*The Declaration of Independents*

by on May 20, 2011 at 6:58 am in Books, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

The authors are the renowned Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch and the subtitle is How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America.

This book is a excellent 2011 statement of what libertarianism should be, though I would say the title is more descriptive of the content than is the subtitle.  It’s well written throughout, smart to focus on the areas where libertarianism is strongest, and remarkably for an “ideological” book it never ventures into the absurd or makes indefensible claims.

It stresses government as a dysfunctional institution which forces too much bundling, too little choice, and too little real accountability.  It explains why the dynamics of political power are so difficult to avoid.  It recognizes the numerous ways in which we are freer than in times past and it stresses the cultural dimensions of both recent progress and libertarian thought.  It reads like a book which is much smarter for having read blogs written by people of opposing points of view (just my speculation).

Is the book libertarian or liberaltarian?  There’s never quite a recipe for how government might, say, shrink to a much smaller share of gdp.  The section on health care stresses that health care is not the major determinant of health and that government policy has driven cost inflation.  I am never sure how much the latter claim is true.  They call for more choice in the hands of consumers, but the details are murky.  They call, correctly, for insurance and provider deregulation.  There is a call, correctly, for more competition and portable, non-job-attached health insurance policies.  But can all that, combined, lead us to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and still somehow deal with the “people dying in the streets” problem?  That case is not made, nor am I sure how much the authors wish to make it.  I am also not so sure that current political markets are a crumbling duopoly; we will see.

This is the up-to-date statement of libertarianism.  Not warmed-over right-wing politics, but real, true-blooded libertarianism in the sense of loving liberty and wanting to find a new path toward human flourishing.

Andrew May 20, 2011 at 7:14 am

the “people dying in the streets” problem?

Assuming that the real problem isn’t hyperbolic progaganda, only the government could make dying cost prohibitive. They want to make “death and taxes” just “taxes.”

DSDan May 20, 2011 at 7:53 am

“I am never sure how much the latter claim is true.”
This would probably be my main problem if I read the book. I would constantly be sitting there thinking, “Well it sound good on a theorectical level but does it actually work? Have there been studies that show it working?”
Do the authors try to prove that their policies would work, or is this yet another “these policies sound good in theory, so they must work in the real world” libertarian doorstop?

Seth May 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

Look around. Big parts of our lives are based on libertarian principles, other parts on collective decision-making. Still others are hybrids. Which parts generate the most value? Which parts more reliably provide what you need and want? Which parts do you not even think about because they work and which parts do you spend a great deal of time discussing because what others think can impact you?

jcalton May 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I assume you mean that other political theories which have been tried have been successful, and that you think our current corporatocracy is as good as it gets. Libertarianism as a political model is far closer to what our country was founded on than this unrecognizable mess we have now.
The beauty of libertarianism (or anarchism) is that if you decide to try it, it’s very easy to stop once you decide you want to try something else. Enabling police states, totalitarian states, dictatorships, crony plutocracies, et al., is much harder to undo.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

Today’s “The Onion” (http://www.theonion.com/) has thoughtfully and considerately addressed the same contradictions of Independent Libertarian doctrine.

“Fiscally I’m A Right-Wing Nutjob, But On Social Issues I’m ****ing Insanely Liberal”

Enjoy.

jcalton May 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

-1

Josh May 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Isn’t it the others who are have more “contradictions” whereas the Libertarian is just saying “I don’t want the government involved in my finances OR my personal decisions”?

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Josh: It’s just satire.

Joshua Corning May 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm

You read the article wrong.

The premise is to take all the straw man arguments the socially conservatives call social liberals and all the strawman arguments the economic left call the economic right and then take those strawmen and combine it into a super strawman and call it a libertarian because as we all know libertarians are socially liberal and economically right.

It is actually pretty fun.

The sad thing is the inverse strawman actually exists and apparently his name is SteveX (formerly Steve).

Dean Sayers May 20, 2011 at 10:13 am

“Not warmed-over right-wing politics, but real, true-blooded libertarianism in the sense of loving liberty and wanting to find a new path toward human flourishing.”

So long as you’re a part of the capital-owning class or otherwise enjoy disproportionate demand for your own market activities. I’m a little surprised that deregulation is being called for in the interest of expanded competition. Has Greenspan’s deregulation of investment banks taught us nothing (even though he admitted mistakes to that end?)?

As I argued elsewhere: “It has always been the narrow control over the means of production that allowed the interests of a group of oligarchs to consistently stand as a barrier to the production process.” Conveniently, these barriers consistently resolve themselves into more payout for the oligarchs.

Despite this, I’ve called myself a libertarian for years and I even agree with the argument that rational self-interest is the preeminent model for a just, rational society. The problem is with the capitalist sense of fairness that outright denies the objective social worth of human life as the foundation of morality (instead calling for fascist-style “might makes right,” “property” or narrow voluntaryist doctrine).

