Libertarianism, Current Events

Libertarianism, Political Action, and Cultural Change

My Daily Caller piece on Ron Paul has drawn some interesting responses, including this one from Brian Doherty over at Reason. Many of these responses raise legitimate issues, and obviously there’s a lot that I couldn’t go into in an 800 word op-ed. So I thought I’d take some time now to respond to some of them.

The question I wanted to ask in my article was this: if you’re a libertarian who wants to see libertarian ideas spread and be implemented in our society, should you spend your resources supporting the Ron Paul campaign or should you spend them investing in something else like the kind of long-term educational efforts undertaken by the Institute for Humane Studies? And my answer was that (more) libertarians should take the latter approach.

So, to be clear, the question is not about whether the Ron Paul campaign is good for the cause of liberty or not (I think it is). It’s not about whether it would be a good thing if Paul were elected (I think it would be). It’s about how people with scarce time and money should use their resources. And I think that, in general, there are better ways to spend them than supporting the Ron Paul campaign.

That said, I don’t want to communicate the message that there’s only one right way to spread libertarianism. I happen to be pretty, well, libertarian about that question, and think that it’s a good thing that this movement of ours has a diverse set of individuals pursuing a shared goal in a diverse set of ways. Different people have different comparative advantages, and while I sure as heck wouldn’t want to spend my life in a courtroom pursuing litigation, I’m very, very happy that there are people who do.

But one can celebrate diversity, as it were, while still thinking that some paths are better than others. And I think supporting the Ron Paul campaign is less likely to bring real, long-term benefits to liberty than a lot of other options. The two most obvious ways in which it could bring such benefits are 1) getting him elected to office so that he can make changes in public policy, and 2) giving him the resources to educate people about libertarian ideas. I think libertarians are overestimating both of these possibilities. But since most of the responses to my post have focused on the second, I’ll concentrate there.

My main point in the article was that political campaigns are, in general, a bad way to educate people. For most people, politics is about helping “their guy” beat the other guy,  period. It’s not about spreading new ideas, and it’s certainly not about learning new ideas. Which is why so many Republicans are voting for Romney on the grounds that he’s the only one, in their minds, who can “beat Obama.” For them, beating the other guy is so overridingly important that it justifies just about anything – including nominating a candidate who, in many ways, is substantively indistinguishable for Obama.

Most people don’t go to political debates, or watch political advertisements, or read political opinion pieces looking to have their minds changed. And most people’s minds aren’t. But, of course, the relationship between politics and education is more complicated than is captured by this sort of direct educational effect. And so I admit that it’s possible that I’m underestimating the net educational effect of the Paul campaign.

For instance, as Doherty notes, even if people don’t learn alot from Paul’s campaign speeches per se, those speeches might inspire them to read certain books, and those books might light them to other books and so on. If lots of people took Paul’s advise to read Bastiat, for instance, that would, I admit, be a very good thing for the spread of libertarian ideas.

And the relationship is even more complicated than that. There’s no doubt that Ron Paul has created a great cultural interest in the idea of libertarianism – more people are talking about the idea now than they were, say, two years ago, more is being written about it, and so on. Academic publishers have taken notice of this, and so have been more receptive to books exploring libertarian ideas – in some cases even actively seeking out academics to write such books. So in that way, the Paul phenomenon might lead indirectly not just to the increased consumption of academic research but actually to the increased production of it as well.

With that concession made, I still think a few of Brian’s points are mistaken. For instance, Brian asks, rhetorically, “Does not the very fact that Zwolinski leads with, that everyone has heard of Paul and no one has heard of IHS (roughly) indicate that political campaigns are in fact a great way to expose people to these ideas?”

It indicates (unsurprisingly) that political campaigns are a good way of generating name recognition. But name recognition is a poor measure of influence. Just because you haven’t heard of something doesn’t mean it hasn’t influenced you. More people have heard of Tom Cruise than Ben Bernanke, but that doesn’t mean that Bernanke hasn’t had a bigger impact on their life. Much of the influence that IHS has had has been indirect – the direct influence it has via its summer seminars is only a small part of the bigger picture. A big part of what IHS does it teach and mentor students who go on to become professors who then teach thousands of other students over the course of their lives. Those students probably have no idea what IHS has, but IHS has, indirectly, helped shape the course of the education they’ve received.

Another claim people have made in response to my argument is that it’s a mistake to think of all this in zero-sum terms. We don’t have to choose between supporting Ron Paul and supporting IHS, they argue. We can do both.

Well, yes and no. If what Ron Paul is doing is bringing in resources that would otherwise not have been spent on furthering the cause of liberty, then yes, it’s not entirely a zero-sum game. And that’s certainly part of what’s going on, maybe a big part. But to some degree, Paul’s campaign is consuming resources that would have been spent promoting liberty in other ways. And in all cases, Paul’s campaign is consuming resources that could have been spent promoting liberty in other ways. Every action implies forgone opportunities, and so in that sense it is a zero-sum game.

Like I said before, I’m glad that there are a diverse set of people within the libertarian movement pursuing liberty in a diverse set of ways. So I think it would probably be a bad thing if everybody started pursuing liberty in the way that little old me thinks is best. But I do think that political campaigns cause people to get caught up in the short term and lose sight of the bigger picture. And so I think it’s useful to push back against that, and tilt people in the direction of more long term change. In that sense, my argument is not an absolutist one, but about change at the margin.

Questions about effective political and social change are complicated. Brian seems to think the long-term influence of the Paul campaign is obvious. I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s right. But it would be interesting to have some objective standard by which we could tell. My hunch is that in ten years, the influence of people like Rand and Friedman will loom much larger in the libertarian movement than the influence of Paul, and that in fifty years the Paul campaign will be about as irrelevant to the libertarian movement as the Goldwater campaign is today. Perhaps we can take a cue from Bryan Caplan and make a bet? I’m not quite sure how to frame the bet in order to focus on a result that’s easily measurable and a good indicator of what Brian Doherty and I are really disagreeing about. But I’m open to suggestions.

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  • To begin with, the idea that you and the rest of the “bleeding heart libertarians” on this blog are libertarians is the result of a misunderstanding. Are we really supposed to take seriously a “libertarian”  who proposes licensing parents by the State? Puh-leeze.

    Secondly, your “argument” in favor of the “trickle down” theory — that libertarians must convert “the intellectuals” in order to make any long lasting change — is dishonest, self-serving, and just plain false. After all, since jobs in the realm of ideas are rare and much sought after, and since most of these coveted positions are financed by money-bags with an agenda of their own (often in conflict with libertarianism), “intellectuals” are easily bribed, and the majority naturally tend to act as apologists for power. He  who pays the piper calls the tune.

    Third, your argument is incredibly self-serving: since you are doubtless the  recipient of financial largesse from IHS, what you’re saying is: “Please don’t give any money to the Paul campaign: instead, you should give it to me.” That is  your argument, boiled down to its essentials: why not come out and say it?

    What has  your panties in a bunch is the indisputable fact that Paul’s success is due precisely to the incredible success of the Rothbardian-Rockwellian “right wing populist” strategy which you and your fellow “bleeding hearts” despise: all those “yahoos” snot-nose Jeffrey Friedman hates are rallying around Paul’s libertarian banner! Horrors! Well, isn’t that just tough: you and your “left-libertarian” cronies don’t own the libertarian label, and never did.

    “Bleeding heart libertarianism” is a device whereby a bunch of spoiled Kochotopus-funded nonentities hope to get tenure by convincing your commie colleagues in the faculty lounge that libertarianism is just another form of leftism. Well, good luck with that, because you’ll need it. In the meantime, you’ll pardon the rest of us as  we ignore IHS and give our support to the Paul camaign.

    Oh, and by the way: your efforts to reach out to the “left” are being surpassed by the Paul campaign, as progressives like Tom Hayden, Glen Greenwald, John Walsh, and a host of others defend Paul from the vicious attacks you and your ilk are promoting. So please — stay in your ivory tower, stay away from the Paul campaign, and stay away from the really existing libertarian movement. Your absence is a blessing.

    P.S. By the way, IHS refuses to let any of its students intern for Antiwar.com, the premier anti-interventionist site. Now why do you suppose that is?

    • Hah, this is a spot-on spoof! It sounds almost exactly something like the real Justin Raimondo would say, though at times the “snot-nose” rhetoric goes a bit over the top. Still, very sharp.

