Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

Quote of the Day: Grand Jury Decision Aftermath Edition

Scott Shackford over at Reason made an excellent point in the wake of the grand jury decision finding insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Based on the information [St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P.] McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn’t happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn’t indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

As far as I’m concerned, my outrage is that grand juries indicts just about everybody else. This jury heard the evidence with all the conflicting testimony and the rest of us have not. I cannot say whether this is a just outcome or not and neither can anyone else at this point. We will most likely never know for sure what happened that fateful day.

I imagine that at least a few of the protesters in Ferguson who have themselves (or know someone who has) been indicted with very little evidence then either strongly encouraged to take a plea deal or were convicted. It’s not to hard to see why some might feel that the criminal justice system works one way for the police and a different way for everyone else, regardless of the specific circumstances in this case (the specific circumstances in this case being all the grand jury should have been concerned about).

Community Conservatism: How Government can Empower Civil Society

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Community Conservatism: How Government can Empower Civil Society
Matthew and Stephanie Souders – November, 2014

Concerns of the Civil Society

In the many post mortem analyses of the 2012 presidential election and the two surrounding “republican wave” midterms, it has become apparent that what drives the health of the Democrat Party is not Middle Class America in the way it once was, but very poor, and the very wealthy. Progressive policies have marginalized the middle class and made it difficult for people to change their financial status through over-taxation and over-regulation of small businesses, through a system of wealth transfer that mostly hurts the middle class, through microscopic interest rates that are disincentives to saving and debt management and through a bloated, inefficient social safety net whose unpaid liabilities are an enormous anchor on market confidence, and thus, GDP growth.

Both parties have an unhealthy focus on the wealthy. Democrats believe in a system of, as Mitt Romney called it, “trickle-down government”, in which our social betters determine which businesses should benefit from rent-seeking behavior and which should be regulated out of existence for our own good and court the wealthy with the promise of largesse. Republicans still believe, to some extent, in Reagan’s system of “trickle-down economics”, in which government courts the support of big businesses with an interest in deregulation and low corporate taxes. In both models, the real concerns of the middle class are completely ignored.

We’re not short on polling and research on the question of what the middle class wants from government. In order of importance, according to a host of exit polls and issues polling done by Pew Research, Gallup and Rasmussen:

• Establish an economic climate where my job actually pays (what they actually mean is: where my median income actually goes up at least as fast as inflation, preferably faster)
• Make government accountable and ensure that it’s actually working properly (while most in the middle class are not quick to blame Obama for every failure of the bureaucracy, they are nonetheless completely faithless, now, that government can work well)
• Make our education system actually work and give us good choices so that our children are prepared for the adult world
• Get the cost of healthcare contained and give me broad choices in doctors, hospitals and insurance plans that fit my needs
• Reduce or stabilize the cost of energy and make us less dependent on foreign energy markets
• Protect a basic social safety net and care for those in real need, defend against fraud and abuse of our good will
• Keep our communities safe from threats, foreign and domestic
• Keep law enforcement constructive and fair
• Respect our freedom to choose how we’ll live our lives and respect our privacy
• Be good stewards of our natural resources and the environment
Demonstrate that you can govern (people are results oriented, but a lack of willingness to compromise on either side is an immediate turn-off to moderate middle class Americans – and a philosophy that downplays the importance of government is also a turn off, as people want to feel that their lives are backstopped by a competent, effective government)

The nice thing about the above list is that both Democrats and Republicans in the middle class come up with about the same list in about the same order (Democrats might place environmental stewardship a little higher up, and Republicans might move government accountability to the top slot in some cases, but otherwise, our priorities tend to align well across party lines). The difference between us is not what we think is important, really; it’s how we would go about addressing each issue.

Here’s the thing – voters, being human, tend to respond to the core meaning/value in your message, more than to the particular policies you support; and candidates for office (and the national party leadership, obviously) tend to frame their policy ideas in value-centric terms. The 2012 presidential election was a battle between Obama (whose convention proclaimed the message “government can work for all of us / they disagree, and that’s dangerous”) and Romney (“yes we did build that / they think they own you!”), and, as I’ve just observed above, people tend to prefer to believe that government can be a force for good (because it can be, and because it’s comforting to seek leadership). Libertarians and the Tea Party – two groups that don’t often see eye to eye – tend to instinctively believe that government is like fertilizer. It’s horribly stinky and we want as little of it around as possible, but necessary at some level. I’m here to tell you – that is not the message that middle class America wants to hear, even if there is some truth to it. If the Republican Party wishes to establish a governing agenda that wins hearts and minds back toward conservatism (including cultural conservatism), they must demonstrate that they can govern proactively and listen to the desires of the middle class, since the middle class still tends to drive the cultural conversation. What follows is a set of core values that should be embraced by the GOP if they wish to make something of their current governing majority, as well as a sampling of specific policy suggestions in line with those values.

