The Coming Libertarian Majority

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Okay, not really.  But this is at least encouraging:

A quarter century after the Reagan revolution and a dozen years after Republicans vaulted into control of Congress, a new CNN poll finds most Americans still agree with the bedrock conservative premise that, as the Gipper put it, "government is not the answer to our problems—government is the problem."

The poll released Friday also showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans perceive, correctly, that the size and cost of government have gone up in the past four years, when Republicans have had a grip on the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.

[…]

Queried about their views on the role of government, 54 percent of the 1,013 adults polled said they thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 37 percent said they thought the government should do more to solve the country's problems.

David Boaz, call your office.

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  1. This one from McCain is rich though:
    “Conservatives came to office to reduce the size of government and enlarge the sphere of free and private initiative,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. “But lately, we have increased government in order to stay in office.”

  2. YAY!!!! We have PREVIEW!!!

    Not that I will use it, but still.

  3. What of the point Matthew Yglesias made on his blog, that people almost always think that government is too big in the abstract, but also almost never think government is too big when it comes to cutting particlur programs?

  4. Precisely. Libertarianism is dependent on people being rational actors. People aren’t. That’s why we’ll always be in the minority.

  5. “The Coming Libertarian Majority…” of Hit and Run commentators?

    I could buy that. 😉

  6. Libertarianism is dependent on people being rational actors.

    Big “L” libertarians are some of the least rational people I’ve met.

    And it’s not entirely irrational to support large government if it’s in one’s self interest.

  7. Fair enough…but it’s the particular instance of irrationality where voters want smaller government except for what benefits them, and get together and agree to grow everything instead, that sinks us.

  8. It’s the same phenomenon that allows people to decry Congress, but re-elect their own scoundrel. There is no coming libertarian majority.

  9. Precisely. Libertarianism is dependent on people being rational actors. People aren’t. That’s why we’ll always be in the minority.

    I don’t know about that. The invisible hand falls on the good and the foolish alike.

    …I think Objectivism may be dependent on rational actors, which is I didn’t consider it for long. Going about trying to make everyone rational seemed an irrational way to go about it.

  10. And, as others have noted, the current Republican majority not only believes government is the problem, they’ve proved it.

  11. but it’s the particular instance of irrationality where voters want smaller government except for what benefits them
    Welcome to the wonderful world of Public Choice theory.

    Oh, and good riddance, squirrels.

  12. It is precisely the lack of rational actors that is holding up production of the Atlas Shrugged movie.

  13. jb, it is completely rational, on the individual level, to want to cut everyone else’s goodies but your own. Although on a larger scale, you are correct.

    Another of this phenomenon would be people who move to exurbs and drive 2 hours to work because they want cleaner air and water.

    And, of course, there are all of those shepherds overgrazing the common in the name of their economic futures.

    It is this disconnect, the ability of a series of rational decisions to add up to an irrational outcome, that explains why people support a government that restrains their choices – because it restrains everybody else’s choices, too, and in doing so, promotes what all of those individuals want to achieve.

  14. “It is this disconnect, the ability of a series of rational decisions to add up to an irrational outcome, that explains why people support a government that restrains their choices – because it restrains everybody else’s choices, too, and in doing so, promotes what all of those individuals want to achieve.”

    The main problem with the reality of that concept being the simple fact that most people don’t understand (or don’t care about) the difference between internalized and externalized effects.

    If you wish to justify government intrusion by calling out this disconnect, I think it’s extremely important to highlight the distinction between the rationality of centrally controlling externalized effects, and the irrationality of centrally controlling internalized effects, or even those actions that have no recognizable effects at all.

    Also, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely rational to want to “cut everyone else’s goodies but your own”, given the whole “do unto others” principle.

  15. It is this disconnect, the ability of a series of rational decisions to add up to an irrational outcome, that explains why people support a government that restrains their choices

    It is this disconnect, the ability of a series of rational decisions about government to add up to an irrational outcome, that explains why government bites.

    You have discovered the metapublic goods problem.

  16. because it restrains everybody else’s choices, too, and in doing so, promotes what all of those individuals want to achieve.

    To give a bit more detail, you are trying to excuse government on public goods grounds. Yet the portion of government effort that goes toward the solving of actual public goods issues is pathetically small. So small, in fact, that it should make one question whether it is simply cheaper to live with the public goods problems than it is to pay for the government that supposedly exists to solve them.

  17. Don’t tax you, don’t tax me; tax the fellow behind the tree. – Sen. Russell Long

    Sen. Long’s aphorism works if you replace “tax” with “cut the programs important to”, also. Many of us know this, already, having a passing acquaintence with the Real World, or having read Buchanan on public choice economics.

