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.