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Libertarian Democrats?

The internet is abuzz with controversy over Markos Moulitsas' (A.K.A. - DailyKos) argument for "libertarian Democrats," the claim that the Democratic Party, if given power, is likely to promote libertarian values, or at least do so to a much greater extent than Republicans have. Bruce Reed of the Democratic Leadership Council, and liberal economist Mark Thoma have tried to buttress Kos' case with additional arguments of their own.

I agree with the libertarian Democrats enough to believe that a limited Democratic victory in the 2006 elections will be good for libertarian values on balance. This is not because I have any confidence in the Democrats per se, however, but because I believe that divided government can limit the growth of the state (as it did in the 80s and 90s) and that a Democratic victory is necessary to punish Republicans for their many errors and sins.

I am skeptical, however, of Kos' broader claim that Democrats are truly the party of limited government, or are likely to be more of one than the Republicans. There are two big flaws in the case: The Democrats' position on government spending, and their heavy dependence on political support from public employees' unions.

Kos and his allies in this debate have rightly focused on the Republican's massively profligate spending over the last few years. And I too am more than willing to condemn Bush and the Republicans on this score. But it is significant that the Democratic Party, for the most part, not only failed to oppose Bush's spending increases, but actually argued for even more domestic spending than the Republicans were inflicting on us. For example, Democrats opposed Bush's massive $500 billion prescription drug benefit in large part because they thought it should be even bigger than it was, and the Democratic Party today continues to argue for replacing Bush's plan with one that is even bigger. The same is true of the Democratic position on most of Bush's other major spending initiatives, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. In the 2004 campaign, John Kerry likewise called for even more domestic spending than had been approved by Bush. Although I am not going to analyze the issue in detail here, what is true for spending is also true for regulation: on most issues, the Democrats support as much or more government regulation as Bush's Republicans do.

In addition to its position on specific size-of-government issues, the Democratic Party also has a major structural obstacle that will make it difficult for its politicians to move in a libertarian direction: the Party's dependence on public employees unions. Public employee unions such as AFSCME and the National Education Association are probably the biggest and most important sources of funds and political activists for the Party. Teachers union members alone accounted for about one quarter of the delegates at the 2004 Democratic national convention (see previous link).

It is difficult to think of an interest group more inimical to limited government than public employees unions. After all, efforts to shrink government necessarily mean fewer jobs and/or less income for the union members, and less union dues to pay the salaries and provide the perks of union leaders. The need to cater to these powerful interests significantly limits the extent to which the Democrats can move in a libertarian direction. Liberal bloggers such as Kos and Thoma can afford to ignore or downplay the needs of the unions, but Democratic politicians who want to get elected to office cannot.

The Republicans, of course, have their own pro-big government interest groups, such as large agribusinesses who benefit from farm subsidies, and corporations who benefit from corporate welfare. However, at least as far as I can tell, no such interest group provides anything like as large a proportion of Republican funds and political activists as the public employees unions do for the Democrats.

UPDATE: Jane Galt/Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information, presents some additional criticisms of the libertarian Democrat position here.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. How to be a libertarian Democrat:
  2. Libertarian Democrats?
Wintermute (mail) (www):
Good 'un, Mr. Kuriakin; and I will update my post on the subject with this 'un. It's not just the public employee unions that concern me. We have a strike just started in TN and other states against a tire company; and I've always wondered why price and wage conspiracies between companies are criminal, whereas union positions can be industry-wide. Some of you anti-trust guys, please educate me.
10.7.2006 7:45pm
jim:
It seems that Kos's position hinges fairly strongly on the presumption that there are a significant number of libertarians who believe that between Corporations and Government, it is the former that has more power over the individual and it is the latter that is the lesser of the evils.
10.7.2006 7:51pm
Brian Garst (www):
THe KOS argument was a joke. All the while he was claiming the libertarian mantel he was loading his argument with socialist rhetoric and class-baiting. He offers government controls and regulation under the guise of libertarianism.
10.7.2006 8:00pm
frankcross (mail):
There are plenty of libertarian Democrats, but not because of the limited government issue.

Libertarians who prioritize economic or gun freedoms tend to be Republicans, libertarians who prioritize other freedoms, like defendants' rights, tend to be Dems.
10.7.2006 8:27pm
cato kaelin:
There are plenty of libertarian Democrats, but not because of the limited government issue.

hmm, if you're a "libertarian Democrat" who is not on board with the "limited government issue," I think you may have misunderstood what the libertarians are about. The Democrats have about the same chance of getting libertarian votes as the Republicans do of getting black votes -- 10% if they're lucky.
10.7.2006 8:36pm
finec:

However, at least as far as I can tell, no such interest group provides anything like as large a proportion of Republican funds and political activists as the public employees unions do for the Democrats.


This statement is probably incorrect. Take a look at the PAC numbers on PoliticalMoneyLine.

Corporate PAC donations over total GOP donations: 91%.

Organized labor + Public Employees + City/County Employees over total Dem donations: 38%.

(Calculations leave out unidentified/other groups, which are pretty small in both cases.)

Democrats have a dramatically more balanced donation inflow, at least on the corporate/labor split.

And by the way, the public employees unions, while understandably a right-wing bugaboo, are actually small relative to total donations, at 10% of Dem donations and about 1% of Rep. donations. Or to put it differently, they provide the Democrats with $9 million; corporate interests provide the Republicans with $117 million.

