Gene Expression

The paucity of libertarianism

A few weeks ago I read Brink Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture. One strange thing is that because I’ve watched Brink on BloggingHeads.TV on occasion could hear the prose with his particular cadence and delivery. Really weird. In any case, The Age of Abundance is a social history of the 20th century which makes the case that despite the persistence of a partisan divide our culture has operationally congealed around a rough libertarian consensus. In short, a free market of money and lifestyle choices. I think there is a strong argument that can be made for this, as evidenced by Matt Yglesias’ qualified admission as to the rapprochement between the Left and the market, or the phenomenon of South Park Conservatism.

But despite what the folks over at CATO would prefer, the reality remains that libertarianism is a marginal phenomenon in terms of feet on the ground. It isn’t a mass movement. Libertarians are highly concentrated among young well educated secular males. People like Will Wilkinson. I was struck by this while reading a post by Andrew Gelman, Ranking states by the liberalism/conservatism of their voters. There are several great charts in this post, but if you divide the ideological map into 4 quadrants, here are the numbers of states in each zone:

Liberal = 15 (socially & economically liberal)
Conservative = 21 (socially & economically conservative)
Authoritarian = 7 (socially conservative & economically liberal)
Libertarian = 4 (socially liberal & economically conservative)

(Alaska and Hawaii not in the chart, and excluded North Carolina since it seemed to straddle)

Gelman’s whole post is worth reading, go check the figures out at his site. I will note that binning the states into the categories as I have overstate the representation of libertarianism; the libertarian states were marginal cases. The authoritarian quadrant has more extreme exemplars (West Virginia and Kentucky), while the liberal and conservative sectors exhibit a full distribution from leaners all the way to the very liberal and conservative.

Comments

  1. #1 decrepitoldfool
    June 30, 2008

    I hope someone in the Obama campaign studies these figures.

    Libertarians are highly concentrated among young well educated secular males.

    Precisely the group most likely to have health insurance from their well-paying jobs. Interesting.

  2. #2 spiderj
    June 30, 2008

    How did we get on health insurance?

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    June 30, 2008

    Precisely the group most likely to have health insurance from their well-paying jobs.

    LOLZ! I wanna know when these dudes are gonna get going on building their own roads! Grab that shovel and start digging!

  4. #4 charlie
    June 30, 2008

    But, but isn’t that what Mexicans are for?

  5. #5 D.R.M.
    June 30, 2008

    “I hope someone in the Obama campaign studies these figures.”

    While there highly concentrated among “young well educated secular males” I don’t think that that demographic is exclusively or entirely Libertarian. I’m sure there also a high concenration of left of centre progressives in that demographic, which will be Obama’s key to sucess.

  6. #6 Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    June 30, 2008

    @PhysioProf : you said…

    “LOLZ! I wanna know when these dudes are gonna get going on building their own roads! Grab that shovel and start digging!”

    I don’t think they’d do the digging themselves :-) They’d probably just hire someone.

    The Libertarians I’ve talked to generally propose Private Roads.

    I’m aware of a number of scenarios for Private Roads being created….

    The first scenario is….
    - People who own a stretch of land (or go ahead and buy it), create a private road, with the intention of making profit. These people would charge a toll. (I.e., they create toll roads.)

    The second scenario is….
    - In some states, people own, create, and maintain the sidewalk in front of their house. It is suggested that these people (could) also own, create, and maintain the roads in front of their house too.

    The third scenario is….
    - Payed roads aren’t always necessary. (Unpaved dirt) roads will naturally be created if people drive over a strip of land, over and over again. (I.e., like “pig trails”.) Buy a vehicle that can drive over these roads. (I.e., a 4×4 or a vehicle with “tracks” instead of tires. Also, vehicles might change if these kinds of roads become more common, to meet market demand.)

    The fourth scenario is….
    - Businesses (or perhaps groups of businesses) that want to reduce their costs will create their own private roads, to transport goods, to keep their costs down.

    The fifth scenario is….
    - Areas of shopping (like malls or whatever) will create some roads to help people get to them. (Like they way their create parking lots today.)

    (I’m probably not enumerating all the scenarios. These are just the ones I’m aware of.)

    All these scenarios could play out. Thus private roads could get created through a number of ways.

    – Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    http://changelog.ca/

  7. #7 agnostic
    June 30, 2008

    You can also make the argument that public ideology and the behavior of feet on the ground are negatively correlated — Appalachian states are very socially conservative because they’re full of rebel hillbillies who need to be restrained, while Vermont and Mass are full of more domesticated civic-minded people and so don’t need to clamp down on social life so much.

