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How to be a libertarian Democrat:

Back in 2002, co-conspirator Randy Barnett published an op ed providing a list of steps that conservative Republicans could take to increase their appeal to libertarians without abandoning their own principles. The current internet debate about "libertarian Democrats" gave me the idea of creating a similar list for liberal Democrats. I have deliberately confined my proposals to those that do not go against basic principles of mainstream liberalism and those that are at least somewhat politically feasible. Here are the three best suggestions that occur to me:

I. Oppose Government Subsidies for Rich People.

There are numerous government programs that subsidize big business, wealthy individuals, and others who are not needy by an stretch of the imagination. Not all of these can be immediately eliminated at an acceptable political cost to Democrats, but at least some of them can. An excellent example of the latter is the massive system of federal farm subsidies, considerably expanded by President Bush's 2002 Farm Bill. The vast majority of the money goes to large agribusinesses. From the point of view of partisan Democrats, it is also worth noting that most of the money goes to socially conservative Red States (just ask uber-liberal economist Paul Krugman). If the Democrats advocate repeal of the 2002 farm bill, they can not only please libertarians, but also defund some of their most inveterate political opponents, thereby improving their political standing at little cost to themselves.

There are many similar examples of "corporate welfare" in the budget, though farm subsidies are the single largest. Many general programs such as Social Security and Medicare also give a lot of their benefits to the wealthy and the upper middle class. Means testing these programs would be one way for liberal Democrats to appeal to libertarians by reasserting the liberal principle that government should not be in the business of taking from the poor (among others) to give to the rich.

In theory, of course, many liberal Democrats already oppose these kinds of policies. But few (Krugman excepted) have made a priority of attacking them, and congressional Democrats supported the Farm Bill and most other corporate welfare polices no less than Republicans did. If Democrats put real emphasis on changing these policies and made this an important part of their political program, they could make far greater inroads with libertarians.

II. Reconsider Federalism.

Traditionally, liberal Democrats have supported a strong central government and opposed limits on its power. However, this position was premised on the notion that the federal government will usually (if not always) be under liberal Democratic control. For the last 25 years, however, and on into the foreseeable future, it is likely that conservative Republicans will control Congress and the White House as much or more often than liberal Democrats. Indeed, the Bush Administration and its congressional allies have raised the art of using federal power to override liberal policies enacted by state governments to new heights. Consider the examples of No Child Left Behind Act, medical marijuana, assisted suicide, Terri Schiavo, and a host of other cases. (for details, see the last part of my article here). Some liberal legal scholars and intellectuals, such as Franklin Foer, have taken note of these developments and have begun to argue for federalism and decentralization. But not enough to make a real difference. Liberal Democrats are never going to support as much decentralization of government as libertarians do. But they can certainly support considerably more stringent limits on federal power than exist at present.

III. Restrain the War on Drugs.

Far more people are unjustly imprisoned as a result of the War on Drugs than as a result of President Bush's policies on the War on Terror. There are more than 300,000 Americans incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, including some 55% of all federal prison inmates and 21% of state prison inmates. If even 1% of these people are actually innocent of the offenses charged (probably a lowball figure), this would be far more than the total number of inmates at Guantanamo (who include a large number of genuine terrorists, as well as a certain percentage of innocents). And this approach to the issue implicitly assumes that punishing people for using drugs disapproved by the state is in itself morally justified, a premise that pro-choice liberals committed to the idea that we own our bodies may want to question.

Given the prevalence of prison rape and other abuses, it is also likely that many drug offenders undergo far worse conditions in our prisons than do Guantanamo detainees. Moreover, at least in the federal system, a defendant can be sentenced to an extremely lengthy term for possessing or planning to sell even very small quantities of illegal drugs.

As Radley Balko shows in this excellent recent paper, the expansion of the War on Drugs has led to numerous military-style raids on the homes of mostly nonviolent drug suspects. Balko cites estimates as high as 40,000 such raids per year. He also shows that these raids often kill or injure innocent people, as well as causing extensive property damage. The resulting harm (or even a fraction thereof) almost certainly dwarfs that caused by civil liberties abuses resulting from the War on Terror.

Unfortunately, a complete cessation of the War on Drugs is not politically feasible in the near future. But liberal Democrats could at least support scaling back the war at the margins. For example, there is broad public support for legalizing medical marijuana, even in conservative states. Liberal Democrats could also back Balko's proposals for abolishing military-style drug raids. Although there is not the space to list them all here, there are numerous other incremental reforms that could be enacted in this field as well. Obviously, some voters will strongly oppose even incremental Drug War reforms, but most of them are likely to be staunch social conservatives who are unlikely to support Democrats in any case.

Some liberal Democrats already support drug legalization, and I commend them for it. However, few Democrats have made the War on Drugs an important part of their agenda, and certainly liberal criticisms of that War are far outnumbered by the denunciations of War on Terror policies that, whatever their merits, pose far less danger to civil liberties than the War on Drugs does. Indeed, one small sign that libertarian Democrats have truly come of age will be the day when liberal commenters on the VC take us to task for neglecting the War on Drugs (on which some of us have real expertise) as much as they do for neglecting War on Terror detainee treatment policies (which I, at least, have no expertise on). I look forward to it!

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. How to be a libertarian Democrat:
  2. Libertarian Democrats?
Randy R. (mail):
I'm doubful even a libertarian Dem congress would get much accomplished on these points. The rich will continue to give money to the Dems, lobbying them to keep their subsidies. They might be scaled back a bit, just for show, but nothing really significant.

