The apocalyptic tone of Kathryn Lopez in NRO's The Corner, and their near total focus on the Schiavo case, is like watching a car wreck. I think I'll go read something by Ward Churchill to cheer myself up.
I'd be tempted to blame the media here, but I think it's the fault of too many libertarians who are, unfortunately, too comfortable with the"pro-choice Republican" label, precisely because it fits. When libertarians who feel comfortable with the GOP are going to wake up and smell the imperialism, Keynesianism, and theology remains a good question.
UPDATE: At least the WSJ author was trying to be funny. As Lisa points out in the comments, this author on the HNN main page was not. I think the notion of President Bush as having any libertarian leanings is the funniest thing I've heard all month. The guy who has presided over increases in both the welfare and the warfare state? Is that the guy we're talking about? Yeesh.
Let me just respond quickly to William Marina's points.
For me, Rockwell's piece was worthwhile more for its general argument than all of the details. I'm the first to object to the bandying about of "fascism" as a synonym for "whatever I don't like." And his use of "almost totalitarian" to modify "statist nationalism" is hyberbolic (although "statist nationalism" is right on).
What he's quite right about though is the "takeover" of US conservativism by its statist/nationalist/"statecraft" wing as opposed to its more libertarian leaning one. When the religious conservatives, and the hawks, and the George Wills and Bill Bennetts are all on the same page, and that page is one that is about the glorification not just of the nation but of the state, particularly its military, you know we're in trouble. It's more troubling that a number of self-described classical liberals have gone down the hawk/nationalist path as well. It's not just that the more libertarian-leaning conservatives were out-numbered or out-maneuvered for power in the movement, it's that a good number of them swallowed the Kool-Aid.
In addition, conservativism appears to be much more bound up, as Rockwell says, in the belief good leadership rather than in institutional checks and balances or reform. Just as W believes that because his intentions are good, he has made no mistakes, so do many conservatives appear to believe that if the right people are in power, all will be well. It is supremely ironic that conservatives would adopt the same logic that Keynes did in his "response" to Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.
More generally, Rockwell's point that the threats to liberty are increasingly coming from the right, and that libertarians should be looking leftward for coalition building, is one that I think is correct, even if he somewhat overstates the size of the threat and the promise of real cooperation from the left.
I guess I'm just really tired of seeing libertarians bending over backward to make excuses for modern American conservativism. In the mid-90s, that was at least plausible when the more libertarian-leaning elements of the conservative movement were more at the forefront, but now, with the statist-nationalist elements clearly in control, it is not clear at all what libertarians gain by any alliance with conservatives (and Sudha Shenoy's comments on my original post are very much to the point here). In the world we now live in, it may well be true that on the margin, libertarians have more to fear from an increasingly militarized right than a weakened and drifting left.
Here's a great example of the spontaneous generation of a social institution to solve a problem - in this case, a problem created by government road-building policy:
"Slugging" is the name, and beating the system is the game.
1. We have to recognize that families have to solve these often complex intersections of economics and values according to their own lights. From a Hayekian perspective, no one else has the knowledge or the incentives to do it better than those intimiate with the situation. (I should note that this is also the start of a libertarian argument for parental rights, but that's for another day.)
2. At the same time, we can work to help both men and women understand that this decision should be a conscious one, rather than just doing what they perceive to be as"tradition" or women just giving in to male power. I'm fine with women (or men!) who make an eyes-wide-open choice to stay home and sacrifice wages in the process. Any gender wage gap that results from this is not a social problem to be remedied. I just want that choice to be made with as much knowledge and in as great a situation of equality of power as possible.
"I'd like to see Bush lose, but without Kerry winning."
To be honest, this whole bulge flap (sounds like a body part on some sea creature...) seems to be an instance of what Charles Krauthammer has called "Bush Derangement Syndrome." BDS is when otherwise sensible rational people are driven to preposterous claims about Bush as a result of their, perhaps understandable, hatred of the man. All comparisons of Bush to Hitler, in my book, qualify as BDS symptoms.
UPDATE: Or maybe the bulge is this. (Hat tip to ScrappleFace.)
