Missing Liberaltarians

Officially, the libertarian world view is equally distant from standard liberal and conservative political views.  See for example, the World's Smallest Political Quiz, where liberals like social but not economic freedom, and conservatives like economic but not social freedom.  In practice, however, libertarians hang out more with conservatives than liberals. At least they do in the academic and think tank worlds I know.

I've been attending some "liberaltarian" dinners arranged by CATO's Brink Lindsey, where we discuss commonalities and differences of liberals and libertarians.  So I've been pondering why libertarians seem to connect more with conservatives than liberals.  Some say it is just a natural alliance of outsiders, but it seems more to me than that.  Some say it is because conservatives are more willing to adopt libertarian rhetoric in national politics, but that is just more data to explain.

Tyler Cowen's insight that ideology is mainly about who gets respect suggests an answer to me: libertarian heroes are more like conservative than liberal heroes.

  • In the conservative view, we should most respect the pillars of local communities: dependable connected leaders who respect authority, do their job, help their neighbors, raise their kids, go to church, and go to war when needed. 
  • In the liberal view, we should most respect passionate cosmopolitan subgroup activists: folks who identify strongly with an oft-disliked non-geographically-defined subgroup and who via sheer impressiveness of art or word gain their group a wider respect.
  • In the libertarian view, we should most respect "self-made" men or women, able to achieve glory with minimal help from government, family, or community, if only such meddling outsiders would get out of the way. 

Libertarians support low taxes because individuals should be free to choose how their money is spent, rather than being forced to accept collective choices.  Conservatives support low taxes so that those who have worked hard for their money can show off the fruits of their labor and earn full respect for it.

Libertarians support gay marriage because individuals should be free to have whatever consenting relations they want.  Liberals support gay marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.

It seems to me that libertarian self-made heroes are more similar to conservative community pillars than to liberal subgroup activists.  Self-made men are mostly not made in the bedroom; their glory shows more in their income than in their subgroup identity.

Perhaps some future Ayn Rand Two will describe new compelling libertarian hero characters, who are more like liberal activist heroes.  But until then I predict conservatives and libertarians will remain closer than official libertarian doctrine can explain.

Added 25May:  Andrew Gelman comments here, and Tyler says not to forget the villans, a great suggestion.  I should say this was an attempt to identify the signaling persona behind common ideologies, not the conscious rationalizations people give.  And that I'm not at all confident in this.  Also, it would have been better to say that libertarians support low taxes and gay marrriage because such policies allow self-made heroes to make more of themselves.

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  • Kevin

    The obvious distinction between liberaltarians and right-libertarians is that liberaltarians are consequentialists, whereas right-libertarians, like conservatives are purists concerned with maintaining the kind of society they like (low government interference). So it makes sense for consequentialist liberaltarians to make the case for market oriented utilitarianism to the few liberals who are genuine welfare consequentialists.

  • http://diogenes42.blogspot.com Diogenes

    liberals usually really despise Ayn Rand’s writing and the teenagers that adore her.

  • Greg

    To grossly oversimplify: liberals are concerned with the well-being of society and all its members, while conservatives and libertarians are basically concerned with themselves. Conservatives also want everyone else to be like themselves, while libertarians don’t care, but that’s a minor difference by comparison.

  • Carl Shulman

    Greg,

    In the U.S. conservatives donate blood more often than liberals, volunteer for and donate to non-religious charities more, and generally act in ways that make it tough to accept your story as the basic explanation.

    http://www.amazon.com/Who-Really-Cares-Compasionate-Conservatism/dp/0465008216

  • http://blog.seliger.com Jake

    In practice, however, libertarians hang out more with conservatives than liberals. At least they do in the academic and think tank worlds I know.

    It might also be in part the nature of the coalitions made by the current Republican and Democratic parties, and how dissatisfied some of those coalition members are. Unhappy Democrats who dislike, say, car companies and consumerism as conventionally depicted, gravitate toward the Green party.

    Unhappy Republicans who favor small government, on the other hand, might be particularly unhappy about the last ten years because the Republican party has largely embraced its social conservatism side and largely ignored its small government side. Therefore they’re more likely to gravitate toward libertarians because Democrats have other outlets to express dissatisfaction with the major parties.

    I have no idea how compelling this explanation really is, but it at least seems plausible to me.

  • http://yellow-chair-sports.blogspot.com/ Vinnie

    As a mid-20s libertarian, I very much disagree with your last sentence. I think libertarian hero for a majority of libertarians of my demographic would be the idealistic, entrepreneurial nonconformist that’s able to rally people behind a cause, organize, and budget to turn that cause into a true enterprise for the betterment of self and society. One of my main crusades is to get liberal friends and acquaintances that realizing our ideals could be achieved more efficiently and would prove more rewarding if done without the law mandating it and the government holding our hands. And oh yeah–there could be some money in it. And you can take credit.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I disagree with your characterization of liberals, at least in our cohort (outside our cohort, both liberals and conservatives are probably mostly a hodgepodge of populations susceptible to identity capture (blacks, white men in the military, etc.).

    I’d tweak Cowen’s insight as applied to our cohort in the following way: liberals are alpha intellectuals who are capable of dominating other cohort intellectuals along almost every dimension. Conservatives are essentially beta intellectuals that accept their lower status in the intellectual cohort, and tweak their ideological innovations to more explicitly preserve status for the dominant liberal alpha intellectuals and themselves. They take on the lower caste job of preserving status for whiteness, wealth, etc. There are occasionally genuine conservative insurrections, but they to me have more of the feeling of maintaining identity capture of the unruly masses than genuine revolutions to overthrow the liberal intellectual alphas. Libertarians seem to me to have an element of non-alphas adopting risky ideological strategies in hopes of obtaining alpha status.
    Archetypal liberal intellectual alphas: Krugman, Breyer
    Archetypal conservative intellectual betas: Scalia, Kudlow (I’m not putting in “conservative” economists that I consider technocratic careerists like Mankiw and Feldstein)
    Archetypal “risky” libertarian non-alphas: Kling

  • Kevin

    Interesting, Hopefully Anonymous, so Liberals are dominant geniuses who are right about everything, and conservatives are classist racists and frauds. I hope you aren’t a liberal, or that is a bizzarely blatant example of self-serving bias.

