Category Archive: Political Science

  1. Most social scientists can’t predict the future. But this philosopher did.

    Comments Off on Most social scientists can’t predict the future. But this philosopher did.

    When social scientists predict the future, they almost always get it wrong. Human behavior and social phenomena are just too complex to be predictable. But Alexis de Tocqueville was, to some degree, an exception. Besides being a great political philosopher, he was also a political prophet.

    Discussions of Tocqueville’s prophetic prowess usually begin with his remarkable prediction in Democracy in America,[1] more than 100 years before the Cold War, that “there are two great peoples on the earth today who, starting from different points, seem to advance toward the same goal: these are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans.… each of them seems called by a secret design of Providence to hold the destinies of half the world in its hands one day.”[2]  Though the Cold War is over, continuing tensions between Russia and the United States show that Tocqueville’s prediction remains all-too-relevant.

    What allowed Tocqueville to make such an impressive prediction, given that predicting social phenomena is notoriously difficult? An answer to this question may be in view if we consider a less well-known prediction that Tocqueville recorded in his Recollections.

    The “Gloomy Prediction” of 1848

    Tocqueville served as a legislator in France’s Chamber of Deputies prior to the Revolution of 1848. From this post, he observed an ominous decline in public morality and a corresponding increase in the number of fellow legislators who cared only to enjoy the emoluments of public office.[3] From this, he concluded that “the time will come when the country will find itself once again divided between two great parties.”[4]

    He told his colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies that another revolution was brewing. What’s more, he said that they would be to blame if it happened. In an uncommonly courageous speech in the chamber on January 29, 1848, Tocqueville explained that the first, great French Revolution of 1789 happened fundamentally because France’s political leaders had become unworthy of holding power, and the leaders of 1848 were at risk of allowing another revolution to happen because they, too, were unworthy of their office.[5]

    On the one hand, the “public morality” of the French people had declined such that a severe bias against private property was now common. Later, when the revolution got underway, these embers of bias would be fanned into flames by socialist ideologues who took advantage of the growing envy of the masses.[6] On the other hand, French politicians ignored this growing antipathy to private property and instead selfishly enjoyed the posh benefits of public office.

    Tocqueville presented them with a clear warning: “My firm and profound conviction is this: that public morality is being degraded, and that the degradation of public morality will shortly, very shortly perhaps, bring down upon you new revolutions.… Will you allow it to take you by surprise?”[7]

    He called for the Chamber of Deputies to take action before a new revolution was upon them. But rather than taking preventative action, the legislators offered only platitudinous applause: “These gloomy predictions were received with ironical cheers from the majority.… The truth is that no one as yet believed seriously in the danger which I was prophesying, although we were so near the catastrophe.” The assembly did nothing. One legislator in the assembly remarked privately after Tocqueville’s speech that he was “a nasty little man” for trying to frighten the assembly with his disrespectful rhetoric.[8]

    Tocqueville as Political Prophet

    Tocqueville was, of course, correct in his prediction. 1848 was the year of revolution in Europe, and about a month after Tocqueville’s speech, revolution came to France. To Tocqueville’s reputation as a great writer was added a reputation for political prognostication.

    What allowed him to be, as he called himself, a “political prophet”?[9] The answer seems to lie in the most distinctive feature of Tocqueville’s political philosophy: his emphasis on the habits of the mind and heart of a culture. By observing the “morals and opinions” of the French people of 1848,[10] he was able to sense the drift of the country’s political life. As he said to his colleagues in his speech of January 1848, even though there were no tangible signs of revolution or riots, the spirit of revolution had “entered deeply into men’s minds.” The French people were “gradually forming opinions and ideas which are destined not only to upset this or that law, ministry, or even form of government but society itself.”[11]

    An Invitation to Consider Tocqueville’s Thought

    There is a habit of dismissing Tocqueville’s wisdom as a political philosopher and poo-pooing his predictions as being unimpressive or wrong. But one wonders if this habit stems in part from a distaste for the gloominess of some of Tocqueville’s ideas, not unlike the distaste for Tocqueville’s gloomy prediction in the Chamber of Deputies.

    The late 19th-century historian James Bryce, for example, asserted that Tocqueville’s “descriptions of democracy as displayed in America” were “no longer true” and in fact, in some respects, “they were never true.” Bryce regarded one of Tocqueville’s incorrect observations to be the threat of majority tyranny, which, he incorrectly said, “does not strike one as a serious evil in … America.”[12]  Theodore Roosevelt later cited Bryce approvingly on this topic, saying that Tocqueville’s warning about majority tyranny “may have been true then, although certainly not to the degree he insisted, but it is not true now.”[13]

    Tocqueville’s predictions should provoke us to consider his writing further. Yet the reader of his works needs to consider the possibility that Tocqueville may at times be right when we do not want him to be. Even Tocqueville himself seems to have a hard time believing his own prediction of the Revolution of 1848,[14] but eventually the evidence drove him to deliver his warning to the Chamber of Deputies.

    If the dangers to democracy that Tocqueville writes about are true, the natural response ought not to be to ignore them but instead to study them and to be wiser for it.

    [1] See, for example, Joseph Epstein, Tocqueville: Democracy’s Guide (Eminent Lives, 2006), 4–5.

    [2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 395–396.

    [3] Alexis de Tocqueville, The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville (The Harvill Press, 1948), 10-14; ibid., 33.

    [4] Ibid., 10.

    [5] For more historical context surrounding this prediction, see Epstein, Tocqueville, chap. 8, and Hugh Brogan, Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life (Yale University Press, 2006), chap. 17.

    [6] Tocqueville, Recollections, 67–69, 79–85.

    [7] Ibid., 14.

    [8] Epstein, Democracy’s Guide, 125.

    [9] Tocqueville, Recollections, 16.

    [10] Ibid., 10.

    [11] Ibid., 12.

    [12] James Bryce, The Predictions of Hamilton and Tocqueville (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1887).

    [13] Theodore Roosevelt, “Introduction,” in Majority Rule and the Judiciary: An Examination of Current Proposals for Constitutional Change Affecting the Reflections of Courts to Legislation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 21-22.

    [14] Tocqueville, Recollections, 16.

  2. Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Michael Munger

    Comments Off on Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Michael Munger

    Last week, Professor Michael Munger joined us on Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” conversation as part of the Learn Liberty Reddit AMA Series.

    Dr. Munger is an esteemed Professor of Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy at Duke University. He has authored/co-authored 7 books and over 200 scholarly articles. A long-time friend of the Learn Liberty project, he frequently contributes to our blog, and has starred in nine Learn Liberty videos.

    Check out some highlights from the AMA below.

     


    AlGoreRhythmSection

    How much do you hate Kentucky basketball?

    Michael_Munger

    More than I should say in a public setting. They are the “bad blue.” I’m really a Carolina fan (don’t tell anyone), but I’m happy to root for Duke when they play Kentucky.


    sox_n_sandals

    I had a political science professor tell me once that politics can be compared to a pendulum. With every movement there is a counter movement equal in momentum but in the opposite direction. Do you think that there is a possibility that a movement can be so momentous that it can actually break the pendulum mechanism?

    Michael_Munger

    Absolutely! The problem is that we have to preserve a basic consensus that decisions I disagree with are somehow still legitimate. For all the problems, in 2000 Al Gore eventually accepted the Supreme Court decision and said George Bush was really the President of all Americans. If we get to the point where either side is saying, “Reject the law!” then we’re lost.


    Factoring_Filthy

    With the ongoing shift towards polarized political parties and factions in America, I’m increasingly curious about any studies, journal articles, or historical anecdotes on how people can be compelled to change parties. In my experience, it doesn’t really happen. Do you have a take on how factionalism / tribalism plays a role in political leaning and how – if at all – a community can be compelled to change their affiliation? We surely can’t only hope for “getting out the vote”.

    Michael_Munger

    I think we have become more not less tribal. The Downsian conception of parties is as an information shortcut: people “choose” the party that on average is closer to most of their policy positions. But we seem now to have gone the other way: party allegiance is stronger, and prior. And THEN I infer my policy positions from my tribal allegiance. It really does suggest some problems for traditional rational choice theory. But that’s why Public Choice, and the work Bryan Caplan (for example) is so useful: we should expect that people are stupid about politics. But they aren’t stupid because they are stupid; they are stupid because they are smart!


    typowilliams 

    Hello Dr. Munger! I’ve currently been contemplating getting my Masters (and possibly Ph.D.) in Political Science. Anyway, what are your thoughts on gerrymandering and do you think it has contributed to the polarization of politics today? Do you think changing our first-past-the-post system could also solve that problem by allowing more major parties?

    Michael_Munger

    That’s a long answer! I did this 1A broadcast a while back, and it explored the issues of gerrymandering quite a bit. But we can’t focus on that too much: the Senate is not gerrymandered, and it is still a toxic cesspool. Not all of our problems are caused by gerrymandering…


    Tsalnor

    How do you feel about alternative voting systems? Specifically, how do you feel about proportional representation (multi-winner districts)? PR would make gerrymandering very difficult, increase minority representation, and encourage growth of third parties. I bring this up because there is a bill that was recently introduced in congress that would implement single transferable vote in the House. Would you welcome such electoral reform?

    Michael_Munger

    I used to be opposed to reforms of this kind, because we are bad at predicting their consequences. But now I wonder if we shouldn’t at least consider them.

    PR is pretty radical. STV or Instant run-off voting systems would be easier to put in place. Maine is experimenting with something similar.


    wil541 

    do you foresee the creation of a new political party in the US that will challenge the current ruling parties? (ala the death of the Whig Party)

    Michael_Munger

    The two state-sponsored parties have such tight control over ballot access, and access to the debates, that it’s hard to imagine a “third” party challenging in the normal way. But a third party certainly might threaten candidates enough to get them to pay attention to the long-building grievances of voters. That’s the best hope: to force change from competition. Research shows that in states with looser ballot access rules there is less corruption and more responsiveness to voter preferences.


    Dauntless_99

    Do you see any hope of bridging the political strife between left and right? Right seems to want to win at all cost, while left doesn’t seem to know how to win. Then you talk to people from the right’s base and it’s sheer lunacy. You talk to the left base, and it’s nothing but GOP are evil, democrats are saviors.

    There doesn’t seem to be a middle, and there doesn’t seem to be much chance of reuniting the country.

    Michael_Munger

    Strangely, in some ways libertarians are in the middle. The far left and right both have extreme visions of the use of state power. Libertarians tend to want to dial back both military power and corporate handouts. that’s looking more like centrism these days!


    davemabe

    Why do you think there are so few female libertarians? My wife asked me this question and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer to me. The best estimates for a ratio of men to women was about 60/40 although the (unfair) perception by a lot of people is that it is much worse.

    Questions: Why do you think this is and what if anything can be done to make women feel more welcome among libertarians?

    Michael_Munger

    We talk about this all the time. I think the problem is that when a woman shows up, she is the only one or one of just a few. And that’s uncomfortable.

    But it’s also the fact that many libertarians are such aggressive “mansplainers.” Everything is obvious, and if you disagree you are just wrong. We are not always very good at conversation. The result is that we lose a lot of people, male and female, who are interested but have serious principled questions.


    Bischof_des_koenigs

    Have you ever been so excited to be living in this political storm as an academic?

    Michael_Munger

    Unfortunately it is a GREAT time to be a political scientist! It’s like being a carrion fowl after an earthquake, lots of things to pick at. But I do have a kind of sick feeling. So many of my friends on the left come into my office these days and say, “Okay, NOW I see what you mean.” Throughout the last 16 years I have been complaining about the expansion of the powers of the President. “What if we ever get an actual tyrant, someone who cares nothing for the rules?” I said. “That could never happen!” they said. Now…..not so much.


    mike_gainor

    Can you even right now?

    Michael_Munger

    i can’t. Even.


    Scoutster13

    What do you think about the recent poll saying most Republicans believe college has a negative impact on our country?