      • Oh, but not as “sharp” as you Zwolly! Such a clever reply! But of course it’s “light on substance” compared to one of your brainy emanations. However, in spite of that, perhaps you could condescend — if only for a moment! — to explain why your argument is not  entirely self-serving, and why it doesn’t amount to saying “Don’t give Ron Paul your money — give it to Matt Zwolinski.”

        • Sure, Justin. I’ll engage with you substantively, in spite of your name-calling, bombastic, spiteful rhetoric.

          First, I had tenure before I started the blog. And even if I hadn’t, this almost certainly wouldn’t have helped me get it. Not even among my “commie” colleagues (what decade are you living in? Have you visited a university recently?)

          Second, the only money I get from IHS these days is fee-for-service. I lecture for them occasionally at their summer seminars, or write for them. But the money I receive from them is far less than the money I would receive for doing similar work elsewhere. I do it for them because I believe in their cause and want to help support it. So rest assured, Justin, when you write your check to IHS tomorrow, almost none of it will go to me. It will go to fund scholarships for graduate students and undergraduates, to help support their summer seminars and outreach programs, to run their internship program, and other horrible Kochtopussy stuff like that.

          Third, the IHS is just one example among many of organizations that would put libertarians’ money to better use than the Paul campaign. I’d be happy if people donated money to the Institute for Justice, to the Reason Foundation, to the Moorfield Story Institute, or even to the Mises Institute, which does a lot of fine work in spite of its unfortunate tendency to tolerate arrogant blowhards like you. All of these groups are doing good work to advance liberty in the short- and long-terms, moreso, I believe, than the Paul campaign has or will.

          By the way, your posts illustrate precisely the point I wanted to make about politics and enlightening discourse. I have made some very moderate claims about the Paul campaign, and have stressed several times here and elsewhere that I think Paul is a force for good and that I would be happy to see him elected. And yet because I have been less than one hundred percent supportive of “your guy,” you interpret me as the enemy and go into attack mode. This, I’m afraid, is what turns so many people off politics.

          • “Bombastic,” “spiteful,” “arrogant blowhard” — but *I’m* “name-calling.” Matt, I think your self-awareness gene has malfunctioned.

            So, you admit you earn money from IHS. Although you claim you could make more elesewhere, yet still the fact remains that you do collect a certain amount. So what  you’re saying, essentially, is: Give me (and my friends) money INSTEAD of giving it to Ron Paul. Not that  there’s anything wrong with that — but just be honest about it.

            What’s interesting about this split between certain self-described libertarian “intellectuals” — who have been nurtured in a hothouse environment — and those of us out here in the Real World is that it underscores the criticisms made by Rothbard and others back in the day. Back then, I thought Murray was being too subjective, that he was allowing his emotions to get in the way of his thinking, and that the 1983 split was totally unnecessary. Yet it turns out he was 100% right, because look who is attacking Paul — a bunch of spoiled brat “libertarian intellectuals” nurtured by the Kochtopus.

            Yes, yes, I know Matt: you really support Paul — except for the minor detail that you’re telling people not to contribute to his campaign. Very convincing, I must say ….

          • Justin, go back and read my original post at the Daily Caller. Then re-read my post here. And see if I do anything other than address this issue in a civil, respectful way. Then you wander onto my blog and call me dishonest and self-serving, talk about me getting my “panties in a bunch,” call us bloggers a bunch of “spoiled nonentities” ad nauseum. So, yeah, I stopped being polite. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But you came here and acted like a jerk who is entirely uninterested in civil discourse. So, OK.

            I’m not going to try to refute your conspiracy theories about IHS. If you think the reason I want people to give money to IHS is that it will go to me and my “friends” (how many of the students that IHS funds do you think I actually know?), so be it. It’s a ridiculous charge, and I trust the readers of this blog enough for them to know it when they see it.

            Conversation over.

          • Let’s see: IHS and the “low tax liberals” around Cato have produced — to cite just one glorious example  — Tyler Cowen, the great scholar and champion of liberty who supported the TARP bailouts and now says Mises and his students are followers of a “religion,” i.e. Austrian economics.

            On the other hand, those evil “right-wing populists” over at the Mises Institute have midwifed the Paul campaign — the best thing that’s ever happened to the libertarian movement.

            The reason for the attacks on Paul coming from Beltway “libertarians” isn’t too  hard to fathom: envy oozes from every cosmotarian “critique.” All those years of sucking up to the Powers That Be has gotten the Kochotpus nowhere, while the Paulians are creating a real movement. It must drive you people crazy that Paul is attracting the youth like  no IHS seminar ever has or ever will. Well, isn’t that just too bad. Live with it!

          • i’m not sure i’d ever give money to any political campaign. 

            either paul truly supports closed borders, agrees w/the federalists on the constitution and wants to ‘restore america now’ or he is (still) cynically using reactionary conservative messaging to get votes. (i believe his abortion stance is sincere)

            i guess i’m torn because in a way i agree that all that doesn’t matter. his positions on the war and civil liberties trump everything. ultimately, i’m closer to Raimondo or Doherty on Paul’s campaign.

          • “…and now says Mises and his students are followers of a “religion,” i.e. Austrian economics.”

            Hypothetical question: What evidence, in principle, could convince you that Austrian Economics is wrong?

          • Anonymous

            Doesn’t the mind need to have the concept of “evidence” prior to investigation?  There is no evidence that could refute AE when “investigation” and attempts at refutation are purposive acts requiring scarce means to attain scarce ends…  Economics is the science of human action. Of acting man.

            Mises, right or wrong, was trying to reach a fundmental proposition shorn of haziness, conjecture and metaphysics.

          • But metaphysics is precisely what he ended up with.

            Look, the conclusions of AE may be right or they may be wrong, just don’t call it science. The philosophy of science is very specific — without falsifiability, whatever you’re doing isn’t science. It looks like philosophy or metaphysics to me. And if there is no evidence that could shake your “faith” in AE — and I’ve had proponents tell me exactly that — then it sure looks like a religion. Because that is EXACTLY the same thing a devout Christian would say to the same question.

          • Anonymous

            I showed on the other thread how the concept of supply and demand is deduced from “Human’s act purposively”.
            Now, since supply and demand cannot be tested empirically– you seem to be saying that the concept of S&D is metaphysical nonsense.  But isn’t it necessary to have the concept of S&D already in hand in order to give economic meaning to real data of past human experience?  Data does not speak for itself. 

            Further, isn’t it true that if S&D is considered nonsense that “Human’s act purposively” would  also be nonsense?  Wouldn’t that be silly?

            Or are you recognizing the valid deduction resulting in S&D but claiming it does not add anything new to knowledge about the world?  But then you would have to remember that the only way to derive S&D is by deduction from the action axiom “Human’s act”– and S&D is not yet obvious therein.

          • I’m not sure what you think you’re getting at here. Supply and demand are pretty elementary economic concepts that predate Mises by quite a while. It’s not like he discovered the concepts or anything.

            I’m saying one thing here and one thing only. The scientific method is pretty well defined. It’s not the only way of arriving at knowledge, but any other way of knowing other than the scientific method is, BY DEFINITION, not a science. It may be history, art, philosophy, or math, but it’s not science, just like science isn’t any of these other things either.

            And it really doesn’t matter to the scientific method that much HOW you come to your theories. I don’t know where you get this obsession with trying to knock down the idea that “all science is inductive” but that’s a strawman.  Strictly speaking, inductive reasoning only gets you to correlations. But correlation isn’t causation and a scientific theory is a statement of causation. It’s not just a statement that, for example, Y=2x^2 + 3, but an explanation for WHY Y=2x^2 + 3.

            Falsifiability is essential to the scientific method and a theory that lacks predictive power is useless. That’s why “creation science” is an oxymoron. A theory that starts and ends with a miracle, where literally anything can and could happen at the whim of some deity has no power to predict future events unless one is able to read the mind of God.

            AE *could* be science if only proponents would admit to the testing of their conclusions with empirical data. The theory makes truth claims and predictions; those claims and predictions could be compared to the real world as a check on your assumptions and reasoning.

            So why is that categorically ruled out? Why is it claimed that AE can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed by empirical testing? Frankly, it sounds like so much chickenshit to me. It’s SO convenient; you get to claim you have knowledge of truth without ever having to hold that knowledge up to the glare of empirical scrutiny.

            And that would be okay, really, if it just sat there quietly by itself and didn’t bother anybody, like some obscure philosophy or theology. But you have the unmitigated nerve to then make policy recommendations that would affect the lives of millions of people. All without having to provide the slightest shred of evidence that you’re correct.

