The Most Controversial Belief

Because I’m both a Libertarian and a loudmouth, I’m frequently hit with questions about libertarianism (and the Libertarian Party). Recently this one came up:

“What is the most controversial belief of Libertarians?”

Could it be our support of immigration freedom (and, generally, freedom to travel)?

Or our demand for separation of school and state?

Perhaps our hard-line support for gun rights?

Or our stand for legalization of all drugs?

How about our advocacy for keeping the government out of the sex lives of consenting adults (including marriage, and including sex for pay)?

Or our belief that who you do or don’t do business with — including for healthcare and retirement — is your decision and no one else’s to make?

My answer: It’s all of those, and others. But it really boils down to one issue.

The most controversial belief of libertarians (and partisan Libertarians) is the belief that you’re generally both more entitled and more qualified to run your life than someone else is.

Who considers that belief controversial? “Mainstream” politicians and their supporters.

Why do they consider that belief controversial? Because they consider themselves entitled and qualified to run your life for you, whether you like it or not. And, of course, to bill you for the costs of their supervision.

Politics isn’t persuasion. Politics is force.

Whether the issue is immigration, or education, or self-defense, or drug use,  or sex, or commerce, or, heck, what color you paint your house or how long you let the grass on your lawn grow, the political approach is not to present an argument and trust you to make the right decision. It’s to decide “for” you, then beat you down if you disobey (or fail to pay them for their services).

Libertarianism — even the “political” variety — isn’t really very political at all. It’s anti-political. As one fun meme puts it, libertarians are “diligently plotting to take over the world and leave you alone.”

Libertarians only recognize one valid constraint on your actions: A universal, mutual constraint against aggression, also known as initiation of force.

The simple version, courtesy of Matt Kibbe: Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff.

When you throw the first punch, or pick someone’s pocket, or otherwise forcibly interpose yourself between someone else and that someone’s life, liberty, or property, you’re not running your own life. You’re trying to run theirs.

And that’s the only thing libertarians agree you should be stopped from doing or penalized (in a manner consistent with restitution, not “punishment”) for doing. Even if it’s “for their own good.”

If you’re down with that idea, congratulations: You’re a libertarian.

If you’re not down with that idea, I hope you’ll think it through more carefully.

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Pro-Crime People

You can’t be pro-police and anti-crime. If you say you are, you’re lying.

I see this delusion all the time. People support the largest organized crime gang in existence– the Blue Line Gang— and pretend it’s because they hate crime. That makes no sense whatsoever.

If you are pro-police you are pro-crime.

Sure, maybe you choose to be violated by the members of this crime gang instead of being violated by the members of a competing crime gang, but I don’t see that as a plus.

Freelance gang members are generally seen as fair game during any attack. Shoot one and you might not be punished.

But shoot a Blue Line Gangster in self-defense and the power and violence of the government religion will be brought down on you.

People who support police are supporting crime. Much worse crime than that supported by any other crime supporters. When they claim otherwise they have zero credibility.

Speaking of the religion of government, have you seen this powerful video?

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The Dissident Ambassador

In a new paper, Greg Mankiw shares some thoughtful reflections on teaching and heterodoxy:

I have always thought that instructors, especially in introductory courses, are like ambassadors for the economics profession. The role of ambassadors is not to represent their own views but to act as agents for their principal. Just as ambassadors are supposed to faithfully represent the perspective of their nations, the instructor in an introductory course (and intermediate courses as well) should faithfully represent the views shared by the majority of professional economists.

[…]

This perspective of instructor as ambassador raises the question of what instructors should do if they hold views far from the mainstream of the economics profession. If you are an Austrian or Marxist economist, for example, what should you do if asked to teach an introductory course? In my view, there are only two responsible courses of action. One is to sublimate your own views and spend most of the course teaching what the mainstream believes, even if you disagree with it. Because many introductory students will take only one or two courses in economics throughout their educations, it would be pedagogical malpractice, in my judgment, to focus on an idiosyncratic minority viewpoint. The other responsible course of action is to avoid teaching introductory (and even intermediate) courses entirely. In a more advanced elective, there is nothing wrong with teaching an idiosyncratic minority viewpoint, as long as students know what they are getting.