    Michael_Munger

    I saw that but I haven’t read it closely. My interpretation would be that they are worried that the indoctrination many students receive, in a setting where only leftist political positions are represented, is harmful, not that college itself is harmful. But I admit that there is also an anti-elitist, bordering on anti-intellectualism, in some of that Republican sentiment, which is worrisome!

    DiviFiliusAugustus

    Do you think that so many college students are liberal because of a long, indirect indoctrination process, or could it be that liberals are just more likely to see the value in education and so more enroll in classes?

    Also, I love when you’re on econtalks. Great podcasts.

    Michael_Munger

    My worry is that many people of the left don’t realize that there are opposing positions, and often some of those are pretty good arguments. My test is this: I ask, “what are the best arguments against your own position?” If they just stare at me, as if there ARE no arguments against their position, I know they are not very smart. Real intellectuals can argue either side, and understand that usually there is no decisive argument for, or against, the central philosophical positions. That’s why they all exist: a reasonable person could disagree with you, and still be reasonable. THAT is what is missing in many students on the left. Interestingly, a fair number of faculty on the left agree with that claim. They worry that students have just arrived at a set of conclusions that make them feel good, or that please their (almost all leftist) professors rather than having reached their views through a process of reason and argument.


    averykrouse

    We’ve heard a lot about anti-intellectualism on the rise, but I grew up in the South and I know that it starts very young. Have you had any notable run-ins with students challenging fact or established knowledge (and hopefully getting a professorial smackdown)?

    Michael_Munger

    Well, it’s a hard problem, isn’t it? You want students to question everything, including their own beliefs. And they have to challenge my beliefs. That’s why I think that universities should protect “safe spaces,” of a certain kind, as I talk about here.


    SgtBrutalisk

    Hello Dr. Munger. What is your stance on thorough infiltration of US education structure by neo-marxists posing as liberals?

    Michael_Munger

    I tend to like “real” Marxists. They are interested in economics, and in some ways they are very open to the insights of Public Choice.

    The people who call themselves marxists who are actually Marcuseans, people who want to stamp out dissent through force and public humiliation, those people are a problem. They are anti-intellectual and anti-education.


    RosneftTrump2020

    Hasn’t the Buchanan school gone the way of the Austrians?

    Michael_Munger

    Not sure what that means. The Austrians are now a much larger and more interesting group than they have ever been. And the “Buchanan School” is called “Public Choice.” It dominates Political Science in many ways. If you study Political Science at Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, UCLA, or many other places you will be studying Public Choice.

    RosneftTrump2020

    The Austrians are now a much larger and more interesting group than they have ever been.

    What? There are no major economic departments that have a significant number of Austrians. Even George Mason shed them.

    And the “Buchanan School” is called “Public Choice.”

    I know, that’s why I brought it up. I don’t know about poli sci, but public choice is not the big idea school it was back in the 70s and 80s.

    Michael_Munger

    Well, there have NEVER been departments with lots of Austrians. There are now many people who consider themselves Austrians at college econ departments. Maybe we disagree about the baseline: in the 1970s it looked like Austrian economics would disappear. Now there are some.

    And you may be right that Public Choice is no longer controversial in Poli Sci. But that’s because it won. We are ALL Buchananites now! And you may mean that Public Choice is not having much influence in Econ, and that may be true in direct terms. But lots of the work by Acemoglu and Robinson and by models that build on Barro’s work and Ferejohn’s work on interest groups is mainstream.


    elJammo

    Professor Munger –

    Graduate of UNC with the PPE Minor. I loved the program and appreciate your hard work in making it a reality.

    I remember reading Nozick’s Anarchy State & Utopia in 2007, and finding the work compelling as an explanation for current social movements focusing on the minimal state (i.e. Tea party activists post 2008).

    To me, the hardest part of reconciling Nozick’s Utopia with modern liberalism rests on Nozick’s inability to provide an explanation for how modern US distributions of wealth come from a starting point of justice and have come about from Just exchanges. While first reading Nozick, it was personally hard to imagine the current distribution of wealth in the USA as emanating from a just starting point, when my dorm at UNC was literally built by slaves.

    Are there any works within Libertarian movements to reconcile Nozick’s project of the minimal state with rectifying past injustice to get to a baseline of fair exchanges?

    Best of luck in your project —

    Michael_Munger

    You are right, it really is a problem. I myself have come to think that we should follow Hayek’s (and Friedman’s, and Murray’s) suggestion and have something like a universal basic income. Here is some of my thought on that.


    CassiopeiaStillLife

    What do you think of the current political situation in North Carolina? Are you more sympathetic to Governor Cooper or the North Carolina legislature?

    Michael_Munger

    I have a lot of friends in the NCGA, on both sides. But some of the bills they are considering are hard to explain rationally. I guess I’m glad overall that there is divided government, with a Democrat Governor, if only because it is a check on the whims of the Republicans. And I have to admit a secret admiration for Roy Cooper because of his brave handling of the Duke Lacrosse case.


    vegetablestew

    How compatible is the slowness of the democratic process especially in the US with the agility of technological advances? What country is doing well in terms of matching the speed of scientific discovery and industry innovation and evidence based policy making?

    Michael_Munger

    I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. Government by its nature can never be nimble, because it has to follow laws that apply to everyone. But it could do a better job of getting out of the way. I did this video for Learn Liberty on pretty much this subject.


  3. Reddit AMA with Professor Michael Munger of Duke University

    Comments Off on Reddit AMA with Professor Michael Munger of Duke University

    This Tuesday, the Learn Liberty Reddit AMA Series continues with Michael C. Munger, Professor of Political Science at Duke University.


    UPDATE: The AMA is now live!


    Prior to his tenure at Duke, where he chaired the Department of Political Science for 10 years before coming to serve as Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Munger has also taught at Dartmouth College, University of Texas—Austin, and University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, and served as a staff economist at the US Federal Trade Commission.

    He is a long-time friend of the Learn Liberty project, a regular contributor to our blog, and star of a whopping nine Learn Liberty videos! Mark your calendar and join us for the conversation at Reddit.com this Tuesday, July 11th at 3:00pm ET where you’ll have the chance to ask him anything!

    How to Sabotage Progress

    We Have A Serious Unicorn Problem

    Is Grad School Best For Me?

    Why Do We Exchange Things?

    Giving Away Money Costs More Than You Think

    Why Is the NRA So Powerful?

    What Do Prices “Know” That You Don’t?

    Externalities: When Is a Potato Chip Not Just a Potato Chip?

    Should Majorities Decide Everything?

     


  4. Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Bryan Caplan

    Comments Off on Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Bryan Caplan

    Last week, Professor Bryan Caplan joined us on Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” conversation as part of the Learn Liberty Reddit AMA Series.

    Dr. Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and a prolific author and blogger who has appeared on ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, and C-SPAN, and been featured in New York Times,  Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. He starred in Learn Liberty’s Econ Chronicles series of educational videos, and he recently appeared on The Rubin Report in association with Learn Liberty.

    Check out some highlights from the AMA below.

     


    MaggieWasAGoddess

    If you could make any of your blog posts required reading for high school students, which would it be?

    bryan_caplan 

    The Magic of Education: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/11/the_magic_of_ed.html

    Demagoguery Explained: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2014/05/demagoguery_exp.html

    Labor Econ vs. the World: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2015/12/labor_econ_vers.html


    shoesafe

    Using whatever metric you like, which of your many heterodox views would you say garners the strongest negative reaction? Do you find that the manner in which you present your viewpoint–whether you are conciliatory or blunt–is a big factor in provoking a negative reception?

    bryan_caplan 

    Open borders by a landslide. Unfortunately, when a view is that radical, almost any defense seems blunt. In my experience, keeping a sense of humor helps diffuse negativity. But as usual, that works best if people already know you personally and feel OK about you.


    Z3F 

    What do you think of the objection to open-borders that says that foreigners could bring their anti-libertarian cultures (such as those from Islamic countries) and eventually outnumber the local population or attain enough of the population to successfully overturn the libertarian status-quo?

    bryan_caplan 

    Theoretically, this is a clear argument. But empirically, I see very little evidence that this actually happens. The only cases that really concern me are when a single immigrant group with strong identity politics and bad average views quickly become a 30% or more of the population.

    I know, of course, that there’s lots of media coverage of anti-libertarian Islamists, but I see this as almost entirely fear-mongering. The terrorism that gets so much attention is, though emotionally horrifying, not a quantitatively big problem.


    huadpe

    With respect to open borders, do you think unilateral open borders are presently a viable policy for a smaller base population country such as Canada? Or would it be necessary for them to limit inflows to some level or coordinate with larger countries to prevent being overwhelmed logistically?

    bryan_caplan 

    As long as immigrants know they can’t sleep in the streets, I think real estate prices and inertia provide all the buffer a smaller country needs. Beverly Hills has open borders with Detroit, but no one’s overwhelming Beverly Hills.

    Diaspora dynamics – immigration’s tendency to gradually snowball because immigrants like to cluster around their own group – also greatly mitigates this problem.


    ktxy

    First, I just want to say that I’m a big admirer of your work. You’ve been a big influence on my own intellectual journey, thank you.

    Here’s my question: given your belief in open borders, what’s the most sound argument you’ve heard in favor of closed borders?

    bryan_caplan 

     The best argument against open borders is also the best argument against ANY radical change: The status quo is tolerable, we can’t really know with great confidence how radical changes will ultimately play out, so why risk it? You can reinforce this argument by pointing out that gradual reforms capture most of the benefits of open borders policies without the systemic risk.


    hewescrab

    I am a former student (GMU Public Finance).

    I don’t have a question but I wanted to comment that I love the concept of the Ideological Turing Test and have mentioned it often to friends of varying political persuasions. I consistently find people fail at it so spectacularly, many times because they assign devious motives to their political opponents. For example, many on the left decry libertarians as selfish and uncaring.

    bryan_caplan 

    Yes, I’m proud of that one, especially since it’s found favor far outside my personal fans.


    Waltonruler5

    What do you think are the best ways to market getting rid of Medicare and Social Security? People tend to get the idea that it’s they’re essentially ponzi schemes, but they can’t imagine not having them. Thoughts?

    bryan_caplan 

    The best way (or least-bad way) is to focus on the foolishness of taxing everyone to help everyone. Means-tested programs at least serve some useful function – helping people who need help. Universal programs don’t. I’d also try to publicize research on how unimportant health care is for life compared to lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, I doubt these arguments will persuade many people; I just don’t have anything better.


    hatethemedia

    What is your opinion on the state of the media in the United States, specifically the mainstream media?

    I believe that if the media were impartial in their reporting, Trump might not have fared so well with the election outcome. What do you think?

    bryan_caplan 

    From the evidence I’ve seen, propaganda works – though not nearly as well as the propagandists would hope. So I’m skeptical of the idea that anti-Trump media helped Trump. It seems a lot simpler to say that in a more diverse media environment, pro-Trump media partly counter-balanced anti-Trump media, rather than to claim that anti-Trump media is negatively persuasive.


    jamers89000

    Bryan,

    What are your thoughts on climate change?

    bryan_caplan 

    1. I greet all predictions of disaster with skepticism, for reasons outlined here: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2006/08/what_me_worry.html.

    2. I’m not qualified to directly assess the evidence on climate change, so it all comes down to the trustworthiness of climatologists for me.

    3. Climatologists seem moderately ideologically biased in a left- and green direction to me. But they’re still worth listening to within their areas of expertise.

    4. Most climatologists are NOT experts in cost-benefit analysis or environmental economics, so when they move from physical to social prediction, I don’t take them very seriously.

    5. Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels seems quite good to me, though to repeat, I can’t honestly claim to be able to independently assess the science.

    6. Taking mainstream climatologists predictions as gospel, I think the best approach is to wait and see, avoid doing anything that chokes off growth in the Third World (which has dire risks of its own), and use geoengineering if anything really bad starts to happen.