            It’s not a matter of being right or wrong, finally. It’s a matter of being wholly unethical and dishonest.

          • Anonymous

            “unethical and dishonest” LOL.  Cynical much?

            Economics reasoning aids in the interpretation of events concerning human doing– where there are human actions there are particular logical constraints. Nothing religious about it. Would Galileo, Mr. Method himself, have a problem with it?  

          • Anonymous

            Where does Tyler say this? I suspect it’s a bit out of context if the implication is that Tyler is saying Austrian Economics is religion rather than a social science. He probably is saying that some of Mises’ students have twisted the economics he was helping to develop and promote into a religion — and I suspect Mises would sadly shake his head at their behavior.

      • Anonymous

        Well done! This response is even more snot-nosed than the original article.  I give you credit, Sir!
        BTW, while there is so much to choose from in the blog post, I liked this part the best:”If what Ron Paul of doing is bringing in resources that would otherwise not have been spent on furthering the cause of liberty, then yes, it’s not entirely a zero-sum game. And that’s certainly part of what’s going on, maybe a big part. But to some degree, Paul’s campaign is consuming resources that would have been spent promoting liberty in other ways.”Zero-sum game, indeed. It’s all new resources. All of it. In fact, Paul’s influence is probably increasing the resources available for other libertarian enterprises as well (good ones, that is, such as antiwar.com) precisely because he brings new people to the movement. Furthermore, as a believers in free markets and the price system, we should acknowledge that, if Paul is indeed draining resources from outfits like the IHS, that in itself is proof that he is the more worthy of the two. More importantly Paul is spreading the message of liberty. He has made a huge shift in the debate in a libertarian direction. Five years ago, 95% of the population had never heard of Austrian Economics. That has changed and the credit is 100% due to Paul. It’s one thing to see statists rant against him. That’s to be expected, but it’s a little hard to see people who claim be libertarians do the same when Paul is – by -far – the best thing to happen to the movement well more than a hundred years. I think that Justin is spot-on the money when he says that these people do it because of their need to work with commies, whether in the media or academia.

      • i think you and doherty have some good points. as does the raimondo parody.

        people who are already libertarians ought to follow whatever path they think is best for their particular interests and projects while doing their best to be friendly to ron paul supporters. there are already 1000s of 2008 Ron Paul supporters who have found their place in the libertarian tradition bleeding heart or otherwise. 

        in other words: support his campaign (w/reservations or not) and/or explicitly be a part of the long tail of Ron Paul. and but either way play the infinite game: http://www.worldtrans.org/pos/infinitegames.html 

    • Bleeding Heart Libertarianism is the future. The cold
      hearted right wing version got us .50% of the way there, you had 40 years.

      People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

  • bill woolsey

    I have my Ron Paul sign in my front yard.

    I am looking forward to voting for him next week.

    When I see the soundbites on TV where he speaks of individual liberty, I am so pleased.

    And then I read  Raimondo, and I am so sad.

    P.S.  Can anyone guess my best guess of who actually wrote the newsletters? 

    • Anonymous

      I have my Ron Paul sign out front here in Palo Alto! This shocked people here in Obamaville a while ago, but now I even hear from a few die-hard Democrats they would vote for Paul, largely because of the intervention (and financial) issues. I wrote in Paul last election and will do so eventually here in CA….getting Paul’s ideas to be aired nationally is an amazing boost for libertarianism. OTOH, IHS does invaluable work and this is not a trade-off situation. We libertarians should and can support both.

  • corneille1640

    What about the possibility that if Paul gets a lot of delegates, he might force the GOP to “libertarianize” some of its platform?  That possibility does not necessarily negate what you say about how better to spend one’s resources or about the likelihood of Paul’s campaign influencing the larger campaign (after all, a candidate can theoretically ignore a platform once he or she has won the nomination, or maybe even before).  But it might be one reason for a libertarian to be invested in the Paul campaign.

    • bill woolsey

      Why would the “platform” be so important?

      I’m pretty sure that Republican elected officials do not take an oath to implement the platform.

      Anyway, I think Romney will agree to “audit the Fed” without any problem. 

      I wouldn’t bet on any foreign policy changes.

    • Yes, I thought about this. And it strikes me as a real possibility. But as Bill notes below, political platforms are, most of the time, just rhetoric. And part of the *problem* with the Republican party is the way it co-opts of libertarian rhetoric while simultaneously pursuing a liberal corporatist agenda. The result is that some people actually get fooled into thinking that the Republican party stands for liberty, and that liberty is then discredited by the inevitable failure of corporatist policy.

      • yeah. the Romney baingate thing is a good example of this IMO. sorry, Romns, we don’t have a free market. what i’ve seen of Paul’s response was the same too. its what Roderick Long calls “right-conflation” or Kevin Carson “vulgar libertarianism”: shifting between an imagined free-market and the current state of affairs.

  • Anonymous

    Well done! This response is even more snot-nosed than the original article.  I give you credit, Sir!
    BTW, while the whole thing is just astonishingly stupid, this part just takes the cake.”If what Ron Paul of doing is bringing in resources that would otherwise not have been spent on furthering the cause of liberty, then yes, it’s not entirely a zero-sum game. And that’s certainly part of what’s going on, maybe a big part. But to some degree, Paul’s campaign is consuming resources that would have been spent promoting liberty in other ways.”Zero-sum game, indeed. It’s all new resources. All of it. In fact, Paul’s influence is probably increasing the resources available for other libertarian enterprises as well (good ones, that is, such as antiwar.com) precisely because he bring new people to the movement. Furthermore, as a believers in free markets and the price system, we should acknowledge that, if Paul is indeed draining resources from outfits like the IHS, that in itself is proof that he is the more worthy of the two. More importantly Paul is spreading the message of liberty. He has made a huge shift in the debate in a libertarian direction. Five years ago, 95% of the population had never heard of Austrian Economics. That has changed and the credit is 100% due to Paul. It’s one thing to see statists rant against him. That’s to be expected, but it’s a little hard to see people who claim be libertarians do the same when Paul is – by -far – the best thing to happen to the movement well more than a hundred years. I think that Justin is spot-on the money when he says that these people do it because their need to work with commies, whether in the media or academia.

  • Matt, thanks for your thoughtful, balanced assessment of how to further the cause of liberty. I think I agree with your conclusions, but I wanted to push back just a little. I think Ron Paul adds something to the movement which the intellectuals (Friedman, Rand, etc.) don’t, and that’s in the form of story. People always need a story to tell in order to get opinions spread. That’s one thing the Reason foundation has noticed and appropriately taken up ReasonTV as a very successful project to popularize the ideas of libertarianism.

    Present-day supporters of Ron Paul will have a pretty compelling story to tell to repeat to new generations: everyone thought of him as a fringe candidate, yet his support gradually grew, largely from experience of actual events in the global economy. People grew tired of the wars, the bail-outs, the croneyism, and all of the Washington hypocrites, and they saw in Ron Paul a chance to redeem all of that. His fans were absolutely rabid, campaigning for him was *fun,* and young people caught fire for his ideas. A new generation of libertarians was born.

    The accuracy of that story is largely beside the point. All generations require some sort of “myth” to propagate its ideals. Intellectuals provide more proper foundations for these ideals, but without stories like these, the ideas fail to connect with the public consciousness.

    • Hi Jameson.  Thanks, that’s a thoughtful suggestion. And you might very well be right. As someone who leans toward the cerebral, I probably underestimate the importance of myth and symbols in people’s lives and their political leanings. Still, even granting their value, I’m not completely sure how well Paul serves in that respect. Compared to, say, the purely fictional myths of Rand?

      • I’m a die-hard supporter of IHS, I plan on entering a PhD program this fall so that I can become an American history professor and do my part in Hayek’s social change theory.

        That said, I also was a Youth for Paul campaign worker in NH, and the 10 days I spent there will be 10 of the most influential days in shaping my idea of libertarianism.  I sincerely was of Professor Zwolinski’s opinion when I applied to go, but I figured it would be a good experience networking with other young libertarians and getting them involved in the larger student liberty movement.

        What happened, however, is that I met a lot of really dedicated, hardcore libertarians.  Some from incredibly diverse backgrounds and from several different continents.  We all shared our “libertarian story” of how we came to the ideas of liberty, and nearly everyone of us cite Ron Paul along the way.  Each night of campaigning, we would stay up until 5, 6 am debating Rothbardian ethics vs. left-libertarianism, the increasing surveillance and police state, and ways to actively promote libertarian ideas to non-students.  Everyone of us there fully acknowledged that we are the vanguard of a much larger movement, this new 21st century libertarian movement.  When Ron Paul talks about the revolution of ideas, it’s true.