  • luff

    I believe the phenomenon you are describing have more to do with the age of the libertarian than some kind of conservative-libertarian coupling. I’m guessing most of the established ones you meet in academia or at think tanks, are not born on this side of 1980.

    And as a person who switched from socialism(swede) to libertarianism because it is the way to improve the world, I don’t agree with Greg.

  • http://intellectual-detox.com Devin Finbarr

    In the grand sense, left and right are not defined by specific policy stances. The most accurate one sentence definition of the Left that I can make is as follows: “The Left is a social network of power seeking intellectuals that originated from the Dissenter Protestants of 17th Century England.” The Right are the disorganized factions that oppose the Left. Thus regardless of actual policy stances, Libertarians and Conservatives are both grouped on the right simply because they are disconnected from, and actively oppose, the Left.

  • Jeff

    You have a selection bias, Robin, because of the fact that you, personally, are more conservative (and also because you live on the east coast). My evidence for that is that I see people identifying as (and arguing the policies of) Democratic Libertarians all the time both on blogs (DailyKos, the state Democratic blogs), and in person here on the west coast. (When I lived on the east coast, they seemed less prevalent.)

    (I would commit the same fallacy if I were to say that Democratic Libertarians are more prevalent. Selection bias is too severe when talking about camps that have self-segregated)

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    Robin wrote: “It seems to me that libertarian self-made heroes are more similar to conservative community pillars than to liberal subgroup activists. Self-made men are mostly not made in the bedroom; their glory shows more in their income than in their subgroup identity.”

    Huh? This paragraph equates liberal activism with sexual activity.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Kevin, I don’t think liberals are right about everything. To rearrange your sentence a bit, I think liberal intellectuals are the geniuses at dominating.

  • http://substitute.livejournal.com/ substitute

    I’d be interested to see an international perspective on this. The idea of “liberal” in the U.S. has become very specific to the post 1960s culture wars, and I’m not sure that’s universal.

  • Peter Twieg

    I don’t think that the compatibility of ideals is the main issue – instead, I’d submit that conservatives and libertarians tend to be more natural allies because both major strains of libertarianism (the “natural rights” strain and the “markets beget prosperity” strain) generate less frictions with conservatives than liberals. For myself, who would probably fit the “liberaltarianism” label pretty well, the biggest obstacle to communicating with mainstream liberals is that they simply do not understand how markets work – how they aggregate information, how they coordinate behavior, etc. It’s not that conservatives are any better at this on average, but at least conservatives do not usually harbor an active and broad hostility towards market solutions.

    Within the specific context of the D.C. policy institutions, however… well, yes, I can’t speak for why the original alliance between Cato and Mercatus and other conservative institutions originally arose, but its persistence is something which is difficult to break largely because there are no real “liberaltarian” organizations, and the problem with bridging the liberal/libertarian institutional divide seems difficult because I don’t see any real evidence that liberals respect libertarians, or even liberaltarians, except as silly curiosities that can be leveraged to sow internal discord within the opposition. A viable liberaltarian movement would have to be almost entirely about the economic education of liberals – and maybe there is some potential in this, for the same reason that concern trolling is an effective strategy.

    Another possible reason for why liberaltarianism is sputtering some is because all of these events might be by invite only. :) I’d love to see some of them.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    the Republican party has largely embraced its social conservatism
    I’m a supporter of small government (I even think infanticide should be legal) and disgusted by the behavior of the Republican party, but I think that narrative, a common Dougherty-doctrine among libertarians, is inaccurate. The Republican party has not given social conservatives a damn thing. It is the national security wing of the party that has been in the saddle, screwed up the most, and escaped unscathed without any “reformists” like David Frum saying it should be ditched (unlike both social conservatism and small government).

    I’m more of the right than the left and I’ll give some reasons why other libertarians are as well. One is explained in Policy Isomorphism: we don’t put as much weight on the issues we supposedly agree with liberals on (and in my case as an emotivist/Stirnerite I am left cold by arguments from ethical philosophers compared to economic appeals to consequences). Additionally, liberals do not necessarily take a “libertarian” stand on social issues (gun control, fairness doctrine, boosting bussing and opposing school choice) and Dem presidents have shown themselves just as likely to launch wars as the other guy. That’s the principled version of the story, the less principled one is that libertarians really are just righties who want to distance themselves from the lower-status segment of the conservative coalition. They portray themselves sometimes as equally lefty and righty because it makes them seem like free agents who can be bidded on by either side and also so they can avoid the contamination of either side when one falls into disfavor.

  • blink

    In the policy realm, the real action is about economics, not social issues; the machinery of government is simply much more effective at picking pocketbooks than patrolling bedrooms. If technology shifted this balance (perhaps ubiquitous surveillance or anonymous e-cash would do it), then the liberal-libertarian connection might carry more weight.

    The conservative hero you describe has an anti-intellectual tone too it (something like HA’s description, but less extreme), so it is not surprising that few academics embrace it. Conservative-leaning intellectuals see very loosely attached to “conservative” social policy views ala the World’s Smallest Political Quiz. It is almost as if the conservatives described there do not exist.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/SoullessAutomaton a soulless automaton

    TGGP is correct re: Republicans. The “social conservatives” have been taken for a ride–they turn out the vote, and get nothing but empty rhetoric as a reward. Of course, it seems like the same can be said about the libertarians, especially after the failure of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. They get a lot of “small government” talk to keep them voting, and then get ignored once power is secured. Maybe mainstream Republicans actually had libertarian credentials at some point, but of the last 20 years I can’t fathom how anyone could see them that way.

    As for myself, I’m largely what you might describe as a “liberaltarian”. I disagree with certain prioritization among many libertarians (such as the fetishization of economic over social freedom, and the weird fixation on firearms), don’t see non-governmental solutions as always viable for handling problems of collective actions, and have extremely little desire to be associated with other “right-wing” groups. Otherwise, I agree more with an average libertarian than with an average Democrat.

  • Robert Wiblin

    I would call myself a kind of liberaltarian. But in my mind libertarianism isn’t so much about respecting the self-made man who “achieves glory” and respect from the rest of society without help – instead we should respect anyone who innovates, grows and develops in the way that they want without being forced to live however other people would like them to.