    FuzzyHugMonster (the true scotsman)

    What are your thoughts on vegetarianism?

    bryan_caplan 

    I find vegetarian arguments unconvincing. Human well-being just seems vastly more valuable than non-human animal well-being to me. I had a series of blog posts on insect welfare on this issue. Even strict vegans inevitably kill vast numbers of insects, and they don’t seem to think they’re doing anything wrong.

    You could say that’s because insects don’t feel pain, but (a) that seems unlikely to me, and (b) if people did learn that insects feel pain, even ethically scrupulous people wouldn’t change their behavior much.


    panick21

    I love your work and I’m really waiting to passively aggressively give people ‘The Case against Education’.

    Can you give us an overview what fields of science you used in your argument and your impression on how good the literature on it is.

    bryan_caplan 

    I use economics, psychology (especially educational psych), sociology, and education research. As a rule, I try to read by topic, not discipline – to find out what anyone on Earth has figured out about whatever I’m writing about. How good is this research? Quality – and quantity – varies widely. But I won’t say that economists in general do a better job; we’re more methodologically clever, but often less interested in big blatant facts.

    I try to sift the piles of evidence for readers, but of course that hinges on my own credibility…

    panick21

    Are you gone write a ‘The Case against Education’ style book on Open Borders? Also, could you give some pointers on the most relevant economics literature for the Open Borders question?

    bryan_caplan

    Right now I’m doing a non-fiction graphic novel on this topic, co-authored with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s Zach Weinersmith. Title: All Roads Lead to Open Borders. Despite the entertaining format, I’m still researching it heavily. After I finish, my plan is to write a traditional tome on Poverty: Who To Blame. Immigration restrictions will be one of the three main blameworthy causes of poverty I’ll cover in the book.


  5. The Big Tent of Liberalism

    Leave a Comment

    From the beginning, classical liberalism has been a big tent with a wide diversity of ideas inside it. Watch the full interview with Dave Rubin and Brandon Turner here .

  6. The Brits are getting their freedom back. Well, some of it anyway.

    Comments Off on The Brits are getting their freedom back. Well, some of it anyway.

    When British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election for June 8, her goal was to win a huge mandate and gain a stronger hand in the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

    So much for that! May’s Conservative Party lost its majority in the House of Commons and has been forced into an awkward and informal governing coalition with Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.

    The result is likely to force May’s government to work toward a “soft” Brexit. Before the election, she seemed to be adopting a “hard” posture, preferring no deal to a bad deal and looking to make a clean break with the European Union. Now she will be steered toward an agreement that might entail continued access to the single market in return for permitting free movement of European nationals to the United Kingdom and continued contributions to the European Union’s budget.

    Putting the brakes on Brexit

    The shift is a function of an interpretation of voters’ motives, not just the election’s outcome. Younger Britons turned out on June 8 in considerably higher numbers than in recent elections, possibly to support the Labour Party’s embrace of free college tuition, but also as EU “Remainers” who, after sitting out the 2016 Brexit referendum, now want to put the brakes on any effort to repudiate the continent entirely. Half of all the seats the Conservatives lost were in London, where 60 percent of voters chose “remain” last year.

    The upstart party that pressured then-prime minister David Cameron into holding the referendum in the first place, the UK Independence Party, lost its only member of Parliament and saw its vote share decline to 1.8 percent from 11.6 percent in the last general election. Its leader, Paul Nuttall, received just 8 percent of the vote in his constituency.

    But there will be Brexit. May remains as prime minister and has always pledged to honor the results of the referendum. Besides, the formal process to withdraw from the EU has commenced, with the invocation of Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty. The key for Britons who want to leave is to therefore focus on the benefits any form of departure will bring.

    British sovereignty

    Principal among these is that the United Kingdom will once again be a fully sovereign nation-state. It will control its own affairs and enter freely into agreements with other nations. Countries like the United States are restricted by their treaty obligations all the time.

    As a member of NAFTA, the United States agrees to import many types of goods from Canada and Mexico without placing tariffs on them. As a member of NATO, it agrees to protect other member nations from outside attack. But the United States entered into these agreements alone and is free to withdraw when it wishes. As a current EU member, Britain can only enter into or exit from agreements with nonmembers if the rest of the bloc agrees.

    Worse, Britons are living under laws made by the EU government in Brussels — a complex combination of the Parliament of 751 members, the council that represents the 28 member states’ governments, and the commission of independent citizens of the 28 countries. Britons have representation there, but they can only tangentially influence, and not determine, the rules they must live by.

    The United Kingdom has 72 members of the European Parliament, one commissioner, and represents only 1/28 of the council. Cultural differences, barriers to cross-national agreements between parties, and the inevitable unwillingness of participants to be lobbied by citizens of other countries mean Britons view EU lawmaking as a spectator sport. They feel powerless as Brussels passes legislation that ranges from the ridiculous — there have been rules on the amount of acceptable “bend” in a banana and the power of vacuum cleaners — to the crucial: the European Union has a $180 billion annual budget to which the United Kingdom’s net contribution is about $14 billion.

    The nation-state: protecting liberty since 1648

    The nation-state is a central organizing unit of the western liberal tradition. A nation is a group of people tied together by culture, tradition, and geography; a state is a political community residing under a recognized governing authority. The two were fused mainly by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that ended decades of war between Catholics and Protestants in Europe. The sovereign nation-state then developed as an integral concept in Enlightenment political thought in the 17th and 18th centuries and emerged, as a result, as the most legitimate depository of political authority. It was a construct particularly adept at protecting liberty.

    Subunits of states are more capable of suppressing freedom because smaller jurisdictions are likely to have one or only a few groups that constitute a minority — blacks in the American South before the Civil War are a prime example. As James Madison noted in Federalist 10, nation-states are large enough that all discernible groups are, in isolation, a minority incapable of ruling without the help of others.

    Controlling the supranational

    In supranational organizations like the European Union, on the other hand, policymakers are so distant from their publics that they cannot be controlled effectively. There is no sense of nation to provide social cohesion. Moreover, it is adversarial sovereign states, acting either together or alone, that are most capable of defeating illiberal governments that can emerge at the national level. It wasn’t the League of Nations that defeated Hitler; it was an alliance led by the heads of sovereign democratic governments, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill.

    So Brexit was a victory for the nation-state and, in many ways, for freedom. It is a victory that will not be diminished by May’s embarrassment and a “soft” denouement. In fact, if Remainers can take solace in the election results last week, so can supporters of the 310-year-old United Kingdom, a sovereign nation-state that has played a central role in the emergence of the modern free world.

  7. Reddit AMA with Economist and Iconoclast, Professor Bryan Caplan

    Comments Off on Reddit AMA with Economist and Iconoclast, Professor Bryan Caplan

    Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University. He is a prolific blogger and author of three books: The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (2007), Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think (2011), and the forthcoming The Case Against Education.

    Professor Caplan has appeared in the New York Times,  Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, and has appeared on ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, and C-SPAN. He recently appeared on The Rubin Report in association with Learn Liberty, and starred in the Learn Liberty video series: Econ Chronicles.

    Mark your calendar and join us for a rousing conversation at Reddit.com/r/Libertarian this Tuesday, June 20th at 3:00pm ET where you’ll have the chance to chat with Professor Caplan and ask him anything!


    Update: The AMA is now live!


  8. Dave Rubin and Deirdre McCloskey: Free Trade, Trans in Academia, and the (Classical) Liberal Heritage — Full Interview

    Comments Off on Dave Rubin and Deirdre McCloskey: Free Trade, Trans in Academia, and the (Classical) Liberal Heritage — Full Interview

     

    Dave Rubin: We’re continuing our partnership with Learn Liberty this week, and joining me is an author of seventeen books, a former professor of economics, history, English, and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a historian and economist in her own right, Deirdre McCloskey. Welcome to The Rubin Report.

    Deirdre McCloskey: Well, thank you. I’m very glad to be here.

    Rubin: That is quite a bio for you. It took me a while because there was a lot that I had to leave out but there’s only so many words I can say in a sentence.

    McCloskey: Well, I’m very old, so I’ve had a very complicated life. I’m also an adjunct professor of classics and philosophy, or was, and I’ve taught philosophy for money in Holland. I feel that you can’t be a real economist, which is what my original training was, without at least reading books in the other fields, to kind of put the rationality of humans in some kind of context, so you include the other things they do.

    Rubin: Yeah. All right, so before we get going here, I thought the best way to start would be to read a quote from you. I’ve never done this before in the year plus that I’ve been doing this show, but I thought this was so perfect, and it sort of captures everything about you, and I think you know what I’m going to read already. I want to get this right. “I’m a literary quantitative post-modern free market progressive Episcopalian Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man, not conservative. I’m a Christian libertarian.”

    McCloskey: That’s me there. That’s me. All the way.

    Rubin: I mean you’ve given me everything here. I don’t even know where to go from here. Okay. Where should we go from here? All right, well, let’s start because I don’t think we have to spend a tremendous amount of time on it unless you want to, but let’s just start with the trans stuff.

    McCloskey: Well, sure. I was born Donald, which by the way in Irish means world ruler, so you can apply this to our president, our new president.

    Rubin: Oh, lordy, lordy. We’ll get to him in a little bit.

    McCloskey: We’ll get to him in a while. Then I, from age eleven on, I wanted to be a woman, but I was born in 1942, so I’m very aged. In 1953 there was nothing to be done about it, so I said, okay, I got to be a guy. So you’re looking at the captain of her high school football team, admittedly a very small school. I was an athlete in college and was married for thirty years to the love of my life and have a couple of grown children and three grandchildren. I had a full male life up to age 53 and then I…. My joke is: did I want to be an old man or an old woman? I thought, oh well, let’s be an old woman. It’s not as trivial. This isn’t about cost and benefit. It’s not a career move to become a female professor. That doesn’t improve you….

    Rubin: Yeah, the idea that you even framed that within an economic model is sort of amazing.

    McCloskey: I did. At one point I did about two months or so before I realized that I could do it and should do it, which was August of 1995, I actually did a cost-benefit study of changing gender. I mean, this is insane. This was not how you make decisions.

    Rubin: So what did you do? Did you sat down with two columns and….

    McCloskey: I sat down with two columns. It was completely ridiculous and then in the middle of August in ’95, I, as the English say, they’ve got a nice expression, I twigged to it. I got it. That I could do it and should do it. I was not a sad sack before. I was not going to commit suicide or something, but I’m happier. Unfortunately my marriage family turned against me. My former wife of thirty years and my children haven’t spoken to me since those days.

    Rubin: Wow. Did your wife know when you first got married or throughout the marriage that….

    McCloskey: Yeah, throughout the marriage she knew what I knew, which was that I was a heterosexual cross dresser. Eh, every once in a while, not very often, I would dress in women’s clothes, not in her presence, and it wasn’t a big deal. If like a foot fetish or something, guys as women learn to have a lot of little weirdnesses that they go in for and it doesn’t really amount to anything often. That’s how I viewed it for decades.

    I was terribly ashamed when I was younger, and then finally, in my forties or something, I said, oh well, okay, so what? So we went along perfectly well and then that last year, 1995, I finally twigged as I said.

    Rubin: When you did it, at that age…. I mean people think of it now…. I mean trans has become sort of hot now.

    McCloskey: Not in 1995.

    Rubin: It’s the.… It…. Right, it wasn’t at that time. There was really sort of nobody to.… I’m sure you could find somebody academically to look at.

    McCloskey: Not too many.

    Rubin: If you did some research you could find somebody.

    McCloskey: Very few.

    Rubin: But very few in terms of culturally and on television and all that kind of stuff. When you decided to do it, what was the reaction after? You had a career, you were a professional, etc., etc.

    McCloskey: It was kind of funny because the economists tended to.… You know, all economists, even if they’re not free market economists, tend to think that choice is desirable, and there’s not controversy about it, so they would say, oh well. It’s okay if he, I mean she, wants to do it. I mean, whereas my historic.…

    Rubin: So that would be the libertarian view of it.