As for the War on Drugs, you have way too many people in America who think that all drugs are bad (except of course alcohol) and not enough people who believe as we do. You can be sure than virtually all religious groups will oppose any lessening on the WOD, and most middle class Americans too.
10.8.2006 1:21am
Ilya Somin:
As for the War on Drugs, you have way too many people in America who think that all drugs are bad (except of course alcohol) and not enough people who believe as we do. You can be sure than virtually all religious groups will oppose any lessening on the WOD, and most middle class Americans too.

Actually, as the polls I link to show, there are strong majorities in favor some WOD reforms, such as medical marijuana, even in very conservative states. Other incremental reforms could probably also be enacted without much opposition from quarters other than hard-cord social conservatives.

Regarding the other issues I discuss, I don't claim that any of them would be easy for Democrats to promote, but a serious effort by liberal Democrats to address them could help change the political landscape significantly - as well as win Democrats more libertarian support.
10.8.2006 1:33am
Ezra Rosser (mail) (www):
Another subsidy which targets the rich, at least in a country for whom housing itself is not a right and there is the current levels of income disparity, is the mortgage subsidy.
10.8.2006 1:53am
Lev:
While a nobel endeavour, to give advice to Dems so they can become more libertatian, that endeavor would still be just that, a comparative exercise.

Cutting off subsidies to rich people would also involve NPR, CPB, the various laws that allow rich people's special interest groups such as NRDC, Greenpeace, etc. to receive federal subsidies either directly or through court fights, and more even than I know.

Reducing federalism would mean giving more autonomy to

red
states, and to states in general, thereby reducing the ability to control the states from a central location, whether it is through the courts by litigation, by regulation, or by direct legislative control on that blessed and holy day when "the people" "take back America" from the totalitarian fascist Christian Republicans.

Your proposals, while well meant, if proposed by a Dem would immediately brand him as heretic and apostate.
10.8.2006 2:10am
k parker:
Ezra,

Doesn't the mortgage subsidy taper off well before one reaches "rich" territory (except maybe in the Bay Area?)
10.8.2006 4:08am
Wikstrom (mail):
["..increase their appeal to libertarians without abandoning their own principles... I have deliberately confined my proposals to those that do not go against basic principles of mainstream liberalism..."]

====

The 'basic principles of mainstream liberalism' are collectivist -- libertarian principles are anti-collectivist.

Squaring that circle is not possible.

No serious libertarian would believe such contrived campaign
rhetoric by "libertarian Democrats".

An elected-Democrat majority would rule as big-government collectivists because that is their fundamental view of society.

While Democrats &libertarians can indeed agree on various minor policy issues -- the gap in 'basic' principles cannot be bridged... because they are contradictions.

_____________


[[ " a zebra can't change its spots! "]]

--Al Gore
10.8.2006 5:27am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
As for the War on Drugs, you have way too many people in America who think that all drugs are bad (except of course alcohol)
So don't reform the WOD on the basis of how bad dugs are. Social conservatives will rethink the WOD if you can make these two points:

a) The private sector can fight drug abuse better than the public sector can.
b) The War on Drugs itself, or some of its elements, reduces the private sector's ability to ameliorate drug abuse.

Can these arguments be made?
10.8.2006 5:31am
wm13:
Isn't medical marijuana junk science? Why not introduce creationism into school curricula? That would be even more popular. But maybe I'm behind the times, and Prof. Somin can point to some rigorous large-scale double blind clinical studies that show marijuana to be safe, effective and superior to any other alternatives for certain conditions. (I found it effective in treating teenage angst myself, but that's not the sort of condition I am talking about.)
10.8.2006 8:14am
Jay Manifold (mail) (www):
Well, I think dugs [sic] are great, but I'll jump in to expand on Alan's ideas anyway ... social conservatism is more orthogonal to support for a free market than we sometimes like to think, so replace "private sector" with "faith-based organizations," or perhaps something less euphemistic, like "recovery ministries."

The other (and probably much trickier) side of this memetic engineering project is to persuade the addiction-recovery organizations themselves to make the occasional pronouncement to the effect that the WoD isn't really helping.

This also gets the idea back on topic, since Democrats are heavily overrepresented in the "helping professions," so this is a possible mechanism for leveraging more widespread Democratic skepticism about the WoD.
10.8.2006 8:48am
Simon (391563) (mail) (www):
The 'basic principles of mainstream liberalism' are collectivist -- libertarian principles are anti-collectivist.

Arrrgh. My head just exploded. There are collectivist strains in some parts of modern liberalism, sure, but no more (and probably, in total, a great deal less) than those in modern conservatism.

And I don't see how the devolution of power from the federal government to state governments necessarily brings about libertarian-enhancing outcomes. I can imagine situations where it would (medical marijuana) and ones where it would not (Voting Rights Act, anyone?), and the suggestion itself ignores the history of many liberals' opposition to such devolution, namely, the abuse of individual rights by state and local governments.
10.8.2006 9:40am
Bill White (mail):
Unless libertarians at least threaten to support those Democrats who seem libertarian, why will the Dennis Hastert types do anything at all to advance libertarian ideals?

Obviously, no one should expect libertarians to support Nancy Pelosi however why shouldn't libertarians seek to encourage whatever libertarian elements exist in at least some Democratic politicians (the D-TN governor being pro-2nd Amendment for example) if only to gain leverage over the big government types in the GOP?

