An Appetite for Freedom Grows on Campus

Old politicians and old voters may never change their minds. But libertarianism grows fastest among the young.

On Saturday, some 1,500 students from all over the world gathered to discuss freedom at the Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C.

Economist Donald Boudreaux showed the students a department store catalog from 1958 to underscore how the free market, while contributing to income inequality, also dramatically improved the lives of the poor: "The typical American worker back then had to work 30 hours to buy this vacuum cleaner. Today, a worker has to work only six hours to buy a much better vacuum cleaner. And that's true for clothing, food, all sorts of things."

That's how free markets work: quietly, gradually improving things. That doesn't always appeal to impatient young people—or to radical old people who fancy themselves social engineers who should shape the world.

Such social engineering is revered on campuses. A student from Quebec complained that economists about whom his fellow students learn are "Keynesians, who believe that breaking windows is good for the economy, or neoclassicals, who believe in unrealistic assumptions like perfect competition and perfect information."

If there were a part of America for which the American students at this conference felt a special pride, it was the Constitution. "The Constitution of the United States is a promise about how government power will be used," Timothy Sandefur, author of "The Conscience of the Constitution," told them. "A promise was left to us by a generation who lived under tyrannical government and decided they needed a framework that would preserve the blessings of liberty."

These students appreciated that inheritance, although they said the Constitution is rarely discussed at their schools. They surprised me by knowing the correct answer to my question: How often is the word "democracy" used in the Constitution?

Answer: never. The founders understood that democracy may bring mob rule—tyranny of a majority. So the Constitution focuses on restricting government—to secure individual liberty.

If anything, these students were stauncher in their defense of liberty than the Founders.

Kelly Kidwell, a sophomore from Tulane University, said, "Regardless of what its intent was, we still have the (big) government that we have now—so the Constitution has either provided for that government, or failed to prevent it."

That's an argument that libertarian economist Murray Rothbard used to make. He took the pessimistic view that the Constitution's "limited government" was an experiment that had already failed, since 200 years later, government was barely limited at all. He concluded that libertarians should be not just constitutionalists but anarchists—get rid of government completely.

That idea sounds extreme to me, and to some libertarians at the conference—not to mention the few pro-big-government speakers, like movie director Oliver Stone. But I'm happy that students ask those sorts of questions rather than wondering which regulations to pass, what to tax and whom to censor for "insensitive" speech.

Even in an audience filled with libertarians, there were unsettled issues and divisive questions. Some students and speakers sounded a lot like the campus leftists who complain about "privilege." Others sounded conservative and sought guidance from their religion.

I think this diversity is a good sign for the future of libertarian ideas. There are many ways for free people to live and to accomplish their goals—and as these students learned, the most important thing is not to assume that government has the answer to the questions.

Students for Liberty's website says: " ... this is the most libertarian generation. The millennial generation is more social, organized and receptive to liberty, but also the most punished by the economic misconduct of older generations."

Old politicians and old voters may never change their minds. But libertarianism grows fastest among the young, and so groups like Students for Liberty give me hope. Those young people sure know more about liberty that I did when I was their age.

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  • Hyperion||

    Apparently, these students are not receiving the proper state approved edumencation. Needz MOAR tax dollars for edumencation.

  • Raven Nation||

    1-0 USA

  • Hugh Akston||

    I assume you mean the government is beating us? True, but we'll come back in the second inning.

  • Raven Nation||

    Sorry, I was-probably unnecessarily-posting the hockey score. Now 2-1.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "Others sounded conservative and sought guidance from their religion."

    That's kind of vague. Does this mean the quoted the Declaration of Independence or Washington's Farewell Address?

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Maybe this is the Christian panel cited by William of Purple's link.

  • wareagle||

    I just want to know if these folks and their "unsettled issues and divisive answers" understand that there is a difference between a person holding an opinion and that same person wanting govt to force that opinion on everyone else.

    Then again, we're in a nation that allegedly believes in freedom and liberty, yet govt can toss you in jail for willingly putting certain things into your own body. If self-ownership is in question, liberty has already lost.

  • Sevo||

    "I just want to know if these folks and their "unsettled issues and divisive answers" understand that there is a difference between a person holding an opinion and that same person wanting govt to force that opinion on everyone else."

    Yeah, it seems the people wanting "freedom" really want "freedom" from paying their student loans.

  • FreeToFear||

    Technically they don't criminalize the use, just the possession - not that that makes it justified, but it does preserve (if in name only) the ownership question

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Which of these things is not like the other?