    These things are related, but I think the question is why libertarians support the conservative view of what it is to achieve glory, rather than a more liberal approach of ‘being oneself’, which involves to some extent being liberated from dominant institutions – religion, traditional family relations, established ideas and ways of living, etc.

    Perhaps that is why I find Will Wilkinson one of the most interesting libertarian writers – he sees the enterprise as being more about individual flourishing (On Liberty style) than people achieving whatever society has set out for them without any help.

  • badger

    On the basis of Jonathan Haidt’s work on the moral foundations liberals and conservatives, I think libertarians tend to fit the same moral/psychological profile as liberals. Haidt characterizes individuals in terms of their concern for harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity. Liberals are mostly concerned about harm and fairness, while conservatives care for all five about equally.

    I think libertarians, whether they are consequentialists or believers in natural rights, are primarily concerned about harm and fairness like liberals. They just have different conceptions about what constitutes harm and fairness. But like liberals, they have a hard time understanding conservatives who push purity or in-group politics.

  • TonyF

    I think you write from a very local USA-ian perspective. The American colonies had no mighty state-church no significant nobility, no guilds (to my knowledge) but rather free markets, and then the early and successful revolution made away with the already distantly placed king. Thus, no basis for traditional conservatives nor liberals. And then, maybe due to an already rather democratic state and rather free markets, no strong socialistic labour movement developed. In more modern times this absence of a significant socialistic force led to the strange situation in the USA that your “liberals” turned out to be at the left wing of main-stream politics. Which I think explains a lot of (though far from all) your present-day strange political spectrum.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    Jake, the existence and popularity of other options for dissatisfied major party members is another data point to explain.

    Jeff, I accept that my sample is limited.

    Phil, the second part of that sentence explains my meaning.

    TGGP, so does national security not fit well in the economic vs social dichotomy?

    Robert, “anyone who innovates, grows and develops in the way that they want” seems a poor candidate for a high status hero to look up to and want to emulate.

    Badger, if you are right that makes the puzzle all harder to explain.

  • http://meteuphoric.blogspot.com/ Katja Grace

    Robert Wiblin,

    “instead we should respect anyone who innovates, grows and develops in the way that they want without being forced to live however other people would like them to”

    1. What grounds do you use to decide who to respect?
    2. I think you also like libertarianism for economic reasons – which is to say that people should be incentivised to live how other people would like them to (e.g. in an office). Is there a difference between incentivised and forced? Yes – a) the magnitude of the cost to make the other choice, b) whether the change is in the cost of the status quo or the other option. Does one of these make a big difference to you?

    “a more liberal approach of ‘being oneself’, which involves to some extent being liberated from dominant institutions – religion, traditional family relations, established ideas and ways of living, etc.”

    To be yourself you can’t choose to identify with, follow mindlessly, or submit to the authority of dominant institutions? You should be unique and original and make your own path? It seems to me that selves are naturally conformist creatures which don’t do that sort of thing much when being themselves – mostly just when they see that others will applaud them for ‘being themselves’.

  • http://t-a-w.blogspot.com/ Tomasz Wegrzanowski

    I have two theories.

    1. Aynrandesque libertarians and conservatives are deontologists. Liberals are consequentialists. Deontology vs consequentialism is much bigger difference than shades of those. Or more generally you have most consequentialists in the centre (tweak status quo), and most deontologists on fringes (reorganize the society). That’s because status quo is a mess that’s unlikely to satisfy any deontology. And because you can only rationally analyze consequences of tweaking status quo, not of major reorganization of society, and few consequentialists would accept risk of a blind major changes.

    2. American “libertarian” and “conservative” think tanks are funded by corporations that need their services for pro-business propaganda purposes, and don’t care about their stance of personal liberties either way. There’s very little pro-personal-liberty funding. So “libertarian” think tanks follow the funding and focus on business lobbying which brings them closer to “convervative” think tanks.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/teageegeepea TGGP

    Typepad wouldn’t accept my comment, presumably because it was too long and/or used hyperlinks. Those who wish to can read it at my blog:
    http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/2009/05/23/overcoming-bias-comment/

  • http://macroethics.blogspot.com nazgulnarsil

    social liberties stem from economic liberties, not the other way around. social liberties problems are mostly solved once you respect private property.

  • david

    No, it works the other way around. Economic liberties without social liberties creates accelerating inequality and erodes government and non-government institutions that allow either.

  • http://embraceunity.com EmbraceUnity

    As kevin mentioned in the first comment, left-libertarians are consequentialists first and foremost. The self-made man is a myth, and no true consequentialist would either believe in it or place undue utility upon it. Cooperation without hierarchy is possible as evidenced by the Open Source movement and other movements, and with new communications technologies it is increasingly possible to be anti-authoritarian and pro-cooperation, whereas in the past only a few visionaries like Bookchin or Illich could even conceive of such things.

    While we ought to be *resilient* rather than interdependent when it comes to material necessities, we are all psychologically interdependent on a fundamental level, and I suspect any left-libertarian would concede that. Right-libertarians like Mises or Rothbard classify humans as beings of “purposeful action,” left-libertarians like Chomsky would classify humans as beings of communication. In any event, the purposeful action business is clearly bunk both because Free Will is internally contradictory since it both relies upon causation and rejects it, and because no utilitarian would hold “purposeful actions” as sacred because of bias and negative consequences. Thus, some other definition must be thought of, and since communication is so central to civilization… in markets as Hayek showed, as well as relationships and virtually all other forms of social organization.

    The best blog I have found for this sort of thought is http://mutualist.blogspot.com/

  • http://t-a-w.blogspot.com/ Tomasz Wegrzanowski

    A meta-comment: Can we bring LW-style threaded commenting here? It seems to me that there’s a lot more actual discussion in LW comments, on OB it’s just a bunch of unrelated replies to the original post. It’s the same crowd and subject, so the simplest explanation is that it’s mostly due to lack of threading.

