Entries Tagged as 'Libertarians'

Best of FF: Were the Founders Libertarians?

David Frum December 30th, 2011 at 12:00 pm 52 Comments

As 2011 comes to a close, FrumForum plans to re-run some of our best featured pieces from the year. The piece by David Frum discusses whether or not the Founding Fathers would be recognized as libertarians.

Let me toss in my 5 cents worth on the question of whether the Founders were “libertarians.”

This seems to me a question approximately as meaningful as asking whether the Founders would have preferred Macs or PCs: it exports back into the past an entirely alien mental category.

Libertarianism fuses two ideas, one political, one psychological. The political idea is that the central state should be confined within the narrowest possible limits. The psychological idea is that each person should enjoy the widest possible scope to live as he or she thinks best.

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The Coming Rand Paul Campaign

David Frum December 26th, 2011 at 11:20 pm 70 Comments

Andrew Sullivan predicts a future Rand Paul run. Fascinating that a movement of self-proclaimed individualists would manifest itself as a dynastic cult of personality.

Before the Gold Standard

David Frum December 7th, 2011 at 4:19 pm 21 Comments

I’m very much enjoying Charles Mann’s 1493. So much of the book has deep relevance to current affairs, including this piece of monetary history on p. 135:

[In contrast to commodity money,] fiat money has no intrinsic value, and is worth something only because a government declares it is. … From a government’s point of view, commodity money is problematic, because the government does not fully control the money supply – the nation’s currency is at the mercy of random shocks. For example, at the time of [Christopher Columbus'] voyages cowry shells were used as currency from Burma to Benin. Then Europeans shipped in vast quantities of shells from the cowry-rich Maldive Islands, in the Indian Ocean. Governments throughout the region were overwhelmed. A financial system that had been in place for centuries disintegrated in a flash.

On the other hand, don’t you think there must have been some Equatorial Ron Paul fulminating against the new-fangled European innovation of shiny disc money, and insisting that if cowry shells were good enough for Benin’s Founding Fathers, they ought to be good enough for the Benin of today?

There is No Increased Inequality, Unless You Look at the Top 1%

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:30 pm 40 Comments

Shikha Dalmia writes that “Greedy Capitalists Hogging Wealth Are Not Causing Income Inequality.” In her blog post she cites the lack of significant change in the Gini index of inequality among U.S. individuals in recent years:

I’m a bit confused, because there is another famous graph from Piketty and Saez which suggests that inequality is a real phenomenon. (The graph is all over the place on the web, here’s a link from John Schmitt that I found in a quick Google image search):

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The Moral Majority Becomes the Tea Party

October 25th, 2011 at 12:53 pm 58 Comments

Rand Paul is an unlikely fundamentalist hero. He was a rebel in his days at deeply religious Baylor University, apparently forming some sort of half-sarcastic, anti-religious student group. He’s a libertarian who quotes Ayn Rand and hasn’t denied his past drug use. On culture war issues he prefers to dodge rather than charge. In many respects Paul looks like the sort of Republican that the religious right has tried to purge from the party.

Yet Paul’s 2010 primary campaign against a well-established Republican drew endorsements from Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, and even the Concerned Women for America. The lock was in late in the primary campaign when James Dobson at Focus on the Family very publicly switched his endorsement to Paul.

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This is Not the End
of Ron Paul

July 12th, 2011 at 12:57 pm 10 Comments

Ron Paul has announced that he will not be seeking reelection for his House seat and will instead be focusing on his presidential campaign. (Or will it be more accurate to call them “multiple future presidential campaigns?”)

After serving almost 24 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Ron Paul told The Facts this morning he will not be seeking another term for the District 14 seat.

Paul, 75, will instead focus on his quest for the presidency in 2012.

“I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election,” Paul said. “It’s about that time when I should change tactics.”

It’s appropriate that Paul says he will now “change tactics”. This is not the end of Paul’s political career. Instead, it sounds like a change in approach. No more time will be wasted having to vote “no” to every piece of legislation, now he gets to go out into the world and do TV interviews 24/7.

Paul will leave the US House and can now focus on being a public intellectual who can use his time and energy to advocate for his own peculiar brand of Paleo-Conservatism.

