Declaration of Independents

FrumForum's Ken Silber on Declaration of Independents: "much to contemplate" but "are greenhouse gas emissions just high-carbon experiments in living?"


Over at the FrumForum, Kennth Silber (a Reason contributor over the years; read his archive here), gives Matt Welch and my The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (buy now!) a respectful though mixed review. Here's some snippets:

A sizable chunk of the book is devoted to "case studies in making life richer, weirder, and better" over the past 40-odd years, ranging from Czech rockers undermining the Soviet Empire, to Southwest Airlines toppling airline regulations, to Fred Eckhardt's 1970 pamphlet on then-illegal home beermaking paving the way for a thriving craft brew industry. The authors celebrate the maverick career of baseball statistics whiz Bill James as an example of the demise of the mid-20th century organization-man ethos of conforming to some big institution and staying there for decades. They applaud Tiger Woods for bucking ethnic categories by calling himself a "Cablinasian."

It's no accident that some of the case studies have little to do with politics. This book, its authors proclaim, is not just a manifesto for independents in politics but also for independence from politics — for shrinking the political realm so more of our lives can benefit from the choice and innovation that government stifles….

I would have been interested, however, to see Gillespie and Welch actually address some "hard choices," delving into areas where they see exceptions or ambiguities in the application of their guidelines (or where they accept unpalatable outcomes for the sake of holding to them). The book tends not to get into such matters. There's no analysis, for instance, of whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act was warranted in its limitations on property rights (I say yes; Ron Paul says no).  To choose another unaddressed issue, might some government action to  limit the risks of climate change be justified, or are greenhouse gas emissions just high-carbon experiments in living?…

I hope The Declaration of Independents receives a wide audience, promoting the relatively benign version of libertarianism sketched out by Gillespie and Welch.

Part of Silber's review delves into why he hasn't contributed to the magzine or website since 2007. To be totally honest, I don't know why, though I know it couldn't have been that Ken "had failed some ideological purity test" (if only because such a test would reduce Reason to nearly zero contributors). There's no question we disagree about certain things, but that's not really here nor there. He does talk about communications going dark in "late 2007," which corresponds to my moving over to and Matt Welch taking over the mag, so responsiveness to his queries may well have been a victim of transitional sloppiness.

Personally, I don't think that the 1964 Civil Rights Act is a particularly pressing issue in contemporary America, though I note that to the extent it countered other government actions at the state and local levels, it's hardly the demonic incursion on otherwise inviolate property rights some critics say it was (for various Reason pieces on the subject, go here). Silber's line about greenhouse gases and high-carbon experiments in living is a good one, and I recommend folks to Lynn Scarlett's great 1996 piece on "Evolutionary Ecology," which sketches out how true commons problems can be conceptualized and addressed from an explicitly libertarian perspective.

This isn't the place to argue every criticism in every review, but I will say that Ken's piece provides a good summary of the book's main argument—and I certainly share his hope that Declaration gains a wide audience. 

Whole thing here.