Helping to build a libertarian wing within the Democratic party will give libertarians a greater voice on the national stage and even making the slightest attempt will cause the Republicans to pay more attention to libertarian concerns. It might not be necessary to actually vote Democratic -- merely hinting that libertarians might vote Democratic will have influence.

Also, I tend to think that there are plenty of potential Democratic candidates not now in office who would be eager to embrace a scaling back of the "War on Drugs" or look to future election cycles to recruit new people to run for the Democratic nomination for House seats working with a more libertarian platform, and who campaign against both the entrenched Washington GOP =AND= the traditional old liberal Democratic establishment.
10.8.2006 11:31am
johnt (mail):
Wake me up when the democrat libertarians, all two of them, get around to advoacting permanent, low tax rates.
In the meantime it's a toy for idle minds to play with.
10.8.2006 11:39am
liberty (mail) (www):
Great post!

However, as for #1, the core of the Democratic Party is still far too enamoured with socialism to actually want to cut subsidies for the rich across the board. They can rally behind that, just as any socialist would, but they want the government to control those areas - from farming to healthcare - and hence provide subsidies to rich and poor alike. They don't want to means-test social security because they want a federal retirement program. They want to expand the program and raise the tax on the rich, not cut back the program by means-testing it.

Similarly for #2, it is too much part of their core agenda to expand government to seriously consider any scaling back of powers. They can rally behind curtailing the powers when they are not in a position to change anything and its all talk, but when a vote comes up they will never vote to curtail the powers. In the Terri Shiavo case it was about federal intrusion into a private matter in order to save a life - they didn't care for that; but in Sweden its usually about federal intrusion in order to take a life (on government healthcare the government gets to decide if its worth the money to try to have a sick baby or to keep your mom alive on life support) and the Democrats are always in favor of that. So they can't take away the power, just focus where they want its effect.
10.8.2006 11:41am
liberty (mail) (www):
"But maybe I'm behind the times, and Prof. Somin can point to some rigorous large-scale double blind clinical studies that show marijuana to be safe, effective and superior to any other alternatives for certain conditions."

There is pretty good evidence that cannabinoid medicines are important for Multiple Sclerosis and other areas. That last article describes the importance of the THC component (so you can't make it "drug free"). Whether you allow people to smoke a joint or you restrict it to prescription and smoke-free, there is evidence that the "pot" part of marijuana can help with certain diseases.
10.8.2006 11:54am
Bryan DB:
wm13:
"rigorous large-scale double blind clinical studies that show marijuana to be safe, effective and superior to any other alternatives for certain conditions."

Based on the way you worded this, you are no doubt aware that such studies are essentially impossible during the War on Drugs. It's hard enough getting the government to allow researchers access to marijuana even for small, or laboratory-based science, studies.
10.8.2006 11:57am
markm (mail):
wm13: The government has effectively banned such studies. They prevent researchers from gathering the evidence, and then trumpet how there's no evidence.

In any case, the main applications of medical marijuana are as a pain killer for conditions where the usual prescription is an opiate, and to reduce nausea for chemotherapy patients. Marijuana is far, far safer than alternatives such as opiates (e.g., oxycontin) - and if it wasn't effective, a patient in severe pain would be putting down the joint and screaming for his opiates.

By the way, a study was released recently that failed to find any increased lung cancer hazard from smoking pot. Some claim that's because marijuana somehow protects against carcinogens; I think it's far more likely that pot heads just don't smoke nearly as much as most tobacco smokers.

Finally, there are at least two drugs derived from marijuana that have been well researched. One is synthetic THC in pill form, marketed in the US for many years; patients complain that they can't regulate the dosage as well as they do with smoking, and some claim that it's simply not as effective as natural THC - or the mix of hundreds of other substances that occur naturally. The other drug recently appeared on the Canadian market and should be through US approvals soon, and it seems to be just liquefied marijuana. Both of these drugs are much more expensive than natural marijuana. The Canadian drug avoids the hazards of smoking while allowing the patient to exactly control the dose, but there are much cheaper ways to make marijuana drinkable than to buy it from the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, a home pot liquifier would be banned as "drug paraphenalia".

All in all, it looks like the war on medical marijuana is not about protecting patients, but is rather about protecting pharmaceutical profits, and of course about government bureaucrats glorying in throwing their power around arbitrarily.

Finally, I'll bet you've been muttering "pothead" under your breath all the way through this. You're wrong. I'm a reformed drunk, sober for 30 years. I'm hypersensitive to smoke and have never smoked anything. In college I discovered that second-hand marijuana smoke gives me a sore throat, burning eyes, and stuffed-up sinuses, pretty much like tobacco smoke. If I'd ever tried to sit in a circle of hippies and wait for the joint to come around to me, I'd have been coughing to hard to hold onto it, let alone to inhale. As for harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, and LSD - I may have been drunk, but I was never stupid.
10.8.2006 12:49pm
Josh Jasper:
Isn't medical marijuana junk science?


Is psychopharmacology therapy junk science?
10.8.2006 1:05pm
reneviht (mail) (www):
Link for those who don't know what Josh Jasper is talking about. I didn't.

I thought the Democrats were protesting the War on Drugs, but had more-or-less given up on it in the way Republicans had given up on protesting Social Security. I assumed that they had taken several libertarianish (libertarianesque?) positions, but that most libertarians couldn't get past their "all corporations are the same" mentality.

