Why Libertarians Were Wrong About School Vouchers

Megan McArdle has an interesting article on Bloomberg on the disappointing results from voucher programs. I notice it has been getting attention from the likes of Charles Murray.

I don’t want to brag, but I could have told her this years ago

One reason I left libertarianism is because I felt the movement suffers from ‘Blank Slate’ thinking: like the Beltway right and the left, it is stuck in an “it’ll all be okay if we can just fix the schools” mindset. I think libertarianism can be enriched and made redeemable, however, if human biodiversity was properly incorporated into thought and policy.

For this reason, I did not hail the appointment of Betsy DeVos, something that pleased even the very anti-Trump CATO Institute.

Don’t get me wrong: I support school choice on principle. This is because a voucher system makes it cheaper to send kids to denominational schools. However, I do not believe it will perform miracles in terms of test results or narrow the achievement gap between different groups, even though this is how most of it’s supposedly Friedmanite advocates are compelled to sell the idea. If you want a good study on this, read Robert Weissberg’s ‘Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.’

Firstly, let’s have a look at the avuncular economist that was Milton Friedman. He is often credited with birthing the school choice movement in his 1955 essay “The Role of Government in Education.” But most of the school choice people show little indication of having read it. The essay concentrated only on permitting more parental choice, freedom from government control, and a little bit about bringing teacher salaries to market levels. In fact, 50 years later Friedman was compelled to say that nowhere did he mention anything about raising academic excellence or closing race, class, or sex gaps in test scores (the current obsessions in the education business). He does mention parents choosing to permit social dancing or not, and allowing to let them so choose.

Secondly, let’s accept the virtues of free choice and let’s say we roll it out across the country. What can we expect to happen?

Well, in a sense, we already have an example of free choice in education: the university sector. There are cheap loans available and no ZIP Code lottery to speak of. They are mostly private organisations. How many of the 4000 universities in America put academic work above all else, and how many focus on attracting students with fancy football stadiums, the social life, or other amenities? I’d say 1% or so focus on the academics, the rest are kindergartens for 20 year olds. George Lynn Cross, when he was President of the University of Oklahoma, was being more honest than most when he said his goal was to “build an academic program the football team could be proud of.”

Weissberg’s insight is that the real problem is not lack of supply, it is insufficient demand for academic achievement. Hey, we all want to be fit, too. But if we opened up free gyms across the country, or increased the number and types of gyms, how many of us would go and put the effort in? I know I didn’t when I had a free gym at college.

The desire for academic excellence may be widespread in some quarters. But across great swathes of American society, academic excellence is not much valued.

To quote Weissberg: “America’s educational woes reflect our demographic mix of students. Today’s schools are filled with millions of youngsters, many of whom are Hispanic immigrants struggling with English plus millions of others of mediocre intellectual ability disdaining academic achievement… To be grossly politically incorrect, most of America’s educational woes vanish if these indifferent, troublesome students left when they had absorbed as much as they were going to learn and were replaced by learning-hungry students from Korea, Japan, India, Russia, Africa and the Caribbean.”

The vast majority of a school’s success depends on two factors: the cognitive ability of the child and the disposition he brings to class; not on texts, teachers or classroom size. A smart kid will do just as well with a grimy old textbook as he will with a flashy free laptop.

Thirdly, the school choice people come out with another fallacy. At every school choice event you will hear somebody say that at one time there was a single, small TV with a crappy picture on the market for $1000 a pop. Now, they say, we have a plethora of TV sets to choose from, including fancy widescreen plasma things for a few hundred bucks. Contrast this with the classroom, they say, which has remained the same for 200 years because there is no free market in education.

Yes, the free market brings us wonderful things. But human beings are not a typical commodity.

There is a museum in Ithaca that costs more to enter than a good seat to see ‘Hamilton.’ It is a museum of failed products, open to researchers, marketers, product developers, etc. Watch a news report about it here.

90% of new products fail. When they do, these products can be safely discarded or put on a shelf in a museum. But with the product of a failed school, you can do no such thing. What do you do with a person who can’t be educated? They have a legal right to be in school and so far nobody has come up with a program that can turn kids with 85 IQs into Harvard students.

(This view of people as like products is one reason many libertarians have turned into open borders loonies, by the way).

I would suggest too many are in school and it would be better to have more teens working. It might even be more cost effective to have them on welfare, as some places are spending $20,000 a year per kid to educate, which is more than what they could get on unemployment benefits.

What is a value for money option conducive to social peace? One option might be to let struggling and disruptive kids drop out of school earlier and give them the opportunity to go back to learning later, when they are more mature and perhaps sick of doing menial jobs.


Mass Immigration and its Discontents

Is there an economic case against open borders, and not just a cultural one? Certainly, warnings about labor shortages from open-borders advocates like Paul Ryan strike me as rather hollow at a time of increasingly advanced automation and robotics. The collision course that is the welfare state and affirmative action on one hand, and mass immigration on the other, has been explored quite extensively.

But there is plenty of room for reservation about open borders if you just believe in something called supply and demand.

That’s what the always interesting Ron Unz argued recently in a debate against libertarian economist and pundit Brian Caplan. I was surprised to hear a few days ago that an Intelligence Squared audience, predictably very much in favor of mass immigration according to polls taken at the beginning of the debate, subsequently swung massively to Unz’s restrictionist side.