    Robin: You write at both, do you have the same impression?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/SoullessAutomaton a soulless automaton

    @Tomasz: The downside is that threaded commenting on LW encourages and enables long-running off-topic discussions or side arguments, both of which I seem to recall that Robin wants to discourage here (though I could be misremembering).

    nazgulnarsil: “social liberties stem from economic liberties, not the other way around. social liberties problems are mostly solved once you respect private property.

    david: “No, it works the other way around. Economic liberties without social liberties creates accelerating inequality and erodes government and non-government institutions that allow either.

    This exchanges strikes me as potentially very insightful on the difference in perspective, indepdent of which (if either) is accurate.

    As an aside, I finally read the “liberaltarian” link in Robin’s post and find the article’s proposed compromise to be surprisingly close to my own actual views.

  • Mikko

    Lakoffian view is similar to Robin’s.

    For liberal, government is a loving parent. People are children that need protection. If child fails (gets unemployed etc.), he should not be punished because he has done his best. If child is ever punished, the environment is at fault, and rules should be changed.

    For conservative, government is a strict father. People are children that need guidance. If child fails, he has earned it and should be punished so that he learns not to repeat the mistake. This builds the backbone for the child, and eventually the child can survive on his own.

    Altruism is at the very core of liberal psychology, it is how they relate to people. Conservatives probably do more actual altruistic deeds, but for them it is probably just signaling. They relate to people based on tit-for-tat. Libertarian psychological view is very close to conservative view.

  • michael vassar

    The libertarian view is that the government isn’t a parent. It’s a desired mechanism to enforce “should be natural law” derived from generalizing and inferring from their idiosyncratic interpretations of the rules they were taught by their parents at a young age.

  • Captain Awesome

    “Some say it is just a natural alliance of outsiders, but it seems more to me than that. Some say it is because conservatives are more willing to adopt libertarian rhetoric in national politics, but that is just more data to explain”

    Conservative rhetoric is a lot like libertarian rhetoric because, being outsiders, both have more to gain from persuasion, and libertarian arguments are the ones that are most likely to persuade. The more that a writing is meant to persuade a large audience, the more libertarian its arguments become. This is because libertarian ethical reasoning is intuitive and focal, hence persuasive. On the occasions in which liberals want to persuade that a non-libertarian policy ought to be adopted, they usually try to make their policies seem as libertarian as possible, or as necessary, pragmatic exceptions to generally libertarian rules.

    Conservatives do the same thing on the occasions that they advocate non-libertarian policies; for instance, when arguing against gay marriage in public, it’s relatively rare to hear conservatives just say that they don’t approve of gays. They’re much more likely to argue, for instance, that social science data proves that gays will hurt children, so because of that externality, gay marriage can’t be permitted.

  • Robert Wiblin

    “Robert, “anyone who innovates, grows and develops in the way that they want” seems a poor candidate for a high status hero to look up to and want to emulate. ”

    And a “dependable connected folks who respect authority, do their job, help their neighbors, raise their kids, go to church, and go to war when needed” is a high status hero? Perhaps I’m simply out of line with most people, but the first seems far more romantic and impressive to me than the second.

  • Constant

    Distinguishing ideological types according to who they think should be admired has the virtue of avoiding the decision of who is right (not necessarily just morally – there are also myriad factual claims involved). But while that may be the politic thing to do, there may nevertheless be a fact of the matter about who is right. If there is a fact of the matter about that, then a distinction that remains blind to it will probably fail to give a full account of the difference.

    How would you distinguish between people who think the world is flat and people who think the world is round? Would you distinguish them by who they think should be admired? There may indeed be such a distinction between them. For starters, flat-earthers think that flat-earth advocates should be admired, and round-earthers do not. Notice how easy it is to come up with a distinction in terms of who should be admired – the ease of doing this suggests that perhaps the distinction is empty, uniformative.

    Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, by the way, is essential reading if you care about understanding the differences. Unlike Lakoff and Robin, both of whom essentially trivialize the difference (or so it seems to me – for, what could be more trivial than who you think should be admired), Sowell treats the difference as a serious difference in how we conceive, model, the world. Also, I find Mencius’s historical account of progressivism to be interesting and plausible. Libertarianism and Conservatism tend mostly (though not completely) to fall on the same side in both of these treatments (i.e., opposite the “unconstrained” vision in Sowell’s treatment, and opposite progressivism in Mencius’s treatment).

  • http://profile.typepad.com/teageegeepea TGGP

    I second EmbraceUnity’s recommendation of Kevin Carson’s blog. I recommend all right-libertarians grapple with the left-Rothbardians. It’s a much better use of time than left-libertarianism’s evil-bearded twin, liberaltarianism. He is wrong though that all left-libertarians are consequentialists. The founder of agorism, Samuel Edward Konkling III was a proponent of “natural rights” and is dissected as such in L.A Rollins’ “The Myth of Natural Rights“.

    nazgulnarsil & David, it sounds like you have an empirical disagreement. Can either of you point to evidence or make predictions that might falsify your claims?

    Constant, how might a statement regarding “a fact of the matter about who is right” be falsified?

    The Mixing Memory cognitive science blog had some entertaining posts on Lakoff. Unfortunately its review of The Political Mind has progressed no further than chapter 3 since July of last year.

    I recall reading a paper by the heterodox economist John Henry of the University of Missouri-Kansas City on how “classical liberalism” shifted to the right-wing defenders of the status quo from the left-wing opposition to Tory aristocracy, which unusually paid tribute to “those who lost” (in William Appleman William’s terms). Unfortunately Matthew Mueller removed his Post-Austrian Economics blog and I can’t remember the title.

  • http://asymptosis.com Steve Roth

    I think the alignment of conservatives and libertarians vis a vis liberals (at least in the economic spectrum) has more to do about an underlying belief regarding coercion.

    Liberals believe that any economic system is inevitably coercive. If a system results in there being no way to live a decent life in your town (no decent-paying jobs, no EITC-like program to supplement that pay, etc.), you are coerced into moving away from your family and friends. (The ultimate coercion, of course, would be by the government–i.e. the sheriff physically removing you from your foreclosed home. But the ultimate cause is the economic ecosystem in which you live.)

    Libertarians and conservatives believe that this type of economic coercion occurs–or is “bad”–only to the extent that the economic system is directly mandated and/or managed by government.

