The Best New Year's Eve Party Ever

If you should have been invited to the 934 Westminster New Year's Eve Party, but I failed to remember you, or if you'll be in town then, think you might like to come, and think you're the sort of person we'd like to have at our party, then drop me a line and I'll shoot you the invite. It's going to be HUGE.

  • Cool Cal

    I think vouchers is an excellent example of how libertarianism might work in the real world. It is a compromise of hard line principles (as you said, they are tax funded), but they foster freedom of choice, and encourage improvement of public resources through private (and public) competition. In fact, it is a great example, considering it is supported in almost every case by otherwise typically disenfranchised groups, and almost exclusively opposed by wealthy economic and political elites. In most cases I debate this issue, my “liberal” opponent is in fact reduced to the argument, “They don’t know what’s good for them.” And I think that resonates and transcends the policy’s political baggage. It’s an issue that has sprung about relatively recently, unsullied by many hoary libertarian ideas which might incidentally have the stink of their past associations, like federalism and opposition to civil rights legislation, forever linked in the electorate’s synapses.

  • Paul_G_Brown

    *broad, enthusiastic applause*

  • I might be crazy, but I read Thiel as stating that, essentially, there were two events in the 1920s that increased statism and this has been bad for libertarians. What those events are is immaterial so long as the consequences were increased statism. No one seems to want to take that reading.

    Second, you seem to be equating “state” and “democracy” in this piece. Have you considered that there are alternate forms of representation in a free and equal state (e.g. futarchy)? How does that affect your stance on What Libertarians Should Actually Do?

  • For a fuller discussion on some of the points made in this post (particularly the last two paragraphs), check out Loren Lomasky’s “Libertarianism as if (the other 99% of) People Mattered,” Social Philosophy and Policy 1998; 15(2): 350-371, which ought to be required reading of every self-proclaimed libertarian. Unfortunately I can’t find it online anywhere, but it is in the “Problems of Market Liberalism” volume.

  • I suspect Peter Thiel’s comments have a perfectly rational explanation — he’s planning to withdraw to one of Patri Freedman’s Waterworld colonies. By making the Libertarian ideology (even) more repellent to women, he will raise the male/female ratio on these colonies.

    It’s well-known why Thiel would want to pack his floating Libertopias with as many… salty seamen as possible. 😉

    • uknowbetter

      I had to laugh at some of the criticism I’ve seen on Thiel (‘like, omg, he should love women!!!). I tend to think one of the best advantages of being gay would be not having to deal with women.

  • How much do you want to bet that libertarians will have any success in the culture war and succeed in abolishing any government agencies? The State already has the huge advantage of indoctrinating children K-12, and even someone in the culture business who’d like to confront the worst crimes of Uncle Sam has to break down and apologize for what he said about Truman nuking the Japs. It is the sacred “Good War” after all, and we wouldn’t people to think we were some kind of malcontents who don’t worship the victors of history. What Friedman & Thiel have concluded is that it’s a mug’s game, with the deck stacked against us. Persuading voters that libertarianism is as inoffensive as Muzak is not of their concern, taking their business elsewhere and creating something better is.

    Sooner or later the problem of pluralism and moral disagreement will rear its head,
    That’s why the structures are modular and can be withdrawn, inspired by David Friedman’s story of the war where nobody came.

    I cannot see how anyone who accepts basic liberal assumptions about freedom and equality can see the establishment of equal political rights as anything but an unequivocal good
    One of the reasons it is sometimes claimed that Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens is that they are exempt from the draft. Would it be an improvement if that exemption was removed? From a libertarian perspective, of course not! We’d have to accept that the draft was good in the first place, and following Lysander Spooner we don’t think much of voting. In creating a system we may keep in mind reciprocity and widely applicable standards simply because deviation generally implies some inefficiency, but there is nothing for a libertarian to value in equality per se rather than liberty.

  • micanopyan

    “socially retarded adolescent white guys”! Hear, hear! This reminds me of when I watched the libertarian convention on C-Span once for about five minutes. What a crowd. Reminds me of when I used to go to concerts in Minneapolis and was struck by how everyone around me was so beautiful. Now that I live in Florida that doesn’t happen anymore, but I’m convinced that setting foot in a roomful of libertarians would be going way too far the other way.