        Members of my generation have come into liberty because of Ron Paul, and come of age on campuses that buzz with Ron Paul activity.  RP is a cultural phenomenon among college students of all political persuasions, which is why he’s a big hit on the Daily Show and why groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy traveled to NH in support of him.  My libertarian generation will look back on the RP phenomenon as a critical time in shaping our libertarian views.  And IHS has just as much a part of that as well, but personally, I watched RP YouTube videos for years before I got deep enough into the movement to learn of IHS; without RP I would have never heard of IHS.

      • I’m a die-hard supporter of IHS, I’ve been to a few seminars, and  I plan on entering a PhD program this fall so that I can become an American history professor and do my part in Hayek’s social change theory.

        That said, I also was a Youth for Paul campaign worker in NH, and the 10 days I spent there will be 10 of the most influential days in shaping my idea of libertarianism.  I sincerely was of Professor Zwolinski’s opinion when I applied to go, but I figured it would be a good experience networking with other young libertarians and getting them involved in the larger student liberty movement.

        What happened, however, is that I met a lot of really dedicated, hardcore libertarians.  Some from incredibly diverse backgrounds and from several different continents.  We all shared our “libertarian story” of how we came to the ideas of liberty, and nearly everyone of us cite Ron Paul along the way.  Each night of campaigning, we would stay up until 5, 6 am debating Rothbardian ethics vs. left-libertarianism, the increasing surveillance and police state, and ways to actively promote libertarian ideas to non-students.  Everyone of us there fully acknowledged that we are the vanguard of a much larger movement, this new 21st century libertarian movement.  When Ron Paul talks about the revolution of ideas, it’s true.

        Members of my generation have come into liberty because of Ron Paul, and come of age on campuses that buzz with Ron Paul activity.  RP is a cultural phenomenon among college students of all political persuasions, which is why he’s a big hit on the Daily Show and why groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy traveled to NH in support of him.  My libertarian generation will look back on the RP phenomenon as a critical time in shaping our libertarian views.  And IHS has just as much a part of that as well, but personally, I watched RP YouTube videos for years before I got deep enough into the movement to learn of IHS; without RP I would have never heard of IHS.

  • No matter what path libertarians take; either the education
    route, or campaign route, it is useless until they learn how to communicate the
    benefits of liberty.

    The advantage to the campaign route is you can use mass media and emotional
    based advertising and promotion. Many people just need that emotional
    connection first. You also reach more people since not everyone takes political
    or economic classes.

    The advantage to the education route is you reach people who can interact on a
    personal level and hash issues out.

    Yep, both are good.

  • Pingback: Zwolinski thinks Ron Paul is a Distraction, so I think Zwolinski is a Saboteur – The Only Winning Move()

  • Before formulating judgments about Ron Paul you should see this
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1dhyuZdY9c 

  • Matt, 
       I have long thought that libertarians need to think about practice and strategy more thoroughly. The prevailing strategy seems to be roughly as follows: 1) seize political power and then 2) the state will wither away. Roughly, it seems like a rough analog to the position of many Marxist political organizations, in which workers are to seize the state and eventually the state will subside. 
        Your Gramsci-esque strategy seems to be 1) Create think tanks (or similar organizations) to create intellectual fuel for the libertarian fire and then 2) Mass cultural changes will result. 
        Both the seizure of political power and the diffusion of libertarian ideology may be useful strategies, but ultimately each has several drawbacks. With regards to the first strategy it is very unlikely, except in the event of a coup, that one person or a small cadre of libertarians could implement mass social change. Our current system of government diffuses power to far too many actors. Ron Paul, for example, will not be able to dismantle social security or implement a global gold standard even if elected. On some areas he may have more leeway, but we should not expect a libertarian revolution in the face of separated powers and diffuse public stakeholders. Power would have to be consolidated into a small vanguard of libertarians to implement the changes necessary. 
       The second strategy also makes me uneasy. Libertarians already have a set of think tanks that produce profligate amounts of libertarian research and ideological statements. However, much of this research is methodologically weak and difficult to take seriously if you have any advanced training in economics, sociology or poli sci. It becomes a farcical situation in which a very inward looking epistemic community is talking to itself over and over again. At best,  CATO might produce something of passable quality occasionally. At worst, you get the Mises Institute types telling you that the deductive powers of one or two men are a more accurate source of insight than tens of thousands of social scientists using advanced research methodologies to generate new knowledge. It may shift the public debate slightly and galvanize those who are already libertarians but I don’t know that broad change can be had with this method. Plus, shotty research is not going to do much to win over the intellectuals. 
        There is a third option. Libertarians could start doing libertarian things. Alternative institutions could be built within the existing structure that would undermine the state or at least cause it to lose some degree of relevancy. Failing that,  if you can’t find like minded individuals who want to join together to build alternatives, you can take some individual actions. Seriously, join a CSA or buy local produce to avoid the heavily subsidized agrifood business. If you live in a state that has passed bills encouraging racial profiling of Latinos (like AZ) put a Mexican flag sticker on your car. Move your money to a local (non bailout) bank. Drive to fuel efficient car to give less power to state subsidized energy companies. 
        These strategies are not mutually exclusive. However, I wonder why options 3a (build alternative institutions) and 3b (person-level libertarian action) are so rarely talked about in libertarian circles. The “new social movements” of the left have long abandoned state-centric strategies and libertarians may do well to consider other practices also. 
        
        

    • Anonymous

      C’mon. What distortion. You don’t have the guts to attack Austrian Econ via reasonable discourse?

      “At worst, you get the Mises Institute types telling you that the deductive powers of one or two men are a more accurate source of insight than tens of thousands of social scientists using advanced research methodologies to generate new knowledge.”

      • Mr. Tuna,
           I believe I have accurately described the general orientation of the Mises Institute and the hard-line Austrian position regarding empirical quantitative methodology in the social sciences. Statistical analysis of empirical data is illegitimate because statistics are largely useless bits of historical information.
            I could be wrong, but I thought that Austrians of the Mises Institute variety regard the empirically-driven statistical techniques of the social sciences as foolhardy ventures. The millions of man-hours that social scientists have spent analyzing data and refining research methodologies have been in vain. 
            I think that is a reasonably accurate representation. I am not trying to be hyperbolic or exaggerate. I don’t think there is anything unreasonable about what I have written. Apologies if that is the case, and I will attempt to revise my understanding of Mises’s methodological orientation. 
            
             

        • Anonymous

          You want a job writing for Slate, don’t ya?
          Statistical analysis of data concerning past human actions would make more sense if it applied economic reasoning.  Further, if you don’t want to appear foolish as opposed to your hitpiece targets, try not to conflate  economics with libertarianism. It will take more than this, but you got to start somewhere.

          • Mr. Tuna, 
               I am not sure what this means “Statistical analysis of data concerning past human actions would make more sense if it applied economic reasoning”. Do you mean that most social science research is just a sort of atheoretical exploration of data? In other words, social scientists are just writing long summaries of data with no explanation, interpretation or underlying theory? Sorry this is just not clear. 
                  I did not write my post as a “hitpiece”. I’m sorry but I really don’t understand what you have take offence too. My understanding is that the Mises variant of Austrian economics thoroughly rejects empiricism and statistical analysis. This is based upon my reading of some of Mises’s own work, college lectures and internet conversations I have had with self-described Austrians.  Is my assessment incorrect? 
                “Try not to conflate economics with libertarianism”. I also don’t know what you mean here. Do you mean economics as an academic discipline? I am reasonably familiar with the academic field of economics and I would not intentionally make this error. The few economics professors I know are not self-described libertarians. 
                I think you have read some malevolent intent into my OP. However, that was not my intention. I was trying to think critically about the two strategies that Matt presented in his article. The first involves achieving political power, and the second involves making cultural change through think tanks and similar institutions.  My point was that there are considerable drawbacks to each of these approaches.  
               The second approach risks the creation of an inward looking epistemic community in constant conversation with itself. It may galvanize already existing libertarians but may turn off potential recruits. The low quality of scholarship coming from more mainstream libertarian think tanks (like CATO) seems unlikely to convert even sympathetic intellectuals. The “austro-libertarian” approach, which denies the use of empirical data in the social sciences while simultaneously legitimizing itself through a social meta-theory, seems unlikely to win anyone but a handful of innumerative converts. This is not to say that there is nothing of intellectual value in the work of Mises or his fellow travelers. But, at least in my hasty estimation, it seems unlikely that anyone who has learned some entry-level econometrics or taken even an undergraduate course in statistics or research design in another social science (like poli sic or sociology) will find the Misean orientation very satisfying and may be wary about the more Austrian-inflected variant of libertarianism. This is not, of course, the only variant of libertarianism and there are certainly many libertarians who do not adhere fully to the Misean paradigm. 
                

