Archive for December, 2014

With this post, I’m reporting updated results on the ideological ideal points of New Hampshire legislators, introduced previously here. In that analysis, I found that libertarians in the New Hampshire House in 2014 tended to vote with the right (and vice versa) on most roll-call votes scored by the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance. That included votes on bills to prevent localities from acquiring military vehicles for police, to reform civil asset forfeiture, to protect public school students’ privacy, and other civil-liberty issues where you would have expected the left to be more libertarian. In fact, the more left-wing you were, the more likely you were to oppose the libertarian position on those bills.

However, there were a few bills on which the left was more libertarian, mostly dealing with marijuana and other criminal-justice issues. When those were separated out, the analysis revealed a distinct cluster of 10-40 legislators (depending on the strictness of the criteria for inclusion) who tended to vote with the left or center on this just-mentioned subset of social issues but with the center or right, respectively, on the majority of roll-calls: a libertarian(-ish) caucus.

I am now updating the analysis with 2013 roll-calls included, to cover the entire biennial session. I’m also reporting more charts and tables for the geekily inclined.

To recap, I ran a Bayesian IRT analysis with imputation of missing data (abstentions and absences) using R package “pscl.” First, I began with the hypothesis that libertarianism-communitarianism was the first dimension underlying all roll-call votes. This hypothesis seemed to work for most roll-call votes, but it failed on some. In fact, a left-right dimension underlies most legislators’ voting decisions. So I separated out the bills on which the hypothesis failed and ran separate analyses on both sets. That resulted in two dimensions of ideology: how right-wing you are on right-libertarian issues (henceforth, “right-libertarianism”) and how left-wing you are on left-libertarian issues (henceforth, “left-libertarianism”).

I also corrected some errors in the NHLA data (votes coded the wrong way and one individual legislator vote miscoded) and made some different judgment calls from them. I mentioned some differences I had with their inclusion of votes against casino bills as pro-liberty and votes against a domestic violence bill as pro-liberty. I would have dropped them from the analysis if they had made any difference to the results, but they didn’t, so I didn’t bother. However, I did make some more substantial judgments. I dropped two voter ID/registration bills that the NHLA supported (loosening voting requirements). These were party-line votes: libertarian Democrats voted with their party in favor, and libertarian Republicans with their party against. NH’s voter registration rules are extremely lax, and the reform proposals so modest, that I could hardly count these bills, which undid some changes of the 2011-12 legislature, as clearly pro- or anti-liberty. Had I included them, they would have dominated the second dimension, reducing the additional information it supplies beyond mere left-right ideology. Finally, I counted votes in favor of a bill banning prison privatization as anti-liberty and votes against expanding the research and development tax credit as pro-liberty, directly contradicting the NHLA’s positions (but with good reason, I think – the data showed stronger fiscal conservatives voting against the NHLA on both).

There were 404 legislators that served at some point during the 2013-14 session (the maximum at any one time is 400). There were 149 total bills I looked at, but in the end 136 made it into the right-libertarianism analysis and 11 made it into the left-libertarianism analysis.

Another small difference from the last effort is that this time I ran a NOMINATE analysis first to get priors on each dimension for each legislator. The NOMINATE analysis also suggests 2 dimensions of ideology, just rotated slightly differently.

For the geekily inclined, here is a table of the discrimination parameters for the 10 most important bills contributing to the right-libertarianism dimension (here’s the intuition: a higher discrimination parameter means the bill is more important in distinguishing the right-libertarian from the left-communitarian):

bill	mean	stdev	lower	upper proliberty antiliberty notvoting
hb544	8.27	1.159	5.892	10.343	154	182	68
sb413	6.284	0.894	4.848	8.267	132	202	70
hb271	5.065	0.793	3.508	6.798	155	206	43
hb370	4.19	0.57	3.136	5.281	151	188	65
hb1570	4.048	0.536	2.894	5.226	142	161	101
hb1541	3.939	0.541	3.025	5.418	109	162	133
cacr1	3.938	0.523	3.123	5.086	149	206	49
hb1403	3.775	0.531	2.676	4.933	118	173	113
hb427	3.654	0.505	2.772	4.661	152	185	67
sb120	3.545	0.458	2.756	4.544	119	186	99

All of these were losses for liberty, and given the Democratic control of the House then, that’s not surprising. But only two of them passed both houses and were enacted into law: SB 413, Medicaid expansion, and SB 120, increasing campaign finance reporting and registration requirements. The top bill, HB 544, would have created a state-based Obamacare exchange.