  • micanopyan

    Sorry, just noticed the juxtaposition of Patri Friedman’s name and “mug’s game”. I was wondering where that guy gets his funding. Does he remind anyone else of Marcus Garvey?

  • Nicholas Weininger

    Will, you make a lot of good points here. This whole debate provides a nice illustration of why the libertarian-conservative strategic alliance was a mistake: people suspect us of being indifferent-to-hostile to the real gains made in the 20th C for the individual liberty of those other than white males in part because we have been associated with the side of the political spectrum that was genuinely indifferent-to-hostile to those gains, and too many of us have absorbed our erstwhile allies’ distortions of history. It is really blinkered, I think, to speak of the decade of the KKK’s greatest power and of the wave of nativist immigration laws as one in which “it was possible to be optimistic about politics.”

    On the other hand this post, like many of yours, reminds me why I am a confirmed Menckenian anarchist. I accept as a pragmatic fact the probable inevitability of a state, but that doesn’t mean I have to think democracy is moral, decent, or otherwise a positive good. Persuasion in politics may be a necessity but it is a very disagreeable one indeed; it amounts to having to beg a mass of half-thinking mediocrities for things that you should in a just world be able to claim as a matter of right. And why bother doing such a nasty task when it is almost always more rewarding to spend the same time and effort improving your personal situation, economic and otherwise, so you can buy or sneak your way around the obstacles the state places in your path?

  • cw

    i don’t see how libertarianism has soloutions to any of the problems involved in living with your fellow humans. It seems all critique. What does a libertarian utpopia look like?

    PS I liked the line about the socially retarded white guys. I think it was funny, but I also believe that ideology is based in individual psychology and that what we see as reational desions about what to believe is really preordained by our genes and upbringing. That isn’t a bad thing. Socially retarded white guys need a party (in all senses of the word) more than most.

  • Will, I think you’ve given in too much on the “right answer” business. There are plenty of things where I know you do think there is a right answer — free trade, for instance. And if democracy tends to result in protectionism, that is rightly counted as a black mark on democracy.

    If libertarian ideas are to gain any traction, we absolutely must overcome the tendency of people to equate “the policy was democratically chosen” with “the policy is right.” And when arguing with regular people, I find that tendency to be incredibly widespread. To overcome it, we need to show the chinks in the democratic armor. Public choice theory is one route of attack. Caplan’s irrational voter concept is another. And yet another is the recognition — which you clearly share — that some policies are just wrong, democratic or not.

    And you’re probably thinking, “Glen, everything you’ve just said is bloody obvious.” But it’s not obvious, not to many members of the public whose opinion you’re concerned about. So when you say things like, “You have agreed to politics, and there is no guarantee things are always going to your way,” you’re not helping. We’re not just whining that things haven’t gone our way — we’re establishing that democracy is highly imperfect, and that it systematically gets certain things wrong. That’s wrong as in “failing to get the right answer.”

    I say all of this as a non-anarchist. I’m one of those minimal statists, as you know. But accepting the state as a necessary evil does not commit us to accepting its full legitimacy. The state is legitimate insofar as it helps us move toward, yes, right answers. I think it’s most likely to do so when it’s relatively democratic — but also when it’s limited by a constitution, by competition among jurisdictions, and so on. To get our fellow citizens on board with creating that kind of institutional structure, it’s absolutely necessary to be critical of democracy.

    • Ditto.

      I’m still not 100% sure about whether Will is saying that Thiel is wrong to be pessimistic about getting democratic libertarian results, or just that it’s bad PR to say so, and even worse to mention that women are a particularly tough constituency.

      I think he could have made the PR points without implying that democracy always yields legitimate results (or worse: the right answer) by definition.

      Because those things are clearly less true than anything Thiel wrote.

      • I certainly don’t think democracy always yields legit or even good results, much less the right answer. I think I pretty clearly implied that democracy gives no guarantee of delivering the right answer. That’s obviously why Theil finds it useless. What I said is that people who have benefited from a good result of democracy aren’t unreasonable to think it has the potential to deliver even more good results.

        • Good. But, that wasn’t very clear to me.