          • Anonymous

            You are being wormy. Find me a statement in any Austrian based text where it “denies the use of empirical data in the social sciences.”  
            Again you conflate economics with libertarianism as well: “austro-libertarian approach”.  Now I see you clearly. You are cynical. And you still have no argument against the Austrian approach. Maybe you should read up on it before declaring it “at worst”.

          • Mr. Tuna, 
                I base my understanding on the writings of Mises:

            http://mises.org/journals/jls/1_2/1_2_2.pdf 

            and much of this:

            http://mises.org/quotes.aspx?action=subject&subject=Statistics 

                 Statistics are historical facts and mathematics should not be used heavily in economics. I don’t think its that much of a leap to argue that Mises would have disapproved of the use of mathematical methods in other social sciences too. If we know that a one unit increase in X is associated with a .25 increase in Y at Times 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 that tells us nothing about what happens at time 6. “Statistical figures referring to economic events are historical data. They tell
            us what happened in a nonrepeatable historical case” and all that.
                    I’m sure that there are people working from an Austrian perspective who use some statistical analysis and empirical data, but deductive logic from axioms seems to be privileged. Mises seems to almost completely use the deductive method and eschew math with the exception of a few tautological equations. I think that is a fairly accurate representation of the Misean approach to methodology. He wasn’t interested in building regression models or using other statistical methods to analyze empirical data and test hypotheses. 
                 I still have no idea what you mean by “economics”.  When I use the word “economics” I am referring to the academic discipline of “economics” which you will find in “economics departments” at many universities. I fully understand that many economists are not libertarians and vice versa. Indeed, the few economists in my circle are pretty leftist. You may be using the term to describe something else that I do not understand. 
                I have seen the term “austro-libertarian” several places on the internet and use it to describe a person who  is a libertarian and simultaneously a believer in Austrian economics. There are probably Austrians who are not libertarians but the two seem to covary quite a lot. 
                At this point I don’t see any reason to continue this conversation. I believe I have reasonably described the methodological orientation of the Misean branch of Austrian economics.  My point in the OP is how this looks to an outsider and the middling to poor quality of work (at least when compared to the top journals in any social science) produced by the think tanks associated with libertarianism. Scholarly work of marginal quality is unlikely to bring more intellectuals into the fold which is one of the stated goals of the cultural change strategy. 
              I see enormous potential in meso and micro level strategies but little potential in the seize power-ruptural macro change strategy and little potential in the cultural change strategy. Libertarians need to think more carefully about strategy and consider more decentralized methods. That is my central point.  
               

          • Anonymous

            You have changed your definitional attribution of statistics and history re Mises– but only after I called you on it. Data is indeed extremely important to economic analysis. Mises argues that the concepts that give meaning to the data concerning humans purposively seeking to attain ends exist prior to analysis. How would one even know if the data set collected would be the right one?

          • Mr. Tuna, 
               I have said that Austrian thought privileges deduction from axioms over abductive or inductive analysis of empirical data. I have said that deduction is essential to the social sciences, especially in forming research questions. I have said that the Austrian approach is unique in all the social sciences. 
               I have said that there is a purist Austrian view that tends to reject all empirical analysis, or at least think that it is not very useful. I have said that there are undoubtedly softer version of this view and there are probably people who work in the Austrian tradition who embrace statistical analysis and abduction. 
                I don’t think that any of this is innaccurrate. My point is that the Mises-inflected libertarianism, from the outside looking in, seems like a very insular world in conversation with itself. It seems very far removed from the bulk of the social sciences. 
               I believe deeply in methodological pluralism in the social sciences. I think that deductive methods and empirical methods, as well as more abstract theorizing, all have a very important role to play. Empirical methods of both the quantitative and the qualitative variety are essential. 
               Quantitative methodology is not about “blind faith”. Any good quant piece in any good social science journal will include standard errors, confidence intervals significance tests, a discussion of how coefficients were estimated, the nature of the residuals, model fit statistics, R-squared (s), and other tests depending on the exact model. Almost all journal articles include a section were the authors discuss the limitations of their research and the generalizability of their findings.  Methodology is refined and refined again; there are people who devote their entire lives to improving research methods in the social sciences and there are several journals devoted specifically to improving research methods. 
               This does not suggest a situation of “blind faith” but rather one of “constant and informed skepticism” and a deeply held belief that methodologies can be improved.     I can still here my stats prof saying “never reify your parameter estimates” and “always question the assumptions of the model”. 
                Mr. Tuna, I am not attempting to be rude but I feel that you may not have fully engaged with more mainstream variants of social science before becoming an adherent of the Austrian paradigm. You may find some benefit in reading some of the top journals in the social sciences (the top journals in any soc. sci. field tend to have American  in the title) and study some of the research methodologies that political scientists, economists and sociologists employ. I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but your “blind faith” notion is not an accurate characterization of me or other quantitatively oriented social scientists. 
                This has been an enlightening conversation and I appreciate your informed comments.   

          • Mr. Tuna, 
               I have said that Austrian thought privileges deduction from axioms over abductive or inductive analysis of empirical data. I have said that deduction is essential to the social sciences, especially in forming research questions. I have said that the Austrian approach is unique in all the social sciences. 
               I have said that there is a purist Austrian view that tends to reject all empirical analysis, or at least think that it is not very useful. I have said that there are undoubtedly softer version of this view and there are probably people who work in the Austrian tradition who embrace statistical analysis and abduction. 
                I don’t think that any of this is innaccurrate. My point is that the Mises-inflected libertarianism, from the outside looking in, seems like a very insular world in conversation with itself. It seems very far removed from the bulk of the social sciences. 
               I believe deeply in methodological pluralism in the social sciences. I think that deductive methods and empirical methods, as well as more abstract theorizing, all have a very important role to play. Empirical methods of both the quantitative and the qualitative variety are essential. 
               Quantitative methodology is not about “blind faith”. Any good quant piece in any good social science journal will include standard errors, confidence intervals significance tests, a discussion of how coefficients were estimated, the nature of the residuals, model fit statistics, R-squared (s), and other tests depending on the exact model. Almost all journal articles include a section were the authors discuss the limitations of their research and the generalizability of their findings.  Methodology is refined and refined again; there are people who devote their entire lives to improving research methods in the social sciences and there are several journals devoted specifically to improving research methods. 
               This does not suggest a situation of “blind faith” but rather one of “constant and informed skepticism” and a deeply held belief that methodologies can be improved.     I can still here my stats prof saying “never reify your parameter estimates” and “always question the assumptions of the model”. 
                Mr. Tuna, I am not attempting to be rude but I feel that you may not have fully engaged with more mainstream variants of social science before becoming an adherent of the Austrian paradigm. You may find some benefit in reading some of the top journals in the social sciences (the top journals in any soc. sci. field tend to have American  in the title) and study some of the research methodologies that political scientists, economists and sociologists employ. I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but your “blind faith” notion is not an accurate characterization of me or other quantitatively oriented social scientists. 
                This has been an enlightening conversation and I appreciate your informed comments.   

          • Anonymous

            alright. we are talking past each other now. the sociologists, psychologists and econometricians may resort to causal inference all they want. Austrian economics injects particular logical constraints deduced from the obvious and/or introspectively derived, self-evident principle that man acts purposively. its implications are very real and must– if there is such a thing as logic– apply to all humans everywhere and all times. e.g. if market conditions exist– determining this fact becomes empirical “test”– then all of the conceptual framework of “supply and demand” are also in play. It matters not of the who and when or of the quantitative structure. 

