Libertarians in the US

April 14th, 2015 at 10:04 am by David Farrar


Nate Silver writes at 538:

It’s correct to say that few Americans identify as libertarian. Only 11 percent said the term “libertarian” describes them well, according to a 2014 Pew Research poll. …

But how people label themselves is one thing. Americans sometimes leave a different impression when polled about specific issues. Often, their views are reasonably heterodox and not well represented by a one-dimensional political spectrum.

Take two issues that are taken as emblematic of the split between liberal and conservative viewpoints: gay marriage and income inequality. If Krugman is right, you should see few Americans who are in favor of same-sex marriage but oppose government efforts to reduce income inequality, or vice versa.

As it turns out, however, there are quite a number of them; about 4 in 10 Americans have “inconsistent” views on these issues. TheGeneral Social Survey asks Americans whether they favor or oppose gay marriage. It also asks them to rate, on a 7-point scale, whether the government ought to reduce income differences through higher taxes on the rich and income assistance to the poor.1 Here’s how Americans’ responses lined up in the poll in 2010 and 2012.

The most popular position (34 percent) is to favor both gay marriage and income redistribution. But 22 percent of Americans are in favor of gay marriage and opposed to government efforts to redistribute income. Another 20 percent are opposed to gay marriage, but favor income redistribution.

The terms libertarian and/or classical liberal don’t resonate with most people.

But as Silver explains, that doesn’t mean there are not a significant number of people who are socially liberal, yet not economic interventionists.

It might not be the biggest quadrant but one I’m happy to be in.

Guest Post: Blake Crayton-Brown on Liberal Democratic Party Senator-elect David Leyonhjelm

October 9th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

David Leyonhjelm has been elected to the Australian Senate representing the libertarian leaning Liberal Democratic Party. Blake Crayton-Brown has interviewed him and written a profile of him:

Having received over 9.5% of the Senate vote in New South Wales, the Liberal Democratic Party’s David Leyonhjelm has won election to the Australian Senate, with his six year term to begin next July. The 61-year-old agribusiness consultant and former vet has at different times in his life been a member of both the Labor and Liberal parties and doesn’t hesitate in identifying himself as a libertarian. I spoke recently to David and he was candid about his expectations of the new Parliament and the difficulties he has faced getting the party’s message out.

With the balance of power in the Senate swinging from The Greens to a disparate group of minor parties (including three Senators from the Palmer United Party), David recognises that he and his fellow crossbenchers will have a significant degree of leverage. Although he feels that the Liberals ‘are still in denial’ about needing his vote, he imagines that the Coalition will want to keep as much of the crossbench on side as possible. He won’t rule out wandering off and supporting Labor and The Greens from time to time, arguing that as one person, the best way for him to make a difference is by leveraging the fact that the Government needs his vote.

David is optimistic about being able to work constructively with his fellow crossbenchers and has already spoken with SA independent Nick Xenophon. He hopes that the crossbench can be reasonably pragmatic so that even if they have to take small steps back at times, they’ll ‘take big steps forward’. Unlike many libertarians I’ve encountered in New Zealand and Australia, he clearly understands the need to pick his battles, understands practical politics and has himself vowed to be practical.

Having seen the difficulties faced by the Act Party following its confidence and supply agreement with National in New Zealand, David wants to avoid the LDP getting into a position where it is limited in its ability to criticise the Government. Vowing to ‘well and truly’ vote against any ‘egregious statist sins’ the Coalition Government may entertain, the LDP is seeking to make it clear that ‘the Government is the Government and that we’re the Liberal Democrats and they’re not the same thing’. Despite wanting to make such a distinction, David feels there is ‘a degree of sympathy’ within the Liberal Party for the LDP’s small government position and thinks they may even be able to set the agenda at times, not unlike the Act Party taking the lead on charter schools.

The LDP advocates for what it terms ‘free immigration agreements’ such as the arrangement between Australia and New Zealand – David explaining that he doesn’t believe that such agreements should have to conform to a ‘cookie cutter formula’ and sees no reason why New Zealanders in Australia shouldn’t be eligible to entitlements that Australians can receive in New Zealand. Although he doesn’t want to see people bleeding in the streets and is in favour of some emergency assistance being available, David’s general principle would see non-citizens ineligible for welfare unless under a free immigration agreement with reciprocal arrangements.