          Especially when you all but called “The frustration that resonable pluralism fails to generate consensus on the right answer” illiberal. That sounded like a disagreement with the conclusion.

          And, people who expect good results from democracy without adequately considering what “good results” entail, or why rational individual voters can be expected to consistently vote for “bad results,” are being unreasonable IMNSHO.

          I hope we can convince enough of them to slow down the loss of liberty enough to give technology, and alternative social arrangements, a chance to advance far enough for us to avoid tyranny.

          It seems like a race to me, so I’m all in favor of efforts both to retard the damage from democracies, and to accelerate the development of means of avoiding that damage.

          Go Will! Go Patri!

    • My vote is also in enthusiastic support of Glen. And, like GilM, I’m way less than 100% sure what Will is saying about anything in this post. He warned us it was going to be disorganized, and it was. Of course, I post incoherent stuff all the time, but no one listens to me, so no harm done. Considering the response this post got, we could have used something a bit clearer and more organized.

  • Steve C

    Damn Will, those last two paragraphs were great! Sadly sense will never compete with going Galt.

  • This has been one of the most refreshing posts I have read in a long time.

    First, while you did not address it in name at all in your post, you also do a fantastic job of showing why “Galt’s Gulch” in Atlas Shrugged, and the Objectivist movement in general, is based off a profoundly illiberal idea. Objectivism and other strands of Libertarianism seem to be stuck with the problem of “how do we get everyone to think the same way we do”. Even the appeals to exit the system and run to Colorado seems to only last for as long as everyone who buys into the system is willing to. Part of the reason why I regarded so many of the Tea Parties as disingenuous is that despite claiming to be John Glats, they are still deeply invested in the political process!

    I do at least appreciate the brutal honesty that Ayn Rand brought to the situation, the final chapters of Atlas Shrugged had one of the characters making grand edits to the constitution with a giant marker. That much democratic consensus in that process.

    To Libertarians who argue that there needs to be something fundamentally undemocratic to make Libertarianism work, they may point to Singapore and Pre-’97 Hong Kong as proof in point. I don’t know whether we should be encouraged or saddened by that though.

    • I think you may be mistaking “liberal” for “equitable” or something similar when you talk about Galt’s Gulch being an “illiberal idea”.

      Liberal, as I understand it, means “with liberty; free” which is emphatically not the same thing as “everyone gets the same result”. Galt’s Gulch is inequitable for sure—that was the point of the “men of the mind” vs. everyone else—but claiming that it was illiberal because everyone else didn’t agree doesn’t seem to follow.

      As far as activists in the political process today being disingenuous with respect to the Galt persona, I agree—Galt’s reaction was precisely the opposite in that he went outside the system and indirectly strangled it; he didn’t work for change within the system.

      • I suppose that I consider the fact that there is no diversity of opinion within the Gultch, and no true diversity of thought to be something that is problematic. There is an intense desire for everyone to buy into the same political, ethical, and aesthetic opinions.

        I am not a moral relativist, and I understand that not all ideas are equally valid and that there are quite a few ideas and opinions which are factually true and correct. However, the novel in practice, seems to be about having a few “elect” individuals understand this fact and disengage from a world as a result. I don’t find that to be a valid program which can be transferred off the pages of a book, and when it does, it is largely just anti-social behavior, sometimes tinged with a strange sense of entitled elitism.

  • A gay man who pines for the days when his state punished sodomy with a five year to life sentence certainly makes a curious spokesman for the Libertarians.

    David Duke was unavailable?

  • Jayson Virissimo

    “I cannot see how anyone who accepts basic liberal assumptions about freedom and equality can see the establishment of equal political rights as anything but an unequivocal good…” -Will Wilkinson

    I’m sure this is what Socrates was thinking right before he took a sip of hemlock. Thank goodness for democracy!

  • “I cannot see how anyone who accepts basic liberal assumptions about freedom and equality can see the establishment of equal political rights as anything but an unequivocal good…”

    One can believe both that a) extending the franchise to women was on net, a good thing and b) the beliefs of female voters make it difficult to reduce the welfare state.