If Ron Paul chooses to hit the lecture circuit, then I think he will find that there is a lot of money to be made being paid to give speeches attacking the Federal Reserve. He might also start starring in some of the ads on Fox News which try to convince retirees to “invest” their money into gold.

He will also have more free time to run his inevitable 2016 and 2018 presidential bids.

This is not the end of Ron Paul.

UPDATE: The commentators correctly point out that in 2016, Ron Paul will be 81 years old, so age is probably a large factor in this as well.

Ron Paul Fan Causes Headache for Local GOP

July 6th, 2011 at 1:03 am 45 Comments

The commentary about Ron Paul’s influence on the GOP tends to focus on the big national issues, such as his efforts to end the Federal Reserve or the growing isolationism among Republicans. What gets under-reported are the consequences of Ron Paul having supporters get involved in politics at the local level.

Currently, the Republican Party of Pima County in Arizona is dealing with a situation created by its Ron Paul-inspired Chairman. Chairman Brian Miller has used a recently conducted SWAT operation to try and start a discussion about why citizens need to remain vigilant about “routine” invasions of private property by the government.

The SWAT operation in that began this operation took place on on May 5th when a SWAT team entered the home of former marine Jose Guerena to follow through on a search warrant. The sheriff of Pima County has said that Guerena was a subject in a 20 month long drug and homicide investigation.

According to the police report, Guerena responded to the raid by pointing an AR-15 assault rifle in the direction of the SWAT members, who responded with deadly force. The Pima County Chief Criminal Deputy Attorney David Berkman has cleared the SWAT team of any wrongdoing. Since his death, Guerena has also been linked to a home invasion crew. However, the operation has also been the subject of strong criticism.

Whatever the facts of the case, what has caused a problem for the Pima County GOP is the way in which its Chairman, Brian Miller, used GOP letterhead to start a discussion about how this event showed why citizens must remain vigilant about the Bill of Rights, and warned of “routine” invasions of private homes by the government.

Near the end of May (likely on the 29th) Miller sent out an email from the Pima County GOP email account to announce that a memorial service was being held for Guerena. Miller hoped the services would lead to “a renewed discussion of the policies that routinely lead to heavily armed and militarized local police invading private homes and a renewed interest in the civil liberties codified in our Bill of Rights.”

Miller’s full email can be read posted on an Ars Technica message board. The email was titled “We are all Jose Guerena.” Here is a part of it:

On May 5th, Jose Guerena, an American Marine, Iraq War veteran and fellow Tucsonan was killed in his home by armed government agents sworn to uphold the Constitution and whose declared mission is to protect and to serve the people of Pima County.

While an investigation is still underway to determine the facts immediately surrounding the killing, it is my hope that this tragic event will lead to a renewed discussion of the policies that routinely lead to heavily armed and militarized local police invading private homes and a renewed interest in the civil liberties codified in our Bill of Rights.

The Pima County GOP has been actively working to remove Miler from the Party leadership since he sent the email. The Pima County GOP has stripped Miller of his authority as Chairman and have criticized him for causing “division and chaos” within the Party.

In addition to the email, Miller also referred to the death of Guerena as a “murder” by the government while on a radio talk show. The local GOP asked him to retract that comment as well.

So who is Brian Miller, and why is he concerned about “armed government agents” and “militarized local police”?

Brian Miller is a part of Ron Paul’s ‘revolution’. He got endorsed by Ron Paul when he ran in the Republican Primary for the 8th Congressional district. (The district that Gabrielle Giffords currently represents.) He also made sure to get his photo taken with Ron Paul at CPAC.

He has also made time for the news show most friendly to Ron Paul on Fox News, FreedomWatch with Judge Napolitano. During his interview, Judge Napolitano gushed over Miller’s fealty to the constitution in the context of withdrawing from Afghanistan:


The Pima GOP said in a statement that Miller’s comments were ultimately dividing the party and harming it:

The role of the Republican Party is clear: to elect candidates and support those candidates once elected. The recent statements and actions of Chairman Brian Miller have not served to further those goals, but rather the opposite. Mr. Miller’s statements regarding the SWAT raid have created serious problems for our elected officials, money raising efforts and have divided the Party. Mr. Miller was given repeated opportunities to either mend these fences or resign his position, and has chosen to do neither.