Describing himself as ‘kind of a home grown first principles libertarian’ he says he has resented being told what to do his whole life and that ‘as my wife will attest, the best way to get me to do the opposite is to tell me I have to do something’. Having failed to register for national service, he says he would have been subject to automatic call-up if the Government hadn’t changed in 1972. David says it was ‘just reprehensible that people could be dragged off against their will into the military, even without the fact that they might then get sent off to Vietnam and shot’. It was such a ‘loathsome’ example of government compulsion that he considers it the first real influence on his political philosophy. Although citing John Stuart Mill and more recently, Milton Freidman as influences, it’s evident that it is his own experiences that have most significantly shaped his outlook. David pointed out that he remembers when abortion was illegal and when people he knew had to battle abortion laws to have choice. He’s frustrated that smoking marijuana is still illegal when ‘we all did it when we were youngsters’ and that police are still ‘running around the place pretending that they’re doing something useful for society by arresting people with marijuana in their possession’. It’s absurd he says.

I asked him about the media coverage he and the LDP had received around the election and whether he was concerned about gaining a reputation as ‘the gun-slinging Senator’ given that a significant amount of coverage focused on the firearms policies. David explained that a week or so before the election, the Liberal Party in NSW panicked, thinking the LDP would ‘steal the seat off their guy Arthur Sinodinos’ who was ranked third on the Coalition ticket. He says that the Coalition decided they needed to head off the LDP’s vote, ‘so they went to the media, friendly sources in the media and said we’d like you to do something about this party with the word Liberal in its name’. He says The Daily Telegraph then published photos of him and the party president advocating firearm change laws with the intention of discouraging people from voting for them by accident because they were first on the ticket. David says that after the election, ‘the media was all over me like a rash’ with their agenda already set by the newspaper ‘which said we’re basically gun nuts’. Despite trying to interest the press in the LDP’s policies on low tax, reduced expenditure and fiscal responsibility, what appeared most in the news were invariably his answers to the questions on guns. Although David is a fierce advocate for reform to firearms laws, he equally doesn’t want the LDP to be known only as the party that supports more liberal gun laws.

In an unpredictable looking Senate crossbench, the LDP’s first ever elected federal member looks set to be both a blessing and a curse for the Abbott Government. Having sworn not to vote for measures that will increase taxation or reduce freedom, David has drawn a line in the sand ahead of his dealings with the Coalition. Provided he sticks to his principles and doesn’t gain a reputation as ‘the Senator for guns’, David Leyonhjelm could well be the first homegrown figurehead for a libertarian renaissance in Australia. It no longer seems one can write off the Liberal Democratic Party.

I think it is great Australia has a libertarian Senator (after July 2014). Would be good to have more libertarian-leaning MPs in the New Zealand Parliament.

Libertarian policies

October 8th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Peter Cresswell blogs on the recent Libertarianz/Liberty conference:

So Project ACT and Project Libertarianz are both failures.   And if success is measured by achieving measurable goals, then failure has unfortunately been the only thing about which the single-issue Legalise Cannabis Party has to boast.  And that’s despite virtually every MP in the New Zealand parliament happy to confess they’ve inhaled.  I think economic and social liberals from all parties—classical liberals, if you like—can learn from all our failures.  Project Act and Project Libertarianz are failures for opposite reasons.  ACT abandoned principle in favour of populism, and ended up losing both. Libz embraced principle over populism, and while we’ve succeeded in putting some of those principles on the public stage, it’s not as much as we’d hoped from 17 years of trying.  

I think ACT’s failure hasn’t been so much about populism, but a number of factors including infighting. PC quotes Deborah Coddington:

the Libz narrow dogma — total free market, wholesale selling of state assets including having all schools and hospitals run by private enterprise, the right to carry guns, and complete freedom to take whatever drugs you like so long as you accept the consequences — have scared the bejesus out of people. … Cliches are usually true,” she says. “as in there’s only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So when you say you want freedom, you can only achieve it one step at a time. Don’t terrify people who’ve been enchained for 30 years. It’s like stripping them naked, when you should be persuading them they can just remove their overcoat. It will take time for some to be convinced they don’t need to hold Nanny’s hand.

Deborah is quite right. I worry more about getting policies that push NZ in the right direction, than purity of argument. Don’t get me wrong – in terms of personal belief and debate, I can be very purist. But as John Key said, you don’t start with a blank slate of paper in politics.  If I was designing a society from scratch, I’d have it firmly on libertarian principles. But I don’t think NZ is ever going to be a libertarian state, and trying to make it one is futile.

Lindsay Perigo’s speech is here, which has some fascinating observations on his time as a press secretary to ACT.

PC suggests that the new liberal grouping should pick a maximum of five memorable parties to promote, rather than just try and make the case for a libertarian state. I agree with him, and wish them success  I may even help out! He says the criteria for the five policies should be:

  1. Select those policies that clearly demonstrate our principles;
  2. Select those policies for which we estimate there are already 100,000 people in the country who agree with us; and
  3. Select those policies for which those 100,000 will vote for us instead of anyone else.
  4. Reject policies too closely associated with past failure.
  5. Accept those policies that promote the benevolence and sense of life of freedom.