Now, my view is that the wants and needs of western countries, even with their aging populations, are vastly outnumbered by the wants and needs of the pools of potential migrants in poor countries. Eight out of the ten most fertile countries in the world are in the dysfunctional region that is sub-Saharan Africa. Conceivably, we may need some of their labor, even if the unemployment rate in Spain and Greece remains in the mid to high twenties. But the fact that 44% of Somalians are under the age of 15, for instance, should be giving us pause for thought before we even consider throwing the borders open. The supply and demand situation here is incredibly skewed. Greece, certainly an economic basket-case at present, still looks tempting enough from the perspective of a young person from Eritrea, where per capita GDP stands at $600.  My money would be on major economic and social upheaval if unfettered movement of people were actually adopted as it stands.

Back to Ron Unz, who calmly advanced a common-sense argument against a typically smarmy Brian Caplan. Unz simply states that allowing an unlimited number of additional workers from everywhere in the world to come to America, as Caplan advocates, would massively increase the supply of labor. This would tremendously disadvantage labor, to the tremendous advantage of capital. Ordinary workers would not benefit at all. True, there would be a huge increase in economic production, productivity, and GNP on paper. All of it, however, would be captured by capital. America’s minimum wage would quickly become the maximum wage.

This would exacerbate the bifurcation of American that has taken place over the past 40 years. While technology has increased living standards, real earnings for most have been stagnant during this time. Yet the wealthy have gotten much wealthier. The top 1 percent of American society has reached the point where it has as much wealth as the bottom 95 percent. Mass immigration and mismanagement of the currency have been the main culprits here. Female entry to the workforce has payed its part, though the wage sectors that have experienced the sharpest declines are not the ones that have seen massive influxes of women.

A recent cover piece at The Spectator described the American and British middle classes as “shrinking and sinking”. This may constitute the single most disturbing social trend of our age, and a true tragedy for the adults of tomorrow, who will not be able to enjoy the trappings of life their parents and grandparents did. Not to mention it is potentially destabilizing politically.

If libertarians like Caplan and mainstream conservatives (or more accurately, perhaps, Wall Street conservatives) are not helping to stop and reverse this trend, they are on the wrong side of history. Recent talk of a ‘libertarian populism‘ or ‘labor Republicanism‘ may indicate a growing awareness that conservatives and libertarians must speak the language of exurban Ohio rather than midtown Manhattan.

The policies of previous decades, focusing on tax cuts and privatization, will no longer cut it. We now have huge numbers of working poor and people earning under £1500 a month in Britain. They may pay no direct tax apart  from an £85 National Insurance contribution. They gain significantly more from government services than what they pay in. They have no incentive to vote for the Mitt Romneys of this world.

So we are going to have to find ways to genuinely improve the average man’s standard of living, economic mobility, and purchasing power. My first step would be an end to all immigration unless of a highly skilled, specific variety. Its not the only step that could be taken, but I am willing to say it is the most important one.

I have said to a colleague on Facebook that open-borders libertarians, and the editorial writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the FT, are because of their adherence to this idea now as dangerous to the middle class and prosperity as any Bolshevik. I stand by it.

Hobbes, Peace, and Liberty

Happy birthday, Thomas Hobbes!

To be fair to a man on his birthday, as I am wont to do, all Hobbes ever wanted was peace. He put this goal before the question of how best to realize justice, liberty, and such matters within the state. This was a matter of practicality and a hope, I believe, that much of this, like religious truth, would be relegated as much as possible to private life. This approach has a lot going for it, and libertarians who most likely prefer their Locke or Smith when it comes to the issue of the consequences of self-interest and other matters should consider it.

Lets not forget that Hobbes did take individual freedom seriously. Just look at his justification of armed resistance to government officials who seek to arrest you, especially where you face the death penalty.

The amazing blogger Mencius Moldbug lays out a map for freedom, with peace as the foundation of a political pyramid of needs. After this comes security, then law, and finally the Misesian goal of freedom and spontaneous order.

I’m not saying he’s definitely right, but he is reasonable.

Preserving Freedom Can Mean Restricting Immigration

Rose Wilder Lane, who is said to have coined the term ‘libertarian movement’, makes an interesting point in The Discovery of Freedom that could well enlighten today’s immigration policy.

Like all good commentators, Rose Wilder Lane does not expatiate on the West and the rise of freedom without extensive reference to its roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Lane credits Abraham with the insight that “God does not control any man… a man controls himself, he is free to do good or evil in the sight of God”. She points to the important breaks the Israelites made with the surrounding pagan cultures, including their decentralized, even anarchic, governing structure. However, she also points out that the Israelites were a small group surrounded by powerful pagan empires: “The most promising young Israelites were always falling in love with pagan girls… They would have melted humbly into those pagan multitudes  if their strong men had not stood in the way and driven them back with threats, telling them that they were like no other people, that they were set apart, chosen to know the truth and hold to it. They wanted to be “like all the other nations”. But to be like any other people, they must forget that men are free. That is the truth that they held”.

