You’ll never guess the top political label in America
Posted on February 14, 2014 at 12.47 pm
Thanks to Rare for publishing this piece, which is hopefully the first of many of my columns for them! Check it out here.
If I asked you to name the most popular policy agenda in America today, what would you guess?
People on the right might cite decades of poll numbers which show more Americans identify as “conservatives” than “liberals”—by roughly a two to one margin. Left-wingers could point out that nearly a third of Americans count themselves as members of the Democratic Party, outpacing the GOP’s declining numbers, especially among young people.
What if both are wrong?
As the public’s trust in government hits new lows, libertarian positions on major policy issues are reaching record support across the board.
Polls show solid majorities of Americans agree with the libertarian perspective on:
- foreign policy (let’s mind our own business),
- nation-building (unwise),
- warrantless mass surveillance (illegal, immoral, and just plain creepy),
- domestic drone use (bad idea),
- the national debt (it’s a big problem),
- federal spending (waaaay too much),
- the Federal Reserve (audit it),
- health care (DC isn’t competent to handle it),
- government welfare (inefficient and not helping),
- the drug war (legalize marijuana),
- food choice (don’t mandate nutrition),
- marriage (let the couples decide),
- Congress (passes too many laws and the wrong kinds of laws),
- and our government in general (too big and burdensome).
This is not to say our government is even remotely close reforming policies based on these public attitudes or even that a majority of the country identifies with libertarianism as a package. In fact, Washington DC is currently doing the exact opposite of everything on this list and only about a quarter of Americans identify as libertarians.
But it is to say that we have arrived at a historic moment, or consensus, for libertarians’ policy agenda—can any other major political perspective boast such comprehensive majorities on foreign, economic, and social policies alike?
So the FCC Won’t Let Me Be…
Posted on February 13, 2014 at 2.49 pm
Q. Will you make a post about net neutrality please? (Or have you already?) There is too much wrong information floating around on this site. — hippydippysays, from tumblr.
A. You know, I don’t think I’ve posted about net neutrality as such; I’ve mainly just mentioned some of its side effects/tangential issues. So a basic intro post is perhaps overdue! Fair warning, it’s a long one.
What is net neutrality? In simplest terms, it’s the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast shouldn’t favor some websites over others by making it faster for users like us to connect to/stream from the favored sites.Comparisons have been made to setting different speeds for FedEx vs. UPS trucks on a highway, thus favoring one delivery business, or the water company charging you differently for washing machine water use vs. shower water use.
Why would companies oppose net neutrality? Well, for ISPs, it’s largely a financial decision. It costs them more to stream more data, so they’d like to be paid more for it. And this isn’t totally unreasonable: It’s pretty common to charge more money for more of a product or service.
There’s also what basically amounts to an advertising opportunity: For example, Comcast could say to Netflix, “We’re the only way you can deliver your product to your consumers in many areas, and it costs us a lot to make that happen. You should pay us a carrier fee or we’ll have to throttle your speeds — and your customers won’t like that.”
Why would someone who isn’t an ISP oppose net neutrality? Net neutrality opponents typically aren’t making the case that unequal internet access is desirable for users. Having ISPs favor some content over others — aside from the potential annoyance if, say, Netflix in our example didn’t pay up — has a real potential for abuse. For instance, why would Comcast want to make it easy for you to read anti-Comcast blogs…or research other ISPs in your area?
But there are also questions of freedom at stake: Why does the government get to regulate businesses’ pricing plans? And what if an ISP’s owners have a moral or religious conviction about blocking certain content, like Westboro Baptist Church sites or child pornography? Also, the ability to save money by throttling access to some content could potentially help new ISP competitors get off the ground.
Do we have net neutrality now? Well, we do and we don’t. Many ISPs comply with the principles of net neutrality voluntarily. The old legal rules (well, old since 2011) which mandated it were struck down in a court decisionin January. Since that decision is so recent, not much has changed so far. However, the FCC (the agency responsible for administrating those rules) isworking to instate new rules as soon as possible.
On the most libertarian country
at 2.20 pm
Q. I think a lot of libertarian ideas sound awesome in theory, but I know theory and practice aren’t always the same. So I was wondering, is any country actually libertarian? If not, which comes closest? — youarethegreenwonderofjune, from tumblr.
A. Well, this is tricky, because it depends on how you measure it.
For instance, this map is a reasonably reliable measure of different types of economic freedoms — but economic measures alone can vary wildly by country. The US, for example, gets a terrible score on government spending and a comparatively strong score for property rights (though it’s hardly ideal, as this story I just posted demonstrates). Generally, for economic liberty, Hong Kong tops the charts, and places like Switzerland and Singapore are close runners-up.
If we look at press freedom, though, we get a totally different picture.The highest rankings here are mostly in northern and western Europe, and America is nowhere near the top (we’re #46, a big drop from last year thanks to all these NSA revelations). Many of the Asian countries which rank comparatively high on economic freedom are near the bottom of the list for speech freedom.
Then there’s the Freedom House ranking, which seeks to be a little more comprehensive, and gives a lot of attention to corruption, representative government, and civil liberties. They use broad categories (partly free, not free, and free), which makes a less colorful map. It’s an interesting list, but doesn’t get very specific.
Then there are one-off attempts to rank the “most libertarian” countries, and they usually leave much to be desired. This one rightly points out that Portugal pretty much ended its drug war, but also (possibly as a joke?) includes North Korea because marijuana is technically legal there. Here’s another list which puts Ireland at the top of the list, but doesn’t offer much reasoning for that choice. Of all the articles I’ve read on the subject, this one from The American Conservative is likely the most thoughtful. As it comments:
[The question of why we can’t name a single “most libertarian” country makes] little sense when you replace “libertarianism” with, say, “atheism” or “environmentalism” or “feminism.” Operating in a liberal-democratic system that is driven by what Isaiah Berlin described as “value pluralism,” libertarian intellectuals and activists aim at affecting the world of ideas and the political process through the policy concepts they propose, not at establishing a Utopia based on their principles.
From that perspective, it’s difficult to argue that libertarian or classical-liberal ideas as they apply to economic policies—a.k.a. “free-market ideology”—haven’t had a dramatic impact in the last four decades or so. […]
That didn’t transform anyplace on earth into a libertarian Utopia, to be sure. In fact, Singapore, which [economically can be considered] an example of a libertarian state, is if anything the ultimate Nanny State, while the economic liberalization of Chile took place under a military dictatorship.
As the American Conservative article concludes, we would likely be able to point to more specifically libertarian accomplishments here in the United States if we had a parliamentary system which promoted multi-party coalitions — which we currently very much do not.
So, all that said, I guess my answer is this: There is no one purely libertarian country in the world, and it’s difficult to name a single “most libertarian” country because all nations have good policies in some areas and bad policies in others. Hopefully the resources I’ve listed here can guide you into looking more at how specific liberty-friendly policies have played out in real life circumstances, though they may indeed operate in a philosophically inconsistent context.
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