Sounds good to me. Maybe add on a criteria that they should be easy to understand, and the benefits should also be easily understood. He lists some possible policies. I thought I’d share my thoughts on them:

Small Consents Tribunals – accept RMA but insist that Small Consents Tribunals are set up, something like Small Claims Tribunals, to deal with projects under $300,000 on the basis of a Codification of Common Law. At one very easy stroke you make more low-cost housing much more affordable for many more people.

Love it. Could be very popular.

Iwi then Kiwi – accept ToW, insist only that all property involved (which, let’s face it, is the only way we’re going to see any real privatisation this decade) is individualised and transferrable. And call it what it is. Privatisation. At one simple stroke you have the biggest political power bloc in the country, the Browntable, behind privatisation.

I like the idea of all settlements being devolved to the individual. I suggest Iwi leaders will be less keen. The argument against will be up to members of each Iwi to determine what they devolve to members and tramples on their property rights. But an interesting possibility.

Balanced Budget

Yes please. Call it the Greece policy – to avoid us ever doing a Greece. Require a balanced budget over a three year term, with an exception only in an emergency.

Legalise cannabis

I think this could be good, but I’d widen it to being whole different approach with soft drugs – a health, not criminal, approach that will save money and stop criminalizing users.

Voluntary euthanasia

A good issue, but not sure many votes in it, and may have happened by 2014. People have views on this issue, but few would vote for it. Also public know it is a conscience vote, not something you can get in a coalition agreement.

Abolish Search & Surveillance Act, 2012

Silly idea. What do you replace it with?

Abolish Maori seats

I think other forces will be on that issue, and again there is little chance of getting that agreed to by other parties.

Enterprise Zone for Christchurch

Excellent idea. Might be not that big an issue by 2014 though.

Affordable Cities

I don’t know what that means. If it means affordable housing by opening land up, then could be good.

40/15 tax: $40k income tax free threshold, 15% GST

This has been clarified to actually be a $15,000 tax-free threshold, 15% flat tax above that, 15% GST and 15% company tax (the last two declining over time).

All for tax cuts, but not credible when books in deficit. Save it for a later election. Need to reduce spending first or we end up like the US with a massive deficit.

Very Special Carbon Tax: linked to temperature rise in troposphere at equator

I quite like this idea, but no way will Parliament scrap the ETS – too many businesses have made major decisions based on it.

Eco UnTaxes

Needs a name Joe Average can understand, but I like the concept – and may appeal to greenie libertarians

Putting Property Rights in the Bill of Rights.

I agree with this, but few votes in it.

Replace zoning with “Coming to the Nuisance”

Also not a bad idea, but not one that will win hearts and minds. So, not necessarily in order, what would be my five:

  1. Small Consents Tribunal
  2. Balanced Budget
  3. Legalise Cannabis/Abandon War on Soft Drugs
  4. Enterprise Zone for Christchurch
  5. Eco UnTaxes

How about readers? What policies would you like to see a liberal party champion. Ideally ones that can attract 100,000 voters and that are achievable (ie a National-led or Labour-led Government could possibly agree to).

PC on Ron Paul

January 10th, 2012 at 3:12 pm by David Farrar

Peter Cresswell blogs:

Ron Paul is not a libertarian. He

  • rejects the Jeffersonian principle of a “wall of separation” between religion and government;
  • is anti-immigration (“to the right of most Republicans” says Vodka Pundit Steve Green);
  • is anti-abortion (Paul describes “the rights of unborn people” [sic] as “the greatest moral issue of our time,” and “abortion on demand” as “the ultimate State tyranny”);
  • “plays footsie” with racists and kooks;
  • is a hypocritical supporter of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district;
  • is opposed to free-trade agreements (like NAFTA); and
  • is appallingly “blame-America-first” on  foreign policy.

I don’t count his writings of 20 years ago too much against him, or even his foreign policy. I even understand his earmark rationale. And even libertarians disagree on abortion. The lack of commitment to religion and state being separate, the opposition to immigration and opposition to free trade agreements (he says note pure enough, but perfect is the enemy of good) is what I regard as the biggest marks against him.

PC says:

In short, then, and to repeat, he is not a libertarian: he is a “states-rights” religious conservative, with all the intellectual confusion that implies …

That he can masquerade as a friend to freedom at all demonstrates how far the intellectual battle for freedom still needs to travel.

Because the harsh fact about Ron Paul is that on the few occasions he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s wearing the tinfoil headwear, as he does the rest of the time, he’s rotten.