For much of history, America preserved a culture of liberty not found anywhere else. When facing a flood of immigrants from places without this culture, huge efforts were put into the Americanization of these people, through schools and other outlets. This was not only an initiative of the American government. The Ford Motor Company’s absorption classes for new arrivals are legendary. Americans knew they possessed something unique, that was vulnerable, and that had to be preserved with the maintenance of a national character. Friedrich Hayek says in the Constitution of Liberty that the experiment of the United States in having such high levels of  immigration would have utterly failed without such efforts. I find it ominous that this emphasis does not exist today.

My motive in raising this is simply to say that when a nation happens to be a repository of liberal ideas, yet surrounded by illiberal cultures, it is not necessarily a liberal policy to allow vast numbers of those from illiberal cultures to infiltrate the nation and perhaps alter its character entirely. Consider this point when you see Muslim vigilante patrols harassing people on the streets of London, or Arab teens beating a visiting left-wing Israeli filmmaker in France.

See Also: Randmesty? 

Randmesty? Why Rand Paul Is Wrong About Immigration.

The Republican Party’s capacity for self-delusion sometimes surpasses even that of the Irish in a housing bubble. Nowhere is this more evident than the constant party refrains about Hispanics being such “natural Republicans“, they’re ready to hop on the bandwagon if you just cool the rhetoric about immigration. The latest piece of outrageous Hispandering comes courtesy of – it pains me to say – Kentucky’s Rand Paul.

Now, about Rand Paul. I like him. I support his agenda. I would vote for him in 2016. But he’s potentially very weak on the immigration issue. Like Peter Brimelow, I don’t think he’s thought about or appreciates the consequences of mass immigration all that much, something he has in common with a lot of cloistered libertarians. Paul went so far as to call illegal aliens “undocumented citizens” in a recent Washington Times op-ed. Uh-oh.

Recently, Rand gave a speech addressing the topics of amnesty and border security in front of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It was truly pathetic. At some points, it was unintentionally quite funny. To establish a bond of victimhood and ethnic grievance, Paul actually piped: “It was not always easy to be German American in the face of two world wars started by Germans. Intolerance is not new, and it is not limited to one language or skin color”. Oh, Rand, really?

Other choice lines:

“Growing up in Texas I never met a Latino who wasn’t working”.

“Republicans have been losing both the respect and votes of a group of people who already identify with our belief in family, faith, and conservative values. Hispanics should be a natural and sizable part of the Republican base”.

Lies, lies, lies.

Hispanics are far from conservative or libertarian

Well, the first line may not be a lie per se, but your childhood experience seeing Hispanics in construction crews or cleaning your yard aren’t the best guide to policy-making. As it happens, 65.4 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics and 68.4 percent of Hispanic immigrants are working,  compared with 69.3 percent for the country as a whole. Its not a marked difference, but its important to get past the myth of the hard-working Hispanic who actually wants to be here, unlike many supposedly shiftless, unappreciative natives.  57.4% of Mexican immigrants are on some form of welfare, which is significantly high.

The second point is so hackneyed, and so blatantly untrue, I wonder if the Republicans mouths obliged to utter such platitudes seriously believe it anymore. All it takes is a walk through East Los Angeles to observe that the Latino community is no bastion of social conservatism. Salt Lake City most Latino neighborhoods are not, and its not just confined to the female dress code. Hispanics have largely converged with the general public on social issues, and have possibly gone even further to the left. Pew Research’s Hispanic Center says that younger Hispanics support legal abortion in all or most cases, and close to 60 percent of Latinos overall support gay marriage.

What should be most worrying to a free-marketeer like Rand Paul is the Hispanic attitude to capitalism and socialism. Again, Pew Research indicates that Hispanics are twice as likely to have a positive view of socialism than whites. Amazingly, the average Hispanic is more likely to have a positive view of socialism than a self-described supporter of the Occupy Movement (so is the average black, it must be said). Fox News Latino claims that 62% of Hispanics support ObamaCare. This shouldn’t really surprise. We are talking about a people with roots in a continent that brought us Hugo Chavez, and famed for its economic populist strongmen. My view is that you wouldn’t have to change a single letter in the Constitution for the United States to become a socialist regime or Latin American style basket case republic, if the character of the people was that way inclined. And what better way to accomplish that than import tens of millions of Latin Americans? The implications of inviting millions of people rooted in a highly socialistic and collectivist culture into the United States really ought to attract more scrutiny. Unfortunately, libertarians today don’t have the guts. Even Lew Rockwell’s site, which once emphasized these matters,  seems to have completely sold out to La Raza and the Treason Lobby. What I call Official Conservatism may be even worse.

If Republican Party positions on economic and social matters are an anathema to most Hispanics, what makes anybody believe they will change allegiance if the party concedes ground on immigration? They already have the Democrats. That’s why polls show Hispanics vastly prefer Hilary Clinton to one of their own who happens to be sympathetic to amnesty, Marco Rubio.

Problems in today’s US immigration policy 

In fairness to Paul, he’s not all lost, in that he argues that the path to a green card and eventual citizenship for illegals currently in the country has to be contingent upon improvements in border security. The problem is the inevitable wrangling in the legislature as to what constitutes a secure border. My own vision of an ideal border policy involves bringing home the 10,000 troops currently stationed in Italy (Italy, for crying out loud!), the more than 50,000 troops in Germany, 36,000 in Japan, 28,000 in Korea, and stringing them along the southern border. John Derbyshire, a greater math whiz than I, says that on a three-shift basis this would equate to about one soldier per 50 yards of border, perfectly adequate for deterring intruders.