Re Simon (391563): I think the idea is that it's easier to move from a state with laws you don't like to one with laws you do like than to do a similar exchange of countries. It also makes legal experiments easier, which would include deregulation experiments. Finally, to the extent that voting is an expression of freedom, since giving the federal government power over X dilutes ones vote about X over an entire country as opposed to an entire state, giving the federal government power over X weakens ones freedom with regard to X. It's obviously possible that your state would choose to oppress in X when the federal government wouldn't, but since your vote is a greater percentage of the total, there's a higher probability that you chose to be oppressed in X. Of course, if you didn't so choose, there's always the option of moving to another state which isn't oppressing in X. If no such state exists, it's quite likely that the federal government would also oppress in X.
The idea that libertarians could migrate into a state and make a more commanding constituency is a bit of a strawman, but it's not impossible.
10.8.2006 1:50pm
JonC:
The idea that libertarians could migrate into a state and make a more commanding constituency...

There is in fact just such a movement, though it doesn't seem like they've had overwhelming success so far.
10.8.2006 2:37pm
wm13:
I'm a little puzzled by all these people who claim that the federal government has suppressed marijuana studies: aren't there other countries where such studies could be done? (People are always claiming that stem cell research will move to other countries if we don't spend a gazillion federal dollars on it here.) In any case, it would seem like the first step would be to permit some studies, not to legalize a potentially unsafe and/or ineffective drug. If permitting studies is an obvious political loser, then the Democrats probably aren't going to be able to ride this horse to a glorious libertarian-allied future.

BTW, markm, I'm certainly not sitting around muttering "pothead": I'm the first to say that I took most of the drugs you avoided when I was in college, and a lot of alcohol too. I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to legalizing some or all drugs. I'm just opposed to the hypocrisy of the "medical marijuana" movement.
10.8.2006 3:09pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
In any case, it would seem like the first step would be to permit some studies, not to legalize a potentially unsafe and/or ineffective drug.
For the regulatory-state democrat, perhaps. But for the libertarian democrat?
10.8.2006 3:40pm
Michael M.:
I would switch parties in a second to any that could make a serious stab at Federalism, and I speak as someone who started as a fairly liberal Republican, switched to moderate/liberal Democrat, and have been just plain disaffected since the late 1990s. This will sound uncharitable, but let the Christian bigots do their thing in places where they have the support to do it -- they can ban all the abortions they want, throw all the pot-smokers and gays in prison, pull all the porn off the shelves, and so on, as long as they leave the rest of us alone. And as long as the taxpaying states don't have to continue subsidizing their incompetence and malfeasance. I have never managed to live in one of those states that gets back more in federal spending than it pays in federal taxes, and I'm sick of subsidizing racist, homophobic, fundamentalist backwaters like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Since the majority of states on the federal dole are Republican strongholds, I seriously doubt the Republican party will cut the apron strings. If the Democrats can be persuaded to let those places stew in their own juices, woot! They'll get my vote.
10.8.2006 3:40pm
Constantin:
Yes, Michael, would that "Christian bigots" and racist homophobic hillbillies were as tolerant and understanding and reluctant to stereotype as you look to be.
10.8.2006 3:46pm
JonC:
wm13: I'm a little puzzled by all these people who claim that the federal government has suppressed marijuana studies: aren't there other countries where such studies could be done?

Liberty's comment links to three British studies, for starters.
10.8.2006 3:56pm
Nathan Jones (mail):
From the OP:


Many general programs such as Social Security and Medicare also give a lot of their benefits to the wealthy and the upper middle class. Means testing these programs would be one way for liberal Democrats to appeal to libertarians by reasserting the liberal principle that government should not be in the business of taking from the poor (among others) to give to the rich.


This doesn't make sense to me. Means testing reinforces the principle that the government takes from the rich and gives to the poor because everyone must contribute through taxes but only the poor can receive a benefit from the program.

What am I missing here?
10.8.2006 4:21pm
GreggJohns:
A liberal democrate might be better served basing their seemingly endless desire to control everybody and everything on grounds a little more fruitful than the current talking points by delving into Science versus Scientism at www.SaneWorks.us
10.8.2006 4:36pm
John Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Insofar as racial equality is an element of Libertarian philosophy, how about urging Dems to return to the principled policy of having the state treat all people "without regard" to race? The Dems abandoned that principle and policy when they embraced racial preferences.
10.8.2006 5:55pm
MnZ (mail):
Nathan,

Ilya was referring to how social security takes from the poor (i.e., poor and middle class workers) and gives that money to rich old people. Most libertarians don't like government inforced wealth redistribution in general. However, they really, really don't like it when a politically powerful group (i.e., the elderly) just vote themselves money.
10.8.2006 6:00pm
Nathan Jones (mail):
MnZ

Thank you for clarifying but I'm still confused.

Rich people pay taxes. Those taxes go to fund things like Social Security and Medicare. As we all know, taxes on the rich make up a greater percentage of government revenue than taxes on the poor...

So Ilya thinks that turning around and saying to all the rich people: "We know you've paid taxes for 50 years but it is too bad that now, upon retirement, you are just too rich and so you won't get any benefit from the system you've been supporting all this time..." will somehow reduce libertarian fears about using government for income transfers?