A Philosophy to Govern

A) Take Responsibility and Do the Work

The media often paints a picture of our current divided government as a battle between those on the left who want to govern and those on the right who do not, and there are vocal members of the GOP caucuses in both chambers of the legislature that give the media ample sound bites in favor of this description. By now, you know their names well, so I won’t rehash them. However, as is equally obvious, to anyone paying attention to the party, the GOP does in fact desperately want to govern, and that this can actually be dangerous (in so much as they allow their desire to govern to create bigger, rather than different and more effective government). It is, ironically, the left which seems not to want to govern. Progressives in the legislature have increasing sought to take matters of law out of the hands of the legislature and give it, instead, to bureaucratic government agencies and the executive branch. They still wish to transform society using the power of an activist government, but they want to do it through channels where there can be no debate on the merits of their ideas. It is actually this progressive abdication of the personal responsibility for governing (as best expressed by Obama’s refusal to hold any of his key people responsible for the spectacular failures of the bureaucracy on his watch) that is most hurting the ability of the legislature to function. The GOP must seek in the legislation it passes to take responsibility for the outcomes of that legislation and to get enough bipartisan support that it can share that responsibility with the left.

B) Make Our Priorities Your Priorities

Both parties have a nasty habit of playing to their bases and feeling the need to take specific actions on every piece of their “base-centric” party platforms in the hope that this will get them elected again. Base turnout is important in maintaining a governing majority, but what is more important is being perceived by the electorate at large to care about the same things that they do and place your priorities where they do. Obama’s schizophrenic presidency spent “focusing like a laser” for five seconds at a time on a hundred different things was in stark contrast to his 2008 campaign, in which he did in fact focus entirely on the real concerns and fears of the electorate. And of course, we all know that the GOP has a tendency to shout SQUIRREL at the first sign of a chance to discuss social issues or international matters that simply are not at the forefront of our minds in the middle class. The authors of this piece are staunchly pro-life, but even we recognize that we need to get our fiscal house in order first before we can spend any time on such matters.

C) Focus on Service and Community

The most important development of the last decade in US politics is the move toward a distrust of a self-absorbed ruling class elite that no longer concerns itself with what is happening in our towns and to our civic organizations. One of the reasons the GOP is doing so well at the state and local level, even before their 2010 and 2014 national midterm routs, is that the representatives it’s choosing at those levels are quality candidates who are deeply tied to their local communities and remain so for long stretches after they take office. When you pit the left and its tendency to turn the country into a series of fiefdoms competing for government support against the local branches of the right, and their tendency to focus on community pillars like successful businesses, churches, and charities, the right wins far more often than they lose. At the community level, people want to come together and celebrate their home. The national GOP, however, has generally been playing the same 50% plus one game that the left plays (witness Romney’s 47% remarks). To address this problem, the national GOP should craft policies that favor community pillars over top-down community organizing, small businesses over large ones, and civic society over the government as often as feasible. And more than that, Republicans must not forget that their success comes from being tied to their communities and earning the trust of those communities – they should return home as often as they’re able, reach out to people in communities that don’t traditionally vote Republican, and stay active where the live.

D) Gain Back Their Trust

There is a lot of talk about a “Republican Civil War” in the press, now that they have a legislative majority. The GOP is less monolithic than the Democrats – meaning we have a healthier exchange of ideas, but also a harder time pleasing everyone and staying on message. There are four basic factions in our coalition: Libertarians, Classical Social Conservatives, Reform Conservatives, and the Tea Party. Each faction is fighting to control the narrative, and, of late, libertarians are gaining the upper hand on the tea party for the “arm twister” prize (going to the group most able to move the GOP establishment in a new direction). Mitch McConnell just endorsed Rand Paul for the 2016 nomination, for example (eyes sideways!). If this divided GOP can come to any sort of basic agreement on how best to govern for the middle class without “sacrificing” any members of its coalition, I believe all members of the coalition will eventually get what they want most. Just because, for example, a reform GOP agenda doesn’t put pro-life issues at the top of the list doesn’t mean we need to renounce social conservatives and their ideas. Just because most of the GOP disagrees with libertarians about international policy doesn’t mean we need to remain outwardly hawkish to keep the establishment happy. First, prove you can forge a coalition and stay united on some of the things we do agree on. Win back the trust of the electorate and then, when a social conservative has a message about abortion, perhaps society will be more able to hear it without cynicism. First you win the governing mandate – then you win their trust – then you win their hearts – then you win the culture.