Alas, this is not going to happen.

And what about assimilating those that are already here? This is usually considered the long-term measure of success in immigration policy. We skeptics are often asked why the current wave of Latino immigration is different from earlier waves of Irish, Italian, or Jewish immigration. The process of Americanization in these cases was indeed a painful one, but ultimately very successful. Irish Americans proved capable of developing a particularly visceral patriotism (case in point: Joe McCarthy), and a number of Irish upstarts proved capable of being more WASP-y than the WASPs themselves (case in point: Buckley). American Jews, perhaps a little too eager to assimilate, ended up perpetrating a self-inflicted cultural holocaust. “God Bless America“? That was Irving Berlin. Christmas songs? The best ones were written by Jews.

The problem nowadays is that the America that placed enormous emphasis on assimilating immigrants no longer exists. As Friedrich Hayek says in the Constitution of Liberty: “That the United States would not have become such an effective ‘melting pot’ and would probably have faced extremely difficult problems if it had not been for a deliberate policy of ‘Americanization’ through the public school system seems fairly certain”. Hayek’s view is being tested today in the United States and he is being proved right.

Its helpful, at times, to think of Americanness as a religion. Lincoln said that when an immigrant feels that the Declaration of Independence “is the father of all moral principle in them”, then “they have a right to claim it is as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration”. This American model may very well be inspired by the Bible, where Ruth the Moabite woman tells her Israelite mother-in-law: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried”.

Two trends combine to make this whole process more difficult. The first has to do with technology and increasingly lower travel costs. These enable border-hoppers to maintain contact and ties with the old country to a far greater extent than immigrants from the Elllis Island era. Its much more difficult for Hispanic immigrants to become deeply rooted in America.  Almost 80% watch Spanish-language television, half of them as their main source of TV. Most interestingly, more than half of Dominicans and Mexicans who died in New York City were buried in their countries of origin in the year 1996 (so much for Ruth’s approach).

The second trend harks back to Hayek’s point above. A cultural and political shift has occurred in the United States, and other countries, that recoils at the idea that immigrants need to be brought into harmony with the existing culture. It is a combination of a lack of national self-confidence and a pathetic non-judgmentalism. This non-judgmentalism primarily affects the elite class, a class that once saw themselves as bearing a special responsibility for the well-being of America, but is now caught up in the ideals of multiculturalism. No longer can political leaders talk like Alexander Hamilton, when he said that the success of the American republic requires “the preservation of a national spirit and national character”. No longer can a politician talk to a potential immigrant in the manner of John Quincy Adams, who told a German contemplating immigrating that immigrants “must cast off the European skin, never to resume it. They must look forward to their posterity rather than backward to their ancestors”. Such attitudes, which guided the policy of the Ford Motor Company in the absorption classes they ran for immigrant workers, would now be deemed insensitive or racist.

Not surprisingly, surveys show there is an enormous gulf between the opinions of the economic and cultural elite – including executives of Fortune 1000 companies, heads of large trade unions, newspaper editors and TV news directors – and the average American. 70 percent of the public regard reducing illegal immigration as a “very important” policy goal, compared with 22 percent of the aforementioned elite. 55 percent of the public want legal immigration to be reduced, compared t only 18 percent of the elite.

Once, the approach of American schools was to accept that a Mexican could maintain pride in his former nation’s culture – expressed in music, art, cuisine, and religion – but they encouraged the political, economic, and social values of that country be quickly abandoned. Given the Pew Research findings on Latino political values mentioned above, this was wise.

Today’s schools actually aim to de-Americanize children and actively promote minority identity politics and culture. Bizarrely, surveys carried out by the sociologists Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut in Florida have found that children of immigrants are less likely to identify as American after leaving school than when they came in. The most dramatic change was among Cubans. One-third of a particular group surveyed simply referred to themselves as ‘American’ at the beginning of high-school. By the end of high school, only two percent did, the rest preferring to identify as ‘Cuban’ or ‘Cuban-American’.

The Existential Threat 

It may not be politically correct to say this, but this trend is most worrying when we are talking about the importation of millions of Mexicans into US territory previously won from Mexico. No immigrant group in U.S. history could potentially assert a historical claim to U.S. territory. Mexicans can and do make this claim. A 2002 Zogby poll found that 58 percent of Mexicans agree with the statement, “The territory of the United States’ southwest rightfully belongs to Mexico”. 28 percent disagreed, while another 14 percent said they weren’t sure. Charles Truxillo, a professor of Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico, said, “I may not live to see the Hispanic homeland, but by the end of the century my students’ kids will live in it, sovereign and free”. That’s what happens in a country where you have professors of ‘Chicano Studies’.

Occasionally, I’ve met folks in the US military, particularly those with roots in the Southwest, worried about about the region becoming America’s Kosovo. Yet it seems this kind of sensible strategic thinking cannot be discussed. Were not even meant to think about it. When Obama and Romney engaged in foreign policy debates last year, there were over 30 mentions each of Israel and Iran in a single session. Of Mexico, whose problems are America’s problems (look at the kind of carnage that happens around the border linked to the drug trade), there was nothing. At the same time, friends of Israel in the United States will unequivocally stand by the right of the Israeli people to retain a Jewish majority in their state, and reject the so-called right of return by millions of self-styled refugees.

