Is the Libertarian Moment Over?

Rand Paul’s presidential bid is all but over. He hasn’t announced dropping out yet, but he’s at 1 percent to 3 percent in the various polls. Reports say he is putting more time and effort into his re-election campaign for the Senate.

Current polls say the front runners for the GOP nomination are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Marco Rubio, usually in that order. (A very recent Investors’ Business Daily / TIPP poll has Carson ahead of Trump and Rubio ahead of Fiorina, but it’s Investors’ Business Daily.)

What does this tell us about the Republican base?

I have yet to figure out the appeal of Ben Carson, unless people have persuaded themselves he can steal the coveted Black Vote from the Democrats. He may be attracting the evangelical / culture warrior vote, but that’s the only explanation I can think of.

Fiorina doesn’t stand for anything except Fiorina. What stands on issues she has taken are all GOP boilerplate, and she’s failed to say much about many domestic issues, such as social security. So her appeal can’t have anything to do with issues. She has recently added an “answers” feature to her website, in which one may ask a question about her stand on an issue and get “answers.” I typed in “what do you plan for social security,” but none of the “answers” that came up had anything to do with social security. I did learn she plans to get tough with China, though.

That leaves us with Trump and Rubio. Trump is clearly the least libertarian candidate in the field. He’s essentially promising to be a dictator and get stuff done by ordering it done. Rubio seems to be the only conventional politician with a shot at the moment, possibly because he’s not Jeb!, who is fifth in all the recent polls.

Anyhoo — Awhile back libertarian-leaning Republicans were certain that a small-government, pro-liberty, Randian economics libertarian position represented the future of Republicanism. But it seems the base didn’t get that memo. They want a tough guy (or Fiorina) who will be dictator and break heads and get tough with foreign people. Oh, and they want someone who will stick it to liberals.

A month ago Michael Lind wrote that Donald Trump’s popularity among the teabaggers exposed them for what they are — not “small government” freedom fighters but old-fashioned right-wing populists.

Think William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long, not Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers are less upset about the size of government overall than they are that so much of it is going to other people, especially immigrants and nonwhites. They are for government for them and against government for Not-Them.

Today, Conor Lynch writes,

Trump has vindicated the left’s suspicion that the Tea Party is not a small government libertarian movement, but a kind of white-identity populism akin to the 1960s reactionary movement led by politicians like George Wallace. Right-wing populists have long been dubious of foreigners, immigrants, minorities and elitists — both in the intellectual and monied sense. Sound familiar?

Trump has taken advantage of the fears and insecurities of a significant portion of white Americans, who see the influx of non-white immigrants — Hispanic, Asian, Muslim — as a threat to their way of life. In their view, Muslims are terrorists (i.e., Syrian refugees are members of ISIS — even though half are children), Mexicans are rapists and job-stealers, foreigners are cheaters, black people are lazy, and so on. They also distrust intellectuals and experts. Consider, for example, the denial of scientific realities like climate change and evolution. Even though the vast majority of scientists agree that human beings are warming the planet with their carbon output, most Republican supporters simply refuse to believe. Overall, the Tea Party movement appears to be a combination of white-identity politics and anti-intellectualism.

This is not exactly earth-shattering news for most of you, of course. I think the only ones caught by surprise are actual libertarians.

We Are All Not Libertarians Now

Lots of talk lately about a “libertarian moment.” However, it appears there may be few actual libertarians to have a “moment.”

A Pew Survey found that about 11 percent of Americans are libertarian, meaning they call themselves libertarian and know what the word means. However, among this group there were huge inconsistencies in their opinions, and on the whole their ideas about government policy are not significantly different from the views commonly held by a lot of other Americans.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of people are libertarian but don’t know it. It means that libertarians don’t automatically endorse libertarian views. About four in ten libertarians said that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest (41%). Others also said government assistance to the poor “does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met” (38%). Further,

…there are only slight differences between libertarians and the public in views of the acceptability of homosexuality. And they are about as likely as others to favor allowing the police “to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect” (42% of libertarians, 41% of the public). … Libertarianism is generally associated with a less activist foreign policy, yet a greater share of self-described libertarians (43%) than the public (35%) think “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.”

These are the ones who correctly defined libertarianism, mind you.