If anything, I would think that policy would heighten libertarian concerns. At least, under the old system, we will get a few hundred bucks a month when we retire to make up for all the money put into the system during our working years. Now the government is going to break its promise, as it were, and not give some of us anything when we retire because we were too successful?!?

Sorry I don't get how that would appeal to libertarians,
-nj
10.8.2006 6:39pm
Josh Jasper:

I'm just opposed to the hypocrisy of the "medical marijuana" movement.


There isn't any. What you're opposed to does not exist outside of DEA funded bullshit.
10.8.2006 6:42pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Nathan,

Consider the current situation we face: which is a bigger, more intrusive government program? Food stamps, or Medicare? TANF, or Social Security?

A hard-core libertarian would of course not support any government programs, but assuming we're trying to compromise, a libertarian would support a small "safety net" for the poor long before he would support the government taking lots and lots of money from everyone, shuffling it through the executive branch, and then redistributing it to many people, even if more people "get some of their money back" that way.
10.8.2006 7:35pm
Fletcher (mail):
- Master the art of private sector outsourcing. A big government must needs be an efficient government.

- Yes, that includes schooling. Vouchers, not tax credits. Or heck, go to means testing - mandate schooling but don't fund it for those of substantive means.

- Get government OUT of the marriage business. Let the religions move back in. Perhaps the major brands, i.e., a "catholic marriage", will mean something again.

- End farm subsidies for other-than-family farmers.
10.8.2006 7:44pm
John Noble (mail):
The 'basic principles of mainstream liberalism' are collectivist -- libertarian principles are anti-collectivist.


And their reconciliation, or merger, is in the exercise of collective political authority at the level of organization as autonomous as its effective exercise will permit.

Realistic libertarianism and pragmatic liberalism share a presumption in favor of individual liberty, but even the most radical libertarian has to acknowledge that cooperative engagement enhances freedom by allowing reliance on protected expectations. The "rules" of engagements, whether marital vows, corporate charters, municipal building codes, state professional licensing regimes, federal regulation of commercial aviation, or international nuclear arms treaties, all empower who or what they purport to regulate because compliance with the rules exacts less liberty than the responses dictated by unruly cohorts.

I don't think Democrats stand to make much of an inroad on the Libertarian vote by offering a pale imitation of its platform, and the kind of cherry-picking that would have them oppose drug control while supporting gun control isn't going to attract many Libertarians (who tend to get hung up on first principles), while it cements the alienation of the religious right who should be voting left on pocketbook issues.

Democrats should "reconsider federalism," as you suggest -- not with a view toward conceding "more stringent limits on federal power," however; but toward the empowerment of local governments, at the same time empowering the People to which local governments are more directly and effectively responsive and accountable.

A liberal libertarian might turn the federalism issue in Printz and Lopez on its head -- lending federal enforcement authority to local gun control regulation. That would permit local governments to accommodate the very different circumstances and respect the very different voter sentiments in Washington D.C. and Bozeman, Montana.

A liberal libertarian might reconcile a woman's right to choose with state authority to regulate the practice of medicine by paying 100% of the ($500) Medicaid cost of abortions, plus a travel allowance if necessary, and 0% of the ($20,000) prenatal and childbirth cost in states that prohibit abortions.

I don't disagree with the contention that farm subsidies and controlled substance regulations impose unnecessary restraints on individual liberty, but liberal libertarians should be prepared to address the argument, outlined by David Barron in A Localist Critique of the New Federalism, 51 Duke L. J. 377, that the elimination of federal regulation may impose its own less obvious constraints upon local autonomy, i.e. "that appropriate central governmental power may be defended at all levels of the constitutional structure in the name of promoting the virtues that attend local governmental decisionmaking," and the "virtues [of local autonomy] may even be undermined by a legal system that commits itself ... to seeking out a separate sphere of local autonomy that must be protected from central lawmaking."

John Noble







































































































































































































































































restricted by rule than by egulation than by response
10.8.2006 8:02pm
Hattio (mail):
markm

What potheads did you know that smoked less pot than the average smoker smokes cigarettes. I think those were recreational users, not potheads.
10.8.2006 9:53pm
lyarbrou (mail):
WM13
"isn't medical marijuana junk science? Why not introduce creationism into school curricula? That would be even more popular. But maybe I'm behind the times, and Prof. Somin can point to some rigorous large-scale double blind clinical studies that show marijuana to be safe, effective and superior to any other alternatives for certain conditions. (I found it effective in treating teenage angst myself, but that's not the sort of condition I am talking about.)"

See the following for some of the most recent studies:

J Glaucoma. 2006 Oct;15(5):349-353.
Effect of Sublingual Application of Cannabinoids on Intraocular Pressure: A Pilot Study.
* Tomida I, et al.

Medicinal marijuana use: experiences of people with multiple sclerosis.
Can Fam Physician. 2006 Jan;52:64-5.
PMID: 16926966 [PubMed - in process]

Medical marijuana: politics trumps science at the FDA.
MedGenMed. 2006 May 17;8(2):46. No abstract available.
PMID: 16926785 [PubMed - in process]
10.9.2006 12:23am
lucia (mail) (www):
This is all interesting advice, but you need to ask these two questions: Do Democrats want to be libertarians? Do Republicans?

Let's face it, what both parties want is to persuade libertarians to vote for their candidates without having to change their party platforms to include libertarian ideals!
10.9.2006 10:51am
Nathan Jones (mail):
David M. Nieporent,

That is an interesting point, maybe some of this depends on how the issue is framed.

