. The result will be less freedom for everyone in the long run. Therefore, many conservatives say, immigration control is a regrettable but necessary step to securing freedom.

Meanwhile, a common argument for restricting gun ownership in the United States and other developed countries — maybe even the most plausible one — runs like this. Opening the market to the free sale and possession of guns will allow criminals to get their hands on deadly weapons, perhaps through theft if not legal purchase, resulting in more murder and less freedom in the long run. Therefore, many progressives say, gun control is a regrettable but necessary step to securing freedom.

These are not the only arguments for immigration and gun controls, but they are among the most familiar arguments and likely the most persuasive arguments for those who see freedom as politically central. Few people who find the argument for immigration control persuasive find the argument for gun control persuasive, and vice versa. This inconsistency suggests conservatives and progressives suffer from ideological confirmation bias in evaluating these issues.

In the piece, I explain why these arguments still fail: a moral reason and an evidentiary reason. More here.

In my latest blog post for Learn Liberty, I take on arguments against decentralizing health care policy to the states on the grounds of fiscal capacity:

So if federal ACA spending were cut or even zeroed out, why couldn’t states that like the legislation simply reinstate the same taxes and spending that the federal government currently uses under the law? If the net budgetary impact of the health care law really is zero, there is no inconsistency with state balanced-budget requirements…

[T]he federal government faces a stricter constraint than the states in one crucial respect: its total debt burden is much larger. Federal debt is already greater than 100% of GDP, leading to higher interest costs and crowding out private investment. Expanding the debt even further would only exacerbate these serious problems.

State and local debt is much lower, at about 16% of GDP. State and local governments are much more fiscally responsible than the federal government, and that’s precisely what gives them room to spend if there’s a good reason for it.

More here.

In 2010 and 2015, I did some data analysis to see which states had the most libertarians, based on Libertarian Party and Ron Paul election results. I’ve now done something similar for 2016.

Unfortunately, in 2016 we didn’t have a libertarianish Republican presidential candidate continue through every primary, and so we can’t use primary election results. However, Rand Paul did run for several months and collected campaign contributions, which we can use. In addition, we can use votes and campaign contributions for the Johnson-Weld campaign to try to see where the libertarians are.

The best way to do this would undoubtedly be to do issue surveys of enough voters in every state that we could estimate the percentage of voters in every state that take libertarian policy positions. But we just don’t have big enough sample sizes at the state level to do this right now. There are experimental, new methods that let us estimate issue positions at the state level with smaller sample sizes, but these methods are extremely time-intensive, and in any case we still don’t have consistent questions over time that would let us develop measures comparable over time.

There’s no one “right” way to do this, but here’s what I did – and all reasonable methods seem to yield similar results. I:

  1. took each state’s percentage of the vote for Johnson-Weld, campaign contributions to Johnson-Weld per capita, and campaign contributions to Rand Paul per capita;
  2. substituted national average values for home states (New Mexico and Massachusetts for Johnson-Weld, Kentucky for Paul);
  3. standardized the three variables to have the same mean and variance; and then
  4. averaged them together.

Substituting national average values for the home states seemed justified because these home states would otherwise be near the top of the rankings, even though none of these states seemed particularly libertarian in other elections when these candidates weren’t running. New Mexico was a below-average Libertarian state before Gary Johnson started running, Kentucky was a mediocre state for Ron Paul contributions in 2008 and 2012, and so on.