Mankiw’s view definitely resonates with me, but my position – and my practice – is rather different.  I say that a professor’s fundamental fiduciary duty is to teach their students about the world – not what his peers think about the world.  As long as your discipline is fundamentally sound, fortunately, these two goals closely overlap.  If your discipline is a corrupt pseudo-science, however, your obligations to your students require you to teach heterodoxy.  Sure, you’ll have to explain the normal view in the process of debunking it.   Yet it’s a dereliction of duty to teach nonsense as fact.

Analogously, by the way, it’s fine to act as a loyal ambassador for a fundamentally virtuous organization.  But if you’re the ambassador for North Korea, you have not only the right but the obligation to be a traitor.  “I’m just promoting my client’s interests” is as flimsy a defense as “I’m just following orders.”  See Mike Huemer on legal ethics for further discussion.

Since I am a professional economist, I’m happy to say that I don’t consider my discipline a corrupt pseudo-science.  However, economics is also far from “fundamentally sound.”  When I teach, then, I try to split the difference.  I spend about half of the time as Mankiw recommends: neutrally describing the economic consensus.  When the consensus is far from the truth, though, I go out of my way to amend it.

Yes, I try to plainly disclose whether I’m describing the research consensus or just telling them what’s actually reasonable to believe.  And no, I don’t penalize students for arguing that the consensus is right and Caplan is wrong.  Some of my exams even require students to disagree with me!  Still, my primary goal is to teach students how the economy works, not what most economists happen to believe.

Furthermore, the only economics students who really need to understand the current conventional wisdom of economics are… graduate students!  After all, no matter how misguided the research consensus happens to be, you can’t be a successful researcher unless you understand it.  Most Econ 1 students, in stark contrast, will never take another economics class.  So the sole economics instructor they’re ever going to have should rigidly focus on economic reality.  Thus, I essentially reverse Mankiw’s advice to confine “idiosyncratic minority viewpoints” to advanced students.  No matter what you think about Keynesianism, you have a fiduciary responsibility to teach your grad students all about it.  Otherwise, they’ll be at a severe professional handicap.  For undergrads, in contrast, the truth of Keynesianism is pivotal.  If your students’ lifetime commitment to economics comes to fifteen weeks, it would be silly to spend five weeks on an intellectual dead-end.

Am I saying that professors should teach whatever they feel is true?  No; a thousand times no.  If you use your “feelings” to form beliefs, you shouldn’t be a professor at all.  The first fiduciary duty of every intellectual is to set emotions aside, and calmly and patiently study a wide range of arguments and evidence.  Once you’ve done that, however, you owe it to your students to share the fruits of your labors.  And if, along the way, you discover that your discipline is misguided, you should let your students know that, too.

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You Can’t Have Civil Rights Both Ways

It’s interesting to me how many people want their own rights respected, while also wanting other people’s rights to be violated.

People who want their rights as gun owners respected often advocate a massive government welfare program, carried out through taxation and land theft, in order to build a border wall, which violates the right of association and the right of people to move about freely. They also demand a police state where you can be stopped and checked for your papers.

To justify these violations, they’ll insist it’s necessary because of other kinds of welfare and because of laws that all but criminalize self-defense and the uninterrupted possession of the proper tools with which to carry it out. To abolish any violations appears unthinkable.

On the other hand, those who oppose a rights-violating border wall want to continue to violate everyone by funding government handouts and usually want the rights of gun owners to be violated more than they already are.

Then you have those who seem happy to violate themselves. They’ll demand their right to marry whoever they want to marry, but want government permission — even licenses — to do so. Or they want to have their right to use cannabis respected while they beg for this right to be violated through taxation and regulation.

Did I say it’s interesting? I meant disappointing.

It makes one thing perfectly clear: People either don’t understand rights or they don’t respect them.