          • Mr. Tuna,
              Causal inference is another matter entirely. More and more social scientists are employing causal language very carefully. Thats why people are starting to refer to “input” and “output” variables  instead of “independent” and “dependent” . Economists are probably worse than sociologists and poli scientists at invoking “causal” language carelessly. 
                But causality is not necessarily as interesting as you might think. If multiple studies show a relationship (especially in the same direction) between X and Y when using different data, and controlling for other explanations or influences we don’t necessarily need to know the specific causal mechanism. It might be nice to pin point the variable that mediates the relationship between X and Y but many times that is not possible. 
               For example, if we can show that people who are bilingual are more likely to vote for democrats than republicans across a number of different data sets and when controlling for other predictors (income, race, education etc.) than we have a relationship that appears to be consistent. We can’t identify the specific causal mechanism. Bilingual folks may be more likely to vote democrat for many person-specific reasons and we may not be able to account for them all. However, we can say with a great deal of duly earned confidence that being bilingual increases the likelihood of someone voting for a democrat. 
               Again, I’m not trying to be rude or anything but my suspicion is that most self-described “Austrians”, especially those on the internet, have not fully engaged with the more mainstream research methodologies of the social sciences. I am by no means an expert, but I have logged a lot of hours pouring over methodology texts, reading journals, and working with data. Based upon my limited experience in the “mainstream” of social science I think that the Austrian critique of social scientists as hard-core positivists trying to create a “science of society” to enable social engineering is baseless. Maybe it was true in the1930s but it does not seem true today. 
               Again, not trying to be rude or anything. But it might be good for you to step outside of the Austrian box, especially the more hard-line school associated with Mises and Rothbard, and recently published academic literature. 

          • Anonymous

            I gave you one example of modern social science research– that of causal inference– and then you have the the cynical nerve to brush it aside. But I saw you coming. I worked for education researchers under NCLB grants that swore by its methodology.

            No matter what I say I think you will disregard it. Now, positivists today, also known as technocrats, still anti-market– but maybe not as totalitarian as the 30’s crowd.  They, like you, will do anything to discredit economics because it says– (like i said elsewhere):  the state is not a god.

            All the elegant statistical frameworks, modeling and software aided empirical studies are of absolutely no use for understanding the basic implications of a creature that acts intentionally.

          • Anonymous

            Further, you have not backed-up your belieft that economic research based on Austrian thinking is poor quality. If you believe that Austrian econ is a religion– then are you just being bigoted from your subjective point of view? Or is it that you think the quality could rise within the religious paradigm– given the paradigm? 
            I am being sarcastic because I recognize the blind faith regard you have for the methodology of the lab, math and physics– because you think they are the end all be all and that econ must be a subset and can’t stand on its own. To a hammer everything is a nail.

        • The problem with Austrian Economics is its claim to be scientific.

          Scientific theories must describe, explain and predict. Only if they predict are they testable and thus refutable. Refutability, not confirmation, is the hallmark of scientific method.

          A more complete explication can be found on the Wiki for Imre Lakatos.

          Regards

          Tony Hollick

      • Anonymous

        Xero,

        It is not the size or breadth or complexity of the modeling that is the problem– though one might interpret Hayek that way. Mises claims the modeling approach misses the point by kind, not degree. The concepts of action– the nature of humans dealing with scarcity as they try to make their way in the world– exist prior to analysis. Even “analysis” implies something about the inherent logical structure of the mind and humans acting purposively using scarce means to hopefully attain ends sought.  The acting, valuing mind cannot be held as a constant for empirical research and there are no units of measurement concerning value. All we know is what people do– choosing an apple v. orange, the latter implying opportunity cost. These concepts are not derived through observation.

        The aprioristic deductions I just submitted seem unscientific to the Popperian or positivist/physics mind.  But will they admit that “All science is induction etc.”  is also a statement that cannot be tested by observation? Mises would not challenge its aprioristic stance-  but just claim it to be false, as the “true” statement “Human’s act purposively” demonstrates.  The latter, not empirically testable either, but rather self-evident and relating to the real nature of human experience. When it comes to economics– it is the positivists claiming the natural sciences, physics, etc to be its only method that mimic metaphysicians.

        On your tax proposal. It would certainly be an improvement over what happens now– since i could direct my taxes back to me. But there still remains an insurmountable problem from the economic standpoint. Taxation implies coerced taking and the denial of exchange. Hence no price structure forms and no economic calculation can take place concerning the taxes. Then of course there is the naked barbaric immorality of taxation in of itself.  cheers

        • Anonymous

          Economy is not just a “knowledge problem” but one of property. In order for meaningful prices to emerge, unique owners must do the exchange.  Taxation means one owner, the state.  Donations, on the other hand, maintain unique property rights. The latter maintains the market.

          • Anonymous

            ‘Humans act purposively” refers to all action without particulars or value judgment. The problem with taxpayer choice is that “taxpayer’ automatically means some kind of slavery. Slave-choice.  True, even under this kind of involuntary servitude people still act intentionally:  you could resist and go to the gallows. What you are offering cannot possibly lead to the government of my liking because the basic format is hobbled from the get go. Why not let people keep their resources to begin with?

          • Anonymous

            In the absolute sense, public sector production cannot rise above barter and subsistence. The most successful public enterprises parasitize the private and make it look like they have some kind of social value.
             
            In reality, the use of public and private as descriptors can be misleading. A bullet manufacturer can claim to be private- and point to investors, public shares, and profit/loss sheets.  But then you see that 90% of its contracts are with the Pentagon…  You can have an array of public schools, overseen by a monarch… 

            I want to go farther than pragmatarianism and dispense with taxation altogether. Individualized tax allocation power may soften the blow of coercion. But it is inherently inferior morally and economically to non-taxation.

            There is no up front reason to choose a parliamentary system over a king, either.  A king, if he owns the kingdom, might care more about its economy out of self-interest and his heir’s future.  The king, if enlightened about trade, might institute laissez-faire by decree. Parliament does not own but merely controls. It is incentivized to get-while-the-gettin’-is-good. ‘Who cares about the future. I might not hold office then’.

      • Anonymous

        Xero,

        It is not the size or breadth or complexity of the modeling that is the problem– though one might interpret Hayek that way. Mises claims the modeling approach misses the point by kind, not degree. The concepts of action– the nature of humans dealing with scarcity as they try to make their way in the world– exist prior to analysis. Even “analysis” implies something about the inherent logical structure of the mind and humans acting purposively using scarce means to hopefully attain ends sought.  The acting, valuing mind cannot be held as a constant for empirical research and there are no units of measurement concerning value. All we know is what people do– choosing an apple v. orange, the latter implying opportunity cost. These concepts are not derived through observation.

        The aprioristic deductions I just submitted seem unscientific to the Popperian or positivist/physics mind.  But will they admit that “All science is induction etc.”  is also a statement that cannot be tested by observation? Mises would not challenge its aprioristic stance-  but just claim it to be false, as the “true” statement “Human’s act purposively” demonstrates.  The latter, not empirically testable either, but rather self-evident and relating to the real nature of human experience. When it comes to economics– it is the positivists claiming the natural sciences, physics, etc to be its only method that mimic metaphysicians.

        On your tax proposal. It would certainly be an improvement over what happens now– since i could direct my taxes back to me. But there still remains an insurmountable problem from the economic standpoint. Taxation implies coerced taking and the denial of exchange. Hence no price structure forms and no economic calculation can take place concerning the taxes. Then of course there is the naked barbaric immorality of taxation in of itself.  cheers

    • Adam, regarding your third option and “doing libertarian things,” how about the most basic libertarian thing of all: claiming self-ownership, i.e., claiming that one’s wages and salaries are his/her personal property, not income.

      Making this claim would benefit the libertarian cause because it necessitates making a complimentary legal claim that causes money to enter the economy through Treasury-Direct currencies, which currencies would compete with the two major ways money currently enters the economy, through governmnet spending and bank lending, both processes of which are currenctly monopolized  by our rent-seeking central bank.

      • Rick, 
           I appreciate your reply and the sentiment you express. 
           Remember that Marx (Karl, not Richard) employed a concept he called “the rate of exploitation”. Setting aside its mathematical formulation, capitalist exploitation meant that the proletariat was not receiving the full reward for its labor. In much the same way, libertarians argue that taxation denies people the full fruits of their labor. 
           However, this sort of  sentiment leads to strategy #1 -seizing political power to create ruptural change on a macro level. Its very difficult to imagine what a person could do at the individual, micro or meso level to do away to central banking. With any ruptural change at the macro level you should develop some sense of how the transition for the previous state to the next state will occur (Marxists, of course, have the notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”).  I am not aware of any libertarian theory of transition. 
            When I say “doing libertarian things” I mean purposeful actions, not ideological declarations made over the internet. This is not to say that individual-level ideological declarations have no value or purpose. However, for a relatively marginal political movement ideological declarations that consistently lead to the macro ruptural strategy are probably not terribly useful. 
               The destruction of central banking in the world’s most economically powerful country ever might be one of the most difficult political undertakings of all time. Libertarians would have to make very hard decisions regarding how to actually achieve this goal and how the transition from central banking to an alternative system will occur. Also, there are innumerable moral quandaries with the seize power-create ruptural macro change strategy.  
              I have a great deal of sympathy for those who seek to abolish central banking, taxation etc. BUT it may be helpful for libertarians to think more carefully about strategy and perhaps deemphasize the macro-ruptural approach. 
                 