    Personally, I think “any economic system is inevitably coercive” is a far more rational world view–better grounded in empirical reality.

  • Constant

    Constant, how might a statement regarding “a fact of the matter about who is right” be falsified?

    I’m not sure what you mean by that question. I’ll present an example to clarify this. I own a pet. It is either a cat or a dog. There is some fact of the matter about which one it is. Are you asking (a generalization of) how might it be determined whether my pet is a cat or a dog? If you are asking that, what sort of answer are you looking for? One answer is “by looking and seeing whether it is a dog or a cat.” And indeed, that’s pretty much the best answer that I can give you as far as telling you how I personally know what my pet is. I’ve seen it. I am pretty confident that it is what I think it is, based on having seen it. What I am unable to do for you is tell you how this works. I don’t know the neurology of how I do it. I don’t really have any good account of how it is that I’ve learned (e.g. from other people) how to tell dogs from cats. I can’t tell you in any great detail how scientists have validated the distinction (though I presume they have, considering that they categorize the animals differently – but again, I couldn’t really tell you how I happen to know this).

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Steve Roth, you are right that there is disagreement about what constitutes “coercion”. There is also a lot of disagreement about what constitutes “decent”. Using the latter to determine the former sounds difficult. We should ask why it is that conservatives, liberals and libertarians have their differing conceptions of “decent”.

    Constant, we can actually analyze the DNA in hairs of an animal to tell what species it came from. If female, we could inseminate it with the sperm of the species we are checking it for to see if it produces viable offspring (the most common rule of thumb for determining species). Political ideologies entail normative suppositions which as far as I can see do not pay rent in anticipated experience.

  • Constant

    Political ideologies entail normative suppositions which as far as I can see do not pay rent in anticipated experience.

    True, but in addition to that, ideologists make many factual predictions, which turn out to be true or false. An example of this is the failure of Marx’s predictions about the future of capitalism to pan out. Another example is Coase’s studies of regulation, about which he says, “What we discover is that most regulation does produce, or has produced in recent times, a worse result,” and, “I can’t remember one that’s good. Regulation of transport, regulation of agriculture– agriculture is a, zoning is z. You know, you go from a to z, they are all bad. There were so many studies, and the result was quite universal: The effects were bad.” Ideologists regularly implicitly and explicitly claim that the regulations they support will make things better, and these predictions are falsified. Now, I will grant that some ideologists are extremely reluctant to admit the failure of their predictions, but I do not believe that this is actually a failure to falsify their predictions.

  • John Swanson

    I think this is a good part of why we don’t see more “liberaltarians.” But I think that a larger cause is more direct. While both liberals and conservatives want to expand the power of government over certain areas of our lives, liberals generally want to expand the size of government itself, while conservatives want to shrink it. A huge federal government run by liberals might be more “libertarian” in the social arena than a huge federal government run by conservatives, but I think most would agree that both would be far more activist in that arena than a tiny government–whether it was controlled by liberals or conservatives.

    In other words, the distinction between the economic sphere (which liberals want more control over) and the social sphere (which conservatives want more control over) is somewhat artificial, because it’s impossible to have a large influence over the economic sphere without having the power necessary to exert influence over the social sphere as well. And most libertarians would agree that governments are far more often limited by their means than by their desires.

    Finally, I can be fairly secure in the knowledge that the American public would never support, say, a nationwide ban on sodomy. The conservative impulse to regulate social affairs is thus mostly exercised by pushing federalism (e.g., overturning Roe v. Wade rather than a constitutional amendment declaring abortion illegal) instead of by expanding the power of the national government. There are exceptions–like drug prohibition–but I just don’t see any current social issues where Republicans would plausibly be able to dramatically expand the role of the federal government. The political environment just wouldn’t support it. So I can support Republicans who would theoretically like to regulate my social affairs, knowing that they won’t be able to (and that federalism will allow me to move to a more free state if necessary), whereas I can’t support Democrats who are willing and entirely able to institute powerful government control over the economy.

  • http://www.edwardgaffney.com Millian

    Two-party systems tend to result in economic issues being a more salient political cleavage than social policy issues. Most libertarian organisations focus on economic issues. They then attract people who think in economic terms. This reinforces the focus on those issues both due to specialisation and the doctrine of maximisation of marginal product of labour (why waste time on non-salient issues like those dreamers on the Left?). Until Cato becomes mostly about social issues, its allies will be on the Right. Finally, note that many Democratic stances on social issues aren’t liberal at all. Within social issues, a focus by libertarian think tanks on gun control justifies their coalescence with Republicans.

  • Bernard Yomtov

    In the liberal view, we should most respect passionate cosmopolitan subgroup activists: folks who identify strongly with an oft-disliked non-geographically-defined subgroup and who via sheer impressiveness of art or word gain their group a wider respect.

    Where does this come from? It sounds like nonsense to me.

    I’d say both liberals and libertarians are much more liely than conservatives to respect people for their achievements rather than for their status or their family ties or the other things you mention. Ideas about the value of different achievements may vary.

  • http://asymptosis.com Steve Roth

    TGGP: “disagreement about what constitutes “decent”.”

    Yes, it’s rather like “yellow.” Fades off into green and orange, but when it’s yellow, it’s yellow.

    For an example: libertarians and conservatives would prefer there be no minimum wage. Our out-of-work person in an out-of-work town would be “free” to take a job offered at $1 an hour. Would that provide a “decent” living? He would also be free to move away from his family. But is that freedom?

    But putting that skirmish aside.

    “Political ideologies entail normative suppositions which as far as I can see do not pay rent in anticipated experience.”

    Okay if we’re getting quasi-consequentialist here: Would you agree that some ideologies–and their resultant/associated policies–might yield better consequences than others? (Or is everything just random chance? That seems to be your assertion.)

    Is there any possibility that (some [groups of]) humans are capable of identifying ideologies/policies that result in better consequences?

    Would those who make their judgments–build their ideologies–based on more objectively empirical reality perhaps choose policies that yield better (and less random) consequences?

    There is not a single thriving, prosperous, developed country in the world that does not have very large doses of what I’m happy to unabashedly call socialism and redistribution. (I’m also happy to agree that different components of those have better and worse consequences.)

