Archive for the Category Libertarianism


The GOP moves sharply to the left on pot

Just when you think that you have politics figured out, you learn something new.  Vox has a post showing that support for pot legalization is soaring, from 23% in the 1980s to 64% today—and the rate of increase is actually accelerating.  Much of the recent increase comes from Republicans, where support for pot legalization has soared from 34% to 51% in just the past three years.  That puts the GOP to the left of many (most?) left-wing politicians, even in liberal states like Massachusetts:

How can we explain this?  It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Trump, who opposes legalization and picked a reactionary Alabama drug warrior as his AG.

There are thousands of people in prison for marijuana crimes.  The public understands that these people shouldn’t be there, but the elites still won’t give in.

Some day we’ll look back on this the way we look back on Jim Crow laws, and wonder, “What were the elites thinking?”

PS.  Watch the comment section.  Two or three people will say “Yeah, they shouldn’t be in prison for pot, but they might have committed other crimes, so it’s OK.”

PPS.  Good to see more and more GOP senators speaking out on Trump (Corker, McCain, Flake, etc.)  Almost all GOP senators have total contempt for Trump, it’s just that we only hear from those who aren’t running for re-election.

PPPS.  For the first time in my life I understand the Joe McCarthy era.

PPPPS. When the next terrorist bomb goes off in Europe, I’m going to have to work really hard to avoid thinking that they deserve it.

Utilitarianism for me, but not for thee?

The older I get, the more convinced I am that utilitarianism is the best value system.  What do I mean by best?  I mean the one that, if used correctly, leads to the happiest society.  But would it be used correctly?  Or would it be abused?  Bryan Caplan has a post suggesting the latter.

Here’s the problem I see with utilitarianism.  The world is full of cognitive illusions.  One of the most powerful sets of illusions is the left-liberal view that big government can solve many of society’s problems.  Just to be clear, I do think that government can solve a few problems (such as pollution and excessive inequality), but only a few.  Even though I have the same (utilitarian) value system as left-liberals, my policy preferences differ because my University of Chicago education showed me all the unintended consequences of government intervention.  Thus I can use my utilitarian value system without ending up on The Road to Serfdom.

Most left-liberals lack a University of Chicago education.  For them, the contemplation of all the societal problems that can be solved with big government is akin to playing with matches.  Quite dangerous.

So if that’s the world we live in, what’s the best solution?

1. Stick with utilitarianism, and try to spread the Chicago gospel.

2. Replace utilitarianism with a sort of natural rights libertarianism, which while not actually correct, will lead to better outcomes, even by utilitarian standards.  Spread the Ron Paul gospel.

You might notice that this is similar to the age old philosophical question of whether religion is a useful way of making society more ethical, even if based on a myth.

I believe there are good arguments on both sides of this issue, but in the end I opt for utilitarianism.  We might be able to temporarily indoctrinate some young people with books by Ayn Rand, but in the long run I think we need pragmatic arguments for a free society, if we are to convince the class of educated intellectuals who play such an important role in policymaking.

I recognize that utilitarianism is playing with fire — I just don’t see any better options.

Will kidney sales be legalized?

Will the US join Iran as one of the few countries that allow kidney sales?  It’s too soon to say, but Trump deserves praise if this appointment is made and approved:

President-elect Donald Trump is weighing naming as Food and Drug Administration commissioner a staunch libertarian who has called for eliminating the agency’s mandate to determine whether new medicines are effective before approving them for sale.

“Let people start using them, at their own risk,” the candidate, Jim O’Neill, said in a 2014 speech to a biotech group.

O’Neill has also called for paying organ donors and setting up libertarian societies at sea — and has said he was surprised to discover that FDA regulators actually enjoy science and like working to fight disease.

. . .

O’Neill has proposed that the FDA only require companies to prove drugs are safe before they are sold – not that they actually work.

O’Neill has also said that organ donors should be allowed to be paid. “There are plenty of healthy spare kidneys walking around, unused,” he said in a speech at a 2009 Seasteading conference.

Of course he has not been nominated yet, and it’s not clear he’d be approved by the Senate, but certainly a hopeful sign.