    What continues to vex is that, if you broke the polled into focus groups, and asked them where, in particular, the government had grown, everyone would have different areas of concern. Some would insist that their favorite programs, which have actually grown, had been cut, and the funds transferred to something else they didn’t care for. Many folks are convinced that “the schools” are short of money, when per pupil expenditures on K-12 and post-secondary education by government continues to rise faster than inflation. Wants, if not needs, are infinite, while revenues aren’t.

    The non-fiscal growth of government, such as regulations imposed on our behavior, grows apace, too. People may say they don’t want that growth, either, but they keep voting for it.

    Kevin

  18. Evan!

    Good post!

    Can you give me an example of a regulation that controls purely internal effects?

    Mike P,

    I have discovered – though only in the way Columbus discovered America – that the public goods problem can be found in different venues than is often considered.

    I suppose “pathetically small” is overwrought but someone accurate. Certainly the details are up for debate. Still, that is what people generally want out of the government.

  19. “Can you give me an example of a regulation that controls purely internal effects?”

    How about The Controlled Substances Act?

  20. Maybe in Montana.

  21. The problem is that neither party has any interest in smaller government and greater influence of private enterprise – to say nothing of individual freedom.

    At the top of the thread, someone quoted John McCain. The poster boy for politicians trampling on freedom to maintain their positions of power.

    The Libertarian party is a farce. If they focused on core issues of individual freedom and dropped legalizing heroin from their platform, more of America would be willing to listen..

  22. The Libertarian party is a farce. If they focused on core issues of individual freedom and dropped legalizing heroin from their platform, more of America would be willing to listen..

    ?

    If what an individual chooses to put in the individual’s own body isn’t a “core issue of individual freedom,” then what the hell is?

  23. When Bush ran for reelection, he ran against gay marriage and for war in Iraq. He was reelected. Had he run on the libertarian goals of, say, privatizing Social Security and open borders, his true second term agenda, he would not have been reelected. Social Security reform was smashed because blue collar voters trust government more than they do Wall Street and a howl of populist fury ended ‘comprehensive immigration reform’. Kinda shows that libertarian goals flatly do not sell to people who aren’t affluent.

    In a nation of two child families people will look to the state to take care of them in their dotage. That will never change because dotage IS dependence. There is nothing rugged individualist about it.

  24. Re: Stephen Macklin | October 30, 2006, 8:58pm

    You’re exactly correct. If the LP and libertarians in general cared less about advancing individual liberty they would find a wider audience and be more electable.

    And that’s absolutely terrifying.

  25. The Libertarian party is a farce. If they focused on core issues of individual freedom and dropped legalizing heroin from their platform, more of America would be willing to listen..

    Actually, I don’t know of many Libertarian candidates that have placed all that much emphasis on legalizing drugs. And I suspect their lack of success has more to do with the mechanics of our electoral system favoring a 2 party system than the platforms of the various 3rd parties.

    In any event, I don’t support the Libertarians because I necessarily agree with everything they propose, I support them because between the 2 major parties, the cause of liberty has apparently gotten the short end of the stick, and I’d like to see a champion for those interests have a place at the table. I don’t demand that they necessarily always get the last word, I’d just like have their proposals getting a fair hearing and due consideration in fair competition with the more conventional conservative and liberal approaches. Even I don’t want to see them win every issue.

  26. I understand why libertarianism has never caught on. What I don’t understand is why the coalitions didn’t form up in a way that we’d get Republican economics (still sucky, but once upon a time not so bad, i.e. mid 1990’s) and Democratic social issues (nothing great, but better than the authoritarian and theocratic strands in the GOP). Such a party would, of course, be completely unacceptable to many self-described libertarians, but it would be indisputably better than either of the major parties that we have at the moment. Such a party could probably enjoy significant support from the American center, and more ideological libertarians could find a home in that party as core-supporters.

    It’s a shame that neither major party went down that road.

  27. That’s because the “center” is not Republican economics and Democratic social mores, it’s precisely the other way around. Observe that when the government changes hands, no one repeals anything — they just go about imposing their favorite half of totalitarianism.

  28. What I don’t understand is why the coalitions didn’t form up in a way that we’d get Republican economics (still sucky, but once upon a time not so bad, i.e. mid 1990’s) and Democratic social issues (nothing great, but better than the authoritarian and theocratic strands in the GOP).

    Well, I think I might have a partial answer to that. Consider how a function such as providing for yourself in your old age was handled prior to government arrogating that function to itself: usually, you’d be reliant on an extended traditional family for support, the solution favored by social conservatives. The liberals instead offered programs such as Social Security, which replaced reliance on the extended family with reliance on the state.

    Libertarians, OTOH, having neither much regard for the state nor traditional institutions, offer us what might be called the Religious Solution: Have Faith In The Market! The Market Shall Provide!