    Based on that, it’s rational to anticipate that those systems are more likely to result in thriving, prosperous, developed countries. (And if complete absence is any evidence, that systems lacking those components are less likely to.)

    Hence the ideologies that engendered those systems payed their rent–predicted accurately–resulting in more people being more free to live happier, more prosperous lives.

  • MZ

    Libertarians support low taxes because individuals should be free to choose how their money is spent, rather than being forced to accept collective choices. Conservatives support low taxes so that those who have worked hard for their money can show off the fruits of their labor and earn full respect for it.

    Libertarians support gay marriage because individuals should be free to have whatever consenting relations they want. Liberals support gay marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.

    This is some of the most biased reasoning I’ve ever seen you write. Every argument I’ve heard from liberals about gay marriage has involved freedom of choice and treating people equally under the law. And I’ve never heard a conservative argue that taxes should be low so selfish people could show off. Of course, in your view, only libertarians espouse the rational reasons.

    One could just as easily provide alternatives. Libertarians oppose government intervention because — as the demographic statistics show — they are people of privilege for whom any attempt to rectify institutional inequalities is seen as unfair to them, nevermind the unfairness of the inequalities and privileges that they inherited (and by that I don’t mean just money).

  • Bernard Yomtov

    Libertarians support low taxes because individuals should be free to choose how their money is spent, rather than being forced to accept collective choices. Conservatives support low taxes so that those who have worked hard for their money can show off the fruits of their labor and earn full respect for it.

    Libertarians support gay marriage because individuals should be free to have whatever consenting relations they want. Liberals support gay marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.

    Is there some evidence for these propositions?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/Walterindenver Walter in Denver

    Speaking in loose generalities, the US was founded on some classic liberal ideas. Libertarians identify with those ideas, as do conservatives by definition.

  • Chris

    The nanny state mentality on the left is a key reason libertarians recoil from liberals. Perhaps it’s no worse — or even much less worse — than religious/social conservatism and its intolerance.

    But the eagerness with which the left would microregulate folks’ lives drives libertarians nuts.

    Starting with me.

  • Erica

    If libertarians were in a class of people whose drug use was punished heavily by the state (if libertarians were urban blacks, or lower-class suburban whites), they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives. If libertarians more often found themselves bearing children they didn’t want, without the resources to navigate the abortion rules of their state, they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives. If we had a massive draft, they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives.

  • psychohistorian

    I’m still curious as to whether this imbalance is real or imaginary. I’m a liberal-leaning libertarian, and most of my liberal friends have at least some libertarian leanings. Maybe it’s age or geography based. Path-dependency is also a possibility; the old conservatives of decades long past were probably closer to libertarians than liberals of decades past, so libertarians took a “we like conservatives” position and stuck to it despite changes in both parties. Still, it seems dumb to argue why libertarians lean conservative more than they lean liberal without actually establishing that fact.

    Oh, and I totally support the LW-style threads. These comments are much, much more difficult to read. And LW-style allows you to ignore side-tracked comments really, really easily. This format does not.

  • Lou

    As I read this post:

    Conservative heroes are pillars of the community

    Liberal heroes are gobbedly gook (passionate cosmopolitan subgroup activists)

    Libertarian heroes are Horatio Alger fantasies.

    Looks to me like there’s lots of signaling going on in the post itself.

  • D. Watson

    On the difference between US terminology and everyone else’s – FDR is one of the primary people responsible for it. Not many people realize that in his campaigns against Hoover, he ran as a ‘classic liberal’ – didn’t argue Hoover had done too little, but that he had done too much and that reducing government involvement would help businesses get out of the recession. Once in office, however, he quickly changed direction but kept the liberal label. He was in power so long that there was a decided change in the political spectrum and our vocabulary. The Rep party (not the same thing as conservatives) wanted a more involved government and Dems (not the same thing as liberals) wanted less, but FDR’s switch effectively changed party labels and terms.

  • vanya

    But liberals do look up to “self-made” entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Conservatives tend to like people like Sam Walton and Jack Welch. Jobs and Walton are both influential and innovative business leaders but appeal for some reason to different factions. Style plays a much larger role than ideologues of either side like to admit.

  • Dan

    I think the answer is much simpler.

    In today’s world, the threat to liberty is strongest coming from liberals. The major threats come from political correctness, socialism, ‘hate speech’ laws, government nationalism of industry, social engineering, and centralized government planning. This is largely a liberal project, and libertarians want nothing to do with it.

    What major threats to liberty are coming from the right? Not rendition, warrantless wiretapping, or being held indefinitely without trial – these are all policies the left has been willing to adopt under Obama now that they’re in power. So what’s left? What is the major threat Republicans pose to liberty?

    In another world, where laissez-faire economics ruled but conservatives were jailing homosexuals and discriminating against minorities, and schools were being forced to teach creation instead of evolution, the libertarians would be marching with the liberals, because conservatives would represent the larger threat.

  • ad

    I’m inclined to agree with Dan.

    But I do have one question.

    If libertarian heros are more like conservative heros than liberal heros, does this not suggest that libertarian ideology is more like conservative ideology than liberal ideology?

  • Prof. Paste

    Libertarians support gay marriage because individuals should be free to have whatever consenting relations they want. Liberals support gay marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.

    So, libertarians do things because of high-minded philosophical principles, and liberals and conservatives do them because of shallow ulterior motives. Being a libertarian sounds great, where do I sign up?!

    Idiot.

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  • Cyan

    Paste, when you call someone an idiot for a misstep they’ve already noted and corrected the day before (see the “added” at the bottom of the post), you don’t look so hot yourself.

  • Douglas Knight

    Robin Hanson,
    your account sounds like applying Haidt’s hierarchy/authority/respect axis of morality to groups he doesn’t think it’s relevant to. I think that’s a very good idea, although I’m not sure I agree with the specific claim. What do his other axes mean for liberals and libertarians? (below I suggest a purity for libertarians)

    Erica:
    If libertarians were in a class of people whose drug use was punished heavily by the state… they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives.

