Category Archive: Politics & Policy

  1. Expert Answers on the Drug War: Highlights from Prof. Jeff Miron’s AMA

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

    The conversation focused on Dr. Miron’s 30+ years of study on the effects of drug criminalization. Check out some of the highlights below.



    While there seems to be an emerging consensus on legalization of marijuana in the US, pot specific policies might not be completely applicable to other, harder drugs, especially in light of the ongoing opioid crisis. Do you have thoughts on opinions on the efficacy of blanket legalization and/or decriminalization vs. piecemeal changes?


    My first choice is full legalization of all drugs: the negatives from prohibition relate mainly to the adverse incentives and effects caused by prohibition, not the specific effects of one drug versus another.

    That said, partial measures are generally better than nothing.


    Are there currently any countries in the world that have a decent drug policy in your mind? Can be in both directions I suppose, either a more successful ‘war on drugs’ or a sensible policy of tolerance.


    Essentially all countries prohibit most / all drugs; but many enforce to a far lesser degree than the U.S. (e.g., Netherlands, Portugal, and to varying degrees, much of Europe and elsewhere). Changing the formal laws is important; but the harms from prohibition do decline as enforcement declines.


    Hi Dr. Miron, thanks for the AMA.

    Do you think there’s a good model the US can move towards? I’ve always though of Portugal as a good example.

    How do you think the recent legalization of recreational marijuana will go in MA? My town decided to moronically pass up on the tax revenue, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the rest of the state.


    The best model is the U.S. before 1914: no prohibition of any drug or alcohol. As a second best, Portugal is a quite good.

    MA’s legalization seems likely to be somewhat tortured; the public health community is trying hard to undo the ballot initiative.


    Prof, thoughts on Portugal’s drug decriminalization in 2001? (go Crimson)


    A huge step in right direction. Ideally would go farther: full legalization. But current UN treaties make that awkward.


    In your opinion would legalizing drugs lead to fewer overdoes because purity is more manageable or would we see more because of increased access?


    Exactly. Most of the overdoses come from non-medical use that arises when people are cut off from medical or other legal supply (e.g., methadone maintenance). Use of almost anything is much riskier in a black market because quality control is worse.


    I live in San Francisco. What the hell is going on with people doing heroin? There are needles in the streets, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out for most addicts. I’ve seen 2 people shoot up heroin in public. That’s apparently a low number in this city.

    What are the current “ways out” of heroin addiction, and what programs could I donate to to help?


    The way out of the heroin problem is heroin legalization: it would be cheaper, so far fewer people would inject; and people would know the dosage, so far fewer would OD.

    Realistically, the best path is to support Medication Assisted Treatment, i.e., methadone and buprenorphine.


    Dr. Miron, first off, thank you for doing an AMA. Looking forward to reading all the responses.

    Second, how do we draw the line today and in the future between ‘harmless’ drugs and ‘harmful’ drugs, especially when new variants or types of drugs pop up all the time? How do we create a robust system to differentiate drugs?


    I don’t think we can differentiate in a meaningful way, because the main negatives come from prohibition, independent of the properties of the prohibited good. If we outlawed caffeine, we would have a violent black market with poor quality control in which people suffered far more adverse effects from caffeine than now.


    I heard someone talking about this on NPR a few days ago. He brought up an aspect I hadn’t thought of–that organized criminals in states with more medical/recreational cannabis have shifted their black market endeavors to things like identity theft, manufacture of counterfeit IDs, human trafficking, etc.

    He wasn’t making an argument for continued prohibition, rather that the underlying social issues of poverty cycles, gangs, low-education, and recidivism need to be addressed if we want to reduce criminal activity.

    Lifting prohibition isn’t a panacea. If drugs are legalized, what solutions do you propose to address those social issues that incubate and perpetuate criminal activity?

    The war on drugs has destroyed countless lives. Thank you for your time.