Further, there is a conflict between the value of active human labor and passive human ownership which has compelling consequences for political economy and the social value transferred to different members of the population. And yet, the ‘libertarian’ model of morality tends to focus on a shallow voluntaryism. It’s wrong. Liberty applies to 100% of our activity as humans – not just that final step where you “agree” to conditions under social, economic or political coercion. That coercion itself needs to be addressed. I see no reason why a rational conceptualization of liberty would ignore these points.

LTB May 22, 2011 at 1:26 am

[i]The problem is with the capitalist sense of fairness that outright denies the objective social worth of human life as the foundation of morality (instead calling for fascist-style “might makes right,” “property” or narrow voluntaryist doctrine).[i]

“[b]It is often asserted by critics of the free-market economy that
they are interested in preserving “human rights” rather than
property rights.[/b] (quite often, indeed) This artificial dichotomy between human and
property rights has often been refuted by libertarians, who have
pointed out (a) that property rights of course accrue to humans
and to humans alone, and (b) that the “human right” to life
requires the right to keep what one has produced to sustain and
advance life. In short, they have shown that property rights are
indissolubly also human rights.
[…]
There are other points that should be made, however. For
not only are property rights also human rights, but in the most
profound sense there are no rights but property rights. The only
human rights, in short, are property rights. There are several
senses in which this is true. In the first place, each individual, as
a natural fact, is the owner of himself, the ruler of his own person.
The “human” rights of the person that are defended in the
purely free-market society are, in effect, each man’s property
right in his own being, and from this property right stems his
right to the material goods that he has produced.” – Rothbard

To act and subsist is to appropriate nature. Private property is an extension of individuality itself, of individual purposive action.
Therefore liberty is bounded by available means. Your idea of absolute liberty is a metaphysical chimera, rooted in a marxism, veiling a rather horrifying picture of generalized slavery.

Rich Berger May 20, 2011 at 10:39 am

Nick Gilliespie has risen in my opinion lately, but I will never fully forgive him for hiring Matt Welch at Reason magazine.

lnm May 20, 2011 at 11:20 am

I’m not familiar with Matt Welch; what’s the problem with him?

Jeff May 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm

His commentment towards privatising sidewalks is suspect.

/jk

The Laughing Hyena May 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

So what? They don’t run interesting candidates who can make the same case, and Gillespie doesn’t even bother to vote at all. I suppose by staying outside the system, they can argue they are incorruptible. So can any idealistic teenager.

I say all this as someone sympathetic to libertarianism.

Andrew' May 20, 2011 at 11:32 am

Political success is largely not within the control of political actors. To act as if it is would be just as much of a waste.

It’s not hopeless because the upside is that the currently successful parties don’t actually know how to succeed either, mainly benefiting from luck rather than skill.

I know exactly how to win office where I sit: run as a Republican. It’s not because of my libertarian positions. Simply changing the letter behind my name would increase my vote count by 40% or so.

Simon K May 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Libertarianism is interesting, quite influential and all politics is better if its informed by it. The Libertarian Party is an irrelevant, dysfunctional mess and arguably completely unnecessary anyway.

Joe R. May 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm

So what? Pretend Gillespie always voted for the Libertarian Party candidate. Would it change your opinion of his participation?

Montani Semper Liberi May 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

When was the last time “people dying in the streets” was a problem? Medicaid and Medicare didn’t exist until 1965, but I don’t recall people in the 50’s having to step over the dead bodies of the poor and elderly littering the streets on the way to work each day. Why is the burden on the authors to provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

Andrew' May 20, 2011 at 11:34 am

I have the solution: privatize the streets.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

Because elderly people didn’t “die in the streets” in the ’50s. They died alone at home or in the homes of their children, because they couldn’t afford the medical care to keep them alive any longer.

The people who died in the “streets”, were killed in traffic accidents by the thousands. At least once a week, in any given community, there would be a head-on collision caused by a driver losing control of two and a half tons of metal because a bias-belted tire with an inner tube, designed to last 20K miles at most, let go while he was doing 70 mph, and crossed a median strip with no crash barriers. Picture it… five tons of vehicle at a combined speed of 140, no seat belts, no airbags, no collapsable steering columns, 800 lbs of engine now in the back seat on top of the driver and the 3 year-old who had been standing on his lap between him and the wheel, solid steel dashboards, doors that flew open if nudged, protruding knobs and switches all over the interior, sharp corners everywhere, a “hardtop” that had no support in a rollover, exterior trim that launched into the interior upon impact… need I go on?

Then the oppressive government that we had freely elected to represent our collective interests “intruded” on our lives, insisted that these causes of unnecessary fatalities were unacceptable, and began a long-term program to eliminate them.

Sure… let’s go back to all that for our liberty!

