Tag Archives: libertarian

Land of the Free

PassportSomewhere along the line, the Constitution became associated with the political right. This was not a good move for the Constitution. Maybe it has something to do with partisan attitudes toward domestic surveillance, as we discussed here.

The right likes old timey language. They see the depredations of the IRS, for example, as “tyranny.” Jeremiah, his political sensitivities formed in the Sixties, sees fascism. The blog has tags for both. Libertarians are for liberty, broadly construed, while the left will settle for “civil rights.”

You would think that protecting our, um, freedom would be a concern for all Americans. Everyone in government takes an oath to defend the Constitution, and President Obama was a professor of Constitutional law.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution are the Bill of Rights, one of history’s most profound statements of human freedom. Other charters are merely aspirational. The UN declaration wants us all to have good jobs, with time off and a health plan.

The Bill of Rights is more pragmatic. Instead of what the government should do for you, it lists what the government may not do to you. Readers will have noticed a theme lately, as we have chronicled the erosion of your personal freedoms.

  • The Fourth Amendment, against unlawful search and seizure, was the first casualty in our Orwellian “war on terror.”
  • The First Amendment, freedom of speech, has been replaced by a censorship regime with potent sanctions.
  • Even the Eighth Amendment, against cruel and unusual punishment, has been shredded by a prison industry that is paid on volume.

Those are (were) the big ones. Ilya Somin has even found a violation of the Third Amendment. Six and Seven are pretty much toast, too. You can play this game at home by following the news, and tracking how many of your Constitutional rights are still standing.

The stated purpose of this blog is to explore solutions for America’s problems. If no one is going to defend the Constitution, though – despite having taken the oath – then it’s not really America anymore. It might be time to go Simon Black, and start working on that second passport.

See also:  Rule of Law


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Fukuyama’s Mandarins

Francis Fukuyama has a lengthy piece in Foreign Affairs this month called “America in Decay.” His diagnosis is that our government has too many checks and balances, too much diffusion of power, to get things done. This is a fashionable diagnosis, now that China is on the rise. Everyone wishes we had a decisive leader and a competent bureaucracy.

The explosion of interest groups and lobbying in Washington has been astonishing, with the number of firms with registered lobbyists rising from 175 in 1971 to … 13,700 lobbyists spending about $3.5 billion by 2009.

Fukuyama adds value to the discussion in two ways. He tries to prove his thesis from first principles, without aping China and Singapore, and he tries to show what changed in America to make a good system go bad. We write “tries,” here, because the argument has some inconsistencies, and his key recommendation is unpersuasive.

Fukuyama calls for a large, powerful, bureaucracy answerable only to the president. This would be a more or less permanent caste of well educated, professional administrators. Mercifully, he does not call them “mandarins.” You have to give him credit for proposing a solution which is inimical to American history.

Fukuyama provides good examples of overregulation, regulatory capture, and duplication of effort. He calls for a more professional bureaucracy, but it is not clear how handing control to the executive will accomplish this. This is where his argument leaves logic and turns to wishful thinking. There is no institutional fix that will magically make our bureaucracy competent.

There is also no guarantee that Fukuyama’s mandarins will work selflessly in the public interest. Look at land grabs in China, among other examples of pervasive corruption. Power corrupts, in proportion to scale, and America is already far down this road.

The American system of checks and balances compares unfavorably with parliamentary systems when it comes to the ability to balance the need for strong state action with law and accountability.

Fukuyama’s argument grows weaker as he casts about the globe for precedents. In America, he wants the bureaucracy to serve the executive branch, but in Europe he’s happy with it reporting to parliament. He gives a nice survey of parliamentary systems, but he overlooks a fruitful line of inquiry – what, exactly, makes European legislatures more worthy than ours?

We find the first clue when he moves from European states to the European Union. This is the unit of analysis comparable to our federal government, and it has the same problems. Americans generally feel they have some say in their state government, while Washington is a far off dictator – roughly how Europeans feel about Brussels.

Fukuyama begins with a good diagnosis of how Congress was made ineffective by judicialization, polarization, and special interests. This is the best part of the paper. He does an excellent root cause analysis of this problem, and then leaves it unsolved.

Fukuyama proposes greater reliance on the bureaucracy, despite acknowledging its failings, and more power to the executive. A simpler solution would be to streamline the federal bureaucracy and devolve power to the states.