    Speakers & Sessions

    Oliver Stone - Academy Award Winning Director
    Justin Amash - U.S. Congressmen, MI – 3
    Thomas Massie - U.S. Congressmen, KY – 4
    Jeremy Scahill – National Security Correspondent at The Nation & author of Dirty Wars
    John Allison - President & CEO of the Cato Institute
    Radley Balko - Washington Post
    Jeffrey Tucker - CEO of Liberty.me
    Kennedy – The Independents, Fox Business
  • Tony||

    "That's how free markets work: quietly, gradually improving things."

    Except when they don't.

    Selling arms to both sides of a conflict doesn't improve anything but is not only perfectly tolerable in a free market but a pretty clever way to make money.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Those damn Soviets with their free marketeers and AK-47s.

  • Bean Counter||

    So, letting the government decide which side to sell arms to would be better? That way we could assure that the "right" side slaughtered the "wrong" side. Mass slaughter is better than people defending themselves....right?

  • Tony||

    Just challenging Stossel's fairy tale bullshit that the free market naturally improves things.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    But the unfree market, now that's something to behold.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|2.19.14 @ 12:40PM|#
    "Just challenging Stossel's fairy tale bullshit that the free market naturally improves things."

    No, dipshit, posting strawmen is not "challenging" anything.
    You're merely confirming your ignorance.

  • Free Society||

    Just challenging Stossel's fairy tale bullshit that the free market naturally improves things.

    Tony's 3 step process to improve quality of life of everyone.

    1) Violence

    2) Top Men

    3) More Violence

  • Combat Missionary||

    How's that computer working out for you? Good thing Big Government was there to make sure it got invented and to issue you one.

  • wareagle||

    selling to both sides has value to both the seller and the buyers. So, it would appear that all three have seen improvement in their conditions.

  • Tony||

    No, there's an arms race, which is not an improvement on "things" but a waste of resources and lives for the two sides, only improving things for the seller.

  • wareagle||

    it's not your job to determine what is a waste of resources when two or more parties choose to enter a contract for an exchange of goods for payment. Doesn't matter if it's an arms race, the desire for a new car, or anything else.

    The buyers in your scenario are also improved since losing an arms race tends to end badly.

  • Tony||

    Standard-issue libertarian question begging. An arms race (real and metaphorical) is by definition a waste of resources. The winner is going to be whoever doesn't run out of resources first.

  • wareagle||

    what bullshit. You're the one who brought up the straw man of an arms race as your default example. As long as someone wants resources, regardless of what they are, another party will attempt to fill that need. It's how things work, Tony.

  • Tony||

    But it doesn't necessarily make "things" better. It could very plausibly make "things" worse. It's Stossel, man. He's like professor of libertarian magical thinking for kindergarteners. And you're his prize pupil, I suppose.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|2.19.14 @ 1:21PM|#
    "But it doesn't necessarily make "things" better. It could very plausibly make "things" worse."

    These are words from the English language, but the grammar and syntax are from somewhere else.
    Are you trying to avoid gagging on being caught lying again?

  • Combat Missionary||

    His supervisor at the NSA didn't check his grammar and syntax yet. Just stand by.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Im sure it makes the things better, if i had a contract to sell you 1000 AK47s a year for 10 years, i could afford research to improve my design and make it cheaper thus pumping high quality firearms into a market at a fraction of the cost of resources as they had been... if you're talking about living conditions why don't you ask a Jew how life in Nazi germany was when the government in its noble and loving grace banned them from buying firearms.

    Guns protect those who cannot protect themselves just as well as it gives a tyrant a stick to subjugate the masses, your logic is failed and has been smashed by the hard cock of liberty

  • Sevo||

    ..."The winner is going to be whoever doesn't run out of resources first."

    Yeah, because the war between Ford and Toyota is won by...
    Tell me again about how companies go to war with each other.

  • Tony||

    There are a hundred other possible examples of market failures--things that exist in the real world, but not in the one libertarians think they live in.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Citations please, or a link. Please if you have any of this magical information about how a true free market has ever hurt a society I would like to see it.

    yes market failures happen every day its the consequence of a massive bloated leviathan for government but the free market is infallible (unless your a whiny prog-iliberal in it for the good feelz which have no marketable value)

  • Tonio||

    Vic, Vic, Vic - you're new here, right? Tony is a troll. Your time to waste, if you so choose.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Yeah a little new, I doubt hes a troll, i have Eng Soc friends, he seems to be on par for their distorted view of government and how it operates.