You also assert that more "political activists" come from public employee unions that from corporate sources. This is probably true, but what does this prove? Do you really think more than 5% the Republican foot soldiers are committed libertarians? (Schiavo, anybody?)
10.7.2006 8:38pm
Ilya Somin:
This statement is probably incorrect. Take a look at the PAC numbers on PoliticalMoneyLine.

Corporate PAC donations over total GOP donations: 91%.

Organized labor + Public Employees + City/County Employees over total Dem donations: 38%.


My point, however, was not that the Dems get more money from public employees than the Republicans get from corporations. It is that public employees, a key part of the Democratic political coalition have an overwhelming commitment to big government and this necessarily affects the Democratic Party's position on issues of central concern to libertarians. Corporations that contribute to the Republicans, by contrast, are not necessarily doing so to expand the power of government and many of them do so at least in part to limit government power over issues that affect their self-interest.
10.7.2006 9:10pm
finec:

Much of corporate lobbying that is not literally "pro big government," in terms of increasing government spending, is still directly harmful to libertarian goals of free and competitive markets.

Corporations lobby to shape regulation in ways that protect existing franchises and reduce competition (virtually every industry). They lobby to receive their share of existing expenditures, bypassing the price mechanism (e.g., defense). They lobby for cheap access to natural resources held in public trust (ANWR).

Under this administration, the degree of direct contact between government and industry -- in procurement, advising, and other capacities -- has grown. Crony capitalism violates principles of good government and effectively destroys the price mechanism in markets. The degree to which it is indulged is a remarkable difference between the parties and should be of primary interest to libertarians.

I understand your concern about public employee unions' entrenched interests. My point was that these guys are dwarfed in scale by corporate cash. I am entirely open to the possibility that they may exert influence through other means.

But I'm not sure that a lot of libertarian Republicans really get the changes that have taken place within the Democratic party since the 1970s on economic issues. Clinton pushed what was possibly the most effective recent opening of markets, NAFTA. Welfare changed dramatically. Most Democratic economists today are very much aware of the limitations of government solutions and are more focused on getting markets to work better where there are demonstrable market failures. This is not the 1970s, so don't argue against the 1970s Democrats. (And I won't bring up the 1970s Republicans.)

The contrast is not big vs. small government. It's clueful vs. clueless, cronyism vs. competition. The last 15 years are a beautiful study in contrasts.
10.7.2006 9:50pm
Erasmus (mail):
If you’re concerned about the Government’s power to regulate intimate decisions, like decisions about your sex life, and if you're concerned about the Government’s power to imprison and kill people, vote democrat. If you’re more concerned about saving money on taxes, vote republican. Since most libertarians I know are reasonably wealthy and can shield themselves from the former government abuses, they vote republicans.

“Small government” doesn’t have anything to do with government power -- the historical concern of Libertarians -- but instead now has everything to do with the amount of wealth that can funnel through the government.

I’m much more concerned about a “small government” that imprisons people at the executive’s whim, can decide which consenting adults I’m allowed to have sex with, and executes and imprisons people who never had a meaningful chance to defend themselves than a “big government” that taxes my income at a fairly large rate and wastes that money trying to help lower class people.
10.7.2006 10:47pm
liberty (mail) (www):
The question of which party could be libertarian and still keep its special interest groups happy though would be won by the Republicans. Corporate special interests could be assuaged by across the board tax cuts - corporate, dividend, individual, etc, and reduction overall in regulations. Many of the corporate special interest sectors are not lobbying for that - don't get me wrtong, I know the fascist-type mentality of some business groups, wanting to use anti-trust laws and other government power to squash competition - but its not the only thing that could keep them giving money to the Republicans.

If both parties are totally dependent on special interest money and this can't be changed (for sake of argument) then the party that could swing libertarian and still stay afloat is the Republican Party. You can't win unions, environmental groups and billionaire socialists by going libertarian -- even if the other side is totally social conservative a bit fasist. You can, however hold onto business going libertarian if the other guy is proposaing to raise your taxes and flirts with socialism.
10.7.2006 10:54pm
Constantin:
Lucky for you, Erasmus, the government you fear doesn't exist in America, and never has.

Also lucky for you, in the past five years we have toppled two such governments.
10.7.2006 10:59pm
liberty (mail) (www):
finec:

Not sure which Democrats you're talking about. The ones that I know advocate price controls (on wages, oil, pharmaceuticals, telecom, railroad, airlines, etc) and environmental regulations that destroy industry (oil, auto, nuclear, etc) along with hikes in taxes and nationalization of industry (healthcare being the big one).

Also not sure which "market failures" could possibly be improved by government intervention. Or rather, the failures could certainly be improved if by that you mean made a bigger and more effective failure.
10.7.2006 10:59pm
Ilya Somin:
But I'm not sure that a lot of libertarian Republicans really get the changes that have taken place within the Democratic party since the 1970s on economic issues. Clinton pushed what was possibly the most effective recent opening of markets, NAFTA. Welfare changed dramatically. Most Democratic economists today are very much aware of the limitations of government solutions and are more focused on getting markets to work better where there are demonstrable market failures. This is not the 1970s, so don't argue against the 1970s Democrats. (And I won't bring up the 1970s Republicans.)