    That is exactly backwards to my impression of libertarians. If libertarians realized that their drug use is effectively legal, they’d be conservatives. Libertarians are people who don’t get the disconnect between nominal law and actual government and between political rhetoric and politics. To the extent that they realize there is a gap, they find it disturbing and important to eliminate. cf micael vassar’s comment

  • j

    John Swanson comes close to making my comment — Many, if not most libertarians lean Republican in the real world of politics and voting because money is power. Even the most socially conservative government won’t be able to go door-to-door to enforce moral strictures if it has no money to do so.

    But let’s pretend for a moment that a government did somehow find a way to be economically free and socially restrictive at the same time — Big Brother in every home appliance, or maybe the neighborhood watch division of the morality police.

    Most libertarians believe they would be personally wealthy or wealthier, given a freer market than they have now, and therefore able to buy their way out of whatever moral restrictions they don’t like. After all, we know that abortions, drugs, guns, condoms and liquor don’t cease to exist when they’re illegal, they’re still available if you have the money.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    I added to the post.

  • Constant

    If libertarians were in a class of people whose drug use was punished heavily by the state [...] they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives. [...] If we had a massive draft, they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives.

    Libertarians such as myself are not persuaded that liberals offer greater freedom even in the areas where some seem to think they do. Democrats rule now, so wake me up when cocaine and heroin become legal. Prohibition (alcohol) was bipartisan. “Democrats and Republicans had strong wet and dry factions” (wpedia). In fact, “In January 1917, the 65th Congress convened, in which the dries outnumbered the wets by 140 to 64 in the Democratic party and 138 to 62 among Republicans,” which is remarkably balanced.

    During the Iraq war, Rangel, a Democrat, pushed for a military draft. Woodrow Wilson and FDR both sent draftees into the World Wars. Wilson “began the first effective draft in 1917″ (wpedia) and sent 100 thousand American soldiers to their deaths (I do not know what proportion of this were draftees, but 2.4 million were drafted out of a total of 4.7 million, so I’d guess about half). “President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 which created the country’s first peacetime draft and formally established the Selective Service System as an independent Federal agency.” (about.com) “The registration requirement was suspended in April 1975. It was resumed again in 1980 by President Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.”

    I’m not flipping the tables. I’m not arguing that conservatives are better. I’m only arguing that the common perception that liberals are good in these areas is greatly exaggerated.

  • Cyan

    Libertarians support low taxes because [libertarian principle rooted in freedom]. Conservatives support low taxes so that [signalling-based explanation not explicitly claimed as a conservative principle].

    Libertarians support gay marriage because [libertarian principle rooted in freedom]. Liberals support gay marriage because [signalling-based explanation not explicitly claimed as a liberal principle].

    Hmm.

    (This observation is not original to me — noahpoah pointed it out on Andrew Gelman’s blog.)

    I’m as certain as I can be that Robin Hanson doesn’t think libertarians are transparently motivated paragons of non-signalling. So what are libertarians signalling by their support of these specific policies?

  • bgc

    RH’s is a cross-sectional viewpoint – and a longitudinal viewpoint is probably clearer.

    Historically everyone is (more or less) conservative and religious to begin with – disbelieves in markets (because they are an abstract concept), and believes in biological differences between men and women and so on.

    Then various modifications to this have been proposed, and in some instances have become dominant in some circles.

    In this sense liberals and libertarians are similar – in that they are both historically engaged in trying to overcome the spontaneous conservative ‘bias’.

    But libertarians main difference is that libertarians implicitly regard the industrial revolution as having changed the whole conception of politics and its goals towards a society based on permanent growth in productivity/ production – liberals don’t accept this.

    Liberalism has its roots in a communism which arose too early to have noticed that the rules were different for modernizing societies – liberals _always_ favour wealth redistribution over wealth creation, because they don’t really believe in wealth creation (or at least, they always default to the short term zero sum redistributive game when under pressure; and readily shelve the long term positive sum game of growth).

    I think there is a problem if US politics are analyzed in a symmetrical way, because liberalism is just incoherent; it is a set of values that can get governments elected, and may indeed lead to a ‘permanent’ electoral majority; but analytically liberalism simply does not cohere, which is why liberals are always – usually sooner rather than later – forced to demonize their opponents as a way of winning debates.

    Liberalism/ transhumanism and religious conservatism are the only coherent political philosophies; and one or the other will prevail in the long term. I suspect the religious conservatism will prevail for psychological factors if nothing else (libertarianism/ transhumanism simply lacks appeal outside its base of highly intelligent young men).

    So the future is between various types of religious conservatism – initially decided by which version can best defend themselves (e.g. Amish may be bad at this, Muslims better), in the longer term which group of R-Cs can combine their religious conservatism with demographic expansion and pro-modernization (pro-science and pro-market) attitudes (eg. Mormons, or some evangelical Christians).

  • Trevindor

    Me too, EmbraceUnity. I just found Carson’s blog last week.

    This (Overcoming Bias) being a right-ish economics blog, it is unsurprising to see the number of comments suggesting that “liberaltarians” are in need of education in economics. It fits well with the caricature, I suppose. As a raving mad social libertarian, I would contend that the self-identifying libertarians making these comments are in need of education in science. The libertarian (in the context of this post) assumes people get what they deserve. The worldview is built on assumptions about free will, rationality and fair consequences. This social libertarian believes that empirical evidence largely contradicts those assumptions.

    True “self made men” are scarce. In my observation, an awful lot of those who self-identify as libertarian (in the context of this post) are generally wealthy men who were born on third base but think they hit triples. They are not a self made men. They are, as everyone is, products of their development environment plus a dash of genetics. As a social libertarian I don’t see how being born of privilege should entitle anyone to a lofty position on the Pareto distribution, well above those with similar potential but no opportunity. Social mobility is a myth and the libertarian (in the context of this post) worldview does nothing to amend it.

    As for the question of the kindredness of the conservative and libertarian (in the context of this post), try Occam’s razor. The means may differ, but the ends jive.