People aren’t good at consistency, especially when they don’t realize that all rights are connected so thoroughly they might as well be one and the same. How can you expect your rights to be respected if you refuse to respect the rights of everyone else? How much do you really value your own rights if you’ll let others treat them as privileges?

I want your rights respected, no matter who you are.

I don’t want you robbed to fund things I believe are necessary. I don’t want your real estate stolen for projects I want. I won’t hire armed agents to impose things on you that violate your life, liberty, or property even if I suspect you are up to no good. I won’t impose licensing on you.

If you violate me, I have the natural human right to defend myself. Laws can’t change this.

It’s one reason I will never compromise on gun rights.

I’ll stand up for all your rights, consistently.

Your rights matter to me.

Do they matter to you?

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Chelsea Manning: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Again

One of the 21st century’s greatest heroines is behind bars again, held in contempt by federal judge Claude M. Hilton for refusing to help prosecutors trump up charges against the journalists who published information she paid dearly for giving them.

Chelsea Manning spent more than six years in prison —  854 days of it in pretrial confinement, violating the military’s “speedy trial” maximum of 120 days — for the fake “crime” of showing the American people evidence of actual crimes committed in our name by the US government.

President Barack Obama commuted her sentence three days before he left the White House. That, however, turned out not to be the end of her mistreatment at official hands.

Manning, who testified about  her interactions with WikiLeaks during her illegal 2013 court-martial, refuses to do so again before a grand jury targeting WikiLeaks and its founder/leader, Julian Assange, for their work in bringing hidden truth to light. Under Hilton’s order, she may be held for up to 18 months, or until the grand jury’s term ends, or until she gives in. Her history says she won’t do that.

Grand juries usually function in harness to the wishes of prosecutors. A defense lawyer famously told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 1979 that “the district attorney could get the grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if he wanted to.”

But in actuality, grand juries enjoy sweeping powers to look beyond what prosecutors show them. Should that ham sandwich — or that prosecutor — happen to attract their negative notice, they can indict the sandwich, or the prosecutor, whether the prosecutor likes it or not.

Federal prosecutors and judges are weaponizing the grand jury system to attack freedom of the press and freedom of information in support of a fortunately dying ethic of government secrecy. This particular grand jury should punish that behavior instead of rewarding it.

The grand jury should indict federal prosecutors Tracy Doherty-McCormick (who represented the government at the contempt hearing) and Gordon D. Kromberg (who requested the Manning subpoena) as well as their bosses for, among other crimes, conspiracy against rights (US Code 18, Section 241) and deprivation of rights under color of law (US Code 19, Section 242).

In the meantime, those who value truth, justice, and the American way owe Chelsea Manning a massive debt. One way to partially repay that debt is to contribute to her legal fund at https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/chelsea-manning-needs-legal-funds-to-resist-a-grand-jury-subpoena. I hope you’ll join me in doing so.

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Inconsistency is a Hallmark of Statism

Statism is so internally inconsistent that statists hallucinate inconsistency everywhere else, in everyone else. They can’t even imagine anything like consistency.

I’ve seen statists hallucinate that the right of self-defense somehow justifies their support of an armed gang of badged government employees, funded with stolen money, imposing counterfeit rules at gunpoint, with little or no accountability. They imagine that recognizing this gang for what it is is somehow an endorsement of a free-for-all Mad Max world. They come to believe it’s somehow different to shoot a rapist in the act of raping than it is to shoot a law enforcer committing an act of law enforcement.

I’ve seen statists claim that not supporting a government “border wall”, funded with stolen money, built on stolen land, and maintained with stolen money, police state tactics, and coercion, is the same as not respecting private property rights. This is a hallucination caused by statism in the brain.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples of your own.

The statism requires this internal inconsistency in order to be maintained. They don’t want to admit they have a problem, so they project their traits onto others so they won’t feel bad. Being so inconsistent, they see inconsistency where it doesn’t exist. They have a psychological need to find inconsistency in others to excuse it in themselves.

If people were internally consistent– in reason and principles– they wouldn’t be statists.

Consistency doesn’t guarantee an individual is right (you can be consistently wrong), but inconsistency guarantees an individual is wrong.

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