    Does belief in b) mean that Thiel thinks women shouldn’t have been extended the right to vote? Of course not. He’s merely pointing out one of the reasons he believes government grew so much more this century than last, and why libertarians are likely to have a tough time in the future. His theory may be wrong, but to simply dismiss his argument because it’s bad public relations seems counterproductive.

    If women’s voting patterns are a big factor in the growth of government, we should learn what those reasons are, and seek to address them.

    If women’s voting patterns aren’t a big factor in the growth of government, or can’t be easily changed, then we should devote our energies elsewhere.

    But we have no basis to take either course of action without know first whether women voters have driven the growth of government. Thiel believes they have, and there’s some evidence for that belief. For example:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/26787l3114660519/

    Women’s suffrage was a major event in the history of democratization in Western Europe and elsewhere. Public choice theory predicts that the demand for publicly funded social spending is systematically higher where women have and use the right to vote. Using historical data from six Western European countries for the period 1869–1960, we provide evidence that social spending out of GDP increased by 0.6–1.2% in the short-run as a consequence of women’s suffrage, while the long-run effect is three to eight times larger. We also explore a number of other public finance implications of the gender gap

    Is that a big enough effect (assuming the effect is real) to devote significant energies to correcting it? I don’t know. I don’t know how much female voting patterns compare to other sources of government growth. But I don’t think it’s “boneheaded” to point it out.

  • Paul O’Pinion

    To go way back to Mike Brock’s post, the grass roots opportunity for Libertanians is in sites such as this. Many issues such as vouchers, term limits (power corrupts), reduced spending and our current litigation state which affects everything are not addressed by mainstream media. Whether the coming generations are informed on what the real issues are that impact their everyday life is really up to them. The current and future politicians (who are a bit more informed) are getting more and more of their information and opinions from the internet, a very pure democracy. One can certainly hope that future politicians will bring some of those issues to the forefront for the unwashed masses who are increasingly woefully informed.

  • Voice in the Wind

    Libertarians cannot fight a culture war because they have no culture. It is a political ideology. Libertarianism’s only hope for victory will come as part of a larger cultural movement. If it throws off social conservatives, libertarianism will die a cold, lonely death. The reason it can’t win right now is because it cannot deal with social conservatives at the political level, rather than emotional and cultural levels.

    Furthermore, the comments about women and minority voting are good, because it exposes how deeply even libertarians have imbibed left-wing ideology. If you place equality above liberty, you are not a libertarian. If you are scared to talk about the truth openly, how can you possibly hope to advance libertarian ideas. Deal with reality and move forward, don’t hide reality because its “bad” in a leftist dominated culture to admit that your ideas are unpopular with some demographic groups—especially since it was the other side that created the idea of racial groups and group identity in politics.

    • LaFollette Progressive

      “…especially since it was the other side that created the idea of racial groups and group identity in politics.”

      I’ll spot you “identity politics”… but the idea of “racial groups” in American politics was established by property rights-loving Southerners a very long time ago, and without a whole hell of a lot of input from minority groups or leftists. And when laws restricted voting to the male group, it can hardly be said that the suffragettes created the idea of women having a group identity in politics.

      I must say that I find your comment to be quite enlightening. “Women and minority voting” is certainly an issue of equality. But it’s also an issue of liberty — for women and minorities. Having other people vote on matters that affect your liberties, when you cannot, is not an arrangement that’s conducive to individual liberty. We can argue all day about equality of outcomes, but if you don’t support equality of liberty then I don’t think “libertarian” is the proper word for your political ideology. “Royalist” would be closer to the mark.

      Peter Thiel is also a highly effective rebuttal to Jonah Goldberg’s magnum opus. If the purpose of libertarianism is to set up a benevolent dictator with limited powers and limited ability to interfere with the market, and a desire to maintain a bourgeois consensus rather than a messy, democratic heterodoxy, then we’ve pretty much defined libertarianism as 19th Century European Monarchism. Scale this philosophy up to an economically and philosophically diverse nation with a strong revolutionary labor movement, and you’d have to invent fascism to put down the revolution and maintain the consensus.

      And this is, of course, precisely what happened.

  • It would be interesting to read something on a libertarian regulatory regime, based on the principle of maximum freedom, which, by definition, means limits on the freedom of certain individuals who limit the freedom of others. So when one person poisons a river, that limits the ability of others to be free to use and enjoy that river. And I think it’s fair to say their should be a regulation preventing that kind of behavior.