           
            

        • Adam, I’m not suggesting “destruction of central banking,” but a competing debt-free way for money to enter the economy, and one that is already allowed (though few if any U.S. lawyers understand it).

          In short, perhaps unlike any other monetary system in the world, when Treasury-Direct currencies are demanded at U.S. incorporated banks under McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), our quasi-public privately-owned central bank must abandon its rent-seeking lending function, and by law, assume it subordinate role as “fiscal agent” of the Treasury Department.

          I don’t see the legal transitional strategy I mentioned as having anything to do with Karl Marx, “seizing political power to create ruptural change at a macro level,” nor do I see how it’s merely an “ideological declaration.”

          I just think that as libertarians, we have a duty to raise awareness about subtle, little-known (Lockean, not Marxist) Constitutional tax and monetary rights that already exist, and which have uniquely evolved in the U.S. as a result of our roots in slavery.  

          • Rick, 
               Very interesting indeed! I thought you were making a variant of the “central banking robs us of our money through inflation” sort of argument.  From there usually follows an argument about the destruction of central banking (in other words a big, ruptural change).
                Do you have (readable for meager minds) link? I can look at Stata output all day but get quickly bogged down in legalese….
                

          • Thanks, Adam. My ultimate goal is to create a referral network of lawyers who understand this stuff (so far I’m the only one I know about) at http:lockeanliberty.org … or at least I’d like to hook up my nonprofit’s mission and services with other already established legal referral networks.

            But to merely discuss, and to try to make this subject understandable, I recently formed a Facebook group “Common Wealth Tax,” which interested people are welcome to join: http://www.facebook.com/groups/CommonWealthTax/

            (But, yes, years ago I used to be on the band wagon that sought to end the Fed, abolish the IRS and 16th Amendment, etc. … until I learned about some legal sublteties that caused me to understand that the Fed, the IRS, income taxes, etc. can actually be used to advance libertarian ideals. It all depends on how we, as currency-users and depositors, interact with these powerful entities and laws.)

  • bill woolsey

    The newsletter that was written by James B. Powell did not include anything like  racist language.  It is written in an objective, matter-of-fact manner.    The subject matter is protecting yourself and your home against a riot, and the potential rioters are clearly poor people from the inner city. 

    Some of the offensive remarks do relate to this exact same topic, but I think it is unfair to assume that James B. Powell wrote those newsletters.   It is like the same material was covered in a jazzed up manner.  Other quotes were not directly related the the Powell letter.

    By the way, internet searches show that there is an investment newsletter writer named James B. Powell.   What I saw did have  a flavor of “crisis” investing.   “Get ready for New America.”   Fed money creation was described  as a problem.   It fits.  If you look at the newsletter with his byline, at the end there is contact information about getting a personal consultation with the guy. This is a link to his current newsletter.   Go to subscribe.   Nothing offensive at all, but the alarmism is there.   http://www.powellreport.com/

    There is also a James B. Powell who was a medical doctor (at Duke, Paul’s Alma Mater,) became CEO of  a testing company, and now serves on the Forbes Board of Directors   Not the investment newsletter guy. 

    Incredibly, I am sure that many of those reading this know the libertarian writer, Jim Powell.    He wrote The  Triumph of Liberty.   He is a Cato senior fellow, was editor of Laissez faire books, and most incredibly, has written a good bit for LewRockwell.com.   He was  freelance journalist for a long time.   But… he isn’t the investment newsletter guy.  http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-Liberty-Freedoms-Greatest-Champions/dp/068485967X/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1326584695&sr=8-4 &tag=bleedheartlib-20

    In my opinion, James B. Powell really didn’t write anything too offensive.  (Perhaps I missed something, but none of the “gotcha” quotes came from the newsletter with his name on it.    And while I am not too worried about his name being confused with the Forbes Board, I do think we should be concerned about confusion with the libertarian writer.   

     

  • “My main point in the article was that political campaigns are, in general, a bad way to educate people.”

    I must admit, this post hurts my feelings. I guess you didn’t read the comment on your original post 🙁

    There is no argument that IHS and its work (learnliberty.org is sooooo good) is a better educational tool than a political campaign. No one has suggested otherwise.

    The Ron Paul campaign serves to awaken millions of people to the very concept of liberty. Given the normal political discourse and the standard education received by Americans, this is a vitally important contribution.

    Why you continue to feel the need to pit Ron Paul vs IHS as if they are substitution goods is not something I understand. IHS is irrelevant if the populace does not understand there is a third choice to the Left-Right paradigm their schools, communities, and media present to them.

    Ron Paul’s political campaign should be rightfully praised for awakening millions of new people to libertarianism in a meaningful way. Some percentage of which (like me!) have since gone on to learn from, support, and spread the teachings of IHS.

    Let’s not create conflict where there is none, please!

    • Sorry, Robert. I did read your original comment. I thought my paragraph on zero- and positive-sum constituted a response to your main point?

      • My apologies, I appreciate that response. I guess the main point I am trying to stress is the complimentary role of Ron Paul (creating awareness and converts to libertarianism) and efforts like IHS (educating people on liberty) as opposed to a conflicting or substitutable one.

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  • To make a point let me loosely lump you in with Horwitz, Wilkinson, and Levy for a moment.

    You all argue that:

    1.) Ron Paul has the ability to drastically influence the perception of
    libertarianism to such a degree that we must denounce the newsletters
    lest we’re conceived forever as paleo-biggots.

    and now..

    2.) Ron Paul has such little influence that we ought to withhold support
    in time and money because it is better served in support of non-paleo
    organizations.

    Is there not a prima facia contradiction here? 

    Sorry if you’ve already discussed this, but I’m not reading through all the comments..

  • Mark Brady

    I’d like to offer a different perspective on the issue.  A very significant part of Ron Paul’s message is opposition to U.S. interventionist foreign policy.  Now this is not something that for the most part the IHS gets associated with.  So, although there’s a considerable overlap between the concerns of Ron Paul supporters and IHS, there’s one significant difference.  (That was, of course, not the case decades ago before IHS became focused entirely on student outreach or, for that matter, in the early years when IHS was reaching out to students.)  And I recognize that many (most?) IHS faculty are opposed to current U.S. foreign policy and would speak up in answer to student questions.  But where are the videos on LearnLiberty about the cause of peace that is key to the classical liberal / libertarian message and lies at the core of Ron Paul’s platform?  (Yes, I’ve watched one video that does reference the topic but the subject isn’t given much weight in their overall program.)

  • Incidentally, I’m still looking for a good proposition that could serve as the basis for a bet on this issue. For those of you who think the Ron Paul campaign is going to have a significant long-term effect on the cause of liberty, what measurable outcomes do you believe might be used to measure this effect? How might we test it?

    • As much as I admire what Ron Paul has done to advance libertarian ideas, I’d bet that his plan to abolish the income tax would be disastrous and extremely disruptive. 

      There are several forms of income taxation with several different targets, but abolishing the one Ron Paul is most likely talking about (the currency regulation income tax on our wages), probably to appeal to young libertarians, would be easy to measure because I believe it would result in almost immediate hyperinflation.  In a nutshell, this kind of tax should only be eliminated for those who claim and demand Treasury-Direct currencies.

      • Anonymous

        Good luck with arguing that in court…

    • Anonymous

      We libertarians have been working on the “long-term” for quite some time now, and I don’t object to thinking and teaching for the “long-term.” However, some drastic libertarian reforms can actually take place if Ron Paul is the POTUS. And we only have a year for him to try to get him the Republican nomination and strong enough support in order to have him beat Obama. The opportunity cost is much higher now to donate to outlets like the IHS, Cato Institute, Mises Institute, Mercatus Center, Reason Foundation, etc. 

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  • Anonymous

    Matt, I think you’re confusing opportunity cost with zero-sum criteria. I suspect that promoting the growth of awareness and understanding of the principles of libertarianism by applying resources to both educational and politically active people is greater than if the same resources were only spent on one or the other.

    I also suspect a discussion such as this, at this particular time, has zero chance of remaining free of politically charged hyperbole.