Self-Ownership, Voluntaryism , and the Non-Aggression Principle as Explained in 2 Videos

In the course of an election year, its very easy to get caught up in the minutia of the various campaigns and election year issues. This is not to say that these issues are trivial; there were very many issues this election cycle which deserved the attention they received.

That said, I tend to think that immediately after an election is a perfect time for reflection. What is it we believe and why? What are our first principles and are we communicating these principles effectively?

I’ve read from various places that we are coming close to a “libertarian moment” or perhaps one is already underway. I do not know one way or the other to what extent this is true but I find that because outlets like Salon, Slate, and Alternet of the Left and a few anti-libertarian outlets on the Right are spending so much energy trying to convince their readers that such a moment isn’t happening quite encouraging. If libertarian ideas were not gaining at least some momentum these outlets would ignore us as in years past.

Of course these outlets do not make any effort to portray our ideas accurately. Its almost as if they go down the list of logical fallacies and hope their readers won’t do any independent research.

So what are the first principles of libertarianism then? This is a very big question, one which libertarians will often disagree. My view is that the first principles are self-ownership, voluntaryism, and the non-aggression principle (fellow TLP contributor Chris Byrne has a slightly different take worthy of consideration).

The videos embedded in this post do an excellent job illustrating these principles, especially for people who are not very familiar with them. The first video, which I have shared on various other occasions, is called “The Philosophy of Liberty.”

Pretty simple right? Share that video with your friends who get their information from Salon. They may still disagree and say that individuals should be looted taxed to promote social justice and egalitarianism but at least they will be exposed to these ideas.

This second video by Stefan Molyneux called “Voluntaryism: The Non-aggression Principle (NAP)” is slightly more advanced taking NAP to its idealistic conclusion (Molyneux is an outright anarchist and makes no bones about it on his podcasts).

Is this all Utopian pie in the sky? Perhaps. Humanity has a long way to go before we can begin to think about beating swords into plowshares. But this does not mean that we can’t each do our part to move in this direction. Upon closer examination, what it really boils down to is following the Golden Rule, only resorting to violence defensively and as a last resort. This principle remains true whether the issue is foreign policy, local policing, or your own home.

Why Legislating Morality Is A Good Thing

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One of the phrases that irritates me about politics is when the phrase “we shouldn’t legislate morality” is uttered. Usually, that person does mean well (ie. supporting a separation of church and state), but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the phrase itself is ignorant. I would argue that a free liberal society must legislate morality if it is remain both a liberal society and a free society. All laws are is the morality of a society that is written down, therefore you cannot make laws if you’re not legislating morality.

I’m a classical liberal, which means I believe that the only moral purpose of government is to defend life, liberty, and property. I also believe in things such as pluralism, tolerance, the advancement of science and technology, realism, and reason. I want the morality of society to recognize these things in the laws that are made by the government that is supposed to represent us all. In fact, I would go even further to argue that moral relativism and liberty cannot coexist.

What I don’t advocate

When many people read this title and the first paragraph they’re probably thinking, “Kevin is about to argue for some sort of a theocracy.” Well, once you’ve read the second paragraph you probably realize that I’m no theocrat. Yes, I am a Christian, but I don’t need to law of Ceasar to guide my walk with Jesus Christ. While it is unreasonable to ask people check their religious and cultural beliefs at the door when discussing politics, in a pluralistic society such as the United States there is no place for legislating based on religion. 

The morality of a free, liberal society

The government must legislate based upon the morality of a liberal society. Since we classical liberals believe that the only moral purpose of government is to defend life, liberty, and property; we must keep government restrained except for those core functions. We know that as government grows, freedom contracts.

To promote a pluralistic society, we adopt an approach of “live and let live.” As long as your actions do not harm others lives, cause physical injury, or threaten their property; the government should not ban it. However, those who violate the life, physically harm others, and threaten property are punished severly. Government should stay out of bedrooms, computers, wallets, and everything else that is private.

Nor should government force people to love one another. All that a person has the right to ask from the government is to protect their life, liberty, and property; not to protect their feelings from being hurt. Trying to eliminate prejudice and bigotry through social engineering is a fool’s errand. Tolerance on the other hand must be practiced by the state and the state must treat all equally regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Equal justice under the law is a hallmark of a liberal society.