    McCloskey: That’s the kind of libertarian view, but most economists, even if they weren’t libertarians seem to have this attitude. My historian colleagues and my colleagues in anthropology and so on, they were less, it’s less easy for them because they think in terms of identities. They think, and we … Once you have an identity you’re supposed to keep it. If you’re Chicana, you’re Chicana, period. I think that was their problem, but it wasn’t.… You know I didn’t, very few people turned away from me, and the women especially of all descriptions were wonderful.

    In my book called Crossing, a memoir published in 1999, I have an opening section where I thanked all the women who helped me a bit, you know, in sending a nice letter or inviting me to lunch and so on. It was 240 names in the three years of my transition.

    Rubin: Wow. What’s the part of being trans that people don’t think about it? Is there a piece that.…

    McCloskey: Well, what they don’t get is it’s not true the kind of journalistic phrase of a woman trapped in a man’s body or vice versa. It turns out there are about equal numbers on the other side, going the other way. They think it’s this terrible conflict, whereas, you know, people adjust. People adjusted to extermination camps. They can adjust to almost anything. I don’t mean to compare being a guy to being in an extermination camp, but they can adjust.

    Then the other thing that they need to know is that it’s a minority interest. It’s more common than we once thought, but it’s not going to change the gender ratios. It costs about as much as a new car, kind of a moderate new car, not a Mercedes. When I see new cars on the street, I say, oh, why didn’t those people change gender instead. Oh yeah, they don’t want to. Most people are satisfied with their gender, even if they regard how men are treated or how women are treated as makes them uneasy and they worry about gender stereotypes, nonetheless, they don’t want to change.

    Rubin: Yeah, did you have any regret after? I know.…

    McCloskey: No. There’s something that’s really important for straight people to understand. No one has regret. A, the number of people who have a regret one way or the other, male to female, female to male, is minuscule, and B, if they have regret they can change back. You say, okay, well, gee, you can’t grow a penis. Well, so what? Many perfectly well-functioning men don’t have penises from terrible accidents or war injuries. Big deal. It’s how you present yourself. It’s how you live in the world. That’s what determines how society takes you on. You know what I mean.

    Rubin: I’m curious. You mentioned the economists that you worked with and the historians and the sociologists. What about the psychologists at the university?

    McCloskey: Oh, the psychologists are fine.

    Rubin: Even back then? None of them were.…

    McCloskey: Not a problem. But the psychiatrists are really dangerous.

    Rubin: Yeah. Can you explain the difference, for someone that doesn’t know the difference between a psychologist and a.…

    McCloskey: Well, a psychiatrist is one with an MD. Is a doctor. They’re usually he but some shes. Anyway, he’s a doctor that specializes in diseases of, mental diseases. Thank God there are lots of things we can do about depression and a little bit about schizophrenia, and drugs and so on have been developed, and I’m all for it, but the trouble is the psychiatrists now, the MDs know nothing about transgendered things, yet they figure they’re an expert. You know the old joke is, what’s the difference between God and an MD? God doesn’t think he’s an MD.

    I was seized by my sister twice. She tried it three times for mental observation and confined in a madhouse twice. It cost me $8,000 in attorneys’ fees to get out of these places.

    Rubin: This was when you were transitioning?

    McCloskey: This is in ’95, the end of ’95. The psychiatrists were just really creepy. It was the worst horror movie you can think of. Here’s my advice to anyone who gets seized for.… I mean, the cops come, seized for observation. Don’t make any jokes. They have no sense of humor. You make a joke, they write it down.

    Rubin: They write it down. That wasn’t funny.

    McCloskey: It’s really scary.

    Rubin: That’s really.… You know, I never really thought of this before, but so for a psychiatrist in a weird way, they would be the least qualified to deal with a trans person because their method is based in drugs, right?

    McCloskey: It’s based in drugs, and it’s based in extreme pathologies. Thank god.… I mean, I’m not against psychiatry as a profession. I think it’s fine, although by the way it’s the source of homophobia, 100 years of homophobia in Northern Europe was I think closely connected with the rise of psychiatry as a profession. But in any case, not against them in general, but they deal with people who are really ill, and so they want to put you in some illness category. Instead of saying, “Oh well, that’s kind of weird. Hey, how about them Hawks?” That’s actually how the students at the University of Iowa, where I was teaching at the time, that’s how they reacted. They had seen rock musicians with eye makeup and Boy George and so on. They didn’t care. It didn’t bother them.

    Rubin: You know, it’s funny. I only went to a psychiatrist once because I wanted to get Xanax because I used to have anxiety related, just to fly, when I was on a plane, and that was it. That was the only reason I wanted it. The psychiatrist would not let me leave without telling me that I had time-shift disorder, which sounds like an absurdly made-up thing, and gave me a prescription for something else, which I proceeded to throw out when I walked out of the building, but that sort of idea, we can prescribe everything.

    McCloskey: Here’s the symbol of it. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM, it’s been through five editions since, I think, the 1960s. It’s going to name and tell you how to diagnose all the mental disorders. It starts in the 1960s being about that thick, about half an inch thing. By now it’s about three inches thick, which implies that we’ve all become crazier since the 1960s.

    Rubin: Well, what does that.… Does that say that our modern lives have made us crazier, or that the pathology of finding things wrong with people.…

    McCloskey: It’s the authoritarian mentality. It’s the “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” mentality. It’s the nudge mentality. It’s the socialist mentality. It’s the conservative mentality. It’s everything except true liberalism, which is if people are not doing something to hurt you, leave them alone. There’s a deep libertarian argument here. The famous psychiatrist Thomas Szasz used my case in his last book as an instance of the overreaching of the profession of psychiatry.

    Look, you get put in the mental hospital, you may not ever get out. Because they’re in charge. If you’re put in jail for, I don’t know, armed robbery, you pretty much know your chances of getting out and so on because it’s on TV all the time, at least in the movies. You have some conception, you know, from your friends, but you don’t know with psychiatry. It’s very scary. I was very frightened by these episodes.

    My sister was a psychologist, academic psychologist. At the time she was at the Harvard School of Public Health. You can be sure that when she wrote to the judges she used the Harvard stationary.

    Rubin: Yeah, which I assume helped at some level.

    McCloskey: Oh boy, did it. She could say.… She told lies. Now she and I are very close, but it took a few years for me to get over it.

    Rubin: All right, so one more thing on trans, and then I want to move to actual issues. Not to diminish the trans issue, but we’ve established it.

    McCloskey: Unfortunately it’s going to be at least the second sentence of my obituary. I’m trying to drive it down into, I don’t know, the fourth sentence.

    Rubin: Well, look, you gave me a lot of good other buzzwords here, so we’re going to get to those in just a second. My last thought on it would be 2016, this was the year that trans really became mainstream, you know.

    McCloskey: Oh yeah, it’s amazing.

    Rubin: From Caitlin Jenner to.…

    McCloskey: Caitlin Jenner.

    Rubin: Orange Is the New Black and just this feeling of there are trans actors, now there’s a visibility.

    McCloskey: Transparent.

    Rubin: Transparent. Of course I’m forgetting.

    McCloskey: Where the only sane person on the set is the transitioner.

    Rubin: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. Really flipping everything on its head. That must feel incredibly validating for you.

    McCloskey: Well, it isn’t so much validating. I had a lot of years to work on validation, but it’s another freedom. Look, all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. A slave owner wrote that, yet it’s been the kind of marker, laying down a marker for American politics, and we keep pushing it. First we got rid of slavery eventually. Then we had votes for women. Then we had, finally, civil rights in the South. Then we had rights, then we had feminism. Then we had gay rights. Then we had handicapped rights. All the ones that happened during my lifetime I have the correct opinions about.

    I was in favor of the civil rights movement. I was against Vietnam. I was in favor of gay rights. I was in favor of women’s rights, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t burn my draft card. I was still Donald. I didn’t do.… I just said, oh gee, that’s good. Then God, in 1995, tapped me on the shoulder and she said, she’s my Anglican god, she said, okay, deary, now you can testify. If you don’t do this, if you don’t.… I mean allow yourself to be a public exponent for trans people then you’re just a jerk, and so I did.

    I’ve been giving talks. I’m not a professional gender crosser. I’m a scholar. I’m a teacher. I’m a writer. Yeah, but I think I should, a tenured professor should be the one that stands up because she can’t be fired.

    Rubin: Yeah, that’s a little bit.… It reminds me sort of when Jason Collins, the NBA basketball player, came out, he was really sort of at the end of his career, wasn’t.… It allowed him to do it in a way where they knew the Nets could sign him, and then at the same time, he wasn’t going to play much. It would sort of go under the radar, but something good would have come out of it. But you put.… Even though you took risks obviously. You’ve put your butt on the line.

    McCloskey: Well, I thought I was going to lose my job but actually it turns out that the University of Iowa, where I was teaching at the time, was very progressive in these matters, way more progressive than my alma matter, which is Harvard, in the nineties. Harvard, you know, the Eastern privates took a long time to get on this particular train.

    It didn’t happen, but it shows in such a career-driven person as me, such a person that wants to publish books and so on, it shows how much I wanted it when I realized I could do it, that I was willing to lose my job.

    Rubin: Now let’s shift to some of those other issues because you said something in the midst of all that that I think is a sort of beautiful thing about what real liberalism is. One of the things that I’ve really been making the focus of this show is to show people what real, true, classical liberalism is because I think it’s been conflated with a lot of leftist ideas in America, but really all over the West and to also show that it doesn’t mean that you’re purely a libertarian because I think there’s some problems with that. What would be your.… Do you consider yourself a classical liberal?

    McCloskey: Sure.

    Rubin: That would be your.… If I had to put another label on you?

    McCloskey: Yes. Yes. I’m certainly a classical liberal. The only trouble with the phrase is that as soon as you say classical, people say, oh well, that’s old-fashioned. In a modern complicated economy we can’t have, we got to regulate, which is of course exactly the opposite of the truth. In a modern complicated economy it’s too hard to regulate. In a household, households are socialists enterprises, entirely appropriately. Mom is the central planner and everything works out just fine. People share. Okay, that’s cool.

    That’s for a very simple little economy. For what Friedrich Hayek called the Great Society before Lyndon Johnson took the phrase, namely, a large society, you can’t do the sharing stuff. That’s not how it works. You got to trade and you can’t regulate it. It’s insane to try to regulate it as though people in Washington knew better what to do than the people on the scene. I call it real liberalism. I’m working on a book that maybe I can, of essays that I’ve done on this, called How to Be …, hear this, a Sisterly Real Liberal. I’m hoping to catch my left-wing friends because the word liberal in Britain and the United States got way off track in the late nineteenth century. Came to mean anything.… Came to mean slow socialism.

    Rubin: Right. It came to mean progressive basically.

    McCloskey: Progressive, yeah.

    Rubin: But, as I’ve said many times, progressiveness is starting to veer into regressivism because these ideas are not for liberty and freedom.

    McCloskey: It’s not starting to. Right from the beginning, because it was.…

    Rubin: So I was just late to the party.

    McCloskey: In the late nineteenth century it was terribly paternalistic and in the form of American progressivism, Wilson and Roosevelt, first Roosevelt and all that, it was highly paternalistic. Nasty even, racist. One of the things that my friends on the left think is just grand is the minimum wage, and 100 years ago the minimum wage came into being in the United States, state by state, and its declared purpose was to keep immigrants, women, blacks, Chicanos out of the labor force. To drive them out entirely. Newspaper editorials, economics profession, they all said, oh boy, this is good for the Anglo-Saxon race.

    Rubin: Right, basically because those people would be the ones qualified, because those were good jobs to have.

    McCloskey: Those were good jobs and you just take all those people out and then the only people that are left are Northern Europeans. It was a terrible, terrible thing.

    Rubin: What did they think was going to happen to the other people?