I can see one framing along the lines you mentioned being appealing to libertarians.

Speaking personally, I can also see the argument I outlined above creating a strong negative reaction by libertarians against more means testing for Social Security and Medicare: the government forces the rich and middle class to pay into a retirement and medical insurance scheme but only the poor get any benefit from it. That new policy would completely reinforce the notion of a Robin Hood state -- which all libertarians oppose.

Realistically the government will not exempt the rich and middle class from all taxes to support Social Security or Medicare. So they will have to pay in no matter who gets cut out. Cutting the "rich" out of Social Security might be politically feasible but it won't save that much money. Cutting the "middle and/or upper middle classes" out would save a lot of money but that wouldn't be politically feasible.

So, at best, you get a scheme where the top 2-3% of income earners are eliminated from social security and medicare but that wouldn't reduce the total tab that much. (Or is Ilya looking for symbolism in his proposals.) The greater percentage of folks you means test out of these programs, the greater opposition you will run into because people will object to being cut out of a system they have been paying taxes to support throughout their working careers.

So you couldn't eliminate enough people for this proposal to really reduce the welfare state and philosophically eliminating payouts to the rich only reinforces the idea of Robin Hood government.

The welfare state is a tough beast to slay.
-nj

If benefits are provided to everyone, there is less redistribution going on.
10.9.2006 1:25pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I've always been puzzled by the antipathy among many libertarians to labor unions. Unions are, after all, private bodies, and labor contracts in the private sector are contracts between workers and employers. It doesn't seem that big of a stretch to me for a libertarian to realize that in many cases unions simply help equalize bargaining power.

Also, libertarians should consider the alternatives to unions. It's NOT a return to Lochner era idea that regulating the workplace is unconstitutional, and no amount of dreaming and political work will make it so. The consequence of lower rates of unionization is more legal regulation of the workplace. It's no accident that there has been a boom in the number of employment laws passed (state and federal level) in the past couple of decades, as the rate of private sector unionization has declined.

So, maybe some libertarians could be convinced that unions are either an entirely reasonable thing to have and even encourage, or at least were the lesser of two evils, given that they would promote more private regulation of the workplace and therefore less public regulation.
10.9.2006 5:15pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I am always amused at the notion that taking a more libertarian view on drugs is going to be a way for Democrats to get elected. Yes, Ilya is correct that in a few states where medical marijuana has been on the ballot (after George Soros has spent a lot of money), there has been a majority willing to vote for what is effectively a compassionate exception to the marijuana laws.

A truly libertarian argument for decriminalizing all drugs (one based on the principle of self-ownership) is doomed to failure. Indeed, if adopted as a party platform, it would assist the Democrats to become completely and utterly irrelevant everywhere except law school faculty lounges and perhaps ten counties in the entire United States. Typically, 90% of the American population opposes decriminalization of all the illegal drugs. Call it hypocritical, call it ignorant, call it a waste of resources, but even with twenty years of vigorous media campaigning in favor of it--the idea is going nowhere.

Why? Because Americans are not fundamentally libertarian. They want to be left alone, but they also want to be taken care of, and often as not, they aren't particularly interested in leaving others alone. Secondarily, even Americans who don't regard pot as a problem (and that's not a majority position, by any means) are far less sympathetic to cocaine (powder or especially crack), heroin, and meth.

Especially among a number of core Democratic Party constituencies, such as inner-city blacks, there is a profound anger about the problems associated with drug abuse--hence the bizarre conspiracy theories that the U.S. government intentionally encourages importation of cocaine and heroin to keep blacks poor. (There are similar conspiracy theories claiming that handguns end up in the ghettos because the police helicopters drop them to encourage crime--and the people promoting these whacko theories aren't even tenured faculty, to my surprise!)

Any political argument that starts out with high-minded political theories is a non-starter for persuading non-ivory tower Americans. They want pragmatic solutions to real world problems. Indeed, liberalism's history of idealism and its destructive results (because based on false premises) have made even legitimately thoughtful ideologies, such as libertarianism, completely unacceptable to the masses.
10.9.2006 5:36pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
JosephSlater writes:


I've always been puzzled by the antipathy among many libertarians to labor unions. Unions are, after all, private bodies, and labor contracts in the private sector are contracts between workers and employers. It doesn't seem that big of a stretch to me for a libertarian to realize that in many cases unions simply help equalize bargaining power.
Call a labor union by its correct name—labor monopoly—and you can start to see why libertarians tend to be a bit skeptical of unions. Now, it is true that a labor union is just as legitimately a free market institution as a monopoly. Not surprisingly, when the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was struck down for violating the 14th Amendment rights of corporations (which was a very creative use), its only use for a few years was against labor unions—which were doing the same thing as corporate monopolies, but without any state charter to make it a legal person.

However, labor unions since the New Deal Era has enjoyed certainly legal advantages not available to corporations, and this is one of the reasons that many libertarians regard unions with considerable skepticism. Having grown up in a two union member family, I am skeptical of labor unions because they are institutions of organized terror. Crossing a picket line is taking your life in your hands. I remember asking my father, at about eight years of age, why he couldn't go to work. There was a strike on. "Can't you go to work anyway?" "Not if you want to live."

A friend grew up in an UAW family in Michigan. His father was an official of the local. They were sitting in a coffee shop one morning, and the guy in the next booth said something to his companions that was anti-union. Without even thinking, my friend's father swung his coffee mug around hard enough onto the guy in the next booth to break the mug, and of course, there's blood everywhere.

