Voting With Your Mind

It is often said, generally by libertarians, that to determine true preferences one must observe behaviors, not just rely on words. We, of course, refer to this as "voting with your feet." A bunch of left-liberals may say they're going to Canada or Europe, where life is better, but in fact, more people make the trip in the other direction.

I wonder if we could determine the movement of people among political philosophies. What I'm getting at is this - I often read about people who espoused various political beliefs, generally of a statist variety, until some point in their life where they saw things differently. I remember reading Johan Norberg write eloquently about this in the prologue to In Defense of Global Capitalism. In his younger days he was a socialist anarchist, but now he finds himself among the forefront of classical liberal scholars.

It seems most people philosophically immigrate in a similar direction. I don't know or have read a single person who resided in the libertarian region of the map only to become an advocate of greater state power. So I have two questions.

Is this phenomenon real? Do more people become libertarian than leave it behind? Or is this simply not true; a personal sampling bias, an artifact of the fact I read mostly (but not all) libertarian writings and debate with similar-minded folks? Or is an artifact of some other bias altogether?

If it is real, what are some hypotheses for it? A few I could throw out there:

  • It's a function of most people worldwide being brought up under state education where the state is revered. No body becomes statist because we're all statists to begin with. We can only move away from it.
  • It's a function of education. To understand arguments for libertarian policies often requires advanced economic reasoning that is not intuitive. The family is an authoritarian unit, and so it is not at all aparent to a growing young lad or lass that humans, left to their own devices, will build a healthy society based on cooperation. It takes a lot of history and economics to learn that this is true and, more importantly, why this is true.


Update: I ask this question in a much simpler form down in the comments: Is libertarianism a "sticky" philosophy; especially relative to state socialism?

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I think it's mostly a

I think it's mostly a personal sampling bias. Libertarians tend to spend much of their time talking with other libertarians, and of this group, some used to be not-libertarians. If we spent most of our time talking with not-libertarians, we would notice those who move in the other direction more frequently than we do now.

For what it's worth, I've run across a handful of ex-libertarians online.

I don't doubt the likelihood

I don't doubt the likelihood of that possibiltiy, but I just would think that out of all the maistream liberal and consevatives that I know and read, at least one of them would be an ex-libertarian.

I guess this is all a spin on the old observation that most people are liberals when they're young, and conservative when they're old.

I believe Congressman Dana

I believe Congressman Dana Rohrbacher used to be a radical libertarian. Ralph Raico claims the same thing about George Will. I'm sure if I dig hard enough I can come up with more.

But that itself is some evidence, albeit anecdotal and biased, in favor of your claim. I have a much easier time thinking of people who have moved towards liberty than away from it.

Additional anacdotal

Additional anacdotal evidence: Alan Greenspan, Objectivist in the 60's, some of his writings made it into Rand's books.
Look at him now.:end:

I think it's mathematical

I think it's mathematical bias, thus:

- There are lots of statists, but few libertarians.
- Most people start out statist.
- X percent of any political persuasion changes their mind.
- X percent of statists dwarfs the population of born libertarians.
- therefore most libertarians were once statists.
- X percent of libertarians is Bob, in Dead Tree, Kansas.
- you have probably never met Bob
- Therefore very few statists were formerly libertarians.

For what it is worth, my

For what it is worth, my wife self-identifies with Democratic Socialists, and I am a libertarian (yeah, I know). Over the course of the last nine years we've been together, I've noticed that she is sounding more and more libertarian in her approaches to government and government-run programs. I have even heard her go so far as to comment that some free-market approaches make sense. :idea:
She still has some pretty wacky ideas, but they are slowly being erroded in the face of reason and an increasingly repressive and non-representational government. I think that so long as we keep getting "choices" like Bush/Kerry, she will keep sliding more and more in the direction of liberty. I imagine that others are heading this way, also, but I don't have personal experience with that.
Maybe bad government - and inevitably it all seems to become bad government - makes libertarians?

Well, as my friend always

Well, as my friend always tells me sometimes, all it will take for me to join the left-wing is for my job to be "outsourced" and my health insurance to disappear.

Of course I find this absurd, and have enough confidence in the strength of my beliefs and personal detachment that I don't believe I'd change my entire worldview based on temporary circumstances...

But I imagine circumstances could affect some folks in "adverse" ways.

As for "voting your preference by your actions," I took a federal school loan, so maybe despite the rhetoric, when the chips are down I'm just your average statist.

I think the "Anal

I think the "Anal Philosopher" Keith Burgess-Jackson was once a libertarian but now calls himself a conservative.

I think that it's largely a

I think that it's largely a matter of numbers.

When libertarians do turn back into advocates of greater govt, I have noticed anecdotally that it is usually the ones who come from the moral side of the argument. It's moral philosophy that leads them to libertarian ideas. They eventually decide that while their morals are fine 'in theory', in practice, they lead to unpleasant outcomes that are 'impractical'.

However, the ones who come to libertarianism from consequential arguments are more likely to stick with it. They realize that libertarian policies result in widely shared preferred outcomes.

Jonathan, How many people do


How many people do you know that say that they like libertarianism in theory, but that it wouldn't work? It is a shame, they'll say, that we have such extensive agricultural subsidies, but the results of removing them are unacceptable for one or more reason out of some long list. Or what if the FCC really did disappear?

What I've noticed is that many people are on the margins of libertarianism morally speaking, but turn away based on consequences (sometimes real, sometimes supposed).

How many people do you know

How many people do you know that say that they like libertarianism in theory, but that it wouldn’t work? It is a shame, they’ll say, that we have such extensive agricultural subsidies, but the results of removing them are unacceptable for one or more reason out of some long list. Or what if the FCC really did disappear?

Quite a few. Another example is the FDA. I think drug evaluation should be privatized rather than be relegated to a monopoly, and that people should be able to evaluate drug risks themselves or hire someone to do so before taking any drug they desire. Most people I talk to think that will lead to the entire nation turning into drug addicts, millions dying of side effects, and the usual 'chaos'.

The prevailing political ideas in the media and culture are anti-libertarian. The stuff they teach in school and the way they teach it is deeply anti-libertarian. So while moral arguments by themselves appeal to intuition, consequential arguments are more powerful IMO to solidify beliefs.

For the record, I came to

For the record, I came to libertarianism pretty much solely for moral reasons, and I'm not going back.

I have come across countless examples of staunch socialists becoming libertarian. I'm searching for an example of changing extremes in the other direction.

In short, is libertarianism a "sticky" philosophy?

I'm not a Werner Airhead

I'm not a Werner Airhead fan, but he did say something interesting once. theres information that 1. you know you know, 2. information you know you don't know, and 3. information that you don't even know you don't know. its #3 that turns the light bulb on above your head and your never the same once you have the knowledge epiphany. to me, that explains why there are so few feral libertarians, once you see reason you can't go back. unless your a ladder climbing Magoo-esque socoiopath like Greenspan but they're the extreme outliers.(outliars?)