Nobody cares that whites are no longer a majority in California. Nobody cares that Texas will become a swing state in a very short time. Nobody cares that Bill Clinton triumphantly claimed at Portland State University in 1998 that there would be no majority race in the United States in fifty years time, to the cheers of students and faculty. This should have been classed as a declaration of civil war, but nobody cares – yet.

Balkanisation may seem like a remote possibility now. But anything can happen in a time of economic tumult. The worst here is certainly yet to come. Just take a look at America’s unfunded liabilities.

Going Forward

With all the focus Rand Paul got at CPAC, I thought I’d highlight the brilliant points of Ann Coulter on amnesty (from 11:40 on this clip). She says the issue is now her first priority, for good reason.

If amnesty goes ahead, all of America becomes California and no Republican will ever win a national election. Libertarians would be shooting themselves in the foot, too. Get real, free-marketeers: these people will never vote for you.

About 80% of immigrants are from the Third World. In the 1890’s, 97 percent of immigrants came from Europe. In the meantime, its difficult for a European, far less likely to slip into dependency, to get US citizenship. The traitor Ted Kennedy designed this system and abolished the National Origins Formula in 1965, almost certainly with the aim of securing votes for Democrats. Since 1965, US immigration policy has been designed to attract the worst sort of immigrant. That policy places considerations like family reunification ahead of America’s economic, cultural, and even security interests.

I like Coulter’s approach. While I don’t see myself being a single-issue activist until 2016, we must insist that the amnesty and border issues are seriously addressed by all candidates in a principled,  conservative way. That means freed from the influence of political correctness, the most un-conservative and powerful Hispanic immigration lobby, or flawed notions about attracting Hispanic voters. Rand Paul is a sensible person, and I am sure he can be made compromise on the matter, whatever his natural inclinations.

After all, if Rand Paul is going to save America, there needs to be an America to save.

Israel Was A Reason Rand Succeeded, and Ron Didn’t

“I am a supporter of Israel”.

“I want to be known as a friend of Israel”.

While Rand Paul advocates cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel, he makes sure to express his support for the country. He also continues to insist that cutting aid to fiercely anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and decidedly anti-liberal groups like the Muslim Brotherhood should be America’s first priority.

I doubt there is much here his father would disagree with. But Ron Paul never could shed the perception that he is hostile to Israel. Perhaps that’s because he is. He unwisely called Gaza a “concentration camp”, after all. Yes, this is the so-called ‘siege’ of Gaza, where there hasn’t been a single recorded incident of death by starvation since it began.

Ron Paul struggled to reassure people that even though he didn’t want America to guarantee Israel’s security, he had no particular gripe against the little state. Ron Paul failed to offer simple little words of support that Americans could believe. Perhaps this was out of some sense of libertarian purity. Perhaps it is something else.

My position is that that anybody who wants civilization to triumph over barbarism should support Israel, whether you are on the right, the left, the centre, or a libertarian. I don’t care about little differences in opinion and where you would like the final borders to be. As long as you want Israel to survive and thrive, you’re one of the good guys.

Interestingly, according to Scott Rasmussen, despite its record of interventionism, there are only four countries that the clear majority of Americans (60% plus) feel obliged to defend: Canada, Britain, Australia, and Israel. Essentially, that’s the Anglosphere + Israel. It shows how deep-rooted American identification with Israel really is. Only 49% of Americans want to stay in NATO. As Rand Paul himself might say, I like the ring of that.

And, as Rand Paul has realised, the philosophy of non-interventionism has a deep appeal to Americans, provided it is combined with a special fondness for Israel and some place for America as a force for good in the world. America can easily offer to step in as a last resort to help Britain or Israel if they face serious existential threats. Its the right thing to do, and the odds of it actually happening are very small. Britain and Israel are prosperous, powerful nations that can easily take care of most of their problems. The same goes for Australia and Canada.

It is the height of libertarian silliness, purism to the point of suicide, to attack Rand Paul and libertarians who don’t tow the same line on Israel. A case in point is Justin Raimondo, who fiercely attacked Rand Paul for visiting Israel, supposedly “aligning himself with fundamentalist fanatics”, and allegedly sullying his father’s legacy with “untrammeled ambition.”

Well, Rand Paul is now a household name and the foremost champion of civil liberties in the Senate, while Raimondo huffs and puffs in a little padded cell of his own making.

Libertarians and Marriage

I came across an interesting piece on the Backbencher arguing that libertarians should care about marriage in the same way social conservatives do. The thrust of it is that marriage is the best environment in which to raise children. The arguments here are familiar ones: marriage provides a more structured upbringing for the children, children from divorced families are nine times more likely to commit crimes, while the welfare state is encouraging family breakdown.

This I am in agreement with. I’ve since gotten into an interesting discussion on the matter over on Facebook. I find it funny that libertarians can talk endlessly about the nature of children’s rights or whether a child should be permitted to run away from home, but tend to balk at the idea of promoting the marvelous institution of marriage.  Sometimes, libertarians will say correlation does no imply causation in regards to the benefits married families enjoy. This is reasonable enough, though I believe the statistics bear out the pro-marriage argument. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Far too often, I believe, libertarians use the correlation-causation fallacy response or completely refuse to engage with the issue because they have serious (and in my opinion, needless) hang-ups about promoting marriage. This makes sense when one moots the possibility of using the apparatus of the state in the endeavor.  Scratch them enough, however, and you will often find an outright hostility to even endorsing marriage on a personal level. I contend that this is non-judgmentalism to the point of insanity and wider social detriment.