    [I] agree that legalization is not a panacea. To some degree, the other policies we need to reduce crime are also reductions or eliminations of prohibitions, however. For example, manufacture of counterfeit IDs is a big deal because we restrict immigration; human trafficking is a problem in part because we outlaw [prostitution].

    Nevertheless, policies that improve education, e.g., are also important.


    Hi, Jeff! What’s your favorite song off of Lost in the Dream? “Red Eyes”? “An Ocean in Between the Waves”?

    I kid, of course-you’re asking about the other War on Drugs. Do you think that public opinion will shift to the point where opposing the War on Drugs isn’t a dealbreaker?


    For marijuana, has roughly shifted that much so far. For other drugs, it’s going to take a while.


    In your mind, what is the key difference between drug legalization and decriminalization?


    Legalization brings the supply side above ground. That eliminates the violence and quality control problems, and allows normal taxation.


    Given known levels of drug use, demand, and price, approximately how much tax revenue would the U.S. stand to collect if we legalized and regulated all drug use, taxing it at a similar rate as alcohol?


    ballpark $50 billion per year. google “miron waldock cato.”


    Thanks for the response! That is indeed a hell of a lot of money. Here’s the report for anyone else interested:


    On a sort of opposite note from many questions already posted: Can you describe what some of the adverse economic effects stemming from overall legalization might be, and how they might be meaningfully addressed? I understand that the potential adverse effects from legalization of a drug like heroin may be different from legalization of a drug like marijuana, but are there any unifying characteristics?

    Thanks for stopping by!


    The only real negative I can imagine is that a few people who do not currently use will perhaps try newly legalized drugs and, in some cases, have bad experiences. But evidence suggests that’s a a modest number, and of course has to be balanced against all the benefits of legalization.


    Hi Professor Miron. As a young, millennial, graduate student in government, I was wondering to what degree you feel drug policy is affected by the older generation as opposed to the younger. Further, in what ways do you expect anti-drug sentiment to shift as millennials begin to age and take more prominent roles in policy?



    Well, I am a lot older than a graduate student, and I grew up hearing that as the baby boom generation matured, legalization would occur. Happened a bit, but not to an overwhelming degree. I guess many people get more conservative, at least about drugs, as they age. So, we have to convince old folks too!

  2. Reddit AMA with Professor Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University

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    The Learn Liberty Reddit AMA Series continues on Wednesday, August 9th, with renowned economist and professor, Jeffrey Miron, senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University.

    Dr. Miron has written over 100 op-eds for publications such as the New York Times, Washington Times, Boston Herald, CNN, Time, Huffington Post, The Daily Caller, and Newsweek. He has also written several books, including Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition (2004) and Libertarianism: from A to Z (2010). You may recognize him as the star of one of Learn Liberty’s all-time fan-favorite videos: “Top Three Myths of Capitalism.”

    Mark your calendar and join us for the conversation on Reddit, Wednesday, August 9th at 3:00pm ET, where you’ll have the chance to ask him anything!

    UPDATE: The AMA is now live!

  3. Innovation in healthcare could be dangerous, but the alternative is worse.

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    While the politicians debate healthcare reform (again), let’s take a moment to consider how the basic flaws in our current system of “health insurance” put someone important at risk last week. That someone was me.

     I felt sluggish for a while, and I said to my wife that I felt like I had a jellyfish lodged in my chest. She suggested it might be walking pneumonia. That seemed to make sense, so I spent some time on the Internet looking up that ailment, including its symptoms.

    I got to thinking about how regulation is responsible for the enormous gap between the expert and the amateur. A lot of sites counseled me to consult a physician for an official diagnosis, but noted that walking pneumonia tends to go away without treatment.

    I decided I would take the second route rather than suffer the time, the hassle, and the copay that comes with visiting a doctor.