    This gets at the main problem of libertarianism or any rival theory — almost all are based on the “psychic unity of mankind,” regardless of whether they’re blank slaters or not. They only differ on how / how much to regulate behavior.

    Concerns about the quality of the raw materials that produce the behavior to be regulated have pretty much evaporated. That’s funny, since a common saying has it that “you can’t polish a turd.” Suggesting that it might be better to live in a society where smarties have higher birth rates than dummies gets you smeared as a nazi by anyone.

    That seems like the debate of greater historical importance — the one about the production of behavior, rather than the regulation of it.

  8. #8 TGGP
    June 30, 2008

    decrepitoldfool, that sounds like the reason many people have given for the way economist opinion diverges from the general public. Bryan Caplan checked out whether their income or job security was responsible, and it turns out that isn’t the case.

    I’m having trouble finding the exact quote from Keith Preston, but he said the vast majority of people don’t care about abstract concepts of liberty or freedom like libertarians do. They do care if they feel like their own particular circumstances or culture feel like they’re under siege. That’s why he advocates a pluralistic path of secession.

  9. #9 Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    June 30, 2008

    @decrepitoldfool : you said….

    Libertarians are highly concentrated among young well educated secular males.

    Precisely the group most likely to have health insurance from their well-paying jobs. Interesting.

    I wonder if it is their beliefs (in what we can call Libertarianism) that motivates them get educated, work hard, and (more likely to) become successful?

    – Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    http://changelog.ca/

  10. #10 D.R.M.
    June 30, 2008

    Krempeaux, I think it’s more likely that their sucess, the fact they are “self-made” tends to go to their heads. That is to say, they forget all the help they needed early on from civil society in terms of a government-funded education and government sponsered scholarships.

  11. @D.R.M. : you said…

    I think it’s more likely that their sucess, the fact they are “self-made” tends to go to their heads. That is to say, they forget all the help they needed early on from civil society in terms of a government-funded education and government sponsered scholarships.

    Even if you assume that the government is infact “helping” you in terms of “government-funded schools”, I don’t believe that negates my suggestion that a person’s Libertarian view-point motivates them to get educated, work hard, and (more likely to) become successful.

    I believe someone with a Libertarian view-point would point-out that the government doesn’t have any money of its own, but gets money by either…. #1 taking money from people in the form of taxes… or #2 “taking” money through inflation of the FIAT money (while forcing people to use said FIAT money).

    So that “government funded schools” aren’t really funded by the government. Libertarians would say the money the government is using is stolen.

    But again, that’s really besides the point. And, like I mentioned earlier, none of this negates my suggestion that a belief in Libertarianism motivates them to get educated, work hard, and (more likely to) become successful

    – Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    http://changelog.ca/

  12. #12 Aurorum
    July 1, 2008

    8 ^ D @ Charles.

    Hoorah!

  13. #13 Oldfart
    July 1, 2008

    One wonders how many of the 47 million without health insurance are “failed” Libertarians and how many of the 30-50 million (guessing, here) Americans living below the poverty level are “failed” Libertarians and why Libertarians never discuss or mention their “failed” brethren.

    My impression of all the young, secular successful males who are “Libertarians” is that they are selfish, self-centered sociopaths who would prefer they had the power to make those without health insurance and without adequate incomes “go away”. I’m sure, in their private discussions, there is much talk about the “poor” problem or the “uninsured” problem much as people talked of the “Jewish” problem or the “Arab” problem or the “Muslim” problem.

  14. #14 spiderj
    July 1, 2008

    Warning! This thread is in violation of Godwin’s Law.

  15. #15 windy
    July 1, 2008

    Actually, this thread is in fulfillment of Godwin’s law.

  16. #16 MattXIV
    July 1, 2008

    The attribution of secret, malicious motivations to ones political opponents indicates that a person does not understand the arguments for the policies they oppose or the arguments against the policies they support. This lack of understanding means that the positions they do hold are held without full comprehension of their implications and are likely to be ill-founded. Such accusations say little of their opponents, but much of their own unthinking arrogance.

  17. #17 Caledonian
    July 1, 2008

    That is to say, they forget all the help they needed early on from civil society in terms of a government-funded education

    Ah, I see we’re dealing with one of the people who believes that the American school system is one of the best in the world, and adequately prepares young people to compete in today’s world. That’s quite sufficient for us to know where to file the rest of your opinions.