PS.  Here’s a recent Econlog post on kidney sales.  Alex Tabarrok points out that New Zealand is moving part way towards financially compensating kidney donors.

HT:  Frank McCormick

Please save libertarianism from the libertarians

Most intelligent people don’t like Trump.  Heck, polls suggest that most unintelligent people don’t like Trump. Nonetheless, I feel that libertarians often focus on the wrong issues regarding Trump, and this leads outsiders to wonder why we are so narrow in our focus.

Bob Murphy (who doesn’t support Trump) has a post reflecting on the lessons of the election.  I disagree with much of it, but I suppose all the points are defensible, taken one at a time.  Unfortunately, the overall impression is that libertarians are tone deaf.

Much of the post is devoted not to attacking Trump, but rather to attacking his critics or pointing out that some of his issues have merit.  Fair enough, it’s his prerogative to do so.  But when it comes to free trade Bob pulls no punches:

Immigration Policy Is Debatable Among Libertarians, but Trump’s Trade Rhetoric Is a Disaster. I personally think that much freer movement of people across sovereign borders would be a good thing, for Americans and foreigners, and both in material standards of living as well as intangible civil liberties. In particular, a giant wall to keep illegal immigrants out might make it that much easier for a future regime to keep dissidents in.

Having said that, I should acknowledge that libertarians are divided on questions of immigration. Although I agree with my colleague Ben Powell on the economics of greater labor mobility, some libertarians understandably worry about the negative consequences of letting in people who will vote for a larger welfare State.

Yet when it comes to the free movement of goods, then the Trump phenomenon is clearly misguided. As a free-market economist, I will unfortunately have to spend much more time during the next four years explaining to Americans why more regulations and taxes—levied on their choice to buy foreign products—won’t make America richer.

No discussion of the vile racism, misogyny, anti-disabled, anti-POW or anti-Muslim bigotry, beyond an allusion to Trump’s “boorish comments about women”.  Nothing on his pandering to the alt-right, or hiring the publisher of a leading alt-right outlet to be his campaign manager.  Nothing about his support for much worse types of torture than waterboarding.  Nothing about his comments that we should steal the oil of countries when we conquer them. Nothing about his support for assassinating the family members of terrorists.  Nothing about his embrace of brutal authoritarians like Putin.  Nothing about his promises to stop the media from printing anti-Trump stories. Nothing about his bizarre embrace of numerous nutty conspiracy theories.  Or his comments in favor of nuclear proliferation.  Or his contempt for facts, which I’m afraid goes far beyond the lies we see with even Hillary/Nixon-level politicians.

Look, I’m also opposed to tariffs on Mexican goods.  But when people read posts like Bob’s they are going to think that libertarians just don’t get it.  One defense is that Hillary is also horrible.  I agree, she’s much worse than Obama.  So put in a, “To be sure, Hillary also has many faults like militarism and support for the war on drugs” or something like that.  But Trump’s outrages go far beyond anything I’ve ever seen in American politics, and if we write posts mostly attacking his critics and then throwing in a few lines about tariffs, we are just giving ammunition to the people who troll libertarians as insensitive on issues such as race and gender (I don’t recall specific examples, but I’m thinking of people like Noah Smith, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, etc.)  Lots of female GOP intellectuals (who earlier criticized Bill Clinton) are disgusted right now with the GOP, and their reasons go far beyond “boorish comments”.  They don’t understand why the men in their party don’t get it.

Moving beyond Bob’s post, I’m glad those “sore losers” are out in the streets protesting Trump; I wish there were millions of people protesting (peacefully of course.)  I’d be disgusted with this country if people simply bowed down to Trump because he won.  The fact that he won more states than Hillary doesn’t magically transform him into another person; he’s still the appalling, disgusting, evil person he was on November 7th. A man with literally no good qualities (with apologies to Musil). All that’s changed is that he’s now a government employee.

Sometimes I wonder why we even have a public education system.  When I think back to all the “social studies” classes I took in high school, there were lots topics covered.  But much of the history (back in the 1960s and 1970s) we covered actually boiled down to one basic point: “Do not ever, ever, ever, ever vote for a demagogic politician who engages in the big lie, is contemptuous of civil liberties and demonizes minorities and foreigners. Just don’t do it.”  And if we can’t even get that one basic point, then can someone tell me what these civics classes are for?  What’s the point?  And please don’t tell me that all politicians are demagogues, of course that true to some extent.  But Trump’s a textbook definition of what we were warned to shun at all costs.