    The problem is that healthcare consumers have limited options. At the two ends of the spectrum, they can see a licensed doctor, or they can do it themselves. One option is extremely expensive, time-consuming, and reliable, and the other is free and still time-consuming but not as reliable. In between, there are few other choices. It’s possible to use a service like Teladoc or visit a drugstore clinic in some areas for minor issues like strep throat, an earache, or a sprained ankle, but in the absence of the current system of occupational licensing, there’d be a much broader continuum of possibilities between my unlettered amateur visits to Dr. Google and visits to an actual doctor’s office.

    The problem is compounded by the fact that we pay for healthcare via “insurance” coverage, which isn’t really insurance but just prepaid healthcare. This system requires lots and lots of rules about what can and can’t be covered and what constitutes medicine. The entire healthcare market would function much more efficiently if there were more options. For treating a lot of conditions, you don’t need someone who went to four years of medical school and worked through a grueling residency. Better to save that talent for more challenging stuff and allow people to seek marginal improvements over DIY diagnosis.

    Worried about quality assurance? There’s an app for that, and it’s called the market. Just as Underwriters Laboratory and Consumer Reports test products rigorously and vigorously, a free market would lead medical practitioners to sensitively vet service providers. The American Medical Association, for example, might offer its own certification course.

    Note that certification is distinct from licensing. A license means government permission. Doing business without a license could land you in jail. Certification merely says that the certifying organization vouches for the quality of the product or service. If quality differences matter a lot to patients, the AMA certification will be extremely valuable.

    But who’s going to protect people from charlatans? It’s a valid concern, but market mechanisms can complement existing rules against fraud. Courts and professional associations should be able to arrive at enforceable standards. Moreover, the relevant alternative to a cheap healthcare provider for a lot of people isn’t a medical doctor. The relevant alternative is doing it oneself. It’s hardly clear that a society of patients making decisions after consulting the Internet is safer and healthier than a society with lots of different healthcare professionals providing lots of different levels of service.



  4. How thinking harder will let you eat more bacon

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    Last week, after I returned home from the grocery store — bags of bacon, lunch meat, and hot dogs in tow — my wife announced, “There’s a documentary you need to watch. It’s all about how this food is bad for us.”[1]

    The film in question was What the Health, a documentary by Kip Andersen of Cowspiracy fame. Among the film’s central claims is that processed meat — and to a lesser extent, nonprocessed beef — can give you cancer, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, the WHO classifies processed meat in the same carcinogenic category (Group 1) as cigarettes, asbestos, and plutonium.

    According to Anderson and his research sources, such a classification means that “Processed Meats Cause Cancer.” This is an extraordinary claim that affords us an opportunity to clear up some confusion about how scientists talk about evidence.

    Let’s talk about where the confusion lies.

    Precision vs. “Oomph”

    When assessing the world, scientists (at least, in the life and social sciences) are primarily concerned with two things: the amount of confidence in a given finding, and the strength of that finding. The two sound very similar, but they are not the same. The difference is outlined by the economists Stephen Ziliak and Deirdre McCloskey, who delineate between what they call precision and “oomph.”

    Say a drug company has developed a new blood pressure medication and submits it for the requisite clinical trials to obtain FDA approval. In its simplest form, this process might involve conducting an experiment wherein 500 people with high blood pressure are recruited and randomly split into two groups. Half of all participants would be given the real drug (the experimental group), and the other half would be given a placebo (the control group). After a specified amount of time, blood pressure levels would be measured and the differences between the groups would be compared.

    Let’s imagine that the experimental group exhibited an average systolic blood pressure of 149, while those in the control group averaged 150. This outcome seems unimpressive, but what if every single person in the experimental group ended up one point lower than when they entered the trial, while every single person in the control group stayed exactly the same?

    In this case, we can be fairly confident that the drug had a real effect. However, it wasn’t very powerful. It was reliably mediocre at reducing blood pressure.

    Now let’s imagine that the experimental group exhibited an average systolic blood pressure of 130, while those in the control group averaged 150. In this case, we can be fairly confident that the drug has a real effect, and a strong one.