    McCloskey: They were going to.… They literally said they’re going to die out. Now how women are going to die out, I don’t quite understand, but these were people in favor of immigration, closing immigration, in favor of segregation. Woodrow Wilson famously would not have a great black scientist to the White House, and so it went.

    Modern liberalism was conceived right from the beginning in this authoritarian way, and it’s still, even though they.… My friends, the liberals, liberals in the American sense, have this assumption that people who are not progressive are just bad people. Why would you listen to Hitler? So they don’t listen to arguments that you or I make, so they don’t get that what they’re actually about is authoritarian control over other people’s lives.

    Rubin: Yeah. You know, I’ve mentioned this many times over the last couple years, but as I’ve sort of had my awakening to this, and I mentioned to you before, I kind of, I basically was a progressive for a while.

    McCloskey: I was too. I was a Marxist at one point.

    Rubin: We’ll get to that too. That as I’ve had my awakening, I’ve seen that the most intolerance comes from these people when I try to debate them on ideas. Friends, I’m talking about. The amount of friends that I’ve lost in the last couple years.

    McCloskey: I was just reading this morning a column in the Times, the London Times, by my friend Matt Ridley, who’s a science journalist in Britain. He was saying that environmental regulations aren’t working very well. The comments were just terrible. They were oh, you’re a bad man.

    Rubin: You must be being paid by the fossil-fuel people.

    McCloskey: You must be being paid by the fossil-fuel people, etc., etc. it’s as though they’re just not listening. Matt was making very simple quantitatively based arguments. I don’t need to go into them. Their reaction was not to listen.

    Rubin: Right, they sort of hate, progressives sort of hate religion, and yet they love the purity test of religion, they love that.

    McCloskey: Exactly.

    Rubin: I want to back up to something you said about minimum wage, because just in the last week I was seeing, there were these marches for $15 minimum wage here in the States.

    McCloskey: Oh God, what a mistake.

    Rubin: So we can unpack that a little bit, but at the same time that I was seeing this, I was also seeing in the news that Amazon is now opening stores that are going to have no employees. You’re just going to walk in, and your phone will recognize something over wifi, and you’ll be able to take what you want. I thought what a disconnect in an idea and the actual world. Amazon is saying we don’t need humans to do any of this anymore and blah, blah, blah, and meanwhile you have these people out there. I think most of their intentions are good.

    McCloskey: Of course their intentions are pure, and it’s sort of like Immanuel Kant. They think that all that matters is intentions, and I wish they’d get over that. Look, they’ll say, my friends on the left, and I do have a lot of friends on the left, they’ll say we ought to put a tax on soft drinks because, boy, it’s making poor people obese. This is part of the paternalism. Then I say, well, isn’t labor the same way? If you make the price of labor higher, won’t people consume less labor? No, no, no, no, no, that’s not true. But dear, you just said that it works for soft drinks. Why not for labor? Oh, labor and soft drinks are different.

    Rubin: Yeah.

    McCloskey: Okay. Gee whiz. People are going to hire people at $15 when they’re only worth $10. Hey, what kind of insanity do you think prevails in the business world?

    Rubin: Right. Then the same people who are out there protesting for the $15 minimum wage are the same people who are buying a lot of stuff on Amazon privately at home.

    McCloskey: Of course they are.

    Rubin: It’s … We all sort of live in this strange place between our actions and our.…

    McCloskey: I know, it’s like being against Chinese trade yet and buying a $5 hammer made in China. Or like Donald Trump being against Chinese trade and those ties that he wears four inches too low are all made in China.

    Rubin: Right. So in Trump’s case, when I saw people tweeting about that, I actually argued he was making logical sense because he was saying, look, our deals are bad, so me as a businessman makes them in China or in Mexico, but I want the deals to be better. Do you think that’s a fair.…

    McCloskey: I think that’s a fair characterization of his thinking.

    Rubin: Yeah, I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m saying that …

    McCloskey: To the small extent that he thinks at all, but it’s not, I think you agree it’s not sensible as economics. You can’t get a better deal than more or less free trade and that’s where we’ve moved. After the war, every country was protectionist. There were no free trade countries. Even the old free trade country, Britain, had long since, thirty years before become protectionist country.

    Since then we’ve been moving steadily towards free trade, and it’s been very good for the poor of the world. This idea that the poor are made worse off by free trade is just lunacy.

    Rubin: Interesting.

    McCloskey: Because, you know, it’s the wage per.… What you can get with the wage is the key point. What you can get with the wage has steadily increased, even though you’ve heard people say, oh, things are getting worse. No, they’re not. The sky is not falling.

    Rubin: So what do you make of Trump when it comes to economics, because on one hand I think there’s a sense.… You know a lot of people like the fact that it was “buy America, we’re going to fix these trade deals, we’re going to do that,” but that’s also, that’s not really a conservative position.

    McCloskey: No, it’s not.

    Rubin: Because it is going to take more government interference.…

    McCloskey: Of course it is.

    Rubin: To do those things so he’s sort of.… What does this say really about the conservative movement actually?

    McCloskey: Well, he’s not a conservative, and that’s why people like Ryan didn’t like him. Romney and so forth, who embarrassingly bowed to the new emperor.

    Rubin: You saw that picture at dinner?

    McCloskey: Oy vey. But okay. I want what’s best for the American people. I don’t care if it’s thought to be progressive or conservative or liberal, real liberal, classical liberal. His policies are just not going to help the ordinary person. In fact, what I kind of hope … Actually I don’t hope it exactly, but I think what is going to happen is it will be so plain that his policies don’t help those 80,000 people who got him in the White House that maybe they’ll wake up. I hope they do and see that.…

    Look, manufacturing jobs in the United States peaked in 1977. They’ve been going down ever since. Why? Is it because of China, Mexico, and so on? Not much. That’s maybe 10 percent of the lost jobs. Jobs are being lost either to other Americans, moving to California or Texas, especially to Texas, or to automation. Just as you said, the store, the bricks-and-mortar store for Amazon, has no people in it. Well, that’s what’s happening, and now, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

    The purpose of the economy is not to make jobs. Jobs are infinite. We can make construction workers use teaspoons instead of shovels and that will make for more jobs. The purpose of an economy is to get more goods and services so that we have the leisure to pursue our hobbies and to educate ourselves.

    Rubin: Would a classical liberal want a true.… What would be the difference in an economics sense from your argument as a classical liberal to someone like Paul Ryan, who I think is probably more of a libertarian, but at the same time he’s stuck in it with the Republicans and it blurs the lines?

    McCloskey: Well, some of the proposals that he and especially Trump are going to make, and I hope they pass, make sense to me, like cutting the corporate income tax. Corporate income tax, most economists left and right agree, is a kind of a silly tax. It’s double taxation to start with, but it’s also.…

    Rubin: Can we just explain why that is because I know people say that but for business owners that money’s been taxed throughout. You paid payroll tax and all the.…

    McCloskey: It’s taxed.… Exactly. All the people involved, the human beings involved, the workers, people employed by the suppliers to the corporation, the owners of the various corporations that have supplied them, the customers, the owners of the stock in the corporation you’re talking about, all of them get taxed on their income.

    I wish not. I wish there was other ways of taxing like consumption taxes, but set that aside. Income tax, we know who pays it pretty much. When I get taxed, I get taxed. There it is. Deirdre McCloskey pays about a third of her income to the government. Okay. At least the marginal income. We don’t know who pays the corporate income tax. We’ve been working on it for about seventy years, trying to figure out with econometrics and fancy math, and eh, we do studies. We don’t know who pays it. It may be the workers for the corporation, it may be the managers, maybe the owners. That’s who people think, it’s these rich owners and for one thing they’re not rich and for another thing we don’t know they pay it. Maybe the customers.

    Rubin: Right, meaning that it trickles down to the workers or the customers, the cost.

    McCloskey: It goes away. The cost is imposed at the level of corporate profits. Suppose the corporation moves to Ireland. Who ultimately pays for that? Who gets hurt? Who gets helped? Well, some Irish people get helped, and some Americans, employees, say, get hurt. In effect, the burden of the tax is on these American workers.

    Rubin: Right.

    McCloskey: I’m not saying we know that because we don’t know. It’s crazy to have a tax that you don’t know the incidence of. You don’t know who really pays it.

    Rubin: So when Trump then says we’re going to renegotiate these trade deals to keep companies in America, that makes sense to a lot of people …

    McCloskey: I know, but it also …

    Rubin: You’re saying it doesn’t because of regulation, it’s done via regulation.

    McCloskey: Well, no. The problem with it is that we don’t know who’s going to get the benefit. What we do know, suppose we just cut off foreign trade entirely. Now that’s not his proposal, but suppose we just walled off the United States. Well, then, every American would be poorer. Every single American.

    Now, some of them would get fancier jobs because we’d have to make our own steel instead of importing it as we do largely now, but so, plus for them. Everyone else gets hurt. That’s true of the minimum wage. It’s true of a lot of the.… Look I was talking to the make-up person here about licensing hairdressing. She’s also a hairdresser, besides being a cosmetologist. Cosmetology is not licensed. Hairdressing is. Hairdressers have a little bit higher income, say, not that high but a little bit higher because of these crazy licensing laws. You have to go to school for two years to become a hairdresser. What? We economists are not licensed. You can set up as an economist tomorrow.

    Rubin: I just spray once and then kind of.…

    McCloskey: Well, forget about the hair. You can become a professional economist tomorrow by hanging out a shingle.

    Rubin: It’s that easy?

    McCloskey: It’s that easy. There’s no.… You don’t have to get a PhD or anything. You just say, “I’m an economist,” because there are no laws against that. But there are laws against calling yourself a hairdresser without licensure. That means that every one of, all the women especially, have slightly higher prices for hairdressing, and this little group of hairdressers are a little bit better off.

    Now that’s a lousy deal. That’s what this anti-trade, minimum wage, more regulation, that’s what it does. It gives George or Harriet a little bit, and it’s like agricultural subsidies, and everyone else is made worse off.

    Rubin: Because then all the people that have to use them have to pay more.

    McCloskey: Exactly. They have to pay more.

    Rubin: And then they have less money for something else.

    McCloskey: Take a look at agricultural subsidies. Cotton farmers. Large cotton farmers are the main.… I mean large. Rich people. 500 of the, no, 20 of the top billionaires in the United States, billionaires get agricultural subsidies from the United States government. I don’t mean that’s the main source of their income because agriculture is quite a small industry in the United States, but you can tell. Big massive cotton fields in Alabama are being financed by the United State government. It’s nuts.

    Rubin: So how do we untangle some of that stuff? There’s so much of that, this idea of crony capitalism and the giant, these twenty people that can pay all the lobbyists. This of course is what Trump was running against. It’s what Bernie Sanders was running against.

    McCloskey: I know.

    Rubin: How do you untangle some of that stuff without actually burning down the system? Because that’s what I think a lot of people think is we have to burn the system down, and I certainly wouldn’t be for that.

    McCloskey: It’s puzzling because, look, the system is democracy, and I’m in favor of democracy. I’m a democrat, small d. H. L. Mencken, the great libertarian journalist of 100 years ago, said democracy is the theory that the ordinary people know what they want and deserve it good and hard. That’s, I’m afraid, is what’s happening with Trump, but what to do?

    Well, maybe Trump will be able to stop some of the regulations, but there’s a clumsiness about it. He’s put this oil man forward as his secretary of state, and he’s handed over the Department of the Interior to another oil man.

    Rubin: Right, so Rex Tillerson, the Exxon guy, we’ll see. By the time this airs.…

    McCloskey: He might not.…

    Rubin: It sounds like he is, but I.…

    McCloskey: He might not make it.

    Rubin: Yeah, we know that Trump tries to.…

    McCloskey: But the secretary of the interior is not a problem. He’s.… Is it a he or a she? I can’t remember, but in any case, oil corporations, big corporations are going to do very well in the Trump administration, and you notice that by the way on the stock market.