Miller might lose his position over this, but Ron Paul’s efforts have probably already lead to many other like-minded people getting elected to positions of authority similar to Miller’s. These individuals can now take positions that put the local Republican parties in new and uncomfortable territory, and which they may not necessarily agree to.

How Did Libertarians Lose Their Way?

June 18th, 2011 at 12:00 am 64 Comments

Last fall, I wrote for FrumForum about “How I Joined the Vast RINO Conspiracy,” tracing how I, a longtime self-described “libertarian conservative,” got out of step with the right as the right moved further right and as I moved toward the center. Some readers applauded my independent thinking and others invited me to drag my backside out of the Republican Party (something I’ve declined to do).

A new book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America, by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, respectively the editors of Reason.tv and Reason magazine, has given me much to contemplate, on how libertarianism fits into American politics, how Reason fits into libertarianism, and why I, a onetime fairly regular contributor to that magazine, eventually failed to fit in at Reason.

Noting the rising numbers of unaffiliated voters, Gillespie and Welch argue American politics is moving beyond the longtime duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties, much as new technologies and empowered consumers have undermined duopolies in other fields — Macy’s and Gimbels, MCI and AT&T, Kodak and Fujifilm. In a somewhat strained literary metaphor, the authors liken the two major parties to Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” as both are complicit in bloating government.

The weakening of the two big parties is ushering in a “libertarian moment,” according to Gillespie and Welch, as the public shows growing affinity for a “default preference for the freedom to pursue happiness as we define it without interference from government.” The authors predict not some surprising Libertarian Party surge but rather that fluid coalitions of independents and disaffected major-party members will be increasingly influential, “provoking purple-faced rebukes from the political establishment, and pushing politicians in directions they had no intention of going.”

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. Gillespie and Welch describe their own Reasonoid libertarianism thus:

Like the magazine we write for, we agitate for the aspirational goal of “free minds and free markets,” celebrating a world of expanding choice — in lifestyles, identities, goods, work arrangements and more — and exploring the institutions, policies and attitudes necessary for maximizing their proliferation. We are happy warriors against busybodies, elites, and gatekeepers who insist on dictating how other people should live their lives. Like John Stuart Mill, we’re big on “experiments in living.” Within the broadest possible parameters, we believe that you should be able to think what you want, live where you want, trade for what you want, eat what you want, smoke what you want, and wed whom you want. You should also be willing to shoulder the responsibilities entailed by your actions. Those general guidelines don’t explain everything, and they certainly don’t mean that there aren’t hard choices to make, but as basic principles, they go a hell of a long way toward creating a world that is tolerant, free, prosperous, vibrant, and interesting.

As general guidelines, those sound pretty good to me. I note, also, that they seem to admit some degree of flexibility, with mentions of “broadest possible parameters” and “hard choices.” That’s a different attitude than in some libertarian arguments, where government must be limited or abolished in accordance with some abstract doctrine rigorously provable as a matter of simple logic, and where natural or constitutional rights are no less cut-and-dried than the beef jerky in your basement bunker.

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?

Moreover, it seems to me that sometimes government activism helps produce the “expanding choice” this libertarian manifesto champions, even if the authors show little interest in exploring that connection. Surely, the Interstate Highway System gave people some new options, as did the Erie Canal way back when. Gillespie and Welch celebrate the Internet as driver of choice and opportunity, but describe its 1969 invention rather obliquely (“a new technology allowing university computers to communicate with one another went live”) without mentioning the Pentagon agency that did it.

Would America be more vibrant, prosperous and interesting if the small sliver of the federal budget devoted to science were excised by measures such as Rand Paul’s push to eliminate the Energy Department? It’s hard for me to see how terminating research projects that are too large-scale or long-term for the private sector would yield greater choices of technologies and careers. It would produce more freedom only in the sense that a man stranded on a tiny desert island is wonderfully free because he doesn’t have to pay any taxes.