Dan Drechsel May 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm

That oppressive government in the form of the Coast Guard is now considering mandating that everyone in any boat less than 18 feet wear a life preserver. The US Forest Service estimates that 82 million people participated in boating in 2010. 736 folks died according to the Coast Guard, who also estimates that a 70% compliance ratio – meaning that 56 million people wear life jackets, they could save 71 lives each year. Don’t you think we’ve reached a point from which we could back off a little?

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Depends on whether or not any of your own kids’ or grandkids’ lives are among the 71 saved.

Josh May 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

No it doesn’t.

Montani Semper Liberi May 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Holy non-sequitur, Batman.

Josh May 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I’m not sure if it’s a non-sequitor or a false dichotomy. Or is it one of those red straw herring man things?

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Sorry about the non-sequitur. I thought we were talking about conditions prior to government programs introduced since the ’50s. Obviously, I was mistaken.

Montani Semper Liberi May 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Well, I’m not seeing the link between automobile fatalities and welfare. But to humor you, the highway fatality rate had already fallen from 24/1,000,000 miles traveled to a little over 5/1,000,000 miles traveled before the NHTSA was established in 1970, so perhaps government mandates aren’t the major factor in reducing automobile fatalities that you seem to think they are.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Can’t argue with you there, but I will say (strictly subjectively) that I feel a lot safer with the cars and roads of today, regardless of who caused them to be that way. I’m not sure I believe the standards would have been implemented without mandate, mainly because of all the stink Detroit kicked up every time a new one was introduced.

Out of curiosity, what year are the 24/1,000,000 miles from, and do you know what they are today?

As clarification, I mistook your reference to the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid as “government intervention” in general, not “welfare” specifically. As such, it appeared to me there was a link. I was trying to balance with an example of government interference that had arguably favorable results. Anyway, no harm done if the result is productive dialogue.

Rich Berger May 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

You forgot the CAFE standards which required lighter cars – that saved lives, too, right? Thank God the government mandated tire standards and padded dashboards, and all that other good stuff.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm

You’re correct. Not all mandates have been as successful as intended, and as you correctly suggest, lighter cars are not necessarily safer. If ALL cars are lighter (which wouldn’t be the case unless mandated), and F = ma, wouldn’t that mean the force of impact of all collisions would be reduced in more cases than a free-market selection of lighter cars? Perhaps an engineer can provide some advice as to the advantages and disadvantages of two lighter cars colliding, as opposed to two heavy cars.

That said, do you believe, in the big long-term picture and taking into account all the trade-offs between all the mandated safety changes at the expense of the government interference into our freedoms, we are (net) better off today than we would be driving around in the conditions of the ’50s?

Rich Berger May 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Impossible to say. I do not know how many improvements were mandates and how many were developed independently. Furthermore, I would have to estimate the costs of each mandate versus the benefits to determine if the change were beneficial on net. Certainly the CAFE standards were harmful on net, and mandates increase the cost of cars, inducing some drivers to continue driving older, less safe cars.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I agree. It’d be hard to quantify it in that detail, although I was meaning more in the personal safety aspect, not just cost. It’s also impossible to say with certainty that someone would have died or been injured had there NOT been a mandated safety feature.

If I get time, I’ll see if I can find stats showing fatalities/injuries per miles driven for the ’50’s and today. It’ll at least give us an idea how we compare net overall. At that point, I suppose it becomes academic whether or not the “costs” justify the lives.

DC May 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

How sharp was the increase in vehicle safety, in relation to the increase in regulations? I realize that it’s impossible to disentangle the two completely, but isn’t it possible that car companies figured out that making cars that are safer could be a profitable thing to do, and that over time they got better at making safer vehicles? I’m not intimately familiar with the particulars, but automobile technology has had a lot of time to improve since the 1950s, as have roads. Aslo, didn’t the auto industry basically have to invent safety features in order for the government to mandate their usage? I’m not saying that you’re completely wrong, but your choice of example hardly leads me to believe that regulation saves lives, QED. The world is incredibly complex.

As regards the life preserver example, I know a lot of people who boat regularly. I’m not trying to sound morbid, here, but if your child drowns because they weren’t wearing a life preserver, that’s your fault, whether the Coast Guard told you to put a life vest on them or not. Does anyone really think it’s necessary to mandate by law that people wear life preservers when they get into a boat? Boating is inherently dangerous. You do it at your own risk. People are already aware of the fact that they do not have gills and/or flippers, and that they will die if water fills their lungs. Armed with that information, some of them simply choose not to wear a life vest. The end. How many people choke on their food every year? Would a law mandating that people chew their food more actually save lives? If that law saved a single life, it would be the greatest argument I’ve yet encountered that humans as a species no longer deserve to live, and that we should make a communal vow not to reproduce any more.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm

@DC:
I see what you’re saying regarding the invention of safety features being the domain of the automakers, but I was looking at it from the standpoint of the regulated safety standard forced them to invent something. As an example, the regulatory agency tells them they have to prevent steering columns from decapitating drivers. How they go about doing that is up to them to invent, but they would not have invented it if they weren’t required to meet the standard. As I replied to Montani, Detroit made so much fuss about any new safety standards, and lobbied so much against them in DC, that it’s hard for me to believe they would have made these changes if not for regulation. I guess that’s the purpose of regulation, to require those things in the interest of the common good when there’s no apparent market demand. No consumer was going to say they weren’t going to buy a new car if it didn’t come standard with a collapsable steering column, so why would any automaker build one.