I wanted to take a moment to respond to Jonathan's argument below, but I didn't want to stick it in the comments. First, Rod's point in the first comment is right on target - why should anyone who self-describes as a libertarian (whether as a pure noun or as an adjective modifying conservative) care how the state defines marriage? If the recognition of same-sex relationships is the right thing to do, it's the right thing to do.
Jonathan also argues:
First, the people proposing the same-sex model as an analogue to heterosexual marriage don't normally respect the model (if they did, our welfare state would be much smaller!).
As one of those not only proposing but supporting the same-sex "model" as not just an "analogue" to heterosexual marriage but as a legitimate form of marriage itself, and as a flaming heterosexual, happily married for almost 16 years with two children, and none of us being on welfare, I find that argument more than a little bit problematic. There are many of us out there who believe in the importance and value of heterosexual marriage, and who practice it, and that's precisely why we want to open the institution up to those who wish to, but LEGALLY cannot, participate in it. (Society has opened the institution up before, after all.)
But the big point here is that Jonathan's arguments about the problems involved in non-marital same-sex relationships (how long does an affadavit last? the poor incentives to report relationships accurately, etc.) just prove too much. These are precisely the reasons to expand the institution of marriage to same-sex couples. Yes, the state of Illinois hasn't done so, but institutions such as firms and universities all across the country have extended benefits to same-sex partners and no one's turned into a pillar of salt yet, nor have fake same-sex relationshps driven up heath insurance premiums everywhere. We're not talking about a lot of people here, and organizations can find relatively non-intrusive ways of making the world of the second or third best work. Of course, just opening up marriage would solve all of these problems (and a few others as well). Or getting the state out of marriage altogether....
Given the state's involvment, however, Jonathan is right in raising the question of why heterosexual non-married cohabitants can't also get a piece of the benefits for cohabitants action. Why exclude them? But this too proves too much. As Jonathan Rauch and others have long argued, arrangements for same-sex couples short of full marriage will have a difficult time excluding heterosexuals, and in the process, will undermine heterosexual marriage. If you believe, as I do, that marriage is a desirable social institution, then why not both extend it to others who wish to participate in it and avoid undermining it with what Rauch calls "marriage lite?"
For those of us who think that including same-sex couples in the institution of marriage is both a matter of justice and something with net positive social benefits, the move to extend employment benefits to same-sex couples by firms, universities, non-profits, etc., is one very good way to move toward that goal. It's bottom up, decentralized, and responding to local preferences. I would argue that the increased support for same-sex marriage over the last decade has to some degree been the result of the increasing recognition and inclusion of same-sex couples in civil society in just these sorts of ways. Frankly, I applaud your university for moving in this direction, and I think it's one that libertarians should support - again, at least as the right thing to do in the world of the second best.
Interesting discussion about the effects of minimum wage laws shooting around the blogosphere. The big question seems to be why so few, at least recent, studies show any major effect of increasing the minimum wage. I think Tyler Cowen has it right in arguing that employers have multiple margins to adjust on when forced to pay higher monetary wages. To break it down a bit more precisely than Tyler does, imagine that an employee's total compensation consists of monetary wages plus various forms of non-monetary compensation. This is obvious to salaried workers who get health benefits, vacations, etc., but it's true even for minimum wage workers if you, as Tyler credits Gordon Tullock with doing, expand the category of compensation broadly enough.
The example Tyler uses is turning up the air conditioning (i.e., making it not as cool in the workplace). If you have to pay more in wages, rather than firing workers, you might choose to save in other ways. Other examples here could range from reducing employee discounts (no more free Big Macs), making employees pay for their own uniforms, increasing the level and intensity of monitoring so as to produce more output at the higher monetary wage, creating stricter rules about using company resources (such as phones, computers, or office supplies) for personal use, etc.. There are numerous ways in which firms can adjust to a mandated monetary wage hike so as to leave either their total compensation costs unchanged, or to squeeze more productivity out of workers without laying them off. Note that if governments pass mandated non-monetary compensation laws (forcing all firms to provide health insurance for example), we would see the same sorts of marginal adjustments elsewhere, this time including lowering monetary wages perhaps.