I wrote a few days ago that there seems to be more faux than actual libertarianism floating around. And I have also observed that it’s something of a party game for libertarians to denounce anyone in the public eye associated with them as a fake. The difference between the fake and the true libertarian is an elusive thing that defies measuring, however.

See also Pew: What If The Libertarian Movement Doesn’t Really Exist?

No, Ferguson Is Not a Libertarian Moment

Libertarians are a hopeful crew, always looking eagerly for their moment that never comes. Now Nick Gillespie in The Daily Beast argues that the outrage at police brutality in Ferguson is a “libertarian moment” because libertarians have been warning us about the evils of police militarization and overreach, largely as part of the war on drugs.

And that’s true; a number of libertarians have been bringing up this issue for awhile. This is also a liberal issue, but one could argue liberals have been less vocal about it, possibly because we identify other issues (such as racism) as taking up more of our attention. But this brings me to the first reason Ferguson is not a libertarian moment — libertarians have no response to racism. And it’s undeniable that racism is at the rotten core of what happened in Ferguson. Libertarians like to pretend racism doesn’t happen, or if they acknowledge it, they do so only in passing (see Rand Paul). And then the next week they’ll turn around and say they don’t support civil rights laws, because big government.

And I feel compelled to acknowledge that many pure libertarians do not acknowledge Paul to be one of them, but as I have said elsewhere, pure libertarians are elusive critters who are seldom spotted, and even then as soon as they open their mouths and take any real-world positions on anything they are found wanting. Pure libertarianism must be like a hot-house orchid that must be kept in isolated and pristine conditions and wilts as soon as you buy it and take it home.

The other reason Ferguson is not a libertarian moment is that it illustrates an important liberal principle that often libertarians deny — sometimes the worst oppression is local, in which case citizens need to look to the federal government for remedy.  And, frankly nothing in Ferguson is likely to change unless the Justice Department gets involved.

Over the past few days spokespeople for libertarianism have argued they do so care about state and local government overreach, too. But I’ve had this argument with self-identified libertarians (although not pure ones, obviously) too many times. Many of them are sincerely more supportive of state’s rights than they are of individual citizens exercising their civil liberties. And it’s too obvious to me that the modern libertarian movement was born during the desegregation and civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, when federal courts and lawmakers and sometimes Presidents forced state and local governments to extend equal rights and protections to African Americans.

That said, Beverly Mann at Angry Bear wrote a great analysis arguing that many of our self-identified libertarians are not libertarians in any but a down-the-rabbit-hole sense. This pseudo libertarianism is “a narrowly prescriptive ideology that adopts extreme economic libertarianism and certain aspects of fascism,” she writes.

It is a curious brand of fascism that is peculiarly American, in that it artificially distinguishes between federal powers and state and local ones. A veritable foundation of this ideology formally or tacitly authorizes the use of state and local government police powers—by police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards–to engage in wholesale violations of American constitutional and international human rights. …

…What most of this crowd actually is is sort of classic-fascist-light, not libertarian. By which I don’t mean that they’re Nazis; Nazism was (and is) only one brand of fascism. I mean fascism more along the lines of the Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco variety—a pairing of a muscular state police force left to its own (and the dictator’s) devices, and moneyed interests whose support the dictator an his party needed. Modern U.S. neo-federalism, a.k.a. “states’ rights!”–i.e., the right of state and local government officials and employees to violate individual, non-Republican humans’ constitutional rights—is libertarianism only in a George-Orwell-comes-to-Madison-Avenue sense, but it underpins much of Tea Party/Supreme Court libertarianism, if only ostensibly.

Do read the whole thing. But when the organs that claim to speak for libertarianism often are largely sponsored by the Koch brothers, what is one to think? Where in America is this pure and not corporate sponsored libertarianism found, unless you go full la-la and point to the Bundy Ranch militia?

And for years we’ve been dealing with conservatism that isn’t the least bit conservative. Richard Hofstadter’s pseudo conservatives took over American conservatism and drove traditional conservatism out of the movement some time back. And now we’ve got this weird coalition of pseudo conservatives and pseudo libertarians making up the dominant political power in this country. And if this is what we’re calling libertarianism, they’ve been having their moment for quite some time.