Benjamin Rush, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, said that without virtue there can be no liberty. Everywhere in the writings of America’s Founding Fathers we see that they believed the success of the American project depended on the goods of marriage, honesty, industriousness, and religiosity. Today, virtue and social capital, the very things that the Founding Founders and observers like Alexis de Tocqueville said made democracy in America work, are being utterly destroyed. The great Charles Murray has brilliantly described this phenomenon among the white lower classes in ‘Coming Apart‘. I do not believe it is enough to merely retrench the welfare state while society itself is ill. There are certain norms and behaviors that are better than others in every meaningful sense, and libertarians should be doing more to promote them.

Now, I don’t want to delve heavily into the statistical benefits of being married, because I blog for recreational purposes and like hell am I going to have footnotes and graphs all over this thing. However, some specific examples are interesting to consider.

Marriage And Men: The Stats Are Sound

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the character of Enkidu is a wild man created by the gods to challenge Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, who is oppressing his people. Enkidu is covered in hair and lives among the animals. Trappers tell Gilgamesh the man/beast is ruining their livelihoods by uprooting their traps. Gilgamesh arranges for Shamhat, a temple prostitute, to seduce Enkidu by a watering-hole. They make love for six days and seven nights, until the beasts, who once saw Enkidu as their own, flee from him. Shamhat takes Enkidu to the city of Uruk, and he becomes  part of the civilized world.

It may sound quaint to suggest marriage tames men, but there is much truth truth in the manner in which Enkidu came to be civilized. On social issues, libertarians too often make the same mistakes as the leftists, in that they believe it is important to respect everybody else’s way of doing things and shun uncomfortable discussions on gender roles.

The left-leaning NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes something I believe applies well to libertarians:

Liberals sometimes feel that it is narrow-minded to favor traditional marriage. Over time, my reporting on poverty has led me to disagree: Solid marriages have a huge beneficial impact on the lives of the poor (more so than in the lives of the middle class, who have more cushion when things go wrong).

One study of low-income delinquent young men in Boston found that one of the factors that had the greatest impact in turning them away from crime was marrying women they cared about. As Steven Pinker notes in his recent book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”: “The idea that young men are civilized by women and marriage may seem as corny as Kansas in August, but it has become a commonplace of modern criminology.”

The 1980’s seemed to have been a good time for studies of the effects of marriage on men. In 1981, the economist Gary Becker published his Treatise on the Family, which applies economic theory to household dynamics and emphasized the greater role specialization that occurs with marriage. In 1986, George Gilder significantly updated his book Sexual Suicide, which says the responsibilities of marriage lead young men to become more industrious, focused, and settled. Gilder was fiercely attacked and faced the usual allegations of sexism, not so much for the substance of his argument, but because of his strong emphasis that men and women are different (emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically). A lot of people call Gilder a nut. I think there’s some substance in that charge, but he’s a damn lovable nut.

Admittedly, this ‘taming’ of the young man works best in a society where options for sex outside marriage are very limited, thus giving men an incentive to marry, and marry early. However, even today, with such easy access to premarital sex and the option of cohabitation, marriage behooves the men who enter it in regards to productivity and income. The “marriage premium” was another element in favor of marriage initially identified by economists in the late-1980’s. It means married men make ten to twenty percent more money than their unmarried counterparts. While men with high earnings are more likely to attract a partner in the first place, the phenomenon has been shown to remain even after controlling for every possible socioeconomic and demographic factor. Two academics even used the example shotgun weddings as a way of diminishing the selection factor. The premium always occurs after the wedding, and I believe this is best explained by the analysis of Gary Becker and George Gilder.

Many libertarians claim the arrangement of cohabitation is superior to marriage as it appears to allow for greater choice and flexibility. I find this argument quite weak, given that marriage is voluntary, and the unfortunate but necessary mechanisms of divorce and annulment do exist. Chesterton’s quip “to admire mere choice is to refuse to choose” might well apply to libertarians here. The marriage premium, interestingly, does not reach cohabiting couples. Worse still, the children of cohabiting parents fare about the same as those raised by single mothers (according to the 2004 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development studies of Stacey Aronson and Aletha Huston, and Susan Brown’s 2004 study of the National Survey of American Families). The ‘good’ news, according to Charles Murray, is that other demographic variables do attenuate the differences somewhat, but not fully.

 So, How Can We Promote Marriage, Exactly? 

Firstly, lets emphasize once more why marriage is important. The evidence strongly indicates that the deterioration of communities is accelerated and protracted by the breakdown of marriage, given that married families, for one, form the backbone of civil associations and communities. A functioning neighborhood is characterized by happy marriages. Its the married parent who goes to school board meetings. I also recommend paying a visit to the men who volunteer to coach your local underage sports teams. Again, you will see its always the married ones.

All those benefits, and yet its hard to think of  a popular song that has extolled marriage as an ideal in recent years. Off the top of my head, only Peggy Lee’s The Folks Who Live On The Hill springs to mind, and that was 1957. Peggy herself never did very well in the marriage game, anyway.