Here are the bills that fed into the second dimension, left-libertarianism vs. right-communitarianism (all 11):

bill	mean	stdev	lower	upper proliberty antiliberty notvoting
hb573	10.171	0.24	9.735	10.804	286	64	54
hb492	2.092	0.297	1.531	2.94	170	162	72
hb1625	1.492	0.218	1.118	1.99	215	92	97
hb621	1.376	0.177	0.946	1.669	193	136	75
hb1325	0.872	0.147	0.56	1.162	66	219	119
hb249	0.807	0.149	0.566	1.105	266	68	70
hb1237	0.701	0.092	0.551	0.9	231	97	76
hb1577	0.674	0.124	0.475	0.943	209	116	79
hb1501	0.526	0.097	0.253	0.728	211	86	107
sb296	0.429	0.095	0.283	0.638	210	128	66
hb1624	0.327	0.109	0.147	0.567	256	40	108

HB573, medical marijuana legalization, dominates this list. The next on the list, HB492, was marijuana legalization. All of these were victories except Death with Dignity, HB 1325, again predictable given Democratic control of the House. Only medical marijuana and HB1624, modernizing the juvenile justice system, were passed and enacted into law. Of course, some of the victories consisted in defeating bad bills.

Here were the 10 most right-libertarian legislators in the last session:

name	party
Groen Warren	R
Sylvia Michael	R
Meaney Richard	R
Hoell J.R.	R
Murphy Keith	R
Sandblade Emily	R
Notter Jeanine	R
Baldasaro Alfred	R
Lambert George	R
O'Brien William	R

William O’Brien was the 2011-12 Speaker of the House. Several of these legislators are Free State Project movers.

Here were the 10 most left-libertarian legislators in the last session:

name	party
Winters Joel	D
O'Flaherty Tim	D
Vaillancourt Steve	R
Ketel Stephen	D
Levasseur Nickolas	D
Bickford David	R
Gardner Janice	D
Friedrich Carol	D
Arsenault Beth	D
Carroll Douglas	D

Joel Winters was the first FSP mover elected to the state house (2006). Steve Vaillancourt is a left-libertarian gadfly and served in the legislature for close to two decades, before losing this year.

I created an index of libertarianism weighted 3:1 toward right-libertarianism (on the theory that economic and personal freedom are equally important, and right-wingers are better on economics and half of personal freedom, and worse on the other half). Here are the most libertarian legislators according to that blend:

name	party
Lambert George	R
Sylvia Michael	R
Garcia Michael	D
Hoell J.R.	R
Sandblade Emily	R
Pratt Calvin	R
Warden Mark	R
Meaney Richard	R
Murphy Keith	R
Tasker Kyle	R

Here is a plot of the legislators on both dimensions, color-coded by party (click to expand):

2013-14 NH House Ideal Points

Note that a handful of communitarians do now reveal themselves: William Butynski, Daniel Hansberry, Katherine Rogers, Leigh Webb, Deanna Rollo, Richard Eaton, Mary Nelson (all Dems).

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Dreaming Castro

Peggy Noonan has a wonderful piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. It concludes with a dream:

A closing note: I always thought, life often being unfair, that Fidel Castro would die the death of a happy monster, old, in bed, a cigar jutting out from the pillows, a brandy on the bedside table. My dream the past few years was that this tranquil end would be disturbed by this scene: American tourists jumping up and down outside his window, snapping pictures on their smartphones. American tourists flooding the island, befriending his people, doing business with them, showing in their attitude and through a million conversations which system is, actually, preferable. Castro sees them through the window. He grits his teeth so hard the cigar snaps off. Money and sentiment defeat his life’s work. He leaves the world knowing that in history’s great game, he lost.

Open the doors, let America flood the zone and snap those pictures. “Fidel! Look this way!” Snap. Flash. Gone.

It is hard to imagine that so many find this dream to be a nightmare.

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Thoughts on Cuba

The Obama administration’s decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba has generated much praise and criticism. You can read the lead editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post to get a flavor for the arguments, pro and con. On the right, the divisions between conservatives and libertarians have found a predictable expression. The editors of National Review are not happy. They conclude: “We fear that yesterday was a good day for the Castros and a bad day for the Cuban people, and for American foreign policy.” In contrast, Juan Carlos Hidalgo (Cato) strikes a much different tone: “The president’s move should be uncontroversial. U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a blatant failure. It has not brought about democracy to the island and instead provided Havana with an excuse to portray itself as the victim of U.S. aggression. It has also served as the scapegoat for the dilapidated state of Cuba’s economy.”

There is little to praise in Cuba.   It remains a dictatorship. On the World Freedom Index, it ranks 170. But China ranks 175 and is a far greater concern with respect to national security. Last year our exports to China were $121.7 billion and our imports from China were $440.5 billion. While progress has been slower in China than many would have hoped, there is much evidence that trade has positive implications with respect to property rights and political liberalization. Perhaps this will be the case in Cuba.

Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that the US policy toward Cuba made sense in the early 1960s, it is difficult to see precisely what justification one can find decades after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Beyond the antiquated assumptions upon which the policy rests, there is little to suggest that our approach has been effective and much to suggest that it has been both counterproductive and costly.

Of course, in this there is little to separate our Cuba policy from so many other policies that remain firmly in place (e.g., agricultural subsidies, corporate welfare, the punitive war on drugs). Alas, there remains much work to be done.

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Constitute.org is a useful website designed by political scientists to let researchers search for and compare constitutional texts on particular topics. Here for instance is a search on secession clauses. Although one of the site’s creators, Zachary Elkins, says that 22 states contemplate some process for state divorce, only three constitutions expressly authorize some part of the country to secede: Ethiopia, Liechtenstein, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Ethiopia lets each people or nationality secede by a supermajority vote of its legislature, Liechtenstein lets each commune secede (I believe this was an addition of the 2003 constitution), and St. Kitts and Nevis lets Nevis secede by a supermajority referendum vote.

In addition to these, Britain’s Northern Ireland Act of 1998 lets the majority of Northern Irelanders decide to join the Republic of Ireland, and the constitution of Uzbekistan lets Karakalpakstan secede with the consent of the Uzbekistan government.

It would be interesting to see how many states define themselves as “indivisible,” thus tying a government’s hands and preventing it from authorizing secession. A search on the term brings up some irrelevant cases, but 72 constitutions contain the term.

By the way, the Prince of Liechtenstein is a moderate libertarian, and their constitution is fairly consistent with the philosophy. Check out his book on the topic.

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Last week we received the “good news” about the economy. Unsurprisingly, I was a bit skeptical (here). While jobs are being created—321,000 in November alone—long-term unemployment and workplace participation rates remain abysmal. For those who would like to celebrate the recovery, I recommend Binyamin Appelbaum piece on “The Vanishing Male Worker” (NYT). As Appelbaum notes:

Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent. More recently, since the turn of the century, the share of women without paying jobs has been rising, too. The United States, which had one of the highest employment rates among developed nations as recently as 2000, has fallen toward the bottom of the list.


Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.

Welcome to the “New Normal.”


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A Failed Policy

“The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its torture policies, to provide necessary details about its enhanced interrogation program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to torture hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments.” *

A failed policy! Consider its key features:

  • Congress and the President approved of the policy based on claims that it could keep the country safe
  • The bureaucrats—praised for their professionalism—adopted brutal techniques, with little regard for civil liberties or basic human rights.
  • Yet, there was little evidence of its effectiveness, despite claims of its supporters
  • Even when the facts were widely understood, no one was held accountable for the violence done to the victims

The details of the CIA’s use of torture are disturbing, without question. But the basic features—as presented above—could be used to describe so much of what the government does. It seems like a good description of our current drone policy and our decades long war on drugs.

I am pleased that President Obama has taken a strong stance against the use of torture. But let us not lose sight of the larger fact that he has also embraced the extensive use of drones, killing thousands, including civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 2004 and 2014, there were 405 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, 354 of which were ordered by President Obama. The estimated body count: 2,400-3,888. The estimated civilian body count: 416-959. The estimated number of children killed: 168-204. By way of comparison, according to the Senate Select Committee report,  the CIA detained 119 individuals, 26 of whom were wrongfully detained.

Be rightfully horrified by the details of the CIA’s use of torture. The details are mind numbing. But we should be equally horrified by our drone policy that has killed and maimed thousands.

Read the Senate Select Committee report.

Read the Stanford/NYU report, Living Under Drones.

*By the way, the above quote was taken from the Stanford/NYU report, p. viii. Mentions of drone strikes were replaced with the words “torture” and “enhanced interrogation” The correct quote is:

“The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments.”

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So the U.S. Senate report on CIA interrogation methods is out, and now we know that the CIA tortured detainees, including the use of violent rectal assault:
cia anal torture

Some of the detainees were terrorists; some were probably innocent. We’ll never know because they were never tried in a court of law:

innocent detainees tortured

Some neoconservative torture apologists oppose the release of the CIA report:

Others respond that the release of the report is essential to making sure the U.S. government never tortures again:

But here’s the thing: it will happen again. No one was ever punished for torturing detainees or giving orders to torture detainees. If you remove all penalties for murder, you don’t think the murder rate will go up? Simply exposing that “murder happens” isn’t going to change behavior in the long run.

If the U.S. government really wanted to keep itself from torturing innocent people again, it would expose and prosecute the individuals responsible.

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