    Hotdogs and Cancer Risk

    As it turns out, the WHO’s conclusions about the effect of processed meat consumption on cancer risk are much more like the former (low oomph) case than the latter (high oomph). In fact, its Q&A explicitly states the following:

    Q: Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). Tobacco smoking and asbestos are also both classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). Does it mean that consumption of processed meat is as carcinogenic as tobacco smoking and asbestos?

    A: No, processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.

    So the WHO is confident that consuming processed meat causes cancer — presumably, just as confident as they are that smoking tobacco causes cancer. But they are not saying that the two are equally carcinogenic. As such, comparisons between the two are wholly inappropriate. Another way of thinking about this is in the adage many of us learned in high school chemistry: the dose makes the poison.

    The WHO has gone to great lengths to clear up the confusion over the dangers of consuming processed meat — a fact that Anderson neatly skips over.

    Why We Need to Understand How Scientific Findings Work

    We are bombarded by unscrupulous, “scientific” claims every day. We are told that a certain substance is good or bad for us — summarized in plain terms by official-sounding bodies. Politicians do it, too: Harry Reid claimed that the Zika virus causes blindness (no). Attorney General Jeff Sessions has lumped marijuana in with other drugs and declared his intention to reinstantiate the drug war — a move that goes against all available evidence about marijuana’s supposed dangers.

    Science is messy and complicated. Most of us — even the educated — are not trained to understand the nuances inherent to science. In statistics courses, I constantly urge my graduate students to attend to both precision and oomph, but the majority of them were unfamiliar with the distinction throughout their undergraduate years.

    Getting people to attend to nuances in scientific findings is notoriously difficult, in large part because humans are what psychologists refer to as “cognitive misers” — we don’t like thinking too much about an issue if we can avoid it. After all, thinking is hard! As such, simple explanations like “X causes cancer, but Y does not” are incredibly appealing. It’s also a major reason why humans rely on heuristic reasoning, even when doing so is inappropriate.

    Politicians, activists, and regulatory agencies take advantage of our natural proclivity for lazy thinking (or avoiding thinking altogether) in their attempts to influence our behavior.

    Don’t let them. Do a little extra thinking. Explore the data for yourself. Ask questions.

    And above all, enjoy your bacon.

    [1] I am firmly of the opinion that “there’s a thing on Netflix you need to watch,” “there’s a book you need to read,” and “we need to talk” are among the most terrifying domestic utterances that occur with regularity. It’s worse in my case, as my wife is a well-educated, intelligent woman, so if she says I should look into something, I take her recommendation seriously.

  5. Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Michael Munger

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    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.



    How much do you hate Kentucky basketball?


    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.


    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?


    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.


    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”.


    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!


    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?


    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…


    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?


    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.


    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)


    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.


    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.


    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!


    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?


    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.


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


    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.


    Can you even right now?


    i can’t. Even.


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


    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!


    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.


    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.


    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)?


    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.


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


    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.


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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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 —


    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.


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


    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.


    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?


    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.

  6. Why Do We Have Student Loans?

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    Student loans skyrocketed from the 1980s to the 2007 recession. Dr. Domitrovic says this is a bubble that needs to pop. For notifications of new Learn Liberty videos, click the bell above.

  7. Reddit AMA with Professor Michael Munger of Duke University

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    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 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?


  8. Highlights from our Reddit AMA with Professor Bryan Caplan

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    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.



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


    The Magic of Education:

    Demagoguery Explained:

    Labor Econ vs. the World:


    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?


    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.


    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?


    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.


    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?


    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.


    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?


     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.


    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.


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


    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?


    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.


    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?


    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.



    What are your thoughts on climate change?


    1. I greet all predictions of disaster with skepticism, for reasons outlined here:

    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?


    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.


    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.


    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…


    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?


    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.

  9. 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 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!