  • Tony||

    There's always going to be a government, so any example of a market failure I could cite (say, the 2008 crash), you'd just blame on the nearest government agency. It's bullshit but it seems to work for you.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|2.19.14 @ 4:31PM|#
    ..."so any example of a market failure I could cite (say, the 2008 crash),"...

    Which is a lie.
    2008 showed how far a government could distort a market before causing a failure.
    Pretty damn far; the market is pretty robust. But the government kept pushing until finally, it tipped.

  • fish||

    Vic, Vic, Vic - you're new here, right? Tony is a troll. Your time to waste, if you so choose.

    Hardly a waste of time...think of phony as a rhetorical Slam-Man™. Like working the heavy bag.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|2.19.14 @ 1:42PM|#
    "There are a hundred other possible examples of market failures"

    Maybe, dipshit, but you can't seem to find a one.
    Regardless, let's talk about gov't failures; they're MUCH easier to find and MUCH more horrible:
    "MURDER BY COMMUNISM - University of Hawaii"
    [...]
    "HOW MANY DID COMMUNIST REGIMES MURDER?"
    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/COM.ART.HTM

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    Standard-issue libertarian question begging. An arms race (real and metaphorical) is by definition a waste of resources.

    Actually, when you define your conclusion as your premise, that's question begging. Like, defining an arms race as a waste of resources.

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    An arms race (real and metaphorical) is by definition a waste of resources. The winner is going to be whoever doesn't run out of resources first.

    Right. The cold war is an example of market failure.

  • Brian||

    Also, this seems to fly in the face of your standard policy of doing anything to increase aggregate demand.

    We had a cold war with a huge military build up. You've recently praises the military industrial complex for it's efficiency, as well as government spending to stimulate aggregate demand. In this case, doesn't the cold war look like a big job creation project, that boosts the economy?

    And, if private actors engaged in one, wouldn't it also be a big stimulus for the economy, all of that aggregate demand for military weapons and hardware?

    Why, suddenly now, do you act as though the finite nature of resources comes into play, and makes all of this aggregate demand seem wasteful? Don't you like economic growth?

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    The cold war was a result of the wholesale transplanting of the Gehlen organization into the nascent CIA w/o any method of verification of their claims/results. The Soviets never amounted to anything economically unless the US was giving them giant auto/truck plants as well as the raw materials to supply them.

    The Gehlen transplant and the resulting dialectical fuck-up was intentional, IMO. See Antony Sutton's (Hoover Institution) work.

  • Wandering Texan||

    Jesus fucking Christ, you are a disingenuous fuckwad. I've read some of the "debates" you engage in when the local commentors feel like slumming around with an intellectually bankrupt, paint-chip culinarian, and I've found more coherent arguments amidst homeless Pakistani refugees in Spain, and I didn't even speak either goddamn language.

    I'm not entirely certain how you can function when nearly every aspect of life in this country provides a direct example of how fucking willfully ignorant you are. I get why most people here simply ignore you and just call you a troll. The very idea that someone like you hasn't managed to die in fortunate accident before becoming "Educated" enough to type the absolute bile into a generic comment engine and press submit, flies in the face of both the Theory of Evolution and the concept of a Just and Loving God. I've met people like you in real life, and every fucking minute I've spent or been forced to spend around them has driven me a step closer to full-blown nihilism.

    Beyond me simply going into detail as to how much you disgust me, I'm also puzzled. Why in the flying fuck do you keep coming back for more? Are you some kind of emotional masochist? Do you enjoy this? Do you get off on watching people deconstruct your strawmen and your argument?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    +1

  • Tony||

    Anthropological research. As the real world spins on, the Libertarians, like Sentinelese islanders, exist in their own little isolated culture, free of the trappings of more than a century of empirical fact, perched in the ivoriest of towers wherein theory alone explains all, seemingly completely unaware of the forces at play behind the worldview they began to develop when a copy of Atlas Shrugged found its way to their pimpled faces, or of the basic contradictions at its center. The world is there, but you don't live in it. Nobody takes you seriously, but you take yourselves more seriously the less facts confirm your thoughts. In short, I'm interested in the phenomenon of cults in the modern age, but Scientologists scare me.