    Rubin: Right. Stock market’s.…

    McCloskey: And oil stocks in particular have gone up. They said, oh well, maybe this guy, we can work with this guy, and that’s exactly the problem that you mentioned. It’s crony capitalism, not the kind of capitalism that you and I admire, which is not cronies. It’s letting people do what they want and depending on the tremendous amount of cooperation that goes on in a free market system and the competition that goes on to protect consumers as it does.

    I don’t know. I’m a little bit pessimistic that we can untangle it because, here’s why I mention democracy. Because the reason we have big government is that about 100 years ago, the people, now fully enfranchised in countries like Britain and France and the United States, demanded it. They demanded protection from the government. So people keep voting for socialism essentially. I mean, the size of governments, the United States and Japan are among the smallest, but still they’re very big in the rich countries.

    The people keep voting for subsidies and blah, blah, blah. The extreme case is Argentina, where everyone subsidizes everyone else. Now just think about that for a moment. You can see that’s not going to work out. There is this conflict between the democracy of politics and the democracy of the marketplace. I’m in favor of both of them, but I recognize that there’s a dilemma, there’s a conflict here and that the democracy of politics tend to want to kill off the democracy of the market.

    Rubin: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So when somebody would say, and I think this is most of the criticism that I hear when I’ve brought on classical liberals or libertarians, and they say “free market, free market. We don’t like crony capitalism, but we want the free market.”

    McCloskey: That’s me.

    Rubin: Most of the pushback that I get is people say, “Well, wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense. If you let people do whatever they want, then ultimately that’s what will breed crony capitalism.” Now I suspect you don’t agree with that, but how would you argue against that?

    McCloskey: No, I don’t agree with it. There’s this tremendous fear among my friends on the left about shoe companies. They’re terrified at the big corporations, you know. New Balance, just oo ee scary music, oo ee the monopoly. It’s so silly because the big monopoly is the government, because the government has the monopoly of violence, alas. Well, it has to. I’m not in favor of multiple competing violent forces.

    Rubin: Right. You’re for one government that should have the army.

    McCloskey: I’m for one government that has the monopoly of violence, but then we’ve really got to watch it very closely because it’s easy to misuse it. The underlying threat of a government is violence, physical violence, and the trouble is that they, they can use it, whereas New Balance can’t force you to buy, can’t put a .38 to your head and force you to buy its shoes. Nike and New Balance and all the others are competing with each other, and that’s by far a better protection for the interests of ordinary people than the so-called protections that the government offers.

    Let’s take food quality. Why aren’t, why isn’t there very frequent cases of people being killed by restaurants, poisoned. Why not? Hey, what’s stopping it. They’ll say, oh yes, food inspection. This is crazy. Any person who owns a restaurant knows that the food inspectors come once or twice a year max, and often they’re corrupt and you can pay them $20 to overlook the rat feces in the kitchen. Okay? Whereas, look, put it this way. If Coca-Cola, if they found one mouse in one can of Coca-Cola, anywhere in the world, the Coca-Cola Corporation would go bankrupt.

    Rubin: Yeah, the endless PR, the years.

    McCloskey: The endless PR, all the years of building up Coke as the real thing would go right down the drain. That expenditure they make on advertising is a bond so to speak. It’s a bond they’ve put up. An enormous billions-of-dollars bond to shore up their reputation for having a soft drink that doesn’t have mice in it.

    Rubin: I think they tried that. Wasn’t that new Coke?

    McCloskey: There was a.… Well, that was consumer preference, but poisoning is not popular. There’s a nice fact. If you ask, who’s that guy that travels around doing food shows?

    Rubin: Oh. Anthony Bourdain.

    McCloskey: Yeah, Anthony Bourdain, he’s great. If you ask him what to eat in a foreign country, he says for God’s sakes don’t eat the hotel food. Eat the street food because the street vendors have regular customers in their neighborhood, they poison someone, they’re finished.

    Rubin: That’s it.

    McCloskey: Whereas the hotels, they go away.

    Rubin: That to me is the best argument for a free market.

    McCloskey: I think so too.

    Rubin: Your own interests, if you own a restaurant, it’s not that the inspector is going to force you to do it or that the government comes in or as you said you can pay him off and all this stuff, but the best is that your reputation, the caring of your work which is a great segue to I want to talk about: virtue.

    McCloskey: Well, that’s why, by the way, that’s why we need a free press. That’s why these movements in Russia and now in Turkey, in imitation of Russia to close down the newspapers is a complete disaster for the ordinary people.

    Rubin: Where do you think that puts us in America right now because Trump has this massive fight with the press. As an alternate press guy, as a digital online guy, I see a lot of value in what he’s doing, and at the same time I absolutely see the risk in what’s happening.

    McCloskey: Yeah, it’s completely.… He’s a danger to the First Amendment. Fortunately the genie is out of the bottle. You can’t put it back in so far as electronic media is concerned. The newspapers are slowly descending, which I, I personally love having a newspaper, but okay. It’s like the invention of the printing press. In many countries, although not all of them, the printing press was very hard to control, and now it’s even less easy to control the internet. The Chinese do a fairly good job of it, but when I was in China a month ago my friends told me, “oh yeah, here’s how you get around that.” It was free. You could do it and sneak around the wall that they have put up around China.

    Rubin: So the Great Wall was probably more effective than their internet wall.

    McCloskey: The Great Wall was surprisingly effective actually. Its purpose was to slow down the barbarians long enough to bring reinforcements.

    Rubin: Yeah, I don’t know if the reinforcements are going to come in time to stop this barrage.

    McCloskey: That was the problem. Every two or three hundred years in China, the Great Wall defense would fail.

    Rubin: Yeah. There’s some parallel to the internet wall there.

    McCloskey: Yeah. There is. Well, what there is is that the cost of liberty is constant vigilance. It’s in the interests of the government, more or less every time to cut off free speech, and if they can get away with it they will, more or less no matter who’s in charge. Obama, who I didn’t vote for but I don’t think is the antichrist as some of my conservative friends think, claimed that he was going to have an open government. No way Jose. He kept closing it, but that happens in every administration.

    Rubin: Yeah, so it just happens, no matter what they say beforehand, like when he said Obamacare, we’re going to air the hearings on CNN or on C-SPAN, right. Of course that didn’t happen. He’s jailed whistle blowers. Look at Snowden and all that.

    McCloskey: Yup. Snowden, etc.

    Rubin: And yet the left lets him off the hook on that because we’ve all been just sort of relegated to our teams, right?

    McCloskey: I know.

    Rubin: You just pick your team.

    McCloskey: I know. I know. It’s because people come to their political opinions in their late teenage hood, most of them, and then it becomes part of their personal identity. I have a roommate of mine, a man who I love very much from college. He was a lefty as I was in college and he still is. You know he still, he.… And then my sister, my beloved sister who I really do love, the other day, the other month, she said, “You know, I watch RT, Russia Today, and I think that’s just great. They give me an alternative view.” I said dear, don’t you know this is Putin’s propaganda arm? “Oh really? Oh I don’t think so. I think it’s wonderful what they do”.

    People get these identities, left and right, and then they don’t ever listen to any more evidence. Another hero of my youth, John Maynard Keynes, was.… Someone complained that he had changed, Keynes had changed his views on free trade, to which Keynes said, “When I get new information, I change my mind. What do you do?”

    Rubin: Isn’t true liberalism?

    McCloskey: Of course it is.

    Rubin: Isn’t that, that finding new information.…

    McCloskey: An open-mindedness.

    Rubin: Bertrand Russell, there’s that great quote about not being tied to an ideology but to reality.

    McCloskey: Except he was tied to an ideology, except for that, probably. The perfect example of this is John Stuart Mill, who was very open-minded. He was open-minded to socialist ideas. Harriet, his friend eventually became his wife, was more of a socialist. This is the middle of the nineteenth century. He was very open to that. Someone who’s been a great economist friend of mine said John Stuart Mill tried the experiment of being fair to his opponents. This experiment has never again been done in economics.

    Rubin: Yeah, in economics or almost in any field anymore, right?

    McCloskey: Look, the assumption on the left in the United States among progressives is that if you make a free market argument, it’s because you’re a bad person who hates poor people. Why pay attention to such a person? Why pay attention to Hitler? Hitler may have arguments, to hell with it, I’m not going to listen to Hitler. I don’t listen to Hitler. I don’t say, oh gee that’s interesting. Let’s exterminate the Jews. Maybe that will be a good idea. No, I don’t. I don’t view that as on the table.

    It’s this off-the-table business that makes our friends on the left impervious to any argument. We make arguments against, I don’t know, against the minimum wage or agricultural or.… Look, talking to a friend of mine on the left the other day, and she said, “I’m very suspicious of this Uber business, the breaking down the taxi-cab monopoly.” I said, “What? You mean you’re in favor of taxi monopolies? Do you know who owns those?” She said, “No, I don’t know. Isn’t it the cab drivers?” No, it’s not. It’s the millionaires, the multi-millionaires who own thirty taxi medallions in New York, each of which sells for a million and a half bucks.

    Rubin: Yeah. You’re not making that up, by the way. That’s actually true. To get that medallion that a cab driver needs.

    McCloskey: In Chicago it’s a third of a million. In New York it’s a million and a half. You know, so it’s so strange. Any free market argument is just off, the image of being off the table is I think correct. It’s just not for discussion. It’s maddening. We on the free market side, you know we laboriously argue against this, that stupid regulation and that stupid regulation. We offer facts and have comparisons of one country to another. We’re very earnest, and we expect our friends on the left to say, “Oh yeah. You’re right.” No, they don’t. They don’t listen, so they don’t understand the arguments.

    A spectacular example of this is the bottom of page six in the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s book on Capital in the 21st Century, where he screws up supply and demand curves. I mean he really does. He doesn’t understand supply response to a higher price. He doesn’t even think it’s possible. He’s an economist.

    Rubin: Yeah, maybe he wrote the book upside down?

    McCloskey: I don’t know what went wrong with him. Actually I know what’s wrong with him. He was educated in France, and in economics that means you’re educated in mathematics without knowing anything about how an economy works. I plead with him, please, and they won’t listen.

    Rubin: What do you do then if.… Well, first off I know a certain amount of people are going to watch this and say, “Well, wait a minute. Then Deirdre must be right because you focused on the left here.”

    McCloskey: Left, right.

    Rubin: And it’s just nonsense.

    McCloskey: That’s all people can do. We say, we real liberals say now look, there are at least two dimensions. One is economic freedom, left, right. That’s pretty easy to talk about. The other is personal freedom, left, right. And we libertarians are up on the left, left quadrant. We believe in keeping out of people’s bedrooms and keeping out of people’s voluntary deals in the economy. It’s a keeping-out mentality.

    What’s the beef here? Why are you complaining about some deal I want to make? Shut up. It’s none of your business. Let’s just make it, and that’s it. We believe in freedom, whereas in one aspect or another our opponents, whether Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or progressives, they all believe in compulsion. They all believe in getting out the government gun and forcing people to do things. They think that’s going to make the world better.

    Rubin: It actually makes the world more resentful, I think.

    McCloskey: Usually it does. Now look, there are some things.… Always it’s so tedious. I always get people, my progressive friends will say, don’t you think there should be a role for government, and I say yeah, yeah, there should be a role for government. Preventing force and fraud and a few other things.

    Rubin: So basically you’re not an anarchist?

    McCloskey: No, I’m not an anarchist, although we real, true Christian liberals view our anarchist friends, and I have some, with a certain sisterly sympathy, but I’m not an anarchist. I don’t believe in zero government. Actually my first politics was when I found Prince Kropotkin’s book, Mutual Aid, in the local Carnegie library. I like the irony of that, in Wakefield, Massachusetts, and for you know six months when I was fifteen I was an anarchist.

    Rubin: How did those six months go for you?

    McCloskey: Well, I didn’t tell anyone about it, so it didn’t bother anyone.