In the Clinton era, the Democrats really did retreat from some of their previous big government commitments. Today's Democrats, however, are far distant from the Clinton Administration, with most of them opposing free trade (thereby repudiating Clinton's major free market achievement) and supporting even higher levels of government spending than enacted by Bush and his Republicans.

I agree with your point that corporations often lobby for policies that disort the market or increase government power. But their lobbying is not uniformly pro-big government in the way that that of unions is. Indeed, much corporate lobbying is "defensive" lobbying intended to stave off regulation that may harm their interests. Public employee unions, by contrast, lobby almost exclusively for big government and virtually never lobby for reductions in government power.

Furthermore, today's Democrats show little interest in eliminating government policies that are vulnerable to "capture" by corporate interests. To the contrary, the more government spends and regulates, the more opportunity there will be for corporations to influence the political process to give them special privileges of various types. Congressional Democrats seem no less willing to support corporate welfare of various sorts than their Republican counterparts.

Finally, I think that your 38% figure is closer to the mark as a measure of public employee contributions to the Dems than the smaller ones, because most of money that is attributed to unions in general in fact comes from public employee unions.
10.7.2006 11:02pm
NevadaDem (mail):
The thing that's missing from the comparisons in this discussion is the ability of public employee unions to turn out voters with very vested interests. They do a very good job of this; significantly better than private sector employers/employees. The hard part is that public sector health requires a healthy private sector. Public employee unions do not get this.
10.7.2006 11:19pm
Spade (mail):
Of course, the Democrats Kos likes have never met a gun law they didn't vote for. Hell, their apparent strongest Pres candidate right now is the one that said "We are going to take things from you for the common good."

God, any Libertarian that reads that thing and votes Dem never was a Libertarian to begin with.
10.7.2006 11:21pm
Tollhouse:
he thing that's missing from the comparisons in this discussion is the ability of public employee unions to turn out voters with very vested interests. They do a very good job of this; significantly better than private sector employers/employees. T

That's probably because only for the public employee does a vote directly equate to a pay raise or further job security. If the average business person's job relied on someone winning an election, you can be sure they'd show up to vote correctly.
10.7.2006 11:44pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Erasmus has a point. The religious lobby on the right does want to increase government so that they can attempt to legislate their view of morality and dictate the personal life of the country. And I suspect if they got more power they would attempt to socialize things to fund religious and charitible organizations that share their outlook and goals.

Both parties are very anti-libertarian. They want to increase the size, scope, and power of government as long as they are in charge of it. So effectively it will not be scaled back in any meaningful manner by either party.

Unfortunately it is very difficult for libertarians to effect change in the government in any meaningful way. Maybe the best thing they can do is to lobby and vote for gridlock unless there are very important issues at stake. The abuses of the current administration, especially the dismantling of due process and other Constitutional rights, the overspending, and the boneheaded way the "War on Terror" is being conducted are important issues. Actually that is an understatement - they are crucial issues. How close are the Democrats to control of Congress? Would voting control over Congress to the Democrats be enough to correct the problems?
10.8.2006 12:09am
Ted Frank (www):
About half of Dem funding comes from the litigation lobby, a huge advocate for big government and regulation of the worst rent-seeking kind, with a much larger impact on the economy and individual liberty than any corporate welfare contemplated by the Republicans.

I didn't see any legitimate libertarian argument in the Kos piece: I doubt there's a single major issue outside of the Patriot Act where Kos's position isn't diametrically opposed to the libertarian position.
10.8.2006 12:09am
finec:
Check this link. Unless you argue that these other union PACs are misclassified, only 1/4 of labor PAC contributions are from public employee unions. I agree that's a lot, but not most.


I think the statement that most Democrats now oppose free trade requires some support. That's not my perception at all. There are loud opponents of free trade on both sides of the aisle, and local industries throughout the country have a massive stake in trade policy. Those pressures were as much present in the 1990s as they are today. But the Democrats successfully held them at bay in the 1990s, as they would today.

I don't understand why its not fair to compare what happened the last time the Democrats controlled a branch of government with the last six years. NAFTA vs. CAFTA. A relatively clean trade bill with major impact vs. a bill that had so many protectionist carve-outs that it would be hard to call it trade liberalization. Temporary protection for the steel industry. Nominally, both administrations were pro free trade. Only one of them really advanced that policy goal.

The record on government spending also strongly favors the Democrats. Discretionary spending under the Republicans has careened out of control. Despite full control of the government, Republicans have expanded (remember the prescription drug bill), not contracted entitlements. The budget is now not even close to balanced.

You can always find disagreeable constituencies in any party -- for you, perhaps, AFSMCE; for me, practitioners of crony capitalism. You need to look further to determine the extent to which they influence the results. And in this case, the record really speaks.

I'm not just arguing for points here -- I really do think that Democrats have a shot at picking up libertarian voters and I would love to persuade some of you. Lots of Democrats have this unspoken affection for libertarians, which has grown stronger over the last six years as our appreciation of the appropriate limits of government has deepened. This affection is reflected, however clumsily, in the Kos article. There is a real audience in the Democratic party right now for libertarian voices and ideas.
10.8.2006 12:23am
Simon (391563) (mail) (www):
I didn't see any legitimate libertarian argument in the Kos piece: I doubt there's a single major issue outside of the Patriot Act where Kos's position isn't diametrically opposed to the libertarian position.