Another friend moved to California to work during World War II. It was apparently still a right to work state, and she and another girl refused to join the union. My friend didn't stay, after she saw how the activists cut up her friend's pretty face for refusing to join.

Labor unions rely on violence, terror, and murder—and the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Enmons (1973) has actually ruled that the federal law prohibiting extortion in interstate commerce does not apply to the use of explosives to destroy company property because obtaining higher wages is a legitimate union objective, and therefore violence committed to achieve that goal isn't extortion.
10.9.2006 5:51pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
Why exactly should the government support the poor when the poor don't support the government?

Think about it. The poor do not pay any taxes, employ any people, provide any services, export any goods, or invent any technologies. If they did, they wouldn't be poor.

So why is it wrong to take the people who do the most good for the American government, and reward them with subsidies to encourage their continued support?
10.9.2006 7:29pm
Josh Jasper:

So why is it wrong to take the people who do the most good for the American government, and reward them with subsidies to encourage their continued support?



Thank you, Jack Abramoff.
10.9.2006 9:56pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
The poor do not pay any taxes, employ any people, provide any services, export any goods, or invent any technologies. If they did, they wouldn't be poor.

Really? What about those that have intellectual property ripped off? I'm not saying it happens every day, but it happens. This is detrimental to the economy and society - you want innovation and invention rewarded, not thievery and dishonesty. And the detrimental effect can be ongoing since the original innovator isn't funded by the profits to create additional innovations. I think Warren Buffett has said something to this effect - that if his best ideas had been stolen he would be a nothing today.
10.9.2006 10:33pm
Ilya Somin:
I've always been puzzled by the antipathy among many libertarians to labor unions. Unions are, after all, private bodies, and labor contracts in the private sector are contracts between workers and employers. It doesn't seem that big of a stretch to me for a libertarian to realize that in many cases unions simply help equalize bargaining power.....


So, maybe some libertarians could be convinced that unions are either an entirely reasonable thing to have and even encourage, or at least were the lesser of two evils, given that they would promote more private regulation of the workplace and therefore less public regulation.


My previous post focused only on public sector unions, not private sector ones. The former uniformly support big government on almost every issue and virtually never oppose it.

On private sector unions, I have no objection to them so long as they are not given rights unavailable to other private sector organizations, including employers (in fact, most unions are legally organized as corporations). Workers should be free to form unions if they want to and to refuse to work for nonunionized employers. In turn, employers should be free not to hire union members and to insist on "yellow dog" contracts if they prefer. If union membership really is valued by workers, employers who permit unionization should be able to outcompete those who forbid it in the labor market.

Finally, I highly doubt that private sector unions reduce government regulation. To the contrary, they regularly lobby for increased regulation and almost never against it (except in the case of efforts to regulate unions' own activities). At the margin, private sector unions probably lead to more regulation rather than less.
10.9.2006 10:33pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Why exactly should the government support the poor when the poor don't support the government?

Think about it. The poor do not pay any taxes, employ any people, provide any services, export any goods, or invent any technologies. If they did, they wouldn't be poor.
I'm scratching my head to see if this person is serious.

1. Poor people may not pay much (if any) income taxes, but they do pay sales taxes, Social Security taxes, and an awful lot of other "little" taxes (such as state disability insurance taxes) that those of us with good jobs barely notice. Indeed, as much as progressive income tax structures bug me, to some extent they correct for the highly regressive nature of many other taxes.

2. I don't know what you mean by "poor" people, but there's a heck of a lot of poor people who work--and often work very hard--doing jobs like construction, gardening, babysitting, and a thousand and one other jobs that are necessary for the maintenance of a civilization. They aren't paid very well, not because the jobs aren't important, but because there's no great skill required to do them, and there's no shortage of unskilled people who need a job. I don't worship poor people, but poor people that show up to work every day get enormous respect from me. If I had my way, income taxes would be "flat" with a personal deduction large enough that people making $10 per hour would pay no income taxes at all, and Social Security taxes would also be "flat" with no ceiling amounts, reducing the Social Security taxes paid by the poor. You can see why I hate liberalism so much--it stands for the current tax system that is in theory progressive, but actually a method for throwing scraps to the poor, and redistributing most wealth upward.
10.9.2006 11:22pm
Josh Jasper:

You can see why I hate liberalism so much--it stands for the current tax system that is in theory progressive, but actually a method for throwing scraps to the poor, and redistributing most wealth upward.


The current crop of conservatives, on the other hand, are throwing huge bloody chunks of flesh upwards to the corporate world, and packing them in with the remains of the scraps th poor used to have.

It all makes sense now.
10.10.2006 12:37am
juris_imprudent (mail):

Call it hypocritical, call it ignorant, call it a waste of resources, but even with twenty years of vigorous media campaigning in favor of it--the idea is going nowhere.

Clayton, I haven't a clue as to what "vigorous media campaigning" you've seen in favor of decriminalization/legalization. I certainly see lots of media coverage of DEA/vice busts.

But at least the rest of your characterization of the WoD was spot on.
10.10.2006 2:07am
JosephSlater (mail):
Ilya writes:

"My previous post focused only on public sector unions, not private sector ones. The former uniformly support big government on almost every issue and virtually never oppose it."