I will now attempt to endear myself to libertarians again.

When it comes to how we promote marriage, I certainly would never entertain the idea that we can just get governments to do it through financial benefits or cultural campaigns. While the welfare state exists, I am open to tinkering with programs where they promote bad behavior. Unfortunately, mothers are often incentivized to live alone in council houses to keep their benefits rather than live with the father of her child. This is inhumane.

Some readers will be aware that I was a member of the Progressive Democrats in Ireland. The PDs once proposed some reforms to address the issue I just mentioned (bravely, or foolishly, during an election year). Such proposals went down like a lead balloon. When the Irish journalist Kevin Myers years later touted the benefits of those ideas, he was shouted down to an even greater extent than he normally is whenever he opens his mouth.  I am not optimistic about using the means of politics and lawmaking to change things. Nor do I believe such an approach is right in the first place.

Ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to promote the virtue of marriage and to be ourselves an example of virtuous living. We must as libertarians, not be tempted to be non-judgmental to the point of civilizational collapse. The sustaining of communities of morality and civility, communities that can survive social and economic breakdown, is a kind of anti-political politics that can be the most powerful force of all.

The government of the United States, for example, has failed to export democracy to the Muslim world in the last decade, even with the aid of trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of troops. Yet 100,000 Americans serve as overseas missionaries. Protestant denominations of American origin are the fastest growing religious communities in the world. Pentecostalism has expanded from a store-front church at the beginning of the last century to number 350-400,000,000 members. By some accounts, six million Muslims per year are becoming Christians. China’s Christian community, perhaps 10% of the country’s population, has largely grown out of house-churches run on an American evangelical model. Poland freed itself from Soviet rule after the resurgence of a Christian civil society. The same could easily happen elsewhere.

In the struggle for liberty, the family and civil society are fronts just as important as the political structure, because liberty cannot exist without the public goods that are strong families and strong communities.

Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’ indicates that marriage is still very strong among the new upper classes, standing stable at 83% in a town like Belmont, Massachusetts (home of Mitt Romney). In a lower-class white neighborhood like Fishtown, Philadelphia  however, marriage continues to slide. As of 2010, a minority of adults (48%) there were married. This is having disastrous implications for community life in Fishtown, along the lines of the problems described very well in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone.

Yet non-judgementalism, Murray writes,

is one of the more baffling features of the new upper-class culture. The members of the new upper class are industrious to the point of obsession, but there are no derogatory labels for adults who are not industrious. The young women of the new upper class hardly ever have babies out of wedlock, but it is impermissible to use a derogatory label for non-marital births. You will probably raise a few eyebrows even if you use a derogatory label for criminals. When you get down to it, it is not acceptable in the new upper class to use derogatory labels for anyone, with three exceptions: people with differing political views, fundamentalist Christians, and rural working-class whites.

According to the Pew Research Center, libertarians tend to be well-educated and relatively affluent white males. I suspect most are going to live more like married folks in Belmont than Fishtown. So why not preach what we practice?

My Response to Tom Wilson on Libertarians in Standpoint

Last month I wrote a letter to Standpoint magazine in response to this article on the libertarian movement. It was printed (slightly edited) in this month’s issue. What I wrote appears below.



Tom Wilson writes that the libertarian movement’s young adherents embrace the notion that every man is an island and  fail to recognize the importance of virtue. I certainly would not be part of such a movement if this were true.

As libertarians, we agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end”. However, it is not necessarily the highest or only end on every individual’s ranking of values. We do not offer a way of life (the Objectivist movement being an exception).

As a religious 23-year old libertarian, I am a minority within a minority. Yet in the absence of a state I believe we will most likely fall back on our communities and religious organisations to make up for the functions it once monopolized, or tried to monopolize. This gives libertarianism the most conservative of end results. Its why conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet, author of The Quest for Community, found a devoted audience among libertarians as well as neoconservatives in the pages of that sorely-missed journal, The Public Interest.

We recognize that not everybody will use the greater freedom we propose wisely. However, if some aspect of the welfare state has improved public morality and individual responsibility, I’d certainly like to hear about it.


Obama, Romney, and Dependency

Only a few days ago, the Daily Caller obtained a complete audio recording of a speech in 1998 by then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama. He was speaking at a Loyola College forum on community organizing and policy-making  Loyola refused all requests to release the full tape or transcript of the talk. Some good soul in Chicago who got permission to view the existing videotape recorded the full speech secretly.

The most disturbing aspect of Obama’s speech is his idea that welfare recipients and “the working poor” form a coalition -“a majority coalition”, he says – that can be mobilized to advance “progressive” policies and continually elect the Democrats.

Obama at Loyola, 1998.

The speech is an interesting accompaniment to the now notorious words of Romney in Boca Raton, Fla., where he said that the 47% of the population who are net gainers from the welfare state will vote for Obama “no matter what”.

The consensus in the media is that these words uttered at a private fundraiser amounted to a “gaffe”, and Romney has been apologetic about the whole thing. I for one believe that Romney has nothing to be sorry for (although his “47%” would include students and retirees, and that certainly needs to be clarified). Indeed, Obama hints that his dream coalition would be over 50% of the voting population.