    To return to the topic: many people note that various aspects of society are run by government, and then assert that government control is necessary, simply because they will not imagine that alternatives are possible.

    In some cases, all competition has been stifled by government monopoly or even active government opposition, and then the lack of functioning alternatives is cited as “evidence” that government has to intervene.

    Sometimes it’s just plain ignorance – as with those people who insist that strong central authority is necessary for a working economy to exist. Willful stupidity at its finest.

  18. #18 Mike
    July 1, 2008

    What do you all think “South Park Conservatives” means?

    Is it as simple as people who are cynical (realistic?) about human nature and also like dick jokes? Not that there is anything wrong with that. :)

  19. @MattXIV : Yes, I’m quite disappointed in the amount of ad hominem. It’s effectively killed the conversation.

    – Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    http://changelog.ca/

  20. #20 razib
    July 1, 2008

    Yes, I’m quite disappointed in the amount of ad hominem.

    well, many of political orientation X barely know anyone of !X, so they can caricature however they want. it’s a problem. as someone who is an atheist colored right-leaning moderate libertarian who has lived in 75% liberal democrat and 75% conservative republican milieus i like to think that i’m habituated to a level of dissent from my own priors and models which most people aren’t….

  21. #21 Oldfart
    July 2, 2008

    I admit the breaking of Godwin’s Law. But I did not suggest a conspiracy. It is the nature of Libertarians to think that way. In many cases, perhaps the vast majority of cases, the poor, indigent, homeless and uninsured are victims and Libertarians most often blame the victims for being victims. They have no solution for the poor, the indigent or the uninsured so they can only hope those people will disappear somehow.

  22. #22 MattXIV
    July 2, 2008

    But I did not suggest a conspiracy. It is the nature of Libertarians to think that way.

    I didn’t allege that you believed there was any form of conspiracy, just that you are ignorant of why libertarians hold the positions they do and subsitute a accusation of ill intentions for it. You specifically alleged that libertarians are “selfish, self-centered sociopaths who would prefer they had the power to make those without health insurance and without adequate incomes ‘go away’”. I’m a libertarian and this is not an accurate description of my motivations nor is it an accurate description of the motivations of any libertarians I’ve met – if you actually bothered to listen, you’d hear a lot about moral hazard in the context of welfare, the costs of redistribution on long term economic growth, barriers to entry into skilled labor and access to credit created by regulation, and among less radical libetarians the idea of a negative income tax, which solves many of the incentive problems with the traditional welfare model. The libertarian take on allieviating poverty isn’t unassailable, but you don’t need to be a sociopath to agree with it. So you indeed attributed a secret, malicious motivation to libertarians rather than familiarizing yourself with their actual motivations.

  23. #23 Oldfart
    July 3, 2008

    When did “My impression of” become a conspiracy theory or become a statement of fact? Methinks thou dost protest too much. It’s an opinion, buddy, subject to change either one way or another. How many of these young successful (note that requirement) males know as much about the subject as you do? I opine that most of them call themselves Libertarians just because it sounds good, has the word “Liberty” in it and serves to further separate themselves from the “common” folk, whoever they are. Meanwhile, it justifies (in their minds) their devotion to greed and acquisition of counters. Myself, I don’t want their money and I don’t envy their success. I just call a spade a spade when I see one or, more appropriately, read one since most of my interaction with Libertarians comes from bulletin board discussions, opinion pieces, blogs and comment sections.

  24. #24 Brad
    July 22, 2008

    Oldfart, as you correctly noted, an opinion is not a fact. However, thats not relevant to this discussion. Just as one can believe the earth is flat(“My impression is that the earth is a plane”) and reject any arguments that contradict that belief(“Hey, its just my impression. It’s an opinion.”) thus completely misunderstanding the nature of the argument, I believe you have with this issue. Either we libertarians are in general as you believe we are(sociopaths) or we aren’t. When a person provides an argument(however valid) contradicting your belief, rejecting it by arguing that its just your opinion strikes me as unsound.

    I hope you can appreciate why I’m so interested in this issue. It worries me that libertarians are perceived as sociopaths. From a moral standpoint, I’d argue that libertarianism is the only political ideology that is just. Any other philosophy either advocates economic or social slavery of some form or another, regarding a persons property(some even including his very body) as something that he only owns as long as some higher authority(be it central or a collective will) allows him to. Any such argument makes my blood boil. No one is a slave, obligated to subvert their own will in favor of another. We are sovereign over our own property and anyone who says otherwise IS advocating slavery, in some form and degree.