Category Archive: Political Science

  1. Discussion Question of the Week: On Social Contracts

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    Does a ‘social contract’ between the people and their government truly exist? If so, what is contained in the social contract, and does it justify the size and scope of our current government?. If not, what is the best justification for government, and does it apply to our current government?

  2. Richard Epstein: The Continuing Relevance of Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty”

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    Richard A. Epstein is the inaugural Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law and Director of the Classical Liberal Institute at the New York University School of Law. He is also the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law Emeritus and senior lecturer at the University of Chicago. He served as editor of the Journal of Legal Studies from 1981-1991 and the Journal of Law and Economics from 1991-2001. From 2001-2010 he was a director of the John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics at the University of Chicago. He has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1985 and has been a senior fellow of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences since 1983. Throughout his career he has written numerous articles and books and has taught courses on a wide range of legal and interdisciplinary subjects.

    For more Hayek Speaker Series lectures like this head over to the Mercatus Center.

  3. Featured On Demand Program of the Week: The Immigration Debate

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    With presidential contenders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders making a fuss about foreign laborers coming to the country and depressing wages or murdering our women and children immigration reform has once again moved to the front lines of presidential politics. Have you ever wanted to cut through the demagoguery and fear-mongering and get plain economic analyses of the immigration debate? Well now is your chance. This week the Learn Liberty Blog is featuring our On Demand program, “The Immigration Debate.”

    Take this On Demand program to get smart about the current immigration debate in America. The button is hot on this issue, so get your info while the fire’s still cooking!

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  4. Republican Debate: More of the Same?

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    Last night’s Republican debate was two hours of 10 candidates doing their best to distinguish themselves from the many people hoping to win the 2016 presidential election. While there were some generally agreed-upon winners (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) and losers (Jeb Bush, and for some the CNBC moderators), the debate itself was underwhelming. Was it just us, or did all the candidates sound…the same?

    The problem of politicians sounding the same isn’t just limited to primary elections. Even once candidates receive their party’s nominations, we’re likely to hear a lot of the same talking points from both Republicans and Democrats. But why do all politicians end up sounding the same?

    In the video below, Professor Diana Thomas explains why politicians from both parties use the same talking points. The phenomenon can be explained by the median voter theorem, which states that in two-party, majority-rule democracies, each candidate has to appeal to the voter in the middle—the median voter—in order to win the majority. Instead of catering to their right or left-leaning base of supporters, like we see in the current debates, candidates in general elections have to appeal to the average American.

    “In fact, if you want to win,” Thomas explains, “you will have to aim for the position of the median voter—the guy right in the middle of the spectrum—because he’s the last voter you have to convince to get the majority you need.”  

  5. New York Times’ Solution to Fiscal Problems: Eat the Rich

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    The New York Times came out with an article last weekend claiming how much good raising taxes on the country’s wealthiest could do:

    [W]hat could a tax-the-rich plan actually achieve? As it turns out, quite a lot… the government could raise large amounts of revenue exclusively from this small group, while still allowing them to take home a majority of their income.

    The article then proceeds to detail the “whopping” hundreds of billions of dollars that could be generated were the government to raise taxes.

    But this soak-the-rich argument ignores history. As Professor Antony Davies explains in the video below, over the last half-century tax revenue has held steady at around 18 percent of GDP no matter where tax rates were set. In other words, higher tax rates, like the Times article calls for, have had little-to-no historical success in raising tax revenue.

    Based on this history, Davies argues that the best way to raise tax revenue is not to raise tax rates but to grow the size of the economy as a whole — 18 percent of a big pie is a lot more revenue than 18 percent of a small pie. The recipe for a bigger pie? To use the Times’ phraseology: “allowing” people to keep more of what they earn.

  6. Bureaucratic vs. Business Management in Health Care

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    The health care debate has been long on hysterics and short on useful analysis. Incendiary and counterproductive rhetoric about socialism, Nazis, and death panels from some corners notwithstanding, critics of socialized medicine raise an important question with uncomfortable answers: in the absence of profits, losses, and prices, how will decisions about the production and allocation of health care be made?

    Ludwig von Mises offers a telling set of answers in his short, accessible book Bureaucracy, which is available for free download. Lest this be construed as an attempt to answer important questions by dusting off irrelevant ancient texts or an exercise in hero worship by someone who is a slave to some defunct economist, to borrow from John Maynard Keynes, it is important to note that a lot of Mises’s predictions turned out to be correct, and the principles he expounded about the importance of the price system remain relevant today.

    The intellectual environment in which Mises wrote is also particularly relevant. Among other things, he was writing at the height of enthusiasm for central planning, when many—economists included—thought that capitalism was breathing its last and that some form of central planning was the wave of the future. Mises escaped Europe and left for the United States just before the Nazis got to him, and he wrote Bureaucracy while on an appointment at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    One of the most important aspects of Mises’s intellectual oeuvre is his focus on the role of prices, profits, and losses in a market economy. In Bureaucracy, Mises distinguishes between “bureaucratic management” and “business management:” “(b)ureaucratic management is management bound to comply with detailed rules and regulations fixed by the authority of a superior body” while “(b)usiness management or profit management is management directed by the profit motive (p. 50).” This has an important implication: “(t)he objectives of public administration cannot be measured in money terms and cannot be checked by accountancy methods (p. 50).” In other words, bureaucrats free from the constraints of private property, profits, and the profit-and-loss system cannot tell whether they are creating or destroying value.

