Archive | Libertarianism

Nineteen Eighty-Fat

… As Mickey Kaus puts it.  This kind of thing is enough to remind me why, despite the fact that I consider it a beginning point rather than necessarily always the end point, I am fundamentally a libertarian.

We have ways of making you stress-free: Someone should write the fictionalized dystopian nightmare of mandatory “wellness” programs foreshadowed in Sen. Ensign’s business backed plan to let insurers penalize even those who seek non-employer-based health coverage if they don’t participate in healthy life regimens.”  Like THX 1138, but with brownies. … Nineteen-Eighty-Fat! … Ensign says his plan “would guarantee that the incentive is strong enough for Americans to want to participate.” … Next: Marital fidelity incentives!


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Gardasil Vaccinations for Boys?

If the boys don’t stand to benefit from the vaccine, then are we making boys into The Island? Well, that’s an awfully inflammatory way to start out, I grant you.  Here’s another inflammatory way to start out … would forcing boys to be vaccinated against their will but without any medical benefit to them, with the benefits accruing instead to girls, violate Roe v Wade? Our boy-bodies, ourboyselves?  For that matter, should pre-teen girls be forced to be Nudgily inoculated because their parents systematically underestimate the extent to which they will engage in sexual activity and have a tendency to acquire the disease?  Something here to offend almost everyone in this debate, if one takes it very far down to fundamentals.

Update: Thanks, Glenn, for the Instalanche! While I am thinking of this, please note that I am not the Dr. Kenneth Anderson, MD, Harvard Medical School, who is a real expert on vaccines and viruses and appears to have done some interviews and other media stuff on Gardasil.  I gather from a couple of comments that I have either tried some readers’ patience or else exceeded their attention spans.  There is not a lot of careful organization of this post, because I inserted paragraphs in between editing something unrelated; this is not my day job.  However, to the extent there is a structure, it is this:

  • (a) Opening that you might find clever or not, but is designed to raise at least three multiple, indeed really different, ways in which mandatory vaccinations of either all girls, or all boys, or all girls and boys, with Gardasil could raise liberty and rights issues.
  • (b) A short mention of what Gardasil is and why it was controversial back in 2006 when it was introduced, for those who haven’t closely followed
  • […]

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The Rise and Fall of Supply-Side Economics

Bruce Bartlett explains his new new book, The New American Economy, and why he thinks supply-side economics should declare victory and go away before it causes any more problems.

The supply-siders are to a large extent responsible for this mess, myself included. We opened Pandora’s Box when we got the Republican Party to abandon the balanced budget as its signature economic policy and adopt tax cuts as its raison d’être. In particular, the idea that tax cuts will “starve the beast” and automatically shrink the size of government is extremely pernicious.

Indeed, by destroying the balanced budget constraint, starve-the-beast theory actually opened the flood gates of spending. As I explained in a recent column, a key reason why deficits restrained spending in the past is because they led to politically unpopular tax increases. But if, as Republicans now maintain, taxes must never be increased at any time for any reason then there is never any political cost to raising spending and cutting taxes at the same time, as the Bush 43 administration and a Republican Congress did year after year.

My book is an effort to close Pandora’s Box and explain to people why I believe that SSE should go out of business–or declare victory and go home, if that makes the idea easier to accept. To the extent that it has any valid insights left to inform policymaking they should be used to design a tax system capable of raising considerably more revenue at the least possible economic cost. Going forward, I believe that financing an aging society and a permanent welfare state is the biggest economic problem we face. (See my discussion here.) Failure to do so leads straight back to the stagflation that SSE came into existence to cope with. . . .



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Elinor Ostrom and the Tragedy of the Commons

I was very happy to hear about Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize in Economics. Her work focuses on the tragedy of the commons and collective action problems, which overlaps several of my own research interests. When Ostrom began writing in this field in the 1960s, the conventional wisdom in economics and political science was that the tragedy of the commons and other similar collective action problems could only be addressed through government intervention. Some dissenting economists (such as Ronald Coase) argued that they could often be addressed through privatization – converting common property into property owned by individuals, who would then have strong incentives not to overuse or destroy it. In a series of influential articles and books, Ostrom showed that there is a third way: often individuals can use social norms and informal institutions to manage common property resources and prevent tragedies of the commons. In many situations, Ostrom demonstrates, informal, decentralized approaches to managing common property resources are superior to government-imposed ones. The former take more account of the specialized local knowledge possessed by the people who actually use the resources and depend on them for their livelihoods.

For the best summary of Ostrom’s work, see her excellent 1990 book Governing the Commons.

Ostrom’s theories are often seen as an alternative to traditional libertarian thought, which emphasizes the importance of private property and markets. However, it actually fits well with libertarianism defined more broadly as advocacy of the superiority of private sector institutions over government. In some respects, Ostrom’s norm-based approach to dealing with tragedies of the commons is actually less dependent on government than the more traditional libertarian approach of relying on exclusive private property rights. The latter, after all, often depend on enforcement by government. Even where private property rights exist, it is often easier […]

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The Ten Best Supreme Court Decisions

It’s easy to make lists of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time, and libertarians are constantly criticizing the Court for not doing enough to protect constitutional liberties. But now, libertarian lawprof Brad Smith asks for a list of the ten best Supreme Court decisions from a libertarian point of view.

As I see it, the cases on the list should 1) uphold important principles, and 2) actually have had a substantial real-world impact by preventing large-scale injustices. They should also, of course, be legally correct. Criterion No. 1 rules out a large number of Supreme Court decisions that protect only relatively minor freedoms (for instance those limiting minor instances of government endorsement of religion). Criterion No. 2 rules out many cases where the Court struck down liberty-infringing laws that were already on their way out and rarely enforced. For example, Lawrence v. Texas invalidated anti-sodomy laws, a truly barbaric form of legislation that egregiously violated the liberty of gays (and occasionally a few heterosexuals). But by 2003, when Lawrence was decided, only a few states still had anti-sodomy laws and even they almost never enforced them. For this reason, Lawrence had only a modest real-world impact. Had it been decided in 1903 or 1953, it might have had a much greater effect, though it is almost impossible to imagine the Court taking such a step at those times.

Given my criteria, the Peonage Cases of the early 1900s surely rank high, as they enabled numerous southern blacks to escape a system of forced labor and did so at a time when Jim Crow racism was at its height, and the political branches of government showed little willingness to protect black rights. Also worthy is Buchanan v. Warley (1917), which struck down racially based zoning, and helped prevent US […]

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