This a joke, right? This statement can only be true if libertarians are only concerned about guns and money.

To put it another way: intellectually honest libertarians ought to be concerned about social freedoms as well as economic ones. Right? Why is it that most libertarians I talk to don't think those freedoms are worth supporting in the voting booth?
10.8.2006 12:27am
just me:
I have a question for Finec:

As one measure, you credit the Democrats for NAFTA. Yes, Clinton was Pres. But of all the Democrats in Congress, what percentage of Dems backed it? And what for the GOP?

If I recall correctly, it was passed by mostly the GOP, with only some Democrats, including those who signed on to get a bridge or something in their districts. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad they did, and I'm glad Clinton twisted arms to pull it off. But the GOP record on NAFTA and the Dem record aren't even close.

In Ohio, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) is challenging Sen. Mike DeWine (R), and Brown's ads rip DeWine for backing NAFTA and other "trade agreements that send our jobs overseas" and all that claptrap. If that's the now-we're-more-libertarian message, I'd hate to see the less-libertarian one.
10.8.2006 12:35am
Ilya Somin:
Check this link. Unless you argue that these other union PACs are misclassified, only 1/4 of labor PAC contributions are from public employee unions. I agree that's a lot, but not most.


I think the statement that most Democrats now oppose free trade requires some support. That's not my perception at all. There are loud opponents of free trade on both sides of the aisle, and local industries throughout the country have a massive stake in trade policy. Those pressures were as much present in the 1990s as they are today. But the Democrats successfully held them at bay in the 1990s, as they would today.


During the 2004 election, the Democratic candidates (including those who supported NAFTA in the 1990s), all argued for greater restrictions on trade. More recently, nearly all congressional Democrats voted against the much more limited CAFTA treaty. I think that today's Democrats are more protectionist than those of the Clinton era, and also more protectionist than today's Republicans.

Regarding the unions, I think that much of the money attributed to general union organizations (e.g. - the AFL-CIO), is actually attributable primarily to public employees unions, which constitute the majority of the AFL CIO membership. Moreover, the private sector unions are also far more pro-big government than the corporations that contribute to the Republicans are. Finally, public employees unions contribute a much larger share of Democratic activists than they do of Democratic funds, and political activists are essential to the functioning of a party.

I agree with some of your other points. But, in my view, discretionary spending was in better shape under Clinton in large part because he had to deal with a divided government, not because the Democrats are generally better in this area than Republicans. He showed little interest in restraining government spending prior the Republican takeover of Congress. Similarly, Bush may be more restrained if he faces a Democratic House, which I have argued for electing.

Finally, I very much hope that you are right when you say that "Lots of Democrats have this unspoken affection for libertarians, which has grown stronger over the last six years as our appreciation of the appropriate limits of government has deepened."
10.8.2006 12:43am
David M. Nieporent (www):
To put it another way: intellectually honest libertarians ought to be concerned about social freedoms as well as economic ones. Right? Why is it that most libertarians I talk to don't think those freedoms are worth supporting in the voting booth?


We do. And twenty years ago, I use to naively think that Democrats were in favor of the latter. But opposing Guantanamo Bay (which few of them do) is trivial when they support the war on drugs, which is millions of times more likely to affect me than the war on terror. Opposing laws against sodomy (which are virtually never enforced) is trivial when they support the wars on smoking, trans fats, hot coffee, and insurance companies.


When I read Kos's original column on the subject, my thought was, "Libertarian Democrat? I see lots of Democrat, but no Libertarian." The essence of his argument was "Oh yeah? Republicans aren't very libertarian at all, you know." That's entirely true, but hardly one to rally the libertarian forces around.
10.8.2006 1:02am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Domestic spending was constrained in the 1990s because Congress was controlled by recently elected Republicans. By 2000, most of these people have been co-opted into the rent-selling system. That, or they retired by voluntary term-limitation.

The rent-selling system, BTW, is bipartisan. It takes a committed, ideologically driven majority to beat back rent-selling; but opportunistic Democrat and Republican hacks can and do collaborate on selling out the common good. Note the success of Democrat hacks such as Murtha and Byrd in porking, even after 1994.

Most of the rent-selling goes by in dribs and drabs, concealed in the tangle of Congressional hubbub. In a divided Congress, responsibility is diffused, and it becomes easier, not harder, for the hacks to push through their cookies.
10.8.2006 2:46am
finec:
just me:


As one measure, you credit the Democrats for NAFTA. Yes, Clinton was Pres. But of all the Democrats in Congress, what percentage of Dems backed it? And what for the GOP?



Ilya Somin:


More recently, nearly all congressional Democrats voted against the much more limited CAFTA treaty. I think that today's Democrats are more protectionist than those of the Clinton era, and also more protectionist than today's Republicans.




The vote on NAFTA is most accurately characterized as bipartisan. Although more Republicans than Democrats supported NAFTA in both houses (102 Dems, 132 Reps in House; 27 Dems, 34 Reps in Senate), the numbers are reasonably close. In contrast, the CAFTA vote was a real squeaker, with not nearly as much bipartisanship. Why? Are the Democrats now protectionists? No. CAFTA was a bad bill, with massive cutouts for the drug and sugar industries, among other issues. It was something a principled free trader should have had a hard time supporting. I would argue, in line with my comments above, that the increased access this Republican Congress has afforded to concentrated business interests contributed to the badness and unsupportability of the bill.