On the PFD thing. It’s like every other example of laws to protect people from themselves. Personally, I wear a PFD anytime I go out of the cockpit even though I’m a competent swimmer and the boat is in relatively flat conditions. I also wear a seat belt in my car and have done all my life. Why anyone would let their kids go out in a boat not wearing a PFD, ride in a car without seat belts on, or ride a motorcycle without a helmet is beyond me, but that’s their choice. If the USCG, which is woefully underfunded for recreational boating matters, says it’s mandatory in my dinghy when I’m only going 200 yards across the anchorage from my boat to shore, I’ll wear it. If other boaters want to petition for the repeal of the law because 71 lives a year are not worth their inconvenience or freedom, have at it.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 20, 2011 at 7:23 pm

@Rich and DC:
OK, I found a chart showing around 5/100,000,000 miles driven from 1960 to 1970, then a significant drop to just over 3/100,000,000 by 1975. By 2000 it was down to 2/100M and today it’s at 1.13/100M. The farthest back I could find for a fatalities/mile number was 1958 at 5.56/100M
http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch9en/appl9en/usfatalities.html

The steep drop in 1970 coincides with the establishment of the NHTSA. Of course there’s nothing to prove it was the direct result of anything regulatory, but something has made it 5 times safer to be on the roads since the NHTSA came on the scene.

I’m not trying to prove it’s all due to wonderful big government benevolence, but there are cases when regulation is good when it’s in everyones best interest and there’s no motivation for it to be done any other way.

Just out of curiosity, would either of you recommend the de-funding of the NHTSA as wasted government spending?

Guy in the Veal Calf Office May 20, 2011 at 11:59 am

and that government policy has driven cost inflation. I am never sure how much the latter claim is true.

You seem to think government policy only manifests in Medicare and Medicaid. What would health care look like if it was as lightly regulated as our clothing supply or food supply?

Policy intrudes in multiple ways- it requires massive expenditures on testing before drugs ariive at the market, but fails to permit that endorsement as a defense to liability; it mandates coverage for many dubious treatments (what would a 10 year term insurance policy cost that did not cover chiropracters, massage, acupuncture, viagra, pregnancy, etc? We don’t know, its illegal in California); it prohibits the importation of drugs, insurance policies and the export of treatment, and so on.

Jamie_NYC May 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Pet healthcare costs have been rising very fast too. No gov. intervention necessary.

Jeff May 21, 2011 at 12:09 am

Are you against the government testing drugs? Or do you think that government approval for something should be an absolute bar to liability?

Amy May 22, 2011 at 1:03 am

the governnment doesn’t test drugs. the FDA allows drug companies test their own drugs, write their own reports, and then the FDA reads the reports and approves the drugs. in an unrelated note, i read the other day that the placebo effect has increased over the years, i might have read that here…

Jeff May 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Sorry, that was shorthand for what you wrote. Of course, what you wrote doesn’t answer my question, but you aren’t the person I was asking, either.

Millian May 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

“I am never sure how much the latter claim is true.”

Yeah, I don’t agree with this much. I see late intervention to extend life as the ultimate luxury good. As incomes go up, people are likely to demand more and more of it, given preferences.

Donald Pretari May 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm

It certainly sounds worth reading. I’ll pre-order it.

Tim May 21, 2011 at 12:18 pm

How can it save the US if it has no details? This has always been the problem with libertarianism. How do you create a completely privately owned system that doesn’t make people immediately go back out and form government to solve their problems? Until libertarians can explain how to change something humans have done repeatedly since the dawn of time I’ll be uninterested. It’s like having a bunch of biologists constantly telling people how much better off they’d be with asexual reproduction, but never explaining how exactly a human being would asexually reproduce.

Adeyanlo Uganwe May 23, 2011 at 2:26 am

Please compare to the recent books: Huebert’s “Libertarianism Today,” Kelly’s “The Case for Legalizing Capitalism,” and Paul’s “Liberty Defined.”

Adeyanlo Uganwe May 28, 2011 at 1:08 am

?????

Adeyanlo Uganwe May 29, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Adeyanlo Uganwe June 5, 2011 at 1:43 am

Still nothing…

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