The big point here is that for some significant number of workers, the series of changes kicked off by the imposition of a higher minimum wage makes them worse off. If you imagine compensation as a bundle of goods, mandated benefits (whether monetary or not) adjust that bundle in ways that are very likely not to match the preferences of both employers and employees. (The old economist's counter-factual is that if people really wanted the new bundle, they could have negotiated for it. I don't buy that as being correct for everyone.) The bottom line is who knows better which bundle of compensation is more mutually satisfactory: decentralized negotiations between employers and firms or government trying to impose a one-size fits all solution? In that way, the argument is a good application of Hayekian knowledge considerations.
Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, I found this story on a group of fundamentalist Christians who are trying to get 12,000 followers to move to South Carolina in order to change the political face of the state and eventually secede, creating their own little Christian country. (Do they have enough literary sense, and too little sense of irony, to name it Gilead?) Two quick comments:
1. Reading this story is a good reminder of what some folks on the Christian Right really think about how the world should be. Gays, alcoholics, fornicators, and secular humanists beware:
"Well on one hand I kinda favor a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. But should homosexuals speak up, they should be deported, sanctioned, or held in jail," said one person, discussing whether their new "country" should endorse or permit lifestyles they believe go against biblical teachings.
Other visitors had ideas on what laws might be applicable in their new South Carolina home. "No alcohol sold on Sundays at all. All entries into the town would be policed with random checks for alcohol abuse, breathalyzers mandatory. No places of business open on Sundays. All schools, public, private or otherwise would teach creation, have the Ten commandments placed and say prayer before classes start. No landlords allowed to rent to couples just living together ... Abortion would not be legal in any circumstance."
As the news report is careful to note, these sort of views were not uniform among those discussing this idea, but those folks are out there. When I teach first-year students how to use and evaluate Web sources when doing research, I tell them that because they can only know so much about who's behind a website, they should always assume the worst until they have evidence for the better. That's my attitude about the Christian Right as well, and it's why I've never understood for an instant why libertarians/classical liberals see anything to gain by cultivating relationships with those folks. (Okay fine, I'll give you school choice, but that's about it.) When I hear "Christian Right," I'll think of those who want to "deport" gays from their new country until I see convincing evidence to the contrary.
2. As the reporter also notes, this is very similar to the Free State Project where libertarians are moving to New Hampshire in order to remake it in their own image. One difference is that the Free State folks don't want to secede from the US (yet?), while the Commanders and their Wives do. Still the parallels are there, and the Free Staters might have been an inspiration.
I've never found the Free Staters' argument the least bit compelling. As deeply as I care about making the world a better place by making it a more libertarian one, what ultimately matters for creating a meaningful life is one's family, friends, and work. I'm not about to uproot from a job I love, with co-workers and friends who mean much to me, in order to try to make a political statement of that sort. I respect those who have made that commitment, but count me out.
It does, however, say something interesting that the Christian Right and radical libertarians both feel so disaffected from American politics and policies that they would contemplate such eerily similar solutions.
Spending this lovely Sunday afternoon on the deck catching up on some reading (and getting axious about my Pistons getting blown out by the Lakers tonight), and came across this outstanding essay by Nobel Economist Robert Lucas (in the 2003 Minneapolis Fed Annual Report) on the industrial revolution and economic growth. There's a lot to chew on here, and it's very readable to non-economists. I'd be particularly interested in the response to it by my historian colleagues here and over at Cliopatria. Lucas focuses on the role of economic growth in leading to a demographic transition. More precisely, industrialization raises the returns to human capital, which, in turn, encourages families to invest more in the quality of their children than the quantity (an old Gary Becker point). The result of this is the levelling off of population growth at the same time annual rates of production growth begin to increase.
It is that combination that leads to the remarkable increases in per capita income we've seen in the last 50 to 100 years. Lucas points out that it is characteristic of non-developing countries that they respond to ehanced production technologies by having more children, not fewer. It is only when the industrial revolution comes along and provides serious opportunities to enhance the return to human capital, which pre-industrial technological advances normally didn't, that the response is fewer children, and an upsurge in per capita income.