As for Ohio, just me, I agree that Brown is spewing irresponsible nonsense on this. But could you pick a state where free trade is more of a wedge issue than Ohio? This is a bit of an extreme case. Try naming a congressman from an ag state who takes a principled stand on subsidies. (Maybe you can, who knows?) More generally, a lot of protectionism is local. The pressures that congressmen face on trade are even stronger than the pressures they face to deliver other kinds of pork. So the impetus for liberalization has to come from the executive, and it's really more relevant to compare presidential records on this. It's the president's job to hold these local pressures at bay. Clinton was great at this. Obama would be great at this, too. Hillary, who knows. But Bush has failed.


Addressing some of Ilya's other points...

The major spending challenge we face is entitlements -- Social Security and Medicare. And the unions have opposed substantial modifications to these programs. But Republicans, given six years of government control, have already proven their inability to address the solvency issues. The most extreme libertarian fantasies about eliminating entitlements are not going to materialize. But there is a core of realists in both parties that realizes that these programs are too generous to survive in their current form. I think asking the Democrats to bring the unions to the table on this issue is a sounder bet than relying on Republican proposals that, while changing the system, do nothing to curb net government outlays. Only the Democrats can get the unions to compromise -- they're just going to keep fighting the Republicans tooth and nail on this, primarily because of (legitimate) trust issues.

I agree with your point about divided government. I would like to see more antagonism between the branches for a lot of reasons (not just spending), and it's really regrettable that the existence of this antagonism seems to depend on a party split. (I blame the 17th Amendment.) But you do have to admit that the pork spigot has opened remarkably wide and remarkably quickly under Republican control, rendering Republican claims to continence ridiculous.
10.8.2006 2:52am
pdxnag (mail) (www):
Ilya, you need to review this case from Oregon:

A122158 American Fed. Teachers v. Oregon Taxpayers United
http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/A122158.htm


If someone were to look upon free speech as a canary in a coal mine or the last straw to fall . . . in the transformation from liberty to authoritarianism then this case should be quite revealing.

The costs of one's speech is the measure of damages against another. It parallels the award of attorney fees to a winner in court. Be sure to read the dissent.

I scratched down my reaction here.

As to AFSCME there was an Employment Relations Board decision less than two years ago where the ERB awarded damages to be paid by the public employer (i.e., the people) for an unfair labor practice charge where the measure of damages was conveniently the union dues that would have been deducted from employees and redirected to the union.

I can't find anyone locally to even recognize how extreme each of these cases are or to publicly articulate their concerns.

To isolate out the distraction of any Capital versus Labor issue I created my own union (pdxape.us) and thus can frame my arguments as one of a baby union demanding liberty against a big bold existing union. The arguments thus resemble little more than that of a small new family business fighting a big monopolist that has strong ties to government.

I was reassured to read your post.
10.8.2006 4:23am
b:
But, in my view, discretionary spending was in better shape under Clinton in large part because he had to deal with a divided government, not because the Democrats are generally better in this area than Republicans. He showed little interest in restraining government spending prior the Republican takeover of Congress.

Not true at all. Clinton pushed through the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act which contained significant spending cuts. Link

This pernicious Republican talking point will apparently never die.
10.8.2006 4:28am
SKlein:
free trade is to Dems as abortion and similar "social issues" are to the Republicans. They use the issue to whip up their base without intending to do anything about it. Free trade will be supported by however many Dems as are needed to join with the Republicans to have a legislative majority.
10.8.2006 4:32am
just me:
Finec -

I stand by my characterization of NAFTA as something that MOST of the GOP supported, while MOST of the Dems opposed it. I said the record wasn't even close, and specifically asked what percentages of each party supported NAFTA.

In response, you note the raw vote totals and conclude that it was bipartisan, suggesting that the numbers look "reasonably close." But you omit the more-important PERCENTAGES, and completing the picture shows that any impression of equality is mistaken. Specifically, you said:


The vote on NAFTA is most accurately characterized as bipartisan. Although more Republicans than Democrats supported NAFTA in both houses (102 Dems, 132 Reps in House; 27 Dems, 34 Reps in Senate), the numbers are reasonably close.


Those numbers don't tell the full story, because this vote was in 1993, before the massive shift to the GOP in 1994. The Democrats has 258 House members voting on NAFTA; the GOP had only 175. Thus, the Yes votes were a full 75.4 % of the GOP, but were only 39.5 % of the Democrats. I don't think that one can say that 75 is reasonably close to 40, and I don't think that one can say that raw votes matter more than percentages.

So I will grant you that the vote was bipartisan, in the sense that the Democrats' contribution was non-neglible. Forty percent is a big deal (as is the GOP's 25% "no" vote), compared to party-line votes where less than 10% of each side joins the other.

But my point was never to claim that it was an exclusively GOP project. My point was merely that the imbalance was significant, and on that, the numbers are hard to deny.

Thus, to the extent that your comparison of 102 and 132 was meant to show some rough EQUALITY, the comparison fails, if you look at the more relevant percentages. If you meant only the more modest claim that the Democrats' participation was significant, albeit at a much lesser rate than the GOP's, then such a more modest claim is legit.