    Schools are a good example, too. Everyone should be free to go to school, and we should make available the funds to poor people who need the money to do so for at least elementary/secondary education, but they would be much freer to get a much better education if we let them choose where to spend their money in the marketplace on where to go to school.

    There’s an interesting debate going on right now where community colleges are trying to expand nationwide to offer 4 year degrees, and universities are lobbying (often successfully) to stop them. The universities don’t want to face the lower priced competition of the community colleges, and many state legislatures are glad to pass laws banning community colleges from so competing. This would be the libertarian limit on regulation, where laws that restrict freedom go too far.

  • After reading the comments here, I’m once again struck by how frequently attacks on libertarianism (especially though not exclusively those made by liberals) seem to incorporate some variant of “haha you’re a loser/nerd/virgin.” Then again, given the similarities in their reasoning ability, emotional maturity, and moral development, the fondness of so many American liberals for the sort of insults tossed around by 8th grade bullies seems quite appropriate.

    • uknowbetter

      Who needs enemies when you got friends like Will?

      If that doesn’t make you anti-social, I don’t know what does.

    • Paul_G_Brown

      *sighs*

      haha you’re a loser/nerd/virgin.

      I seem to recall that the Rick Santelli rant was about losers, that the Obama cabinet has Stephen Chu (Nobel prize callibre nerd) and that virginity was a good thing.

      Clearly I need to clear my in-tray more often than I do ….

  • uknowbetter

    “I’m going to continue to try to convince people that free markets and limited goverment are better than they might have thought.”

    Good luck! Many people love all government, all-the-time, in every orifice. They get off on the idea of kings, princes, and princesses, and like that big daddy Obama is there to make decisions for them and especially for all those other stupid people who don’t know no better.

    They love the state and their Hitlers, Stalins, and Maos.

  • jvon

    I’m sorry — I did not really understand your objection to voting Republican because they’re in favor of lower taxes.

    You seem to freely admit that the Libertarian Party is not viable. I agree. The Democrats favor (in practice if not in stated terms) raising taxes. By process of elimination, this leaves the Republicans — who you mock because they do not support the entire range of libertarian concepts. Some of which are well outside mainstream libertarianism.

    The principled-yet-counterproductive practice of “screw this, I’m not voting” does not help change anything. Threatening to move to Canada like a Bush-hating leftard does not either. So what do you suggest, exactly?

    My personal solution is to vote Republican, and nudge Republicans in the libertarian direction as best I can. If you think that’s silly, well, I don’t feel that your ideological blathering is accomplishing much, so I suppose we are even.

    • Paul_G_Brown

      The Democrats favor (in practice if not in stated terms) raising taxes.

      To quote Uncle Milton – to spend IS to tax. In their defense, the Democrats at least own up to both sides of that equality. They tax AND spend too much. But they’re marginally more honest about it.

      The Cheney/Rove GOP is dead. Finished. Buried. Done in by its own self-deception. For the reasons Will points out, I don’t see a Libertarian alternative.

      Seems to me that Champions of Liberty might be better spending their time reaching out to Democrats than Rush Limbaugh. Just saying. . .

  • Vadept

    Libertarianism works better as a “pole” that politics gravitates towards, than an absolute state. I’d rather sit there and think about how I can reduce and “weed out” the government, rather than how to get rid of the thing completely.

    Anarchy, as my friend is fond of saying, is the least stable form of government. In no time at all, it morphs into some other form of government, often a dictatorship.

  • SIV

    “Extending the franchise to women is, in my estimation, one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition. ”

    Symbolically? maybe
    “Outcome based”? a disaster

    Unless,like will, you love collectivism for it’s own sake.

    • Paul_G_Brown

      Or … you like … are a woman?

      • No

        If you think collectivism is good for women.

    • A “disaster?” How do you tease out the “bad” effects of women’s suffrage from the fact that, on the whole, our individual lives just keep on improving decade after decade as a function of health, avoidance of need, and general self-reported happiness?