But if there are some pure libertarians out there who actually care about real individual freedom and the rights of unarmed black men to walk down a street in their own neighborhood without being killed by police, I sincerely apologize for making fun of you. But do take care if you leave the hot house.

The Black Heart of Libertarianism

The best thing on the Web today is by Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch at Crooked Timber. It begins:

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

This is a long post full of links to libertarians who are cranking out counter-arguments. The basic point, though, is libertarianism’s massive blind spot regarding coercion and oppression in the workplace. Basically, the same people who shriek that taxation is slavery wave away, for example, sexual harassment as someone else’s personal relationship problem.

I haven’t had a chance to click through all the links to all the arguments and counter-arguments. But we’re basically looking at a discussion among mostly (if not entirely) white men, who mostly work in think tanks and academia. These are not people who have had the personal experience of working for some soul-sucking martinet while being a couple of missed paychecks away from eviction. The Crooked Timber crew “gets it,” but once again I am struck that libertarian theory is mostly embraced by the relatively privileged, for whom genuine oppression is something they’ve only read about in textbooks.

I’ve written before that current political libertarianism, which sometimes parts company with theoretical/academic libertarianism, grew mostly as a pushback to court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s. Libertarianism in the U.S. seems to have always been more about maintaining privilege than about actual civil liberties. In particular, they refuse to see that it is through democratic government that ordinary people are able to protect themselves from oppression by the privileged. Take that away, and most of us revert to being serfs.

That Libertarians have wrapped themselves in the mantle of Patrick Henry while arguing for the rights of King George’s aristocracy is brilliant. That they themselves can’t see that’s what they are doing is pathological.

Libertarianism Is BS

Spotted at Balloon Juice.

What is debated within libertarianism? Nothing that challenges the rich or corporations. Ever. The best you get is something like Bleeding Heart Libertarians, where people struggle to find contractual grounds to object to a boss saying “have sex with me or you’re fired.” In other words, internal libertarian debate amounts to working hard to justify absolutely elementary human morality, not to question the moneyed or the powerful.

Kochs vs. Cato

Something else that’s been going on while we’ve been making merry over Rushbo (who is down nine advertisers now) — the Koch Brothers have gone to court to gain control of Cato Institute. The Kochs have lavished big bucks on Cato over the years, and now they want to collect. Jane Mayer writes,

Clearly, many libertarians who have long been funded by the Kochs genuinely believe that their cause is about promoting individual liberty and peace by reducing the role of the government—in other words, lofty, laudable goals, not just some hackish partisan political agenda. Suddenly, however, they are confronted with the news that the Koch brothers, who control half the seats on Cato’s board, have, as the Cato Chairman Bob Levy told the Washington Post, been choosing “Koch operatives,” their goal being to align the institute more closely with the Republican Party.

Indeed, several eye-opening insider accounts appeared over the weekend, suggesting that what Charles Koch, the C.E.O. of Koch Industries, essentially wants is to transform Cato into an “ammo” shop, manufacturing whatever ordnance it takes stop President Obama from getting re-elected next November.

Alex Pareene:

The Kochs have sued for the right to buy the shares in Cato held by the widow of co-founder William Niskanen. Their aim is basically to make Cato into another arm of their explicitly partisan messaging machine, along with Americans for Prosperity. To that end, they have already attempted to install some ridiculous Republican Party hacks on Cato’s board of directors — hacks like John “Hind Rocket” Hinderacker, the attorney and “Powerline” blogger with no history of support for “liberty” to speak of. Current Cato peopleAle are upset. Some have preemptively resigned, even. (Well, announced an intention to resign upon the completion of the Koch takeover, anyway.)

Regarding the original Toolie award winner — see Paul Krugman.

Alex Pareene argues that we should care about this development, because in the past Cato has sometimes broken with the Republican Party line on some issues. That may be, but they are also the institution that is still hosting a policy paper on insurance insurance. And Krugman remembers,

Cato is, among other things, a place that had something called the Project on Social Security Privatization, which it renamed the Project on Social Security Choice when it turned out that “privatization” polled badly — and tried to purge its records, to make it look as if they had never used the word privatization.

I say let ’em take over Cato, and Reason magazine as well, and any other “libertarian” institution they’ve been keeping afloat with their money all these years. Go ahead and strip away the veneer of “independence” that was a sham, anyway. Libertarianism has been little but a mouthpiece for the plutocracy for years. It’s time to flush them out in the open and reveal them to be the tools that they are.