The issue of massive dependence on state welfare should be what the 2012 election is all about, and I hope it now dominates its final stages. Its hugely important for libertarians to be involved in this debate, even those of us disenchanted with a race between two men who can both reasonably claim to have invented Obamacare. Obama and Romney are correct on one issue: people who appear to gain more from the welfare state are not likely to support the people who agitate for smaller government. Its fair to say that Obama and many Democrats are deliberately seeking to make the majority of the population dependent on handouts. This will ensure permanent victory for the “party of government”. That will make Americans poorer and less free as long as the charade can be propped up, and it all turns into Greece.

Can the Republic of Jefferson be prevented from becoming the Hellenic? Whats most worrying is that we are fairly close to this situation already: almost half of all U.S. wage-earners pay no income tax. 70% get more in dollars from the government than they pay in with taxes. That half and their dependents will receive a plethora of benefits: “free” education from K-12, Pell Grants, Medicaid, rent supplements, food stamps, unemployment checks and many, many more. Why should these people throw their lot in with conservatives and libertarians who will reduce taxes they don’t even pay, while cutting or abolishing their benefits? As George Bernard Shaw said, a government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

John C. Calhoun, America’s scariest-looking Vice President but a towering intellectual, foresaw this situation centuries ago:

The necessary result … of the unequal fiscal action of the government is to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who … pay the taxes … and bear exclusively the burden of supporting the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer words, to divide it into taxpayers and tax consumers.

He added:

This would give rise to two parties and to violent conflicts and struggles between them, to obtain the control of the government.

We are there, Mr. Calhoun. We are already there.

Debunking Clinton on Economic Recovery

Bill Clinton notably defended Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention by saying that no president could have gotten the United States out of the recession in just one term. Yet he also claims Barack Obama might have been able to sort this mess out faster if it wasn’t for those darn Republicans and their obstructionist ways. Is this true?

The history of economic downturns and government reactions to them tells us otherwise. Thomas Sowell writes about this over at Townhall today. He notes that “for the first 150 years of this country’s existence, the federal government felt no great need to “do something” when the economy turned down”. Laissez-faire was the traditional rough guide in regards to economic crises before 1929. Lets compare recessions, then and now.

The first major financial crisis in America was the Panic of 1819. In his definitive work on the subject, Murray N. Rothbard writes that the federal government’s only action was to ease the terms of payment for its own land debtors. The Panic was history by 1923. That’s less than one full Presidential term, Mr. Clinton. Martin Van Buren, a highly underrated President, stayed the laissez-faire course during the Panic of 1837. That took five years to finally get over, but we wont quibble over a year or so, as Van Buren was a good fellow. Subsequent federal governments followed a similar approach, the occasional nasty exception being state governments which sometimes permitted insolvent banks to continue operating without paying their obligations.

The last of the real laissez-faire Presidents was Warren G. Harding. In the 1920–21 depression, unemployment hit 11.7 at its height. This is higher than its reached so far under Obama. Harding – the unsung hero of the day – did nothing, possibly because he was too busy boozing and fornicating. Wage rates were permitted to fall. Government spending and taxes were actually reduced significantly. This largely forgotten depression was over in one year. The Austrian School economist Dr. Benjamin M. Anderson called it “our last natural recovery to full employment.” Unemployment came to 2.4 percent in 1923.

Unfortunately, the laissez-faire tradition was abandoned after 1929 when progressive, Keynesian policies took hold of governments. This was true for both the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. Some still perceive Hoover as a laissez-faire man, but let him tell the story in his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination in 1933:

[W]e might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead we met the situation with proposals to private business and to Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic. We put it into action. . . . No government in Washington has hitherto considered that it held so broad a responsibility for leadership in such times. . . . For the first time in the history of depression, dividends, profits, and the cost of living, have been reduced before wages have suffered. . . . They were maintained until the cost of living had decreased and the profits had practically vanished. They are now the highest real wages in the world.

Creating new jobs and giving to the whole system anew breath of life; nothing has ever been devised in our history which has done more for . . . “the common run of men and women.” Some of the reactionary economists urged that we should allow the liquidation to take its course until we had found bottom. . . . We determined that we would not follow the advice of the bitter end liquidationists and see the whole body of debtors of the United States brought to bankruptcy and the savings of our people brought to destruction.

Modern studies continue to prove that the interventionist policies of Hoover and Roosevelt only prolonged the Great Depression by several years. Well into Roosevelt’s second term unemployment stood at the terrible rate of 15 percent, indicating that the much-vaunted New Deal was an utter failure. Obama is making the same mistakes, prolonging a crisis that could have been over already if men like Van Buren and Harding were in Washington today. This was proven by Reagan. According to Sowell again:

Something similar [to 1920-21] happened under Ronald Reagan. Unemployment peaked at 9.7 percent early in the Reagan administration. Like Harding and earlier presidents, Reagan did nothing, despite outraged outcries in the media.

The economy once again revived on its own. Three years later, unemployment was down to 7.2 percent — and it kept on falling, as the country experienced twenty years of economic growth with low inflation and low unemployment…

Despite demands that Mitt Romney spell out his plan for reviving the economy, we can only hope that Governor Romney plans to stop the government from intervening in the economy and gumming up the works, so that the economy can recover on its own.

Amen to that.