    Not many people are interested in a faith-based retirement plan.

    This may also explain the historical alliance of anti-state libertarians with traditionalist conservatives – if you’re going to take away from the state social functions which must be performed, you have to replace them with something. The logical place to start looking for a replacement in lieu of the state performing them is to consider how they were performed prior to the state’s involvement.

    I suspect that a society with a truely limited government would be fairly socially conservative largely out of necessity.

  29. Libertarians, OTOH, having neither much regard for the state nor traditional institutions,

    Is that so? I have a family and I’m libertarian. I have no problem with extended families or voluntary social organizations, which I suppose is what you mean by traditional institutions. In fact, i blame government, as you do, for substituting itsself for these voluntary social organizations. So why do you make such a claim?

  30. hallelujah! It works as advertised.
    Quick posting, tags, and it remembered me.
    Yay!

  31. So why do you make such a claim?

    Because I read Reason.

    Allow me to modify that – some libertarians have little regard for traditional institutions. And those are the kind that are cutting themselves off at the knees – they don’t like the state, and they don’t like the voluntary associations and institutions that have generally substituted in lieu of state intervention, either (religious affiliations, traditional families, ethnic loyalties, loyalty to a shared set of values, etc. – all the “spontaneous orders” that people have traditionally formed, and that are guaranteed to get the hankies a-waivin’ here on Hit & Run). So what do they like, and what are they offering?

  32. Farmer Joel Salatin has an interesting take on this whole “government is the problem” thing, at http://www.acresusa.com/toolbox/reprints/Salatin_Sept03.pdf.

    “Everything I want to do is Illegal!”

  33. Funny, it wasn’t all that long ago that Americans didn’t expect the government to be their mommy and protect them from hurting themselves, or to be their daddy and give them a nice little allowance.

    Can’t blame the pusher man when you grow your own addiction, I guess.

  34. Allow me to modify that – some libertarians have little regard for traditional institutions. And those are the kind that are cutting themselves off at the knees – they don’t like the state, and they don’t like the voluntary associations and institutions that have generally substituted in lieu of state intervention, either (religious affiliations, traditional families, ethnic loyalties, loyalty to a shared set of values, etc. – all the “spontaneous orders” that people have traditionally formed, and that are guaranteed to get the hankies a-waivin’ here on Hit & Run). So what do they like, and what are they offering?

    It doesn’t matter what institutions libertarians “like”. They believe people have the right to join and participate in any institution their heart desires.

    I don’t like or dislike family. If you want a close relationship with yours, fine. If you’d rather spend your holidays at wild sex orgies that’s cool too.

    By the way, I was doing community service for a drunk driving offense the other day and had to work for some enviornmental group. I got into an argument with some girl who was advocating a universal minimum wage among other things. After arguing with her for a while that people were responsible for their own lives and other shocking prepositions she said I was what wrong with America and that most Americans agreed with me.

    I told her the American public had a better track record making choices then liberal intellectuals. That shut her up .

  35. I told her the American public had a better track record making choices then liberal intellectuals. That shut her up .

    Unfortunately, one of the choices the American public makes is voting for minimum wage laws, among other things.

    Minimum wage laws are not exactly something foisted on us by liberal intellectuals, they have very broad appeal.

    Two thirds of Florida’s voters approved the minimum wage initiative in the last election. About the same percentage that approved the parental notification law.

    My guess is that about the same percentage will approve a gay marriage ban when it comes up.

    My prescription for a successfull political strategy is to advocate replacing the US Constitution with the Book of Leviticus and promising that anyone can go to the doctor for free any time he wants to.

  36. Because it appears to me that that’s what everybody really wants.

    Except us nutcase libertarians, that is.

  37. Unfortunately, one of the choices the American public makes is voting for minimum wage laws, among other things.

    I said the American public has a better record than liberal intellectuals (in other words, the Khmer Rouge and Ward Churchills of the world) not that they were perfect.

    Collectivism seems to appeal more to human nature as general rule than individuality. It sucks but I think its pretty much fact. America has throughout its history been less susceptible to it then most, and that is the basis of our success.

    Minimum wage laws are not exactly something foisted on us by liberal intellectuals, they have very broad appeal.

    Yeah, but if congress was run by the faculty of Harvard the minnimum wage would be $15 an hour.

    I get your point, but by and large the American public has been right.

    My prescription for a successfull political strategy is to advocate replacing the US Constitution with the Book of Leviticus and promising that anyone can go to the doctor for free any time he wants to.

    Humans suck. In politics you take what you can get. I don’t remember the Constitution party being very successful in the last election, though.

  38. Isaac’s last couple of posts were depressing, but they ring true.

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