Libertarian Fascism

Michael Lind makes connections between some of the icons of libertarianism — i.e., Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, the Cato Institute — and fascism. Not a total surprise, of course, but there were details I did not know, such as the ties between Hayak and Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Also, when Chile began transitioning to democracy, Milton Friedman mourned the loss of a “free society” that was being dismantled by “the emergence of the welfare state.” The thousands who “disappeared” while Pinochet was in charge didn’t count for much to Friedman.

Libertarianism vs. Reality

Following up the last post — Conor Friedersdorf writes that libertarians are not all selfish jerks. “Countless libertarians are working to advance the freedom and fair-treatment of people other than themselves,” he says.

Some of his examples are, shall we say, suspect. For example, an article at Reason that calls for dismantling teacher’s unions presents itself as being pro-education, but it is really an argument for ditching public education in favor of voucher schools. And I think this exemplifies a big flaw in libertarianism, which is that whenever reality does not square with theory, reality is tossed out the window.

The article assumes that “widespread school choice” is the key to mending ailing public school systems. But real-world studies that are not conducted by right-wing think tanks show that “school choice” has no significant impact on the quality of public schools. Further, there is no evidence found by independent researchers that voucher students receive a better education than they would have had they remained in the public school. (See in particular “When Reality and Expectation Don’t Meet.”)

The right-wing think tanks frantically crank out “studies” that argue otherwise, but of course these institutions exist to fabricate data in favor of whatever their big-money benefactors want us to believe.

And this takes us back to what I was arguing yesterday — the “liberty” cherished by libertarians is a fig leaf for promoting the class interests of the mega-wealthy. What’s really behind “school choice” and the No Child Left Behind program is a private sector education industry that is attempting to siphon tax dollars away from public schools and into their own pockets.

It’s true that libertarians do stand with liberals on a number of issues, such as opposition to the expansion of the surveillance state. But as Digby points out, the article discussed yesterday about libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick was about libertarian economic philosophy. “So, using civil libertarianism to sell libertarian ideology, particularly in this case, is a misdirection,” Digby says. See also Jonathan Chait.

You, Too, Can Be an Econoblogger!

I think I’m qualified to be the “econoblogger” for The Atlantic. That’s because the one they’ve got, Megan McArdle, is as bad at arithmetic as I am. Tbogg writes,

You really have to hand it to The Atlantic who chose to hire as their “Econoblogger” a woman whose facility with numbers would get her fired as a cashier at Wendy’s after two days.

That would be me, too, except that cash machines these days tell you how much change is owed. As long as that’s the case I could probably manage.

One difference between me and McArdle is that I’m aware that I’m bad with arithmetic, whereas McArdle seems blissfully oblivious. As Jonathan Chait wrote of her, McArdle is “frequently in error, but never in doubt.”

Another is that I’m better at basic smarts than she is, which might disqualify me for the Atlantic gig. Awhile back Brad DeLong nominated McArdle for the title “stupidest woman alive.” There’s an entire blog dedicated to her titled “Fire Megan McArdle.”

Just google “megan mcardle is an idiot” sometimes, and you’ll find links to some of the best writers on the web, reduced to blubbering at the magnitude of McArdle’s obtuseness.

In fact, opinions on McArdle constitute a shorthand intelligence test. Ask anyone on the web what they think of McArdle, and if they say they admire her, you’re looking at an idiot. Or a libertarian. But I repeat myself.

That last bit is the real key to McArdle’s idiocy. Whatever intelligence she was born with has been replaced by libertarian ideology, leaving her with the critical thinking skills of dryer lint.

I bring this up because McArdle has embarrassed The Atlantic once again, with a post called “The Health Care Reform Already Costs More Than We Thought It Would.” As Ezra Klein explains, McArdle has confused discretionary spending with new spending.

Now, I’m not a whiz with complex cost estimates, either, and this is a mistake I might have made. However, I wouldn’t have gone public with my criticism without checking with someone who has more knowledge of such things than I do. Also, I am not the business and economics editor for The Atlantic.

But, hell, if McArdle can be the business and economics editor for The Atlantic, so could I. And so could the chair I’m sitting on.