I reprint Lucas's last paragraph here, because I think he makes a point often overlooked by those who write about these issues:
Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution. In this very minute, a child is being born to an American family and another child, equally valued by God, is being born to a family in India. The resources of all kinds that will be at the disposal of this new American will be on the order of 15 times the resources available to his Indian brother. This seems to us a terrible wrong, justifying direct corrective action, and perhaps some actions of this kind can and should be taken. But of the vast increase in the well-being of hundreds of millions of people that has occurred in the 200-year course of the industrial revolution to date, virtually none of it can be attributed to the direct redistribution of resources from rich to poor. The potential for improving the lives of poor people by finding different ways of distributing current production is nothing compared to the apparently limitless potential of increasing production.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Well two items of news from small-town America today. First is that today was the official start of summer in Canton, with the Dairy Princess Festival and Parade. You really haven't experienced small-town America until you've had a Kraft caramel hurled at your head by a 10 year-old girl in a cow costume.
Second is the apparent arrival of a Wal-Mart Supercenter to the Canton-Potsdam area. There are non-Supercenter Wal-Marts 20 and 40 minutes away in other towns, but this will be their first store in either of the two college towns in the area. The usual suspects (e.g., the faculty at the four colleges) are already wringing their hands for the "loss" of "their" town, forgetting that they came to teach here (it it really "theirs"?). They are also in the top 20% of the income bracket in the poorest county in New York state, which perhaps leads them to forget that the rest of the county, especially those for whom this new Wal-Mart would mean substantially less driving to visit, would really like to have 400 new jobs and access to good merchandise and notably cheaper prices. And that doesn't even count the beneficial competitive pressures this would place on other local stores. It's also worth noting that the anti-Wal Mart crowd has the time and influence to go raise hell with the local planning boards and media, as well has having easier access to travel and the Internet, both of which afford them more shopping options. Subsistence farmers in the rest of the county are a little too busy to protest FOR Wal-Mart, and don't often get to the big-city malls, or can't afford internet access, to get what they need.
What's most interesting to me is that some of the "usual suspects" are starting to get it. Sort of. I wrote to the station manager of our local NPR outlet, offering my services if they wanted a pro-Wal Mart voice (I did this the last time this issue came up). Her response to me was interesting: she recognized the benefits Wal-Mart would bring, but then said she wished they weren't "such a pig of a company." Presumably, the "piggishness" refers to their anti-union stance. What's funny about this is that she can't see the connection between the fact that Wal-Mart is not unionized and their ability to create jobs and provide cheap goods to the area. If unionization succeeded, and pushed up wages/benefits accordingly, the result would be some combination of fewer jobs and higher prices. It's a story as old as the hills: self-interested behavior leads to unintended benefits for others. When we try to put political power over the liberty to be "piggish," we wind up hurting precisely those we are trying to help. I find it fascinating when I read such an obvious example of not seeing the work of unintended consequences.
One of these days, I'm going to write a long essay, or even a book, that's a tribute to strip malls and Wal-Mart, emphasizing the ways in which they have substantially enhanced the well-being of so many Americans, at the price, perhaps, of our aesthetic sensibilities. Call it "An Ode to Suburbia." That'll sure make me lots of friends on both the Left and Right.
In the comments section of my prior post there is supposed to be a link to a NYT Magazine article. The article in question is a piece by Susan Sontag on the Abu Ghraib pictures. Normally, Sontag is too over the top for me, but this piece is about right. What's most interesting is her discussion of the way in which digital technology and the net has changed the kinds of things soldiers can do. They are, as she says, as much tourists as warriors. Combined with a culture of "shamelessness" and an internet to spread them and the green light from above, you get these pictures. And they won't go away. There will be more of them, speaking the reality of what's happening there.
This seems a particularly appropriate example of where Orwell got it so wrong. Rather than technology leading to the centralization and monopolization of information, particularly during war, it has led to the precise opposite. Technology has been democratized by being so cheap, and as a result, information flows from thousands and millions of points. The role of blogs in circumventing the major media, for both the left and the right, is one example, and the Abu Ghraib pictures are another. Though Sontag doesn't go quite this far, one way to view this whole sequence of events is fairly positive - the truth is coming out and the pressure of those pictures on our involvement there cannot be put back in the tube. Technology will continue to put limits on what the state can do and will continue to force open that which has been closed. The pictures of Saddam's torture have long existed, and now it's "our" turn.
Maybe next we'll see what goes on inside prisons in the US too. They could use some sunlight.