    Mises describes the problem of bureaucratic calculation as follows (p. 67). Any manager knows that he or she can make his or her enterprise better or more successful with more resources. Where bureaucratic management fails is in the fact that it does not have the feedback mechanism that would allow one to compare the costs and benefits of building a hospital to the costs and benefits of building a highway, or in a more narrow sense directly applied to the health care debate, there is no way to tell whether resources are more wisely used building a cancer center or a burn ward.

    It is true that we can evaluate policies and use statistical analysis to tell us with some precision how a change in a policy instrument will likely affect an outcome in which we are interested. For example, we might be able to measure the effect of an additional test or exam on the probability that an illness will be detected. Under bureaucratic management, however, we cannot tell whether an additional test or exam is a wise use of resources.

    Without profits and losses, we do not have a feedback mechanism that tells us whether we are using resources wisely or unwisely; further, the probability that resources will be wasted increases because decisions about production and allocation become responsive to political incentives rather than customers’ desires. Indeed, this is one of the most trenchant critiques of the status quo, which is a bizarro-world patchwork of regulations, subsidies, and interventions that is market-like in some important respects but that combines all of the worst aspects of corporatism and interventionism.

    Economic analysis has an important place at the table because it helps us understand and explain how people might respond to different incentives given their values. Further, careful economic analysis shows us that the knowledge we would need to implement a sustainable, centrally planned, socialized health care system is of a type that is too high for us to attain. In principle, it cannot be known outside of the profit and loss system. The economic way of thinking is not merely one way to look at health care, and it is not just another perspective. It is indispensable if we are going to have a rational system.

    Art Carden is an Economics Professor at Samford University and a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute, a Senior Fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and a member of the Adjunct Faculty of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He has also starred in Learn Liberty programs and videos on personal finance, gas prices, and trade.

  7. Liberty 101: Principles of Libertarianism

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    Few people will say they are anti-liberty, so what makes the libertarian commitment to liberty stand out from the crowd? We teamed up with Students For Liberty to explain the basics of libertarian philosophy, law, and economics in our new On Demand program, Liberty 101. Check out the first video below.

    For more videos just like this, be sure to check out our free Liberty 101 On Demand program by clicking the button below. You’ll get a crash course in topics near and dear to libertarians’ hearts like individualism, spontaneous order, skepticism of power, and more!

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  8. Open Inquiry Is Integral to the University Experience

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    Increasingly, the expectation of rigorous debate and discussion on controversial topics has diminished on college campuses across the nation. Students are now more content or even encouraged to coast through higher education without having to encounter beliefs or opinions that offend their preconceived notions about the world. Students are treating the college experience as less of an opportunity to broaden their horizons and more as a mere means to obtain a college degree. But this view of higher education is flawed because it fundamentally misunderstands the role that universities play in our society.

    In a recent Learn Liberty video, Donald Downs, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes this phenomenon when he says, “What could be more anathema to the spirit of the university and tolerance than to believe that you have nothing left to learn?”

    This problem manifests itself in the increased use of speech codes to censor speech that administrators and students find offensive. Universities are meant to foster an environment that allows for a marketplace of ideas to emerge. The fact that students are being led to believe that their worldviews are safe from criticism or scrutiny results in a growing population of ignorant and close-minded people. University administrators have abdicated their responsibility as defenders of open inquiry and academic freedom in exchange for an environment that is anything but conducive to learning. Orwellian “free speech zones” populate campuses, dictating to students when and where their opinions may be voiced, often relegating them to poorly trafficked corners of the university’s campus.

    And that is why we need academic freedom and open inquiry on college campuses. So what can you do to stem the tide? Host a Learn Liberty Free Speech Challenge on your campus!

    All you have to do is request a free kit. Once it’s delivered, find a space on your campus to invite people to participate. Ask them to express their mostly deeply held opinions in the name of free speech and open inquiry, and use your cell phone camera to film the event!

  9. What Does It Mean to Be a Libertarian?

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    Libertarians have a unique perspective on how government force should be used. As Jeff Miron, Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University, points out in this video, libertarians consider using government force to coerce others into action to be immoral. This is what separates them from other philosophies which are more permissive when it comes to using the force of government to achieve economic and social goals. Take a look at the video, and tell us what you think in the comments!

  10. Quote of the Day: On Coercion and Equality

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    Today’s quote is brought to you by none other than F.A. Hayek from his book The Constitution of Liberty:

    “If one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable. But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”

    This quote encapsulates much of the classical liberal tradition of toleration in that it rejects the use of coercion to attempt to make people equal. Our individual differences and preferences are what make our society pluralistic, and attempts to create equality through government fiat deny individuals their autonomy and often lead to negative, unintended consequences.

    Aeon Skoble discusses the idea of coercive attempts at creating equality in the following Learn Liberty video, “Equality and Respect.” Let us know what you think in the comments!