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Take the Quiz

Call the copyright police!  Someone else is using a two dimensional map of the political landscape.  Jeremiah applies his “four quadrants” here, and here.  The Advocates’ quiz map is shown below.

GridIf you are in the middle or upper part of the chart, you are what the Advocates call “politically homeless.”  No matter which party is in power, Coke or Pepsi, you will be unhappy.  Here is how they describe centrists:

Centrists pride themselves on keeping an open mind, oppose political extremes, and emphasize what they see as practical solutions to problems.

This thought provoking quiz has only ten questions – well worth one minute of your time.  Try it today!

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The “L” Word

The Daily Kos describes Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) as a “selective libertarian.”  Chris Christie warns his party against “libertarian populism.”  Jeremiah wonders, what is this “L” word that has riled up a leftie blog and a Republican governor?  It must be good, if critics are saddling it with descriptions like these – selective, populist, phony.  The first thing you learn, when reading the news, is to question the adjectives.

The idea is clever political gamesmanship that enables the libertarians to walk on both sides of the fence at once.

Not to be outdone, The Huffington Post adds “extremist” and – their vilest insult – “tea party.”  The proximate cause of all this attention is the debate over government surveillance.  Jeremiah has previously anatomized the anti-privacy establishment.  It’s funny to see pundits on both sides warning against the libertarians.

Pundit Sanghoee’s remark, above, echoes the complaint of Jon Huntsman (R-UT) who said that Ron Paul “appeals to the extremes of both parties.”  You can see how this reveals a red versus blue mentality.  The privacy debate has people standing on principle – thinking for themselves, without party whips and talking points.  Clearly, a dangerous trend.

See also:  Free Minds and Free Markets

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Vote Renegade in 2014

Last week, we published Jeremiah’s vision of a multiparty Congress.  The big obstacle, of course, is that no one wants to “split the vote” and hand the presidency to the other side.  Over the years, the power of the presidency has grown far beyond what it should be.  Paradoxically, the remedy is to split the vote – and fracture the parties.


When there was a Republican in the White House, his partisans were happy to cede him powers that belong in Congress – and to abridge your civil rights.  Since there has been a Democrat in the White House, the power shift has continued.  It’s pretty easy to see how the party system erodes the proper separation of powers.

The alternate domination of one faction over another … leads at length to permanent despotism.  Sooner or later the chief of some faction … turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Who was that news analyst?  George Washington.  It is a surprise that the Republic has held up as well as it has.  In his speech, Washington was warning Congress of a clear and present danger.  Party politics is corrosive to democracy.

If the parties  were fragmented, though, they would recognize that their best advantage is in Congress, where each has a vote – rather than a winner takes all presidency.  They would have an incentive to restore the balance of power.  Midterm elections are the perfect time to do it.

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End the Duocracy

If you are gay in America, then you pretty much have to be a Democrat – even if you are a gay entrepreneur wondering how your business will survive ObamaCare.  Likewise, if you are black – even if you are a black evangelical Christian.  Among Republicans, it’s the same story.  If you believe in free enterprise, then you have to accept some unpleasant social policies.

This means that no one in America is properly represented.  No wonder few people bother to vote.  Below is Jeremiah’s fantasy chart of representative democracy in the Senate.


This is based on a rough analysis of our current Senate.  Of the 53 Democrats, 7 are New Democrats.  We added the two Independents to this party, and hived off a few Greens for good measure.  Of the 45 Republicans, 5 are declared Libertarians and roughly half are Moderates.  That means the hypothetical Conservative party, including the religious right, is smaller than the Libertarian party.

Jeremiah would actually prefer fewer Socialists, but you get the idea.  Only when we end the two party system will we have true democracy.  The next time you feel like Occupying something, or Tea Partying – the next time you are called to march for the red or the blue – think first about breaking the duocracy.

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Stand with Rand

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has split with leading Republicans over the legal status of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  This marks him as a man of principle, and a contender for Jeremiah’s Centrist Hall of Fame.  Like his father, Senator Paul defies classification because his opinions come from a place of consistency – not the situational morality of our traditional right and left.

Think about it.  If you were studying to be a senator for either party, you would have to learn the positions by rote – this kind of freedom is good, but that other freedom is bad.  They just don’t make sense.  The Paul family has developed a framework that is logically consistent.  Jeremiah imagines them sitting around the dining table, figuring it out – or, maybe they have read the Constitution.

See also:  The Upper-Right Wing

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