Such qualms about stringent libertarianism have shaped my thinking as a center-right dissenter, a deviationist apostle of the Frumian Heresy. But as I was once a contributor to Reason, my checkered history with the magazine merits some elaboration, in the interests of context and disclosure.

During the 1990s, when the estimable Virginia Postrel was editor of Reason, I wrote a dozen pieces for the magazine, on topics ranging from space property rights to fluctuating sperm counts to the free market’s possibilities for offshore platforms.

I was attracted to Reason in large measure because its libertarianism tended to avoid dogmatism and utopianism. The magazine in the Postrel years had an empirical bent and a focus on policy details. I could, for instance, write about radon regulation in late 1998 at a moment when the Weekly Standard was overflowing with the Monica Lewinski scandal (fun fact: I tried selling the radon story idea to the Standard first and was told by an editor there that they weren’t currently publishing anything not about the scandal).

For a few years early in this millennium, I drifted away from Reason, so to speak; I was busy with, among other things, writing about outer space for Lou Dobbs but by 2005 Gillespie, then editing the magazine, coaxed me to write some more articles, which I did on subjects including artificial intelligence and intelligent design.

Unexpectedly, at some point in late 2007 or so, Gillespie and his managing editor Jesse Walker stopped replying to my emails. It wasn’t clear why. Perhaps I had failed some ideological purity test, though it was also possible that my topic interests were deemed peripheral to the magazine’s or that my rapport with the staff just lacked the good chemistry it’d had during the Postrel years. I didn’t press for an explanation. From long years of freelancing, I’d learned that if someone is wise or foolish enough to not want your writing, there’s no point arguing about it.

Then, in 2008, Matt Welch, whom I didn’t know personally, was appointed Reason’s editor, and Gillespie moved to the online side. One of Welch’s early contributions was an essay that sniped at David Frum’s book Comeback for calling on Republicans to “cave on new spending and regulations … in exchange for tax cuts.” That description suggested a surprisingly poor grasp of Frum’s book, which I had reviewed for the New York Post, and both David and I had some fun pointing this out.

Such was my parting with Reason magazine. Be it noted that I am on friendly terms with several ex-girlfriends with whom I had messier breakups than the one I had with Reason. Notwithstanding the ideological differences outlined above, this ex-Reasonoid still finds much appeal in the magazine’s live-and-let-live ethos of free-market economics, social liberalism and cultural eclecticism. But how well is that ethos reflected in the “libertarian moment” the authors see arising, for which they present as evidence the political ascents of Ron Paul and Rand Paul and the Tea Party?

Consider this statement by Gillespie and Welch in The Declaration of Independents:

Those pushing for smaller government are not members of some sort of reactionary John Birch Society recoiling from a world that might pollute our precious bodily fluids. By all indications, Americans are more comfortable with ethnic, social, gender, cultural and religious differences than ever before.

That strikes me as whistling past the graveyard, or at least past the venue where Ron Paul was keynote speaker for the John Birch Society. Similarly, the authors’ desire to let you “live where you want [and] trade for what you want” jibes poorly with antipathy to immigration and trade pacts, let alone fears expressed by Ron Paul and Rand Paul that a “North American Union” will run a “NAFTA superhighway” through our country and impose a new currency, the “amero.” Perhaps we’re living in a “conspiracist moment” rather than a libertarian one.

Gillespie and Welch acknowledge Ron Paul’s “conspiracist belief in the nonexistent North American Union” and cite it, along with “his role in disseminating racist newsletters in the early 1990s” as two of “a thousand reasons” (I wish they’d given the full list) why “Ron Paul is in no way a viable candidate for anything other than his safe congressional seat.” But they treat these as mere personal quirks that should not be allowed to distract from Paul’s valuable message of smaller government.

I don’t think message and messenger can be separated that neatly. When Ron Paul rails against the Federal Reserve and its “cronies” on Wall Street, for instance, he is not just expressing a position on central banking (one with which I disagree); he is also stirring up resentments and stereotypes that have little to do with tolerance and comfort with differences.

Insofar as we are entering a “libertarian moment,” it seems to be one in which the nature of the libertarian idea is very much up for grabs. I hope The Declaration of Independents receives a wide audience, promoting the relatively benign version of libertarianism sketched out by Gillespie and Welch.