(Senate is similar, but with only a 28 point gap, not a 35 point gap, because Senate Dems were more pro-NAFTA than House Dems, at 49 %, as opposed to the 39 % for House Dems. Senate GOPers hit 77 %, or just a bit more than the House GOP's 75 %).

Further, putting aside any argument about CAFTA's merits, I'd guess that today's Democrats, if they could re-vote on NAFTA itself, would vote yes in even lower numbers, as the moderate Dems have been dwindling.
10.8.2006 4:33am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Re: Litigation Lobby-

As a libertarian, I don't see that much of a problem with the tort system, except for nuisance or fraudulent suits and the funding and support of statist political activities and actors. If the libertarian goal of scaling back or eliminating the regulatory agencies is ever acomplished, the only means to police negligent and to some extent criminal private sector and government actors will be the litigation system, which is private sector.

Even most extremists on this issue - including the various flavors of anarchists - agree that there is a need for a codified system of laws and a means to handle disputes between parties. The private litigation system performs this function. So what are the arguments against it from a libertarian perspective?
10.8.2006 4:35am
Ted Frank (www):
1) There already exists a huge problem of regulation through litigation, whereby activists use the Article III branch to expropriate wealth from once-legal-but-now-disfavored activities that they don't have the political support in the other two branches to ban or tax.

2) Unbounded damages mean that a single jury can overrule hundreds of other juries and mete out punishment to a corporation where the consensus is that it has done nothing wrong. Example: twelve consecutive juries agreed that Ford's design of its SUV was not defective, consistent with the statistical evidence that it was as safe as other cars on the road; the thirteenth awarded over $200 million in damages on an identical claim. The median jury (which is the democratically correct answer) thought Ford wasn't liable; the mean jury (which is the economically-relevant one) averaged $20 million in damages, not to mention the millions in defense fees Ford won't recover.

3) You underestimate the extent to which the litigation lobby has undermined the law of contract, and seeks to create new laws that do so further.

4) You underestimate the extent to which entire jurisdictions of elected judges are effectively captured by the plaintiffs' bar and quite willing to lawlessly sock it to out-of-state corporate defendants.

5) And then we have rent-seeking consumer class actions, where massive amounts of wealth are transferred from consumers to attorneys through legalized extortion.

6) That's before we get to vague new statutory proposals that will create new private rights of action whose main effect will be to permit additional extortionate rent-seeking litigation.

That's the tip of the iceberg. Reformers aren't against the libertarian concept of court system that enforces contracts, they're against corruptions in the current system that trial-lawyer-allies are standing in the way of fixing.

See generally Walter Olson's The Rule of Lawyers.
10.8.2006 9:48am
JRL:

Not true at all. Clinton pushed through the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act which contained significant spending cuts. Link

This pernicious Republican talking point will apparently never die.





Of course most people know this to completely untrue. Clinton's "spending cuts" (ahem) were merely decreases in the planned annual rate of growth. There were not real spending cuts.

The last time there was an actual outlay reduction from the previous year was 1955.
10.8.2006 9:50am
djw13:
Just to be picayune, the name is Markos (Moulitsas Zúniga, the Zúniga matronimic omittable), not Mark. "Kos" is short for Markos.
10.8.2006 11:53am
liberty (mail) (www):
"The most extreme libertarian fantasies about eliminating entitlements are not going to materialize. ... I think asking the Democrats to bring the unions to the table on this issue is a sounder bet than relying on Republican proposals that, while changing the system, do nothing to curb net government outlays."

I have to wholly disagree. "Bringing unions to the table" is just Swedish talk for keeping and expanding entitlements. What Bush has tried to do and has - despite all frustration about his expansion of programs - made some inroads on, is to privatize the programs. Unions and socialists will never agree to it, but the people are in favor of it. Call it "increasing competition" or "increasing choice" and get the people behind it. The Republican interest groups favor it, the Democrat interest groups never will.

Just be sure that the Repubs don't start giving money to the private sector groups (eg pharmaceuticals, retirement insurance) as subsidies, which is no better than leaving it nationalized (just a fascist rather than socialist strain of the same system).

It will take time but the only way to end these programs is through privatization.
10.8.2006 12:09pm
Erasmus (mail):
Constantin, I’m not sure which country you live in, but I’m a bit perplexed if it’s the United States. Last time I checked, we still empower our Government to imprison and kill people. Although it’s true that not all democrats are against the death penalty and not all democrats support strong protections for criminal defendants, most politicians and people who do, are liberals. Likewise, I have a hard time believing you don’t know about the numerous laws conservatives have passed controlling people’s sex lives, from making it illegal to have sex out of marriage to whether you can use a dildo. Republicans, of course, have also opposed laws that would allow you to make other personal decisions -- e.g., whether you can end your own life.

If you’re concerned about a Government abusing its power, shouldn’t you be more concerned about its power to throw people in prison and execute people than it’s power to tax? I’d rather be wrongfully overtaxed than wrongfully thrown in jail.
10.8.2006 1:02pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Sometimes I think I'd rather be wrongfully executed than have to deal with the DMV. Good Lord, Virginia is certainly socialist compared to NM.
10.8.2006 1:40pm
djw13:
liberty wrote:

"Sometimes I think I'd rather be wrongfully executed than have to deal with the DMV."