Without further ado, here is the ranking of states (and D.C.) by libertarians per capita in 2016, as best we can tell from these three measures:

state lp16_s john_s rand_s libertarians16
District of Columbia -0.2273757 5.063998 5.91443 3.583684
Wyoming 1.34241 0.7520453 2.782263 1.625573
Alaska 1.92475 0.8954656 0.3591455 1.059787
New Hampshire 0.4562405 1.881349 0.7760671 1.037885
Colorado 1.33397 1.46498 -0.1094947 0.8964849
Nevada -0.2358154 1.115038 1.282813 0.7206786
Washington 1.05546 1.029371 -0.0169397 0.6892969
Hawaii 0.1017729 1.514048 -0.1154285 0.5001307
North Dakota 2.211699 -0.9076071 -0.1790468 0.3750151
Oklahoma 1.815033 -0.6429195 -0.1350837 0.3456767
Idaho 0.4224817 0.1906986 0.2989358 0.3040387
Montana 1.679998 -0.4868041 -0.321723 0.2904903
Arizona 0.4056023 0.1295627 0.0997089 0.2116246
South Dakota 1.713757 -0.8959171 -0.3943799 0.1411533
Maine 1.258013 -0.5925905 -0.2984428 0.1223265
Oregon 0.9373039 -0.3396169 -0.2768817 0.1069351
Virginia -0.531205 0.7552064 -0.0225921 0.0671364
Connecticut -0.5396447 0.9314943 -0.1919439 0.0666352
New Mexico 0.1017729 0.1134186 -0.081947 0.0444149
Vermont -0.3370917 0.315843 0.0580951 0.0122821
Nebraska 0.8529069 -0.4625284 -0.3718339 0.0061815
Indiana 1.0639 -0.6398522 -0.4644283 -0.0134603
California -0.2020566 0.1975027 -0.069957 -0.024837
Texas -0.3708505 0.0970403 0.1393362 -0.0448247
Kansas 0.8782258 -0.57144 -0.4413628 -0.044859
Minnesota 0.2030493 -0.1859483 -0.2730781 -0.0853257
Massachusetts 0.1017729 0.0265284 -0.3852127 -0.0856371
Utah -0.1176594 -0.040376 -0.111288 -0.0897745
Iowa 0.1524111 -0.5752427 0.1136567 -0.1030583
Illinois 0.127092 -0.2596285 -0.2625065 -0.131681
Michigan -0.0248227 -0.3442523 -0.0487973 -0.1392908
Missouri -0.1345388 -0.5485766 -0.190781 -0.2912988
Maryland -0.6240419 0.1328795 -0.4675777 -0.31958
Georgia -0.4805668 -0.1231457 -0.4113307 -0.3383478
Tennessee -0.6662404 -0.2489252 -0.1508911 -0.3553522
Wisconsin -0.016383 -0.6375318 -0.4363715 -0.3634288
Florida -1.197942 0.0469722 -0.0559043 -0.4022913
New York -1.105105 0.1764863 -0.3696713 -0.4327633
Kentucky -0.6831198 -0.6866438 0.0554005 -0.438121
North Carolina -0.7253183 -0.3510917 -0.4069826 -0.4944642
Ohio -0.3792903 -0.6159415 -0.5193276 -0.5048531
South Carolina -1.062907 -0.3300098 -0.2762537 -0.55639
West Virginia -0.3455315 -0.9457347 -0.4400242 -0.5770968
Pennsylvania -1.029148 -0.4462026 -0.4482422 -0.6411975
Rhode Island -0.3539712 -0.8717933 -0.7971447 -0.6743031
Arkansas -0.8097153 -0.6793436 -0.6667849 -0.7186146
New Jersey -1.468012 -0.3178977 -0.4170856 -0.7343319
Alabama -1.273899 -0.6585236 -0.4357239 -0.7893822
Louisiana -1.459573 -0.6117339 -0.3441515 -0.8051527
Delaware -1.704324 -0.7962323 -0.2577564 -0.9194376
Mississippi -2.033473 -1.015875 -0.2154772 -1.088275

The “lp16_s” column is the standardized value of Johnson-Weld percentage of the vote, “john_s” is the standardized value of Johnson-Weld campaign donations per person, and “rand_s” is the standardized value of Rand Paul contributions per person. D.C. is the “state” with the most libertarians due to its huge campaign contributions to these two candidates, even though the Libertarian ticket did worse than average there in the actual election. Wyoming comes next. It looks pretty libertarian across the board but was especially supportive of Rand. Alaska is third; it was a great state for the Johnson-Weld ticket. New Hampshire came fourth and was above average on all three measures.