  • Anonymous

    Can the IHS withdraw the troops in as little as a year from Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Australia, Italy, and God knows many other countries in which the American military has a presence or base? Can the IHS pardon all non-violent drug offenders who are current incarcerated? Can the IHS really cut federal spending and even have a few agencies abolished or at least have their funding cut severely reduced? Can the IHS close down all US military prisons around the globe? Can the IHS veto bills by an activist Congress?

    No…

    In the mean time, Matt, I think your opportunity cost argument is a great one, but it doesn’t support what you think it supports. During this next year, I would assume that the opportunity cost is high when donating to the IHS for summer seminars. After all, drastic libertarian reforms can be implemented very quickly if Ron Paul is elected as the US president. 

    • Can the IHS do any of those things? No. But neither can Ron Paul. Paul could, of course, if he were elected president. But since that’s almost certainly not going to happen, that’s no more relevant than what the IHS could do if it were given 100 million dollars tomorrow.

      • Anonymous

        Ron Paul has substantially more leverage and power to do the things that I have mentioned. I have some doubts about whether he Congress will allow a trillion dollars in immediate cuts during the first fiscal year of President Paul, but either way. Ron Paul really can do much if not all of the above. That’s why the opportunity cost is high. I’m not arguing against educating people for the long run, but we can do much for liberty if Ron Paul were president than we could accomplish in twenty years if he weren’t.

      • Anonymous

        He’s been doing very well and there might be some substantial support that could come to him from all the candidates that have dropped out or will drop out on the future. I’m not trying to say that it’s a sure thing, but there a reasons to remain optimistic about it.

        • Ron Paul has gotten about as much support — 20-25% — of the Republican base as he is ever going to get. What libertarians don’t realize is that your philosophy is very specific and is ill-suited for coalition building.

          The Reagan revolution was built on a coalition of religious social conservatives, security/military conservatives, and economic conservatives. He only kinda/sorta appeals to the social conservatives and scares the hell out of the security conservatives. He appeals to the base of the economic conservatives but the money bag types are really corporatists so don’t expect much love there. Bottom line is that he won’t get nominated. The only reason he’s doing so well this time around is that the rest of the field is so pathetic. I mean really… Gingrich? Seriously? Like we all of a sudden forgot who this clown is?

          I mean… I understand your enthusiasm for a candidate that calls himself a libertarian polling above the noise floor, but it really is NOT going to happen.

          • Anonymous

            Well, we’ll have to see, but my point still remains. We’ll see whether Santorum drops out and whether evangelicals will vote for Gingrich.

          • Republicans are… to put it mildly, not very bright in a herd.

            Gingrich – 40.4%
            Romney – 27.8%
            Santorum – 17.0%
            Paul – 13.0%
            Others (who have all actually dropped out) – 1.8%

          • Anonymous

            I can show you his results in New Hampshire for a counter-claim, either way, his results in South Carolina probably reflect  the animosity toward him from his views on foreign policy and defense.

          • First of all, he didn’t win N.H. either. But you just proved my point; he scares the hell out of the defense/security conservatives. I mean… jeez louise… he might actually NOT get us into a war. We’re a great country because we run around the world killing people, right? Right?

            Here’s a hint: Republicans, by and large, are NOT libertarians.  They like his “small government” message, but ALL the Republican candidates are making that particular noise, so it doesn’t get him much traction.

            He pulled about 1/3 the votes as a serial philandering, twice divorced, former Speaker of the House, career politician running as a family values, Tea Party, “Washington outsider”.

            Like I said, Republicans are dumb. Or at least seriously confused.

          • Anonymous

            I wasn’t proving your point, second place is wonderful for someone with Ron Paul’s views, especially with the even larger fragmented support that was located in New Hampshire. Either way, I don’t deny your statement about the Republicans.

          • Damien S.

            Conversely, Paul came in second in what’s usually said to be the most naturally libertarian state in the Union.  If he can’t win there…

            Granted, Romney is said to have had a big “native son next door” effect or something.

          • Breaking news… Sen. Rand Paul (LINO, KY) was detained at the Nashville airport by the TSA after he triggered the alarms and refused a pat-down. Rush Limbaugh made the following comment: After explaining that it was Rand and not Ron, he said if it had been Ron, ‘You Couldn’t Blame TSA For Detaining Ron Paul, He “Almost Sounds Like An Islamic Terrorist Sometimes”‘

  • The problem with Austrian Economics is its claim to be scientific.

    Scientific
    theories must describe, explain and predict. Only if they predict are
    they testable and thus refutable. Refutability, not confirmation, is the
    hallmark of scientific method.

    A more complete explication can be found on the Wiki for Imre Lakatos.

    Regards

    Tony Hollick

  • Here’s my $0.10 cents on the Ron Paul Phenomenon; most of the people I have met and talked with who are Ron Paul supporters are not Libertarians in any classical sense. They are recent converts to the idea of a balanced budget who also happen to detest the mainstream of the two major political parties, for a whole host of reasons, some of which are logically consistent, some of which are logically inconsistent. They see Ron Paul as distinctly different from the other Presidential candidates, in that he appears to be capable of swimming against the majority consensus, especially on big ticket items like overseas military (mis)adventures, the War On Some Drugs, the role of the Federal Reserve etc.
    As I understand it, Ron Paul himself shies away from self-identifying as a Libertarian; in interviews and articles I have read, he is often described as a self-identified constitutional conservative. I also note that the Libertarian Party has run its own candidates against him in his district in recent elections. It is therefore difficult for me to swallow the meme that he is a Libertarian, especially when I examine his views on reproductive laws and legislation, although to his credit he has been consistent in his views that many legal issues should be devolved back to the states, instead of being the purview of the Federal Government. 
    My more serious issue with Ron Paul is that when it comes to being accountable for past words and actions, he fails Accountability 101 by constantly weaselling out of responsibility for his 1990’s newsletters. Quite why he does this is a mystery to me; no matter what reasoning I try to ascribe to him, the implications are not flattering. 
     The fact that Gary Johnson has very similar views on many of the same issues, without some of the baggage that Ron Paul carries, yet Johnson could not gain any traction whatsoever, is a mystery to me, but that probably deserves its own discussion thread.  
    A more practical question that I have yet to see Ron Paul required to answer is the fundamental one of what will happen if he is elected President, and arrives in Washington DC in January 2013 to try and put his ideas into practice. Most likely he will be required to work with a Senate and House of Representatives dominated by supporters of the current two-party duopoly. I want to hear how he thinks he is going to turn the ship of state in a new direction, given how little direct power the President actually has. It’s easy to make a lot of great statements about “change” when you are outside the power structure. If Ron Paul were to be elected, and he did not manage to change anything, he would set back the cause of Libertarian politics for a generation.
    A lot more work is required in the USA to build a genuine third party grouping using libertarian principles so that the voting power of that grouping can either be used to build third party representation, or to scare the existing established parties into real change to their approaches. Whether Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Uncle Joe Blow or whoever emerges as the leader of that movement is an open question; the process of building a genuine third party is a long game, not a short one. 
    A common argument I have heard is along the lines of “well Ron Paul is not perfect but he is surfacing libertarian ideas”. This argument is a double-edged sword. A big underlying issue is that Ron Paul is trying to have it both ways, by staying in the GOP while dancing on the fringes of libertarian ideals. This has its own downside. It is clear to me that many Ron Paul supporters are not libertarians by my understanding of the world. They are closet authoritarians, wolves in sheep’s clothing. They like some of his ideas, but if he really tried to enact a more libertarian agenda across the board, they would soon freak out, especially when it came to cutting government spending on items that they like. They are what I term “a la carte libertarians”, they like some of the menu, but find a number of the entrees to be unpalatable. Closet authoritarians, like closet racists, can only keep the artifice going for so long before the mask slips and their true nature emerges. 
    One area where Ron Paul is in alignment with classical Libertarians is his limited appeal to progressives. As I am sure many readers of this blog appreciate, many Libertarians stand next to no chance of attracting progressives for a number of reasons. One of the key reasons is illustrated perfectly by the vituperative and confrontational posting elsewhere by Justin Raimondo, dripping with contempt from the first sentence. As one of my favorite authors, Al Bernstein, has observed, as a general rule people are unwilling to listen to input from people who they believe think they are stupid. Libertarians have to move past any engagement strategy that begins with something like “you’re a bunch of gullible fools being played by the major parties”, while remembering that philosophically, libertarians ought to have a lot more in common with progressives than with authoritarians.

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