  • Brian||

    It's clear that libertarians occupy a lot of space in your head.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|2.19.14 @ 4:41PM|#
    "Anthropological research."
    = Tony bullshit.
    Stuff it, asshole.

  • fish||

    Anthropological research.....

    Why can't you just admit it....your presence here serves you as masturbatory stimulation.

  • Brian||

    fish:

    Why can't you just admit it....your presence here serves you as masturbatory stimulation.

    Because he believes he's mocking others, not himself.

  • ||

    As the real world spins on, the Libertarians, like Sentinelese islanders, exist in their own little isolated culture, free of the trappings of more than a century of empirical fact, perched in the ivoriest of towers wherein theory alone explains all

    Movie theaters don't project this much.

  • chmercier||

    Hmm, why don't you throw in vampires, robber barons, and Victor Frankenstein to the list of cliches?

  • VicRattlehead||

    Never read Atlas Shrugged, I have read Memoirs of the Superfluous Man, by Albert J Nock, Songs of the Doomed by Hunter S Thompson, and Days of War, Nights of Love, by ChrimethInc. these books more than anything formed my basis for my adolescent development. Been a Libertarian since I could vote because they're the only ones who champion freedom from government as their primary cause, its what I believe represents me only because there is no Minarchist party and because people like you exist and aren't even close to mentally evolved enough to live in a free society because you would probably starve or resort to criminal violence to continue stealing things from others better off than yourself since the government would no longer be doing such.

  • Tony||

    champion freedom from government as their primary cause

    What you guys seem to have a hard time grasping is that this describes a minimalist approach to freedom. As anyone who lives in a failed state knows, freedom from government isn't the only freedom people like having. Indeed it isn't a freedom most people consider worth having. Because the whole point of a well-run government is to protect from the myriad other threats to freedom that exist in the world.

    Libertarianism is a failure and it fails at the very first step if this is how you're defining it. You're not for freedom. You're for freedom from government--which is an entirely different thing.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    Yeah libertarianism is such a failure that the most libertarian countries (eg New Zealand and Switzerland) just happen to be doing better economically than everyone else in the world.

  • Reverend Draco||

    Let's take a look at your "more than a century of empirical fact," shall we?

    During the last century, well over 200 million people were murdered by governments - not counting battlefield casualties. This is the government's version of the "market" at work - My way or the "die" way.

    How do you like the Real World, troll?

  • Christophe||

    Why in the flying fuck do you keep coming back for more?

    http://www.slate.com/articles/.....pathy.html

  • OneOut||

    Yes. He enjoys it. He has posted here that he enjoys arguing.

    I think he thinks it is practice in case he ever passes the bar and gets a job. I'm not even sure he believes some of his positions, he just likes to argue.

    If I ever commit and indefensible crime I would/might hire Tony to defend me based simply upon his constantly defending the indefensible positions he takes here on Reason.

    I wouldn't expect him to win, but I stipulated an indefensible crime and his arguments might extend my period of freedom while on bail..

  • chmercier||

    Hmm, selling arms aside (which is how communist countries made much of their money), how about this for free(ish) markets vs. controlled markets?

    Trabant: the wonderfully efficient, safe, environmentally conscious car of the beautiful Democratic People's Republic of Germany:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trabant

    Chevrolet Cavalier: evil eco-killing gas capitalist death cab:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Cavalier

    Of course, you won't read them, because facts matter less than feelings. You know, just like science.

  • Tony||

    How is pointing out that the free market doesn't always result in good outcomes the same as advocating for authoritarian communism?

  • Free Society||

    Authoritarianism is always your solution. In your estimation, billions of people engaging in mutually consented and mutually beneficial commerce is an immoral thing if political institutions aren't there to obstruct the process. Then when the government subsidizes something like say, mortgages for low-income people and that bubble bursts, you blame the market.

    Your ilk actively interferes in the voluntary contracts of others, and then claim the results of your perverted incentives are because of voluntary trade.

  • Tony||

    Government subsidizing mortgages for poor people did not cause the crash. That is a right-wing lie straight from their grab-bag of lies that for some bizarre reason always end up blaming poor black people for everything.

    The financial market being too free caused the crash, and that's just the way it is.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    This isn't about poor black people dumb dumb. I live in central Florida. Ground zero of the housing bubble. Bad things happen when you flood the market with easy credit that people can't pay back, in this case alot of these people were Bush-supporting middle class morons whose votes were bought by the easy credit. Alot of nice big empty houses around here.

