Quick Plug

I lean mostly on Patri's side of the argument though not quite as far as him. I once posted a hypothetical attempting to show how it might be possible to have a large libertarian population but statist laws. The first post is the question; the second is longer and makes my argument.

Hypothetical Question on Political Parties

Hypothetical Answer on Political Parties

What I tried to get across: The fact that Libertarians don't do well at politics doesn't mean that

  • Libertarian policians are worse at politics than other politicians
  • Libertarians don't try hard enough
  • Americans aren't libertarian. (This is one of my disagreements with Patri: America has a sizable libertarian population and culture, probably - from what I know about the rest of the world - the largest in the world.)

Rather, it's that the incentives in the political market are aligned against us.

This is just one aspect of how the political infrastructure is incompatible with libertarian policy. There are others - rational ignorance, innate biases, etc.

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Patri is right

I'm with Caplan. Polls show Americans favor statism.


Polls show Americans favor statism.

Of course. The question is how much and to what degree? I simply disagree as to what degree Americans favor statism. Since Libertarians get 1% of the vote, many people conclude that only 1% of the population holds libertarian views. That's wrong.

My thought experiment shows how it's possible to have a libertarian populace but have decidedly statist policies. Of course, if one defines "libertarian" to mean "ancap", then yeah, there's only a handful of us. But when I say "libertarian" I mean broadly socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative, and skeptical of govt power. I haven't seen the latest polls and the link at Caplan's place is dead, but I'd say based on talking to real people with real lives that these sorts make up about 20% of the population. I'm willing to bet that no other country has as high a percentage. Many of the places with a large amount of economic freedom are 1) small or 2) authoritarian (Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile). Most of the others at the top are Anglosphere countries which doesn't surprise me since English is the language of liberty. If you don't find Americans libertarian, where else are you going to turn? Latin America? Africa? Middle East? France?

I find the 20% number (again, based solely on interacting with people in my daily life over many years) very encouraging. It's tinder, action potential, etc for any technological or institutional mechanisms that allow liberty to be a private good instead its current state as a public good.

Polls show Americans favor

Polls show Americans favor the status quo.


socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative
Whenever I read that phrase I think of Michael Bloomberg.

It is doubtful that you know a representative sample of the population. Furthermore, while the U.S may be among the most libertarian countries, that doesn't mean more than 1% of the population is libertarian. Other countries could just be very, very statist. Lots of people got caught up in the "Ron Paul rEVOLution", but it ended up just being a bunch of likeminded nerds on the internet, another Snakes on a Plane. Remember Pauline Kael?

1%? Really?

Whenever I read that phrase I think of Michael Bloomberg.

Now why in the world would you think that? The guy is a tax-and-spend liberal. That's not the type of person I'm referring to.

It is doubtful that you know a representative sample of the population.

Could be. For a large chunk of my life, I lived in Virginia, a very Red state. Out of that time, I also spent a few years in the Bluest city in that state. For the last six years, I've been in the Blue northeast with a significant amount of time in Deep Blue Boston. I also work in a very statist-friendly field: medicine. But my interests outside work such as football lead me to a very differently opinionated environment.

Yet, in nearly every place/arena I spend time in, whether Red, Blue, or indifferent, I meet a large fraction of people who want laissez-faire economic policy and at the same time want the govt out of the bedroom. On any given day, I'd put that number at 1/3, but to be conservative, I'll keep with my original 20% statement. Nearly none of these people vote Libertarian. Most of them haven't even heard the word before. But when I start talking to them and letting them know that there's a philosophically consistent position that cuts across party lines, they're surprised at how much 'sense' the libertarian position makes. They still probably won't vote Libertarian for the reasons I outlined in the post above (just as in 2004, most of my co-bloggers didn't vote Libertarian). But they're culturally and tempermentally libertarian.

I'm shocked not at how socialist Boston's policies are, but how often I run into 'gun nuts' and fervent tax opposers. They're melt into the overall statist ethos, but if you look closely, they're there and periodically they end up making a lot of noise, as when they briefly catapulted Carla Howell into the limelight. Reflect for a moment that in Massachusetts, the ballot measure to end state taxes almost won, garnering 45% of the vote in 2002. In Massachusetts! Where did these tax opponents suddenly come from?

If you think that libertarians of the sort I describe - broadly fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and skeptical of govt power - make up 1% of the population at most, we can stop this discussion right here as that's a fundamental divide that no amount of back-and-forth can bridge. One of us is very wrong and very out of touch with American culture. Could be me, I admit.