    Rubin: Yeah, it was fine. You just kept it to yourself.

    McCloskey: I wasn’t secret about it. I just didn’t notice that politics was about telling people stuff.

    Rubin: Yeah. All right. I want to back up to virtue, because I think it’s sort of a through line in almost everything we’ve discussed here.

    McCloskey: Yes, it is.

    Rubin: And you’ve written a lot about it. You talk about it, and I think it’s something that’s so missing in society. Doing something virtuous just because.

    McCloskey: Yeah. You know, and I’ve been studying China for the last ten years. For a long time I tried not to because I knew I would become fascinated, and I needed to know more about Europe and the United States. I was afraid I would drift off into China studies. The interesting thing about the Confucian attitudes that started in the sixth century BCE is that it claims that the main protection of the citizens is the virtue of the governors, and that’s correct to the extent that they’re being treated by the government.

    The Confucians were not particularly, they didn’t have a lot to say about regulation of the economy. You have the economy off to one side, and indeed it was heavily regulated in China as was everywhere else, but let’s talk about the relationship between the government, the emperor, and the citizens. The Confucian idea is not the balance of power of the founding fathers where we’re trying to make a machinery that will keep people, keep the governors from hurting their citizens.

    Rubin: Right, which is what we have here.

    McCloskey: What we have here, and we try to make it work, and I’m all for it because.… But they, the Confucians like the so-called civic republicans in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century said, look, rulers need to be good as well. That I think this is true. Look, corruption in Italy say, you’re not going to solve Italian corruption by passing another law. They’ve got laws against corruption.

    Rubin: Right.

    McCloskey: The problem is.…

    Rubin: The laws will actually breed more corruption, right, because they actually breed somebody to do this.…

    McCloskey: They easily do it, particularly if the ethical mentality of Italians is the government is a band of robbers into whose clutches we’ve fallen, to quote a famous anarchist writer. We’ve got to evade every law we can. As long as you do that. As long as the people are not being virtuous, sensibly, following the sensible laws and the government is not being virtuous. It’s stealing from everybody. Passing another thing through parliament is not going to have any effect at all. There has to be an ethical change, and I claim, this is my big claim in this trilogy of mine called The Bourgeois Era, which I, praise the Lord, I just finished last spring, that it’s a change in attitudes towards the virtues of the bourgeois that made the modern world.

    That up until liberalism, the coming of liberalism in people’s heads in the eighteenth century and then in actual policies in the nineteenth century, until that happened, people were extremely suspicious and hostile towards merchants, manufacturers, inventors. Innovation, the word innovation in English, you can look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, was until the nineteenth century a bad word. You don’t want to innovate. He’s innovated, eh, that will disturb things. That was the universal attitude. Then in liberalism, the basic idea of which is let people alone. As Adam Smith said is what we need is the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice. Equality, he didn’t mean equal income distribution. He meant equality of social standing by liberty. He meant the ability to start a business or become an economist or whatever you want.

    Rubin: Equality of opportunity.

    McCloskey: Equality of opportunity. Justice means equal justice before the law, neither of which is perfectly attained in any society I know of, but the change from say the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century was dramatic, and that made people bold and they enriched us all. I speak of the bourgeois deal. You let me, a bourgeois start a business, and in the first act, I’ll make a lot of dough if it’s a good business. In the second act, these pesky competitors will come in and drive out my profit, but oh well. The third act, I’ll enrich you, and that’s what they did. There’s an ethical change.

    Rubin: Wait. How do you get from the second act to the third act? The second act now, the competition now comes in.

    McCloskey: Competition, and so my profits are eroded, so everyone’s doing it the better way, whatever it is, Uber or improve.… Look what happened to film. When I was young, Kodak and then boom, suddenly we had pixels.

    Rubin: Yeah, and now we’re doing [inaudible]. I don’t know how it’s happening, but it’s happening.

    McCloskey: I don’t know. Here we are.

    Rubin: Yeah. The third act then is that the product itself gets better.

    McCloskey: Exactly. Those cameras that are pointing at us are by historical standards, they’re ridiculously small. These are high-quality cameras that do as good a job as an enormous TV camera, much better job than a TV camera and even better than the great big film camera in the 1930s. There they are, and that’s, the first person to think of this made a ton of money, but actually in the end the inventors don’t make that much. They make about 2 percent of the social gain, which, if you’re Steve Jobs is a lot of money, but still 98 percent goes to us, the consumers.

    Rubin: Right. And bringing this around to Apple, they make a lot of the stuff. The ideas come from Cupertino as they always tell us, but a lot of it’s made in China, and don’t they do everything they can to avoid corporate taxes.

    McCloskey: Of course.

    Rubin: Which sort of ties in everything that we’ve talked about.

    McCloskey: There’s a crazy regulation that the EU, the common market is trying to impose to equalize corporate taxes across the EU because they don’t like what Ireland’s doing, which has a 15 percent, no 12.5 percent corporate tax instead of our 35 percent corporate tax and the people in Brussels are really annoyed at the Irish. I think it’s outrageous. There should be the Cayman Islands. There should be competition. The government shouldn’t have us as serfs to extract money from any time they want to invade Iraq. To heck with it.

    Rubin: What I always find to be the funniest argument is that the progressives argue that they want, that the government is deeply corrupt.

    McCloskey: I know. I know.

    Rubin: Then at the same time their response is to make it bigger.

    McCloskey: I know. I know. Look, I’ve spent some time in Italy in the last few months, and I love Italy. Who doesn’t? The Italians know how to live, but they all ought to be classical liberals because any sentient Italian knows that sending more money and power to Rome is a terrible idea, just awful.

    Rubin: Framed with that, saying Rome actually adds to the picture.

    McCloskey: Well, it’s like our Washington or Springfield in Illinois. Everyone knows it’s a terrible idea, yet the Italians keep voting for socialists or for conservatives who are actually socialists. I can’t understand this. In Sweden I get it. I’ve taught in Sweden, and I like Sweden a lot. Lots of friends there, and they all tell me, well, you know our government is honest, and I say, yeah, yours is. Minnesota is, but Illinois isn’t. Italy isn’t.

    86 percent of the people of the world are governed by governments that everyone would agree are completely corrupt and incompetent. The Italians, of 180 or so governments that were surveyed, the Italians ranked 75th, and yet they keep voting for more of this. I don’t know what to do. I’m desperate.

    Rubin: Yeah, I wish I had an answer for you, but you’re not going to get it to me. There’s so much more that we could do here, but I will end on something that you slipped in once or twice. That you used to be a Marxist.

    McCloskey: I was.

    Rubin: The word Marxist, I think people have no idea what they’re talking about. Like socialism, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Most of these words, most people don’t know what they’re talking about, but Marxist I find to be the one that people really just have no concept of what they’re talking about. First, can you just define what a Marxist is and then just tell me a little bit about your journey?

    McCloskey: Well, a Marxist really in the simplest terms is someone who follows Marx. Just as I am a Christian, I follow Christ. Marx was, now here’s where I get my right-wing friends, just they go nuts. I say Marx was the greatest social scientist in the nineteenth century without compare, and all my friends at the Hoover Institution go eh. Then I say, but he got everything wrong. Then my friends on the left go ahhh. Which is why I haven’t got any friends.

    Rubin: The life of a classical liberal. It ain’t easy. It ain’t easy. Well, you’re pissing off people on the both sides.

    McCloskey: Pissing off people on both sides. Now the basic idea of Marxism of course is that history has a particular pattern and that ideas come from that pattern, from that material pattern, that the class struggle is central. The history of all hitherto existing societies, to quote The Communist Manifesto, is the history of class struggle. If you believe that and you believe that ideas are just epi-phenomenal, that they just come from your class position, which is what Marxists are supposed to think, then you’ll be a follower of Marx. Oddly, from about 1890 to about 1980, nice symmetry there, most intellectuals in the West were some kind of Marxist. Even the conservatives were. Even the conservatives believed that material interests were what determined ideas.

    Whereas my claim and the claim of a growing number of historians and especially historians is that no, no ideas themselves have an influence, an independent influence. The idea that all men and women are created equal is a terrifically powerful idea. It’s that egalitarianism of eighteenth-century liberalism that I’m trying to re-invigorate.

    Rubin: Yeah, well, I think you’re doing an incredibly good job at it.

    McCloskey: My books. You got to mention my books.

    Rubin: Yeah, well, I’m going to tell people about Twitter and the whole thing. This, the.… Wait, the.…

    McCloskey: This is the first book, The Bourgeois Virtues, and there’s Bourgeois Dignity, and then the last one is the thickest called Bourgeois Equality. In 1906.… Sorry, I’m a historian. In 2006, 2010, 2016, all available at the University of Chicago Press. I’m hoping for a boxed set like Harry Potter. The three of them together.

    Rubin: I’m a Star Wars guy personally, but that works for a trilogy too.

    McCloskey: It makes a wonderful Christmas present. Your mother will be delighted to get these highly academic books.

    Rubin: Well, you know what, we’re going to put the link right down below and then people will just be able to click it and get it. It really was a pleasure talking to you.

    McCloskey: Thank you dear. It’s been fun.

    Rubin: You know these are the ideas I’m trying to get across too, so I guess we’re going to have.… We’re stuck in the middle, right?

    McCloskey: We’re stuck in the middle. We get unfriendly fire from both sides.

    Rubin: Yeah. But we got each other. There you go. All right. Well, I want to thank Deirdre McCloskey and Learn Liberty for sending her our way, and for more on Deirdre you can follow her on the Twitter. It’s @deirdremcclosk. Thanks for watching. We’ll do it again next week.

  9. The king is dead, long live chaos! Why Hobbes was wrong and Burke was right.

    Comments Off on The king is dead, long live chaos! Why Hobbes was wrong and Burke was right.

    The 17th and 18th centuries marked a turning point in Atlantic history that caused the Western world to move from governments run by absolute monarchs to governments run by and for the people. During the early modern period and the Enlightenment, many theorists attempted to undermine the belief that kings had the same power as parents had over their children, giving them an absolute right to absolute power. Two early and notable theorists, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, developed an ahistorical state of nature to demonstrate that God created equality among men at the beginning and that only through a social contract can anyone obtain a legitimate reason to rule.

    Hobbes, Locke, and the Social Contract

    Hobbes stripped inequality down to its most brutish element: strength. While some leaders would make a claim to rule based on superior strength, Hobbes declared that a weaker person could simply attack the stronger one while he slept, or band together with others to overcome him. Might did not justify inequality.

    To create a reason to initiate a society, he painted a picture of the state of nature that would cause anyone to flee from it. Hobbes claimed that “the life of man [was] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” To express their equality, people could decide to form a society. Once they agreed, however, they lived under an absolute sovereign.

    Not satisfied with this result, John Locke took up the task of eliminating the absolutism associated with the Hobbesian social contract by portraying a softer, gentler state of nature — but one carefully constructed to remain unappealing. According to Locke, people in the state of nature enjoyed equality because all “creatures of the same species and rank” have reciprocal “power and jurisdiction.”

    Despite the easier life in the Lockean state of nature, people had trouble enforcing rules, which allowed bad actors to steal from others. These bad actors could not be held accountable for lack of an objective arbiter, since “power and jurisdiction” are “reciprocal.” Thus, the desire to create a system with enforceable rules causes individuals to form a social contract and create a society. Locke’s system involved direct democracy at the creation of society: all people have to consent to enter into society.

    A Problematic One-Size-Fits-All Theory of Government

    The concepts of the state of nature as the birthplace of equality and the social contract as a means of holding government accountable provided early revolutionaries with the tools to overthrow oppressive kings. These theorists created universal truths applicable to all people in all situations: we’re born free and equal; government exists to protect us; and for Locke, when government doesn’t protect our rights, the people can overthrow it.

    With these words, many theorists finished their work and released it into the world. They failed to see the drawbacks of creating a one-size-fits-all model of government. The more moderate classical liberal theorists saw the problem more clearly.