      Don’t get me wrong, I am a Rand-leaning libertarian/skeptic at heart and always have been but I would like to know that I am being as honest as possible about my conclusions

  • Some Guy

    The problem with democracy is the last half of the word. It’s still some people telling other people what to do.

  • Apropos of very little, but interesting none the less. Patri Friedman is the son of economist (although he was trained as a physicist) David Friedman. here is David’s web page with pictures of Patri et ux et fils. http://www.daviddfriedman.com/

    David is/was the son of, all time all star economist and political theorist and one of the outstanding men of the 20th century, Milton Friedman. Making Patri his grandson, and Patri’s son his great-grandson.

    Neither David nor Patri hold a candle to Milton, but that is not much of a rap on them a none of the rest of us do either.

    1Kgs.19
    [4] But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”

  • shem

    IMO, our best chance of persuading others is to consistently advocate for the non-aggression principle, which leaves no room for an institution claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. If we libertarians say that we believe individuals should have the right to do anything they choose so long as it doesn’t violate the liberty of others, then we should really mean it and follow it all the way through. Otherwise we compromise our core principle.

    • I think this gets it wrong in every possible way.

      • shem

        How so, Greg? What is there that individuals shouldn’t be able to do even though it doesn’t violate the liberty of anyone else? Is there something wrong about the non-aggression principle?

  • Susan

    Ok, moving on from theory to actual marketing… If Bill Gates gave me $500 million to promote libertarian principles, here’s how I would spend it:

    First I would FINALLY get Atlas Shrugged out of development and into production, and would throw money at Angelina Jolie until she agreed to star as Dagney. That movie would do more to promote The Cause than a thousand new think tanks. (I would have final script approval, naturally, so they don’t screw it up.)

    Then I would pay Matt & Trey to produce a series of clever commercials promoting libertarian ideas, and bombard the airwaves with them.

    Then to address the chick problem, I’d throw even more money at Angelina–I’m probably over budget here, but Bill G would come through with Round 2 of funding— and have her do some commericals for Lifetime, which would plug libertarian ideas and promote my newly created website, which would boast an engineer-free comments section. (This is assumming Atlas Shrugged killed at the box office.)

    Finally, I’d set up some monster fund to back female libertarian-ish political candidates, provide scholar ships and launch a 24 hour Margaret Thatcher channel, where her best speeches would be broadcast round the clock.

    That should get the ball rolling.

    • uknowbetter

      Sounds good to me. Can we sic some hot chicks on Bill Gates to make this happen?

  • I agree that democracy on the whole has tended to be a progressive force. It beats aristocracy, which was usually the alternative. It certainly was no friend of freedom.

  • “Libertarianism does have public relations problems, and it’s not because most people are stupid or immoral. It’s because libertarians have done a terrible job countering the widespread suspicion that it’s a uselessly abstract ahistorical ideology for socially retarded adolescent white guys.”

    This is correct. Libertarians need to make the ideology less abstract. When we talk about social security privatization show that it has been implemented (in limited form) in Sweden and the UK. Postal privatization has been implemented in Europe. Flat taxes have been successfully implemented. School vouchers work in DC and school choice is found in Sweden. Trains have been privatized in Holland. Air traffic control privatization works in Canada. Drug decriminalization appears to be working in Portugal. Use concrete examples.

    The flip side is to show the bankruptcy of the statist approach. Social Security is going bankrupt. Ditto for Medicare/aid. Public schools are a mess. The government heavily regulates the financial sector and yet we have massive failure and a bailout. Amtrak continues to lose money. Airlines and trucks benefited when those sectors were deregulated. Ethanol is a mess. Indeed, arguably the biggest public policy success of the last 20 years was the scaling back of welfare.

    Where government encroaches failure tends to result. When a pro-freedom/market approach is used the result tends to be successful.

    Show the real tangible benefits of freedom and the known costs of government. A

    And yes, little of what I propose is pure libertarianism, but we have to start somewhere.

  • Michael Ryan

    First and foremost, anyone who believes that a population as large and desegregated as ours can tolerate the existance of even small pockets of anarchy is a fool. Secondly if Libertarians want to be a viable party they need to come together or split. Finally, for majority rule to operate effectively and free of the threat of tyranny, a viable third party or the permanent dissoulution of ALL political parties is needed. A two party system is in direct conflict with the seperation of powers established by our constitution (a document that I firmly believe, if followed, would restore this nation to greatness).