But what is a realistic alternative to the DMV? In my experience from four very different states (CA, CT, MS, SD), there appears to be universal public pressure on state governments to have their DMVs perform better without, however, raising license fees at any rate even approximating that of inflation. And throughout the country, there have been substantial reforms -- longer licensing periods, later and weekend office hours, renewals by mail, automatic renewals for good driving records, office visits and tests by appointment, etc.. At a certain point, you have to recognize that the public is demanding more service than can be delivered for the price that they are willing to pay. But imagine what a private alternative would look like, for example, a license issued by insurance firms in combination with drivers' insurance. Then imagine the costs implied. The cost of liability and guaranteeing blanket coverage alone are mind-boggling.
10.8.2006 2:24pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Not true at all. Clinton pushed through the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act which contained significant spending cuts. Link

This pernicious Republican talking point will apparently never die.
Perhaps because your refutation of it is entirely false. Rather than reading a media article, even a purportedly scholarly one, look at the actual budget (PDF). There were no spending cuts. The numbers you link to are the difference between what was spent and what had previously been projected would be spent. But a decrease involves actually spending less money. From Table 1.1, it looks like 1955 was the last time the federal government actually spent less in a given year than it had in a previous year.
10.8.2006 2:33pm
b:
Clinton's "spending cuts" (ahem) were merely decreases in the planned annual rate of growth.

And so the goalposts shift. Ilya's comment was:

He showed little interest in restraining government spending prior the Republican takeover of Congress.

Which is not true. Clinton restrained spending.
10.8.2006 2:37pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
At a certain point, you have to recognize that the public is demanding more service than can be delivered for the price that they are willing to pay.
You have an odd definition of "service." Can you tell me what "service" a DMV provides me? It seems to me that the DMV's function is to raise revenues. Making it slightly more convenient for me when they extract money from me is not "service."
10.8.2006 2:42pm
b:
There were no spending cuts. The numbers you link to are the difference between what was spent and what had previously been projected would be spent. But a decrease involves actually spending less money. From Table 1.1, it looks like 1955 was the last time the federal government actually spent less in a given year than it had in a previous year.

The spin continues. By your definition, spending was not cut even after the Republican takeover in 1994. So the idea that Clinton didn't care about restraining spending, and was only forced to do it by a Republican Congress, is false. Clinton restrained spending.
10.8.2006 2:49pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
B: either argue honestly, or don't bother.

If you want to argue that spending was "restrained" then do it, but don't cite something in support which claimed that spending was "cut" and then insult the people who point out that your source is wrong.


Erasmus:
If you’re concerned about a Government abusing its power, shouldn’t you be more concerned about its power to throw people in prison and execute people than it’s power to tax? I’d rather be wrongfully overtaxed than wrongfully thrown in jail.
You, and many other liberals, make this argument consistently, but it's a strawman. Taxes are a quick-and-dirty measure of the size of the problem, to be sure, but libertarians do not complain merely about "overtaxing." The primary libertarian complaint is about being overGOVERNED, not merely overtaxed. Democrats don't overtax merely for the sake of overtaxing; they overtax so they can use the money. And it's what they use it for that presents the big problem. We're wrongfully overgoverned and overregulated, not merely overtaxed -- and that wrongful overgovernance leads to people being "wrongfully thrown in jail." A lot more than the religious right does. (I don't support laws against, say, sodomy -- but how many people have gone to jail for nonpublic gay sex in the last, say, century?)
10.8.2006 3:17pm
b:
B: either argue honestly, or don't bother.

The posting rules prevent me from saying what I think of you, Mr. Nieporent.

Ilya made a claim that Clinton didn't restrain spending until Republicans controlled Congress. I have provided evidence that this is false. You and others have shifted the goalposts and now demand that I prove that Clinton reduced spending in absolute dollars! Something I never claimed. And now you have the chutzpah to accuse me of dishonesty!

You're good at employing rhetoric to try and win arguments on the internet, but not at engaging in honest dialogue.
10.8.2006 4:36pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Ted Frank-

Interesting points. I wasn't aware of much of it.
10.8.2006 4:57pm
finec:
just me -- I guess I erroneously assumed the House totals were closer than they were. Nonetheless, the CAFTA and NAFTA votes paint completely different pictures. NAFTA is closer to what you can expect from Democrats, given a decent bill. I agree with SKlein's point about the rhetoric -- this is a place Democrats go when they're pulling out all the political stops. It's not where they end up when they control relevant aspects of the policy process.
10.8.2006 5:05pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"The cost of liability and guaranteeing blanket coverage alone are mind-boggling."

How so? I don't see how private costs are any more than the public ones (and via competition ought to be a lot less). My problem with the DMV is not so much that it exists, even that its public, that people are required to get license plates -- my problem is primarily the difference btween what I dealt with in NM and what I am scared to begin to deal with in Virginia.

In NM I went into my local DMV with only my passport and/or birth certificate, I forget, and social security card and maybe $50. I had never had a license before. I took a short written test (which I only got 7/10 right on, sadly). I drove around in a small circle, stalling twice. I had my picture taken and was handed a license.