    Montesquieu and Edmund Burke saw the application of theoretical models of government to real governments as extremely problematic. According to Montesquieu, laws develop over time in a particular geographic location among a unique group of individuals. If a founder or reformer ignores the historical context of a given society, they do so at their own peril. A successful founding occurs when the legislator considers these elements.

    Montesquieu references the Athenian statesman Solon on this point. When others asked if he had given the Athenians the best laws, Solon replied: “I have given them the best laws they could endure.” Montesquieu goes so far as to say that liberalization can have negative effects, just as “pure air is sometimes harmful to those who have lived in swampy countries.”

    While Montesquieu wrote before the age of democratic revolutions, he understood that the radical changes proposed by many classical liberal theorists could create a violent reaction among the people, followed by decades of turmoil. His prediction came true in the French Revolution.

    Burke similarly emphasized the importance of historical context and the connection between rights and a particular government, eschewing the idea of natural rights. He watched with horror as the French Revolutionaries ate their own and destroyed the complex constitutional system developed over hundreds of years in France.

    Disastrous Idealism

    In Burke’s opinion, the French lacked a respect for history and relied too heavily on ideal theories of democratic governance. The French looked to radical liberal thought, convinced that they need only create the Declaration of the Rights of Man and give it to people all over the country to cause a democratic revolution.

    Lacking the knowledge and skills needed to create or run political institutions, a group of lawyers, intellectuals, and journalists called the Girondins, and eventually the Jacobins, known for their extreme egalitarianism and violence, led the country incompetently. The newly formed national government quickly descended into chaos. For Burke, these events showed that the program of radical reform could not be implemented quickly.

    Moderation in reform never provides the same fireworks as dramatic and radical reform. Reflecting on regime change over history, the revolutions of the French or the Russians come to mind most readily while the steady reforms of the English Commonwealth rarely come to the fore as a guide for founders and reformers.

    Much like the dramatic revolutions, radical theorists like Hobbes and Locke come to mind easily, while moderates like Montesquieu and Burke do not provide easy answers to hard questions about reform. The process of building and changing liberal regimes requires investing in a better understanding of the complicated web of considerations associated with large states. A better understanding of theorists like Montesquieu and Burke will provide better answers, albeit more complicated ones.

  10. Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Sarah Burns

    Comments Off on Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Sarah Burns

    Did you miss our recent Reddit AMA with Professor Sarah Burns of RIT’s political science department? You can find the whole conversation here, or check out some of the highlights below.

    Dr. Burns is a regular contributor to the Learn Liberty Blog, and starred in our series on America’s Founding.

     


    Adama82

    Hi, thanks for doing an AMA! I’ve got a fairly straight forward question:

    Do you believe that our inherent cultural paradigms have an impact on the acceptance of liberalism? And if so, how is globalization and the internet working to change/alter our cultural paradigms and attitudes with regards to liberalism?

    smburns

    That’s a big question! It’s also hard to answer without first addressing what you mean by liberal. Classical liberalism focuses on rights protection, limited government, and free markets. Presently in the United States, people connect the term “liberal” to people like Bernie Sanders who favors expanding rights protection, providing a government safety net and protecting American workers. Ideologically, it’s pretty much night and day! I would say that there is a core element of the American identity that holds firm to classical liberalism and an element that sees government as a check on the more volativle elements of a free market system. For that reason, if you think that free markets make goods cheaper which benefits all levels of society, you would favor globalization. Comparatively, if you think it causes a concentration of wealth and the exportation of jobs, you’d agree with Bernie Sanders. The internet provides a means for individuals to engage in confirmation bias. The more you see that globalization provides a net benefit, the more you support it. The more you see that globalization causes problems, the more you oppose it.


    Saw_a_4ftBeaver

    If you could rewrite the Constitution what would you keep? What would you get rid of? What would you add?

    smburns

    A dream come true!

    I’ll do my top three:

    1.  I would give Congress the teeth it needs to control the use of force. Presently the power to declare war doesn’t stop presidents from starting wars.

    2.  I would get rid of the 17th Amendment. States need a say in the federal government in order to stop the federal government from gobbling up state power.

    3.  Find a way to deal with parties. They aren’t accounted for in the Constitution.


    KSDem

    Professor Burns, you mentioned that throughout the years the Founders and their followers had endured great hardships without altering the Constitution. Considering that the left has now joined the right in clamoring for a Constitutional Convention, do you think that will now occur and what do you think the outcome could be?

    smburns

    If the Civll War didn’t cause a Constitutional Convention I doubt we’ll see one now. You’d need a really big catalyst to cause one.


    _korbendallas_

    How do you think the 2016 election cycle will impact future presidential elections?

    smburns

    That’s a big question. First of all, everyone has to throw out the old playbook. Gone are the days when you can say money and organization wins elections. Hillary outspent and out-organized but still lost. We also may need to rethink our addiction on polling. I think it was horrible how people went after pollsters after the election when they correctly predicted that there was a margin of error that could lead to Trump’s win. It’s not their fault it happened. There may have been, however, some people who saw the polls and decided to stay home and/or vote. That’s giving statistics far too much power over our democracy. We also see the growth of populism in the United States. This is the first time since Andrew Jackson that a truly populist candidate made it to the White House. Populism has an extremely dangerous element. It’s rooted in passions and therefore somewhat immune to rational argument. That’s one of the reasons we see Trump support among his base remaining solid. They love him no matter what he does. I suppose I’ll say I hope that our institutions will do a good job of correcting for this excess of democracy (that can be bad as well). Those are my top take aways.


    Isentrope

    1.  What are some of the reasons why Congress has chosen not to declare war in the past 70 years? Does this play a role in the aggregation of power to the presidency that both parties have played a role in?

    2.  What is a workable framework towards developing a better separation of powers on the issue of war powers? Should we take an originalist view of the presidency or should this better be understood in the context of modern warfare?

    smburns

    1.  The short and blunt answer is that Congress has shirked its constitutional responsibility. It’s in their interest to let the president sink or swim on his own and critique him from the sidelines. It does play a role in the collection of power in the presidency. Structurally the Constitution creates a system when one branch checks the other. It isn’t surprising that presidents want more power over war. What’s surprising is that Congress has given it to them.

    2.  Congress needs real teeth and skin in the game. They need a more powerful way to check unilateral presidential war making. The power of the purse doesn’t work because it looks like they’re taking money away from our troops. They can’t stop presidents from initiating hostilities because presidents know Congress wants to avoid holding the executive accountable. If the president didn’t have discretionary spending to allow the initiation of hostilities without congressional assent, they would go to war way less. That could cause some issues for defense but those can be worked out. That would give Congress teeth and skin in the game. They voted to give the president the money he needs to engage in the military operation. They’re on the hook if it goes poorly as well. I think that framework stays true to the “invitation to struggle” created by the Constitution while acknowledging that modern warfare is different.


    MeowSchwitzInThere

    What is the closest historical analog for the current US political climate?

    smburns

    It’s similar to the turn of the 20th century. There was a real concentration of wealth (it was called the Gilded Age) and the working class had a lot of problems. There were calls to create unions to protect “the little guy” while a small fraction of the population got richer and richer. It was also an era of globalization as we were becoming more and more connected to other markets. There were populist movements and nationalism, just like we have today. There were also people arguing in favor of more globalization and freer trade.


    pegothejerk

    What are the historical indicators of impending revolt, legal or otherwise, when authoritarian type leaders in America, or abroad are removed by the people?

    smburns

    I’m not sure what a legal revolt would look like, lots of lawyers and judges walking out of court rooms? I kid.

    Traditionally, Americans have been very gun-shy around revolutions. They liked their own but after that they didn’t really support a lot of democratic movements for a while. I would also say that besides a few examples in the first half of the twentieth century, most developed Western democracies correct their problems through elections rather than revolutions. Typically for a revolution to occur there have to be very bad states (that do not provide basic services) without enough money to buy off the electorate (this happens in what are called rentier states; the government will give money to people in order to stop them from trying to create a more democratic government). Overall, I would say the history of revolutions is not a happy one. Most of the time, the state falls into anarchy (such as many of the states after the Arab Spring) or tyranny (such as France and Russia after their revolutions).


    FLYBOY611

    As the Baby Boomers continue to retire/die what do you think the future of our government will look like as more Millennials replace them?

    smburns

    I wouldn’t count out the Baby Boomers yet. There are still a lot of them and older voters vote. For that reason politicians pay attention to them. Moreover, life-expectancy has increased dramatically. That said, Millennials will likely go through the same cycle as Boomers. Presently they are more iconoclastic; as they grow up they’ll worry more about mortgages and educations; later they’ll wag their finger at the youngins’ who don’t have any respect or ambition. We (I’m a Millenial) can’t even claim that we’re the first to worry about the environment. Boomers beat us to that. Similarly the Gen-Xers can claim that the difference between life before and after internet was much more important than life before and after smartphones.


    lzldmb

    Do you think it’s dangerous that people are pro-Trump regardless of what he does?

    smburns

    There is an element of passion that sits at the heart of all democracies. After all, Madison in Federalist Paper #10 said we have to control the problem of faction rather than eliminate it. Trump’s devoted base could be considered a faction by some. As such, as long as our institutions check and balance each other, the passion of his supporters will not be the only thing guiding policy outcomes.


    CorgiOrBread

    Do you support the Paw Print petition for the changing of Dinning Dollars to Destler Doubloons?

    smburns

    Yes.

     

  11. F.A. Hayek accomplished several careers’ worth of economic achievements in one lifetime

    Comments Off on F.A. Hayek accomplished several careers’ worth of economic achievements in one lifetime

    F.A. Hayek would have celebrated his 118th birthday today. When he passed away in 1992, he left behind a prodigious body of work on several discrete issues.

    Hayek was the 20th century’s most prominent developer of the Austrian business cycle theory. He extended Mises’s argument about the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism in his classic essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” and in the papers that were collected into Individualism and Economic Order in 1948.

    As a student, he developed the basis of a cognitive theory, which he revised and published in 1952 in The Sensory Order. He wrote extensively on the method of the social sciences in The Counter-Revolution of Science, also published in 1952 and one of his most important statements on the subject.

    Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he developed a body of social theory about knowledge and competition. These became The Constitution of Liberty (originally published in 1960) and Law, Legislation, and Liberty, released in three volumes during the 1970s. He was awarded the Nobel Prize, which he shared with Gunnar Myrdal, in 1974.

    Each of these separate bodies of work would constitute a monumental achievement. Hayek did it all over the course of a single career that established him as one of the most important social thinkers of the 20th century. He was most famous, however, for his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom, a more popular treatment of many of the ideas expressed in Individualism and Economic Order that had a deep and profound effect on the English-speaking world.

    Its theme — that statism, socialism, and the erosion of economic liberty meant the erosion of political and civil liberty — was a brilliant exposition of classical liberal ideas and a rank heresy to the established intellectual order. It is through The Road to Serfdom — which was condensed by Reader’s Digest and circulated (in its condensed form) by the Book of the Month Club — that Hayek likely had his biggest effect on public policy.

    The Hayekian Tradition

    There is a rich and vibrant body of scholarship in the Hayekian tradition — what Peter Boettke calls “mainline” (as opposed to “mainstream”) economics — a tradition that builds on the original insights of Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises and that would later find application and expression in the work of Nobel laureates Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Douglass North, Vernon Smith, and Elinor Ostrom. Hayek’s ideas are not the curios of intellectual history. They remain fresh and applicable to a wide array of settings where they are being used today by scholars in several disciplines.

    Hayek (and Mises, and many others) was vindicated in a sense by the demise of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Still, his insights have not made full inroads into scholarship and public policy. Liberty and prosperity are hardly the natural outcome of political orders, and they are under constant threat from some who mean well and others who do not.

    The world is certainly a better place, though, because F.A. Hayek explored and explained the institutional foundations of a free and prosperous society. For this we should be grateful.