I also looked into the possibility that Johnson-Weld did worse in swing states because of tactical voting, but I could find no evidence for this hypothesis. States where the polls were close did not show lower third-party support, surprisingly.

These results are pretty similar to those from previous years, except that I hadn’t looked at D.C. before. It’s not surprising that D.C. would score so highly on campaign contributions, because lots of people there are really interested in politics. Maybe I should have used campaign contributions to each candidate as a share of all campaign contributions, rather than per capita, but I’m unpersuaded that this would be the right way to go. D.C. really may have lots of libertarians – who are nevertheless swamped by those of other ideologies. Wyoming does a lot better than in previous years, and Montana significantly worse. Alaska has always been near the top in these numbers. New Hampshire hasn’t separated itself from the pack despite the Free State Project. It was the best state other than D.C., New Mexico, and Massachusetts for Johnson-Weld campaign contributions, but it was only moderately above average for Johnson-Weld votes and Rand Paul campaign contributions.

Did the emergence of the state reduce the rate of human death from warfare? Steven Pinker’s outstanding book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, surveys many reasons why you are less likely to die from violence today than your ancestors were. Part of his explanation is that warfare was constant in stateless, anarchic societies, but the emergence of the state, beginning about six thousand years ago, helped reduce this problem. He has nice things to say about Thomas Hobbes’ thesis in Leviathan, that a powerful government is necessary to rescue people from their natural state of constant warfare.

In my most recent Learn Liberty blog post, I question this finding of Pinker’s. I argue that the evidence he presents for the claim does not suffice to prove it, because there are other factors that could explain declining rates of war death. Moreover, even if the state reduced war death somewhat, we can’t necessarily infer from that fact alone that the state increased human welfare. From the post:

[T]here is an important conceptual problem for the claim that the rise of the state improved human welfare by reducing violent deaths.

After all, early states arose almost exclusively out of conquest, as Pinker concedes. They started as roving bands of armed robbers, who eventually found that converting robbery into regularized taxation would destroy less wealth and generate more revenue over the long run. Autonomous peoples do not go into “subject” status willingly.

More at the link.

My latest Learn Liberty blog post is on the topic above and can be found here. Excerpt:

Kant’s moral philosophy justifies extremely strong individual rights against coercion. The only justification for coercion in his philosophy seems to be defense of self or others. His ideal government therefore seems to be extremely limited and to allow for the free play of citizens’ imaginations, enterprise, and experiments in living.

Now that the 2016 election results are available by town for New Hampshire, I thought I would take a look at where libertarian candidates tended to do well or poorly, and how that pattern compared with conservative versus progressive support by town.

To measure libertarian voting by town, I used different variables in different years.

For 2008, I used:

  • Ron Paul vote share in the Republican presidential primary,
  • Libertarian Party vote share in the general presidential election (both Bob Barr and George Phillies had separate Libertarian candidacies in New Hampshire that year),
  • Libertarian Party vote share in the general gubernatorial election.

For 2012, I used:

  • Ron Paul vote share in the Republican presidential primary,
  • Libertarian Party and Ron Paul write-in vote share in the general presidential election,
  • Andrew Hemingway vote share in the Republican gubernatorial primary of 2014. (So this is sort of a 2012-4 measure really.)

For 2016, I used:

  • Rand Paul vote share in the Republican presidential primary (he had dropped out of the race, but over 1% of voters voted for him anyway),
  • Frank Edelblut vote share in the Republican gubernatorial primary,
  • Libertarian Party vote share in the general presidential election,
  • Libertarian Party and Aaron Day vote share in the general U.S. Senate election.

I also calculated conservatism vs. progressivism by town for 2012 and 2016.

For 2012 conservative voting, I used:

  • Republican Party general presidential election vote share,
  • Republican Party general gubernatorial election vote share (2012),
  • Republican Party general gubernatorial election vote share (2014).