  • Reverend Draco||

    The financial market being too free caused the crash?
    Surely you jest!

    The financial market acted in the exact way *Government* mandated it should - then Ringo's Law kicked in, and the market crashed. . . and that's just the way it is.

    Facts are facts, no matter how often or how vehemently you deny them or wish them away.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Just how the fuck do you know so much? How do you KNOW any of your bullshit?

  • BillEverman||

    "Kelly Kidwell, a sophomore from Tulane University, said, 'Regardless of what its intent was, we still have the (big) government that we have now—so the Constitution has either provided for that government, or failed to prevent it.'

    That's an argument that libertarian economist Murray Rothbard used to make."

    Didn't Lysander Spooner say it before Rothbard or Kidwell?

  • VicRattlehead||

    It Failed to prevent it, because the tree of liberty has not been watered in over 2 centurys

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    tree of liberty has not been watered

    The last thing we need is that type extremist nonsense. Stick to civil liberties and cost-benefit analysis. People like you need to go live in the wilderness.

  • Byte Me||

    tree of liberty has not been watered

    How radically...JEFFERSONIAN...

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    More like advocating violence.

  • Reverend Draco||

    If it was good enough for Jefferson, it's good enough for me.

    Playing Possum isn't a viable alternative. Government isn't like a bear - it won't go away just because you play dead. . . Government will make certain that you really *are* dead, while yelling, "Stop resisting!"

    How radically...JEFFERSONIAN...

    Indeed.

  • VicRattlehead||

    I would love to believe that we can solve this diplomatically but eventually we will have to defend ourselves from the juggernaut of the federal government and the longer we wait the stronger the stranglehold gets.... I do live in the wilderness, and guess what theyre still fucking with me, no matter where you go they are there to steal money you rightfully earned, to force you to live their way of proscribed life or go to jail under the guise of public safety.. No I am not an extremist I'm just a step further along the road of disillusion than you I hope you catch up before its too late, or i'll see ya in the death camps bro

  • Tony||

    Why don't you see yourself to a psychiatrist first?

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    You're a conspiracy nut. This is Reason not Infowars. This isn't the place for SHAPE-SHIFTING ILLUMINATI NIBURU FREEMASON NEW WORLD ORDER (typical conspiracy nut video title on YouTube).

    I think Tony's an idiot but I agree with him this time. You need help.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Not a conspiracy nut anyways, I just want to be left the fuck alone but they don't how is that a conspiracy? You're the kind of deluded morons who didn't think they were being spied on by the government and told me to go put my aluminum hat back on when I claimed they were reading e-mails and listening to phone calls but they were.
    Japanese Internment camps were real, and a prime example of a panicky over reacting paranoid government so how are death camps a far fetched idea...
    create economic poverty, prohibit substances- this creates the criminal class, now with a new manufactured reason and boogeyman they can go after the law abiding citizens guns to prevent their created upsurge in crime, as the poverty hits harder and harder the unarmed populace starts to rebel against the armed authoritarians by stealing food and squatting in unowned homes this escalates as we have seen in countless countries... and what happens when unarmed civilians go up against heavily militarized government forces Wiemar Germany comes to mind.. but your right i should go to a government re-education center so i can unlearn history and be blissfully happy like you twits

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    I was against the Patriot Act from the beginning. Don't make assumptions.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    And just how much of what Infowars predicted five years ago has come true? Ever think about that? The govt and the Top. Men. tell you what they're going to do at least a year or two in advance. First, they ask for a capability to counter some imagined threat. If one cannot be imagined, they'll create one (tinfoil hat alert!!). Second, they'll claim that this capability will ONLY be used to combat this specific threat. Third, they'll roll it out and use it indiscriminately - see Patriot Act and the drug war. Fourth, they'll backwards rationalize everything.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    There's nothing said by Alex Jones that hasn't been said by someone else, even in the case of "breaking news". His former coworker Jeff Rense gets out the same info faster and even crazier.

    Last I checked they were pushing penis pills and pinhole glasses on their site. Oh and remember Y2K?

  • ChanningHulustoe||

    my classmate's step-aunt makes $66 /hour on the internet . She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her check was $19162 just working on the internet for a few hours. official website.....
    http://www.Jobs84.com

  • GamerFromJump||

    I call BS. Campuses were the home and genesis of Occupy and speech codes, two of the most non-libertarian concepts to rise this century. Your own magazine had a cover story about the misandrist "born suspect" nature of campus sexual conduct rules.

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