He is damn good on most economic issues. He is not a viable candidate for President in 2012 though, at the age of 77. I think it is good he flies the flag on many issues.

I was chatting to someone today about how it would be fun if the Republicans had no one get a majority and it was a brokered convention!


November 10th, 2010 at 8:24 am by David Farrar

You can click on the image for a larger version. Quite clever, even if I don’t agree with it.

Hat Tip: Half Done

Rodney Hide interview

May 9th, 2008 at 10:41 am by David Farrar

Scoop has an in depth interview with Rodney Hide. This is what I like about online media – one can see a full transcript. Some interesting extracts:

Campbell : So you consider yourself a libertarian?

Hide : Yeah.

Campbell : But you don’t regard taxation, in principle, as theft ?

Hide : I don’t see that argument helps. Saying that something is theft. Because technically. it isn’t. I understand that taxation is a compulsory taking – but its not theft in the sense that…however you look at it, Parliament has made it legal. It doesn’t make it right.

Campbell : So it is wrong in principle, but OK in law?

Hide : Having excessive tax of course is wrong in principle. But I don’t think saying that taxation is theft is correct. Our definition in New Zealand of what is theft is : what is against the law. And amazingly, our Parliament makes…you know, tax legal. I don’t think its on the cards that we could live in a totally voluntary society, where there is no tax.

Don’t tell Lindsay Perigo that Rodney called himself a libertarian, but I think he gets it right when he says some tax is okay, but excessive taxation is wrong. Taxation is a privilege, not a right!

Campbell : I’ll re-phrase. Do you see human beings as being responsible for the global warming that the IPCC sees as occurring right now ?

Hide : OK, that’s a better question. Um… whether its anthropogenic. I think there is an influence. I think its arguable how much. And that’s not clear. We do not know the exact influence that humans have had on the world’s climate. It requires a theoretical understanding largely based on models. If we accept the IPCC – which isn’t a bad starting point, right? The political question is what then do we do? I think that has two components. The first is that we have to worry seriously about our trade, and our international standing because we could find ourselves very easily shut out of the world. Which would be horrific. So we’ve got to be, to use the phrase, ‘ global citizens’ on this one. I think Kyoto One was a mistake.

It is worth reading the full exchange. Like the religion it has become, Rodney was asked if he “believes” in global warming. He refused to play ball and kept pointing out the wrong questions were being asked until a sensible question was asked.

Campbell : Some people use private schools and healthcare. Would Act give them a tax break for doing so, and why?

Hide : Better than that, we would actually provide the full amount for everyone. So we think the state shouldn’t have a preference for state schools over private schools. So we think we should fund every child and that means essentially a scholarship for every child. So those who are already sending their child to an independent school would basically receive the money they are saving today, by sending their children there. Parents currently sending their children to a state school would have the option of sending their child to an independent school, without the financial burden that’s there at present.

Campbell : Isn’t that just education vouchers by another name?

Hide : Sure.

Nice to see an MP not try and do an Orwellian spin.

Campbell : Can you tell me exactly how educational vouchers would lift everyone’s boat, and raise educational outcomes nationwide?

Hide : Sure. This is the experience since 1992 in Sweden. Which is hardly a shining bastion of libertarianism. Or freedom. But they adopted Act’s policy in 1992. To show you how effective its been, all the political parties in their Parliament now support it. The only party to oppose it are the former Communists. Why they found was…only a small percentage, and I forget the number of students, took advantage of the opportunity to shift schools, But as soon as schools were in danger of losing their roll, they actually lifted their game and they took parents seriously.

Where new schools most appeared were in the disadvantaged areas – most obviously amongst the new immigrant areas. Which is quite logical. Where people are sort of well off, well heeled and well incomed even within the state school system they get schools that are, you know, good. Where you find poor areas you find it harder to maintain even a decent state school, And where you have minority cultural groups that don’t necessarily reflect their requirements for education….and so, that’s what happened in Sweden.

This hits the nail on the road. When you get stronger incentives to perform, then performance lifts. Anyone who argues that incentives don’t influence behaviour, has little experience outside a textbook.

Campbell : Could you clarify for me – is Sir Roger intimating to you that he’d like to be in an electable position on the party list?

Hide : Yes.

Campbell : So one could expect him to be two or three – not nine or ten?

Hide :Well, I’m thinking and not because I disrespect Roger…but I’m thinking five or six. Because I want people…if they want Roger in Parliament, to vote for the party. And I also want Roger to come back into Parliament and have some influence. And that requires we get more MPs. But that will be a decision for Sir Roger, and for other members in the board, not for the leader to dictate the list.

I have long suspected he would be placed at around No 6, to encourage people to give ACT 5%. Whether they will, is quite another matter.