This does not mean we have to agree on everything

As a classical liberal, I do not require you to agree with me on everything in order to believe in and promote liberty. For example, I can see pro-liberty arguments for opposition to legalized abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. I can also see both sides of the issue on the death penalty. I can also see an argument for some sort of social safety net in order to protect property rights from looters. There are also many other issues where good, liberty minded people can hold both sides.

As for the culture, persuasion not force

As my friend and fellow Louisiana blogger Scott McKay always likes to say, “politics flows downstream from the culture.” What he means is that politics and laws are a reflection upon the culture. We as classical liberals need to start paying attention to changing the culture. 

We need to build a culture that respects life, believes in individual freedom and responsibility (ie. liberty), believes in pluralism and “live and let live”, believes in the advancement of science and technology and rejects quacks like Food Babe, looks at the world as it is and not the way we want to see it, and strives for knowledge and make ourselves better than what we are. We need a culture that is truly diverse, not just in appearance but also in thought as well.

We do this by promoting these values in our writings and activism. We do this by promoting these values in how we live our lives, contribute to our communities, and educate our children. Finally, we do this buy how we spend our money and our resources.

Ultimately, all laws are simply the reflection of the values and morality of a society. The sooner we’re honest with ourselves on that, the sooner we can focus on the things that really matter.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Take A Stand! Don’t Vote At All!

Today, my illustrious co-contributors have been making the case to you to vote. Sarah wants you to vote Libertarian, Matthew wants you to vote Republican, and Kevin doesn’t want you to vote Democrat, but drew the short straw and we made him argue it anyway.

Now I’m going to tell you why none of their arguments should make you vote for their parties.
Don't Vote!
First and foremost, the Democrats. Some might argue that if you vote Republican, you get big government AND social conservatism, but if you vote Democrat, you get big government and social liberalism. Frankly, it’s a lie. Democrats talk a good game about civil liberties, about ending the drug war, about being pro-choice, reining in the military-industrial complex, and ending foreign adventurism. Yet they change their tune as soon as they’re in power. Remember all those Bush-era domestic spying programs that Obama put a stop to? No, me neither. Remember when Obama closed Gitmo? No, me neither. Remember when Obama forced Congress to give him a declaration of War before bombing people? No, me neither. And it’s been his fellow Democrats defending his [in-]actions. Voting Democrat will never be beneficial to liberty.

As for the Republicans, one can make a very similar argument. Because if you vote Republican, you really do get big government and social conservatism. They talk a good game about small government and fiscal responsibility, but remember who was in office when TARP happened? Hint — it wasn’t Obama. Medicare Part D? No Child Left Behind? Yeah, not small government. Some might say the Republicans are the lesser of two evils, and that libertarians are more naturally allied with Republicans with Democrats, so you might as well pick them as your poison. There’s just one problem with allies when it comes to government: the alliance is forgotten the day after the election. Fusionism between libertarians and Republicans just isn’t going to work.

No, the reason not to vote Democrat or Republican is it truly has gotten very difficult to determine which of them is the lesser evil. And in our system of direct representation, does it really make sense to vote for someone who doesn’t represent you?

That leaves the argument that we should vote our conscience, and vote Libertarian. I’ll admit, of all three arguments, this is the one I’m most sympathetic to. After all, I would actually want to see Libertarians elected. I would trust a Libertarian candidate to represent my beliefs in Washington. And there’s one more argument for voting Libertarian, which Sarah overlooked: Since Libertarians never win, we don’t have to worry about being hypocrites when they then go to Washington and violate their campaign promises!

So why should you stay home? Why not “vote your conscience” and pull the lever for the Libertarian?

Because any vote, even one for the Libertarian, is an affirmation of the system.

But let’s face it. The system doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that the system is rigged. The direct representation system with first-past-the-post voting is only stable with two parties. The two parties then exist to move as close to the center as possible and ensure that they don’t alienate voters. Parties don’t exist to cater to minority views.

But we’re libertarians. We’re not centrists. We are a minority view. Some suggest that we’re 15% of the electorate. But the other side of that 15% is 85%. We can NEVER expect the mainstream parties to represent our interests, no matter who we vote for, because the money is in the center, not at the edges.

The alternative is a parliamentary-style proportional representation system. If we truly are 15% of the electorate, we would be able to gain a sizable chunk of the legislative body and we would force the Republicans and Democrats to work with us to govern. In today’s system, they only work with us until the campaign ends.

No, you shouldn’t vote. Validating the system of direct representation with your vote is a losing strategy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active. I’m not saying you can’t make an impact. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be blogging. What I’m saying is that if you want to make a difference, focus everywhere except the ballot box. You actually have some likelihood of doing good that way.

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