For 2016 conservative voting, I used:

  • Republican Party general presidential election vote share,
  • Republican Party and Aaron Day vote share in the general U.S. Senate election,
  • Republican Party general gubernatorial election vote share.

I also looked at how these variables correlated with each other. The strongest correlations I found outside the Republican candidates’ correlations with each other were between LP + Day Senate 2016 vote share and Ron Paul 2012 primary vote share (r=0.51), LP + Day Senate 2016 vote share and Trump vote share (r=0.37), Rand 2016 and Ron 2012 primary vote share (r=0.32), LP + Day Senate 2016 vote share and Edelblut ’16 vote share (r=0.30), Johnson ’12 + Ron Paul write-ins and Ron Paul 2012 primary vote share (r=0.51), Trump vote share and Ron Paul 2012 primary vote share (r=0.45), Paul ’12 and Paul ’08 vote share (r=0.49), Paul ’08 and Hemingway ’14 vote share (r=0.43), and Paul ’12 and Hemingway ’14 vote share (r=0.34). Interestingly, the Johnson-Weld ticket really didn’t correlate with anything else at all, suggesting that most of their voters were simply anti-Clinton and anti-Trump, not libertarian leaners. Most of those voters probably won’t stick around for future Libertarian candidacies unless they don’t have a lot of options.

These correlations also imply that a lot of Ron Paul’s 2012 primary vote came from disaffected, non-conservative, potentially populist or nationalist Republicans. This is consistent with what I reported here on Pileus years ago about how Ron Paul in 2012 added a bunch of anti-establishment, moderate to liberal independents and Republicans to his libertarian base. It also suggests, perhaps, some reason for optimism about the Trump phenomenon. A lot of his voters are simply alienated and not that strongly ideological. If they could vote for both Ron Paul in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016, these people must be ideologically flexible, even if consistently anti-establishment.

So where can you find libertarians, progressives, and conservatives in New Hampshire? These maps tell the tale. (Unincorporated townships and towns with fewer than 100 votes are not mapped.)

nhlib16 nhlib12 nhlib08 nhcon16 nhcon12

Please note that each variable is recentered each year, so that it is impossible to compare towns across years in any absolute sense (“this town is becoming more libertarian” is an inference you absolutely cannot make from these data), though you could make comparisons over time, relative to the average town in New Hampshire (“this town used to be quite a bit more libertarian than other towns, but now it’s only average” is something you could say based on these data). The recentering has to be done because different candidates run and are included in the calculations in different years.

Now then, where are the libertarians? The results aren’t greatly different from those I’ve reported before, with New Hampshire’s most libertarian towns generally lying in the Appalachian mountains and foothills of the western part of the state. However, in 2016 there is a notable change, with the libertarian center of gravity shifting southward to Cheshire and western Hillsborough counties. This surprised me a bit at first, but it makes sense once you consider that conservatarian Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut is from western Hillsborough County and absolutely dominated the vote in his hometown and nearby towns, coming close to knocking off then-presumptive nominee Chris Sununu (now governor elect) statewide.

Republicans, meanwhile, are much stronger in the southeastern third of the state than elsewhere in 2012, but in 2016 they had more even support throughout the state, making clear inroads into the relatively deprived North Country. This is consistent with the general shift of the party to the nationalist radical right with accompanying loss of support among upscale groups and growth among the white working class.

Scatter plots make these phenomena clearer (click to expand).

The last scatter plot, in particular, shows that between 2012 and 2016 Republicans lost, relatively to the average town, in upscale towns like Hanover, Bedford, New Castle, Amherst, Hollis, and New London (most of these are strongly Republican towns, but Hanover is the most Democratic town in the state). Meanwhile, Republicans gained in the small towns of the North Country, places like Landaff, Berlin, Northumberland, and Millsfield. Libertarians (not necessarily Libertarian Party, but libertarianish candidates) look to have gained in western Hillsborough County, towns like Greenville, Mason, and New Ipswich (all heavily GOP). Again, this pattern really reflects the strength of Republican Frank Edelblut in his primary.

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