  • Libertarians have made fantastic strides in the ideological struggle. It’s likely that America right now has more people who understand the value of freedom and limited government than any society at any time in history.

    Yet, even as more and more people come to our side, government continues to grow, and at an accelerating rate.

    Reagan, Gingrich, Bush and his Republican majority from 2000 – 2006 — these folks were all elected by pandering to libertarian ideals. They didn’t get us any closer to our goals; Bush in particular moved us quite a bit farther away.

    Willkinson’s strategy of convincing others of the value of freedom and limited government is fine and good, but the rest of us need to convince Willkinson and his converts of a truth that should already be so outrageously clear to us all: the incentives in our democracy will lead our representatives to grow the government, regardless of what the people vote for.

    It will only be when a large group of Americans fully secede from Washington’s control that we can begin to move towards freedom at large. The legitimate threat of secession is the greatest counter to the ugliest incentives in a democracy. Without it, we don’t stand a chance.

    http://www.strike-the-root.com/91/browne/browne1.html

    • uknowbetter

      “…the incentives in our democracy will lead our representatives to grow the government, regardless of what the people vote for.”

      I don’t think that’s stated often enough and I don’t think Will has addressed that point.

      Libertarians have a huge problem when all other parties say ‘we are going to give you all these goodies’ and libs say ‘we are going to take away goodies you already have’.

      There needs to be a better argument than ‘no’. Call it the ‘big-pie’ argument. All these other parties want to limit the size of the economy and all the wonderful inventions and innovations it brings; they want you to have a little pie that they control. Libertarians want all those inventions and innovations; we want a big pie which the people control.

  • Barry

    Will: “It is to reject the terms of the local democratic game by exercising the exit option. It’s what the Pilgrims did. It’s what the Mormons did. The difference is that there’s no more ready-made frontier left to settle. And I truly wish them the best of luck.” Note that (from memory), half of the first group of Pilgrims died in the first winter in Plymouth, and that was with some scavenging of food from freshly plague-killed Indians. And the only reason that they got through the next year was more help from Indians, and reinforcements from overseas. And after that, they proceeded to take land from local Indians, relying on large numbers of fighters, superior technology and disease to gain that land.

    I don’t know what the death rate among Mormons during their trek to Utah was, but I’ve heard enough to shudder (handcarts for ~1,000 miles?).

    So simillar things would be doable now; a group of libertarians could probably go someplace with little government and get ahold of some land. They’d probably suffer quite a bit in the first few years, but….

  • Barry

    CVD: “Just in case this doesn’t work out, I’d point out that Thiel and Friedman don’t have to get a large number of people to leave the US to make their plans work. The US and other old democracies rely increasingly on fewer and fewer people to provide more and more of their revenue. If alternative countries could get just enough of these people to leave, the ability of current governments to maintain their financial viability would be severely limited.”

    So far, the government which seems to be winning that competition is the USA. After that, it’d probably be the EU.

  • nicklaw

    If a legal procedure produces consistently bad substantive results, there is something wrong with that procedure. Liberty has been eroding for so many decades now in Western democracies that there must be something profoundly wrong with those democracies themselves. There must be something wrong in their basic procedures, in the way they make and enforce laws. The problem may be allowing laws to be made by the voting of ignorant masses who pay few or no taxes. Or the problem might lie in some other characteristic of modern democracies. But to not question the basic aspects of our governments after so much decay of liberty is not a libertarian position. You cannot “like democracy just fine”, at least not democracy as we know it, and be a libertarian.

    There are a wide vast variety of alternatives to modern democracies other than pure anarcho-capitalism — Wilkinson’s false choice between just these two alternatives is a red herring.

  • Vaishyatva

    “If libertarians are going to shift the politics of the countries we live in, we’ve got to get it through our thick skulls that many people have considered libertarian ideas and have rejected them for all sorts of decent reasons.”

    For most people, that reason is rational ignorance. What’s irrational is to treat that ignorance as if represented an intelligent opinion. I believe the RZA said it best, “March of the wooden soldiers / C-cypher punks couldn’t hold us / A thousand men rushing in, not one ninja was sober”.