I missed your post on public sector unions -- do you have a link? I would be interested. As to the above, respectfully, I think saying unions "support big government" is overly simplistic. Public sector unions obviously have an interest in employment for their members. But they also have a genuine interest in providing good public services -- I say this as someone who has worked with a variety of public sector unions in the "real world" and also studied them academically.

Sure, if libertarianism is reduced to "government shouldn't be doing much of anything -- no public schools, roads, etc." -- then libertarians won't find much common cause with public sector unions, or the Democratic Party, or the vast majority of America for that matter. But less extreme libertarians interested in *effective* public services have more in common with public sector unions then they might think. One wouldn't know it from reading this blog, but there are lots of studies showing that teachers' unions -- that bete noir of the political right -- actually correlate with *higher* standardized test scores and graduations rates, for example. And the Bush administration's attempts at union-busting in the DHS hasn't exactly made that place more effective/efficient.

Ilya continues: "On private sector unions, I have no objection to them so long as they are not given rights unavailable to other private sector organizations, including employers (in fact, most unions are legally organized as corporations). Workers should be free to form unions if they want to and to refuse to work for nonunionized employers. In turn, employers should be free not to hire union members and to insist on "yellow dog" contracts if they prefer. If union membership really is valued by workers, employers who permit unionization should be able to outcompete those who forbid it in the labor market."

Libertarians who want "yellow dog" contracts to be legal again will find no common ground with the Democratic Party or, again, the vast majority of Americans. I could give you a long list of how labor law actually disadvantages unions in comparsion to employers and other private sector organizations (check out their reporting requirements). But I fear our disagreement is more fundamental.

Unionization *is* valued by workers. Surveys repeatedly show that about 40% of workers would like to be in unions. And that is the rate of unionization in the public sector. The rate in the private sector is much lower, but that is because labor law is so weak that it permits employers to fire pro-union workers with impunity (and studies repeatedly show that happens with alarming frequency).

Ilya writes: "Finally, I highly doubt that private sector unions reduce government regulation. To the contrary, they regularly lobby for increased regulation and almost never against it (except in the case of efforts to regulate unions' own activities). At the margin, private sector unions probably lead to more regulation rather than less."

I'll grant you this is a debatable point. I speculated that a stronger union movement would mean that more work relations would be determined by the employees and employer. Again my evidence for that is the fact that formal legal regulation of the workplace has taken off at a much higher rate as the private sector labor movement has declined. But you are correct that labor supported laws such as Title VII. Historically, there is a competing trend within labor that has opposed seeking regulation (and indeed, that supposedly is what makes the U.S. labor movement "exceptional"). But again, I'll admit that it's not clear whether that would be dominant in a new era if labor grew.

Bottom line: hardcore libertarians who think government shouldn't be involved in things like public schools and believe that yellow dog contracts should be legal and otherwise yearn for the Lochner era in the workplace are not going to see much worthwhile in unions. I still think some less hardcore folks might value unions for actually making private markets for employment contracts function in a way most folks would recognize as fair by equalizing baragining power.

Last point. Clayton Cramer, you are as knowledgeable and informative about unions as you are about gays and lesbians.
10.10.2006 12:10pm
Mozi Codo:
Great article! It gives some great examples of how libertarian ideals are correct. By the way, for those interested, these philosophies work for all the issues.
10.10.2006 3:54pm
ctw (mail):
rephrased to be a tad less offensive, michael m's call for a rebirth of traditional federalism might be worth considering.

when I was young, "states rights" was a generally acknowledged code for segregation so that a non-racist simply couldn't be for it. the extremes of the urban-rural split hadn't evolved all that much, jobs were relatively hard to come by, and the very people who were adversely affected by local social policies generally didn't have the resources to move to more hospitable environments, assuming there were any.

today, almost any state's metro areas are relatively "progressive" relative to the rest of the state, jobs are plentiful, and relocation is presumably within the means of most people at various points in their lives. so maybe it would in fact be attractive to relax the idea of national uniformity, at least for selected activities.

for example, while I heartily support current estab clause jurisprudence and the dover decision, I have some skepticism about the harm done by not teaching evolution in public school. being biology-challenged, I had only the vaguest idea what it was about for all but the last few years of a loooong life and have nonetheless done just fine in a high-tech career. and even if my experience is atypical and/or anachronistic, in time any adverse effects should show up statistically (eg, below average college acceptance rates) and local communities can rethink their decision based on tangible trade-offs.

disclaimers: teaching evolution is intended only as an example - I have neither the intent nor the ability to make a comprehensive argument for or against; civil rights obviously aren't subject to local option; and I'm not suggesting that a return to broader federalism would be optimal, just that some extreme measures may become necessary in order to diffuse emerging and seemingly widespread attacks on our whole system of government that have been engendered by "nationalizing" many current hot-button issues.

-charles
10.10.2006 4:07pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
> Thank you, Jack Abramoff.

Ridiculing the question may be the easiest response, but it doesn't make the question go away.

There's a fundamental assumption here that successful companies don't deserve subsidies. Why not? We give the gold medal to the best athlete because he deserves it. It all comes down to what "deserving" means. Does it mean that you have a great need, or a great ability?

Need is the wrong answer. If you deserve whatever you can't get for yourself up to a certain level, and you'd be satisfied with only having that level of success, why should you get it yourself? If you won't go out and get the most basic of needs for yourself, doesn't that inherently mean you don't deserve them?
10.10.2006 5:08pm