Later, before moving out of New Mexico I got the title for my vehicle signed over to me and went into the same little DMV office (there is almost never more than 5 mins wait, btw) and gave the lady $40, showed her the signed title and a receipt for my new insurance and got a new title with my name on it and a registration for the vehicle, also a renewed license. New Mexico was now happy for the next two years (it would have been 4 years had I forked over another $10 or so) that I had a registered vehicle and up-to-date license.

Now, how is it different in Virginia?

I have to worry about:

vehicle safety inspection
emissions testing
proof of having paid taxes on my title
whether my local area requires a second license

... and I doubt that I'll be in and out in 30 minutes. The first two of those above may require separate trips to other offices. I was supposed to have this all done within 30 days of arrival. This is not easy - and it could be done much more efficiently and with a lot less nanny.
10.8.2006 7:27pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Ilya made a claim that Clinton didn't restrain spending until Republicans controlled Congress. I have provided evidence that this is false.
Prof. Somin made a statement. Rather than merely arguing that it was incorrect, you tried to up the ante by claiming that not only did Clinton restrain spending, but that he actually passed a budget which "contained significant spending cuts" and posted a link which purported to be evidence that this was true. That was false.

I did not move any goalposts. I did not address the issue of whether Clinton "restrained spending." I responded to a specific incorrect point you made. Instead of just admitting that you overreached and that your facts were wrong, you accused me and another poster of "spin."
10.8.2006 7:52pm
Randy R. (mail):
AS per the front page of the NY Times on Sunday, I would like the new Dem majority next month to remove the priviledges of religious organizations. These include being exempt from licensing, taxation and standards that proper businesses are required to follow. And the tax-free status -- fine for churches, not fine for any profitable business they own -- shifts the tax burden to everyone else, putting legit businessmen at a distinct disadvantage.
10.9.2006 2:12am
Hans Gruber:
A Democratic Congress, at this time, with this President, would be a terrible thing for liberterian values because the floodgates of immigration may be irrevocably opened with a more sympathetic Democratic Congress. So many libertarians don't realize in their zeal to promote open borders and free markets that they are importing a population hostile to limited government.
10.9.2006 2:19am
pdxnag (mail) (www):
Ted Frank-

Where is the attention to "Consumer Sovereignty" in your argument opposing private-litigation-lobby?

Summary: The "litigation-lobby" point (pro or con) is just one argument over the distribution of rewards from structural mechanisms, legislative and judicial, that have a strong tendency to support monopolistic-extraction-of-economic-rent. You must wrap in the notion of consumer sovereignty, and the point at which some large judgment becomes the most statistically significant cause for higher prices for goods or services from one company or one describable segment of the economy. So long as monopoly is the end result of nearly all political bargains between and among segments of the economy via log-rolling there is little likelihood that any argument could be made that standardizing and/or limiting the size of awards will lead to greater consumer sovereignty, or lower prices that float downward toward some optimal equilibrium. Instead, it merely affects the relative distribution of economic rent (which is still just a tax, and I am all for lowering taxes on consumer sovereignty).
10.9.2006 12:19pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
AS per the front page of the NY Times on Sunday, I would like the new Dem majority next month to remove the priviledges of religious organizations. These include being exempt from licensing, taxation and standards that proper businesses are required to follow.


I hope that a Democrat House would try something like, if only because it would guarantee that they would only hold power for a single term and put the idiocy of “divided government” to rest once and for all.
10.9.2006 12:33pm
juris_imprudent (mail):

Crony capitalism violates principles of good government and effectively destroys the price mechanism in markets. The degree to which it is indulged is a remarkable difference between the parties and should be of primary interest to libertarians.

Wasn't it the Clinton Administration that green-lighted the Exxon-Mobil merger? I'm always fascinated when Dems are painted as the great adversaries of Capital (and champions of the free market): in rhetoric yes, in action they look an awful lot like Repubs.
10.9.2006 4:05pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
Erasmus,

Likewise, I have a hard time believing you don’t know about the numerous laws conservatives have passed controlling people’s lives, from making it illegal to have out of marriage to whether you can use a .

Just curious, but where (and when) was the non-marital ban brought to be? I don't seem to recall any such law coming into effect in recent years. As for the Alabama law, isn't that a relic and not something new? That would probably make it a conservative Democrat [you do remember them don't you?] artifact. Any others you'd care to elaborate upon?
10.9.2006 4:39pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Someone suggested that Libertarians care more about guns and lower taxes than human rights and equality?

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you!

Quite frankly, I'd rather vote Green. At least they're honest.
10.9.2006 5:11pm
Kent G. Budge (mail):
I have long thought that it would be very much in the public interest if anyone receiving a government check was prohibited from voting in elections for officers of said government.

I suspect that the chances of such a Constitutional amendment passing are not quite as good as the chances of passing a balanced budget amendment, so it's moot whether this would actually work. But given the diffuse benefits of voting, versus the concentrated benefits of getting the check, this wouldn't make it any harder for the government to hire qualified people. Nor would many welfare recipients let their kids starve to perserve their franchise. Hard to see what harm there could be in it. The benefit is obvious, at least if you dislike the political influence of public employee unions. Of course, for it to really work, you'd have to ban political contributions by folks who receive a government check, which is even less likely to get any political support (since some might choose to view it as a constraint on free speech.)
10.10.2006 3:50pm