  • http://zeroland.tumblr.com Mesila

    Interesting post. I am a registered libertarian who has always thought of myself as a “liberaltarian” – and one of the main reasons I identify more with the ideas of libertarians is that the issues are not always about trying to remold society to agree with ME, or my ‘affinity group’. I support things like gay rights because I believe in self-determination and honor true personal freedom. I get a bit annoyed – not to mention a little embarrassed – when liberal pundits and policymakers put huge amounts of emphasis on the idea that this or that group is “oppressed” or “disenfranchised”, and making like the only way to cure this is to give the “victims” all kinds of special status. All that does is anger people and stir up hate. I don’t like hate and war, so I try to picture a world where people are more free to mind their own business. That means no vast projects to remake society with either blueprints for liberal utopia or right-wing dominionist theocracy.

    I say this even though as a drug user I am a member of one of the most derided minority groups there is. I think the answer to the drug issue has been completely missed by everyone: there ought to be at least some experiments with “drug zones”, so that people who didn’t want to be around drug users could have their way, and people who wanted to be high, and could handle the responsibility, would have the freedom to live life as they please, too. It’s sad that there isn’t more outreach between libertarians and liberal interest groups, because the libertarian take on the drug issue is the most enlightened there is, I think.

    Incidentally, I want to correct Dan’s assumption above that liberals are OK with rendition, torture, and wiretapping just because of Obama. Perish the thought! None of my friends and acquaintances, who are all one variety or another of left-leaning or centrist, think any such thing, and we’re all looking at whatever resources we can use to try to reach this administration and convince it to clean house of #43’s unconstitutional messes.

    Don’t mistake the fact that we’re obviously happier with Obama than Bush to mean we’re all going to put up with anything he does without criticism. There are a few more ignorant among us who might not have figured out yet that Obama is not perfect just because we happened to vote for him. But I do not think that this constitutes a majority of us.

  • Douglas Knight

    Robin Hanson,
    It seems to me that you are apply Haidt’s hierarchy/authority/respect morality to liberals, to whom he says it doesn’t apply. I think that’s a very good idea. What about loyalty and purity? (below, I guess I say that libertarians have purity rules about the law)

    Erica:
    If libertarians were in a class of people whose drug use was punished heavily by the state…, they might find they had more in common with liberals than with conservatives.

    j:
    Most libertarians believe they would be personally wealthy or wealthier, given a freer market than they have now, and therefore able to buy their way out of whatever moral restrictions they don’t like.

    I think you two basically agree. But it seems completely backwards to me. Libertarians (1) hate buying their way out of rules and (2) have difficulty believing that drugs actually are legal for them. cf michael vassar’s comment. Libertarians are distracted by rhetoric, and fail to understand what other people think government is and should be. (OK, maybe I’m distracted by libertarian rhetoric, but I do see a few as calculating as j describes and I’m pretty sure they’re the minority.)

  • Erica

    Constant wrote, re drug policy and the draft:
    >>> I’m not arguing that conservatives are better. I’m only arguing that the common perception that liberals are good in these areas is greatly exaggerated.>>>

    I agree that the Democrats we’ve had in power have done no better on these issues than the Republicans. But we haven’t had a strong popular movement to hold either side’s feet to the fire. Democrats are war-mongers and drug-outlawers out of fear of Republicans calling them weak on defense and weak on crime, rather than because they think war is good and drugs are bad. It’s relatively easy to get liberals to join a movement; it’s relatively hard to get libertarians to join — my experience is that they have to feel personally targeted. During the Vietnam War, I believe many libertarians did protest the draft, leading to the end of the war. If they felt pot smoking would send them to prison, I think libertarians might join with pot-smoking liberals, to push for legalization. But, for the most part, the state knows better than to go after white, educated pot-smokers.

  • Anthony

    Libertarians are more naturally supporters of the right than the left because outside the sexual sphere, the right is more supportive of personal freedom than is the left. The right supports higher speed limits, homeschooling, private schools, and more choice in public schools, gun ownership, recreational use of wilderness, and removal of violent criminals from society, while the left opposes all these things.

  • ac

    Left wing libertarians/anarchists don’t hang out in the same think-tank and academic circles you do Robin.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/willmcb will mcbride

    Conservatives and libertarians share the ethic of freedom. Liberals coalesce more around the ideas of education and progress.

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  • Kenneth Hopf

    I still have much to read in this blog. But I want to take a moment to second what Peter Twieg says.

    I guess “liberaltarian” describes me as well, though I tend to prefer the label “market liberal”, which was first suggested to me by Michael Rothschild (author of Bionomics). Anyway, the problem I’ve always had when consorting with so called liberals is that they seem to think the injunction against ad hominem doesn’t apply to them. It is routine to hear them talking about how stupid conservatives and libertarians are. Conservatives also don’t agree with me. But they don’t call me a moron either.

    I suspect the root cause of this, suggested to me many years ago by the psychologist Peter Breggin, is that liberals believe they have a monopoly on good intentions. This is reinforced by their intellectual history, which embraces the notion of class struggle. The rise and fall of Nazism in the 20th century also did a lot to cement the notion of leftists as good guys, and everyone else as plain evil.

    Outside of politics, I prefer the company of liberals. But Peter, I think, is quite right when he says that they simply do not understand what markets accomplish, or why we cannot do without markets. They are constructivists in Hayek’s sense of the word. They are the people who inspire the observation that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  • infopractical

    I think that most libertarians come to the conclusion that economic freedoms precede other forms of freedom, so it’s easier to side with groups that [at least in theory] work to preserve economic freedom first and foremost.

  • JB

    This post is goofy. Libertarians are more aligned with economic conservatives because economic rights trump social rights.

    Who cares if drugs and prostitutes are legal when the government is taxing you at a 90% rate and you have no money to spend on them?

    You can always buy social freedom with money. The reverse does not work.

  • David T

    The reason that libertarians–in the contemporary American sense–hang out more with conservatives trhan with liberals is that they *are* conservatives. This is obviously so on economic issues which are historically the important issues dividing Left from Right. As for other issues, not all conservatives favor an interventionist foreign policy and most of them don’t support suppression of homosexual acts any more, though they do oppose gay marriage. And some libertarians are pro-life.

    In Europe, of course, libertarian still refers to what it did in the nineteenth century–the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist wing of the revolutionary Left. I am not sure who stole the word in America for the pro-capitalist Right–Murray Rothbard?

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