  • T’Rul

    I agree that the problem is cultural. I’m not going to lie, I’m personally open to the ideas of libertarianism, but it’s not approachable at all as an organization, even though it would seem the opposite. I think the last paragraph of this article is golden. I have yet to meet a libertarian who didn’t convey an arrogant, super-white, affluent, suburban male vibe, complete with the pie-in-the-sky impression that he’s made all his daddy’s money himself and he’ll be damned if the government is going to tax him and not let him smoke his hydro in the open. I’m not saying all libertarians are like that, but those have been the kind of encounters I have had.

    • uknowbetter

      Most of the libertarians I know are middle-class or their parents were. They had to work for their money and want to keep more of it. Those I know who are wealthier tend to be limousine liberals…they don’t care about higher taxes because they have so much money it doesn’t matter to them anyways.

  • nicklaw

    WW writes: “Extending the franchise to women is, in my estimation, one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition.”

    WW has a fetish for voting that is beyond all rationality. Women’s property laws were and are a far greater source of liberty for women than the almost useless right to vote.

  • nobody.really

    I suspect Thiel and Wilkinson are both looking at the same elephant, but describing different ends.

    Democracy is not the same thing as libertarianism, and at the margin it makes sense that the expansion of any one system may coincide with the contraction of the other. That said, Thiel argues that expanding democracy to include women coincided with the decline of the appeal of libertarian policies. Wilkinson rejects the idea that expanding democracy would cause the decline of libertarianism.

    In the abstract, I see no reason to think that libertarianism would be less popular with a voting population of 100 million than with a voting population of 50 million. But when we look at things less abstractly, I think I see a pattern. And no, gender is not the explanatory variable; power is. There are two unstated dynamics at play here: Powerful people already vote, and libertarianism is a superior good.

    1. Powerful people already vote. Ever since Magna Carta, we observe that the next group to gain the franchise is the next most powerful group that didn’t already have the franchise. That is, within any population, the franchise is skewed toward the powerful. The choice to expand access to the ballot is not merely a choice to add names to the voting rolls, therefore; it’s a choice to dilute the voting strength of the powerful.

    2. Libertarianism is a superior good. I mean that in the economic sense – within broad limits, libertarianism becomes more appealing to people as they get richer. Poor immigrants have tended to embrace collectivist policies; as they have grown richer, they and their children have grown less attached to such policies. In the abstract, expanding the voting rolls should have no bearing on the relative appeal of libertarian policies to the voting public at large. But expanding the voting rolls in a manner that dilutes the voting strength of the rich WOULD reduce the appeal of libertarian policies to the voting public at large.

    Bottom line: Wilkinson is right. There’s nothing necessarily inconsistent with expanding the franchise and libertarianism. The inconsistency is with POVERTY/WEAKNESS and libertarianism. To the extent that we can adopt policies that bolster the wealth and power of people of all demographics, then people of all demographics will be better positioned to appreciate what libertarianism has to offer.

    But Thiel is also right. If your goal is to promote libertarianism through democratic means, you have a strategic interest in keeping the vote in the hands of the relatively rich and powerful. Consider international institutions. The World Bank and IMF tend to be controlled by affluent nations, and (in recent years) these institutions have tended to clamp down on the behavior of recipient nations, imposing structural reforms and promoting transparency. The UN is arguably a more “democratic” institution, but hasn’t seemed quite as interested in promoting such reforms.

  • CatoTheYounger

    Good lord, Mencius owned you badly.

  • terry_freeman

    If a modern rational liberal must support democracy, one must at least acknowledge the “public choice” research which shows that democracy is not very good at delivering what people really want. One need not be very libertarian to believe that the government is too big, too intrusive, and too inefficient – and that’s the way democracy tends to work; it tends to reward “rent seekers” and to punish those who just want to be left alone.

    We should admit that democracy is not a perfect ideal; it was merely the best effort to replace the previous “best practice” form of government, which was monarchy.

    We should be extremely wary of “public choice” arguments for government to usurp goods and services which can be and have been provided by voluntary arrangements. The interests of the government are seldom coincident with the interests of the individual.