If libertarianism doesn’t rise to the occasion and loudly proclaim that Trump is completely beyond the pale, then we are going to make the same mistake those leftists made in the 1950s and 1960s, when they spent more time criticizing anti-communists than they did criticizing the unprecedented evil of global communism.  Of course Trump’s not that sort of threat, he’s probably too incompetent to do much harm (one key difference from Hitler), and our democracy is quite strong (another key difference).  Maybe he won’t even impose those tariffs—I have no idea what he’s going to do.  But in symbolic terms the issues are just as stark, and we need to reject Trumpism without any qualifications, even if Trump were to bring about small government and NGDP targeting.  Otherwise libertarianism will be tarnished by this sad episode of American history.

PS.  You might say I didn’t mention Hillary’s scandals.  That’s right, but I also didn’t mention’s Trump’s, which even more extensive.  Cheating on his taxes.  Using a charitable foundation for personal profit.  Creating a fraudulent “university” to scam students.  I agree that Hillary has scandals involving emails and the Clinton Foundation, but Trump is a walking non-stop scandal.  I didn’t think those were even worth adding to the list above, because I was trying to focus on the things that were completely outside the range of normal American politics.  Scandals are a dime a dozen.

PPS.  This is good news:

President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview to air on Sunday that certain areas of his promised border wall with Mexico, a key part of his White House campaign platform, could be fence instead.

Just as stupid, but cheaper stupidity!

The party of pain

Commenters on the right will often talk in apocalyptic terms about the loss of freedom in America, as bakers are not allowed to discriminate against gay couples. That’s certainly a defensible point, although I can’t get too excited about it.  Same thing for people on the left and the 60 prisoners on Guantanamo.  Again, a defensible argument, but not a high priority for me.  But when I mention 400,000 Americans in prison for violating drug laws these same people often just giggle, saying that that “only pothead libertarians care about the issue”.  Then they tell me that these 400,000, and the millions more ex cons who’s lives have been scarred by our criminal justice system, are “bad people”, even though they’ve never met most of them. Guess what, some of those Guantanamo prisoners and some of those anti-gay bakers are also bad people.  Is that your criterion?

America had a lot of murders during the 1920s, but far fewer during the 1950s.  I guess all those “bad people” shooting each other in 1920s gangland slayings, fighting over the distribution of alcohol, suddenly became “good people” in the 1950s.  Or is it possible that bad laws make bad people?

Here’s a map showing the progress on pot legalization so far; many people expect a big jump in states where it is fully legal next month, as referenda are on the ballot in 5 states, including California.  Florida and a few others will vote on medical marijuana.


Look at the states that don’t allow medical marijuana.  The states where people believe cancer sufferers should just “be a man” and suck it up. Do you see any correlation with the polls in the current presidential election?

But it’s even worse.  At the elite level of politicians and news outlets such as the Boston Globe, both parties are strongly opposed to legalization. This push is coming almost entirely from the people (plus Gary Johnson).  The referendum process is often criticized, and has produced bad public policies on occasion in places like California. But just imagine where we’d be if we had to rely on our elected leaders on the drug issue. There’d be no hope for the 400,000 in prison.

Update:  I was wrong, the Boston Globe supports legalization.  I was fooled by their earlier anti-legalization opinion pieces.  (HT: BG)

PS.  Canada is also expected to legalize pot next year.

PPS.  People often ask me why I’m a libertarian.  There are many reasons, but our drug laws are near the top.  The position of the Dems and the GOP is appalling, disgusting, contemptible.  Ditto on the issue of a market for transplant kidneys.  So next time you comment on how bad Trump is, or how bad the “liberal Supreme Court” is, tell me why this issue is more important that drugs and kidneys.

PPPS:  I will be a a panel at Boston University on Saturday, discussing marijuana legalization.  My state is voting on the issue on Tuesday–the only ballot question where a good outcome is even feasible. The info is below.