Jason Sorens is a lecturer in the Government Department at Dartmouth College and received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 2003. He has researched and written more than a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles, a university press book, and a biennial book, Freedom in the 50 States. He received his department’s award for outstanding teaching, voted on by undergraduate students in the political science honor society, twice while at the University at Buffalo, and has 13 years of experience teaching at the university level. He is also president of Ethics and Economics Education of New England and vice president of the Free State Project. He lives in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the United States is the highest-taxed country in the world. Now, Trump may well be poorly informed on this issue, but the data people are using to fact-check him are misleading. Compared to other countries, US taxes are much higher than simple numbers show. You might have seen a chart like the one above, comparing the United States to other high-income countries on total tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). So what’s misleading about these data? The United States looks like a low-tax nation in part because it gives far more
How much do your financial prospects in life depend on how well-off your parents are? If the answer is “a lot,” is that necessarily a bad thing? In a free society, people’s incomes correlate with the marketable value they create for others. The traits that help you create marketable value include your work ethic, honesty, conscientiousness, and intelligence. Parents often pass down these traits to their children, whether through their genetic contributions or through training and socialization. So if two parents have traits that correlate with creating value for others, their kids are more
The United States is supposed to be a federal country, in which state governments enjoy exclusive authority to decide on policies not delegated to the central government, including policies on taxes and spending. Federalism is supposed to have many advantages: it allows state governments to experiment with policies and copy the most successful ones from each other, and it allows citizens to “vote with their feet” by moving to states whose policies they prefer.But critics of federalism point to one big disadvantage: federalism, they say, is unfair. In this view, federalism is unfair because
Editors Note: On October 27, the Catalan regional parliament voted 70-10 to declare independence from Spain. This comes after the Spanish government attempted to stop the independence referendum, in which 90% of the Catalans who voted favored independence. In this article, Prof. Sorens examines the legality and morality of secession. A large region of Spain called Catalonia has announced October 1 as the date of a binding referendum on its independence from Spain. This is the culmination of eight years of independence activism, regional elections, and public consultation. The Spanish government
A common argument for restricting immigration to the United States and other developed countries — maybe even the most plausible one — runs like this. Opening the borders will bring in people who will consume more public services than they pay for in taxes and who will vote for more statist politicians who support those public services. The result will be less freedom for everyone in the long run. Therefore, many conservatives say, immigration control is a regrettable but necessary step to securing freedom. Meanwhile, a common argument for restricting gun ownership in the United States and
Recent arguments against cutting federal health care spending — and letting states handle insurance regulation — reveal just how unaffordable the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is. Law professor and Incidental Economist contributor Nicholas Bagley, reconstructing the arguments of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, says that “it’s fine to give the states more authority to oversee their insurance markets,” but the states “don’t have the fiscal capacity to finance massive coverage expansions on their own.” They’re required to balance their budgets every year, so any commitment
Do occupational licensing laws protect you from unscrupulous and unqualified practitioners? Or do they just protect the current practitioners against new competition? These laws ban ordinary people from practicing a certain trade or profession — be it dentistry or hair-styling — until they have paid fees, undergone a certain number of hours of schooling, and usually passed certain examinations in order to get a license. The proponents of such licensing laws generally claim that they help keep consumers like you safe from harm and fraud. But let’s take a look at the evidence for ourselves. Licensing’s
Humans are getting more and more peaceful. Violent deaths from all causes (murder, war, etc.) have declined massively throughout human history. But to what do we owe this increasing peace? Enlightenment philosophy? Commerce? Or the rise of governance by states? Harvard social psychologist Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined provides a magisterial, comprehensive, and generally persuasive explanation of the peacefulness phenomena, yet the book contains a big omission. Pinker claims — but fails to prove — that early states significantly increased human
If you want to understand the moral basis of a free society, there might be no better place to start than the thought of Immanuel Kant. He is the most significant and widely discussed moral philosopher in history. And he was self-consciously an Enlightenment liberal who believed in limited government and maximum freedom.Let’s take a look at the elements of his moral and political argument for freedom. I. The Good Will and the Moral Law In his first work of moral philosophy, The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant tries to systematize our common moral intuitions in order to give
Let’s say that you’re a policymaker interested in reducing the size of government. Strategically, is it easier to cut government regulation or roll back the welfare state (thereby reducing government spending)? The Niskanen Center’s Will Wilkinson recently wrote a piece relating to this question that’s gotten a lot of attention: “What If We Can’t Make Government Smaller?” His argument rests on an inference from what’s known as Wagner’s Law, or the law of increasing state spending. This law suggests that as per-capita GDP rises in a country, so does the government share of GDP. If
Highly informed voters are also highly biased. That’s a serious problem for democracy, but also for any other system of political decision-making in big groups. Two new books, Against Democracy by Georgetown moral philosopher Jason Brennan and Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government by Princeton University political scientist Christopher Achen and Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels, deal intellectual hammer blows to the political system so many of us take for granted: democracy. Achen and Bartels show that most voters are ignorant of ideology
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