Arnold Kling  

Libertarian Principles

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In my latest essay, I articulate a list. It starts with,


1. We weave a thread of self-reliance into a sturdy fabric of interdependence. By respecting the law, we reinforce impersonal justice. By competing intensely and fairly in an impersonal global market, we raise our standard of living through specialization and innovation. By upholding Constitutional principles for limited government, we sustain our individual freedom.

2. We are creative and pro-active in helping one another. We do not have the patience to wait for government, nor do we want to be lulled into passivity by the promise of government. Instead, to solve those problems that require collective action, we form voluntary associations, including civic groups, corporations, clubs, standards-setting bodies, consumer information services, and charitable foundations.


I would like other bloggers to comment on what I call the IATF RFC.

I wrote the essay in the aftermath of attending a Conservative Summit put on by the folks at National Review this past weekend. There, I sensed a grassroots frustration with the abandonment of limited-government principles. At the same time, the libertarian side of several debates--on immigration, for example--was not well received.

Since writing the essay, I have been reading Mark Tanner's Leviathan on the Right. It has a good chapter describing many of the personalities and theories behind big-government conservatism. Ironically, the Summit featured many of those personalities and theories.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/640
The author at Economic Investigations in a related article titled News of the World #21 writes:
    Some of the things that have happen while I was out there, fighting with the forces of inefficiency: The Swiss are looting France and or subsidizing the rich, by having low taxes, and other (shitty) fantasies of the French Left, so out of touch with re... [Tracked on February 1, 2007 12:48 PM]
COMMENTS (22 to date)
dearieme writes:

"By competing intensely and fairly..": rubbish. "Fairly", of course, but no need for "intensely". Rather -
"By competing fairly and with whatever degree of intensity we choose,....".

Atheist writes:

Personally, I don't think 6. is very acceptable to me. While some of the 10 commandments obviously make sense (thou shalt not steal, murder etc), others truly don't make any sense to me. Adultery for one should only be between the involved party, not the rest of the society.

And as for the rest of the bible, that's even worse. All in all I do consider the bible to be rather antithetic to freedom. And so do most of my libertarian leaning friends, BTW.

dearieme writes:

Which bit of the Declaration of Independence do you favour? How about the anti-Catholic rant "For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies". That is about Quebec, isn't it?

Kungfublood writes:

I used to receive the news letter from the Libertarian party while I thought they had some points in their favor. I found them selfish and spritually deficient in that they seem to be the kind of people who look the other way when it comes to helping others.I canceled it when in a funk of hypocrisy they asked me for money.

Jason writes:

For my 2 cents, I like what Kling has written. I find the comments here to be knee-jerk reactions to words and phrases and not criticism of the meaning of what was written.

dearieme, on your first comment... The point is not that everyone must compete intensely, but that our standard of living has risen because of the intense competition. There is no value judgment here on how intensely any individual wishes to compete. On your second comment you seem to be projecting current Canadian/U.S. resentments onto individuals that lived in colonial times. I think that the most relevant part of the DoI is the first section that deals with the philosophy of what a government should and should not be. The, "Facts [] submitted to a candid world," are less relevant because they were specific issues that the colonists were dealing with at that time. Not all of them have any relevance to current events.

For Atheist, section 6 is merely listing ideas that different individuals bring to the conversation. I doubt that Kling is saying that all participants must agree to the validity of each of the items he listed. The point is the conversation. As he said, "It is vital to continue the conversation, even when consensus is difficult." "Libertarian conservatives" is a pretty broad category. There are going to be some pretty divergent views among people who will call themselves that.

Matt H writes:

I'm not fully with you on number 9. I believe that some people yearn for liberty. Sadly, I think most people want simply a just master (to borrow a phrase from Sallust) whether that master is of the State, a religious authority, etc. A better phrasing of 9 might be:
We seek to increase the number of people around the world who yearn for liberty through education and persuasion.

Brad Hutchings writes:

It's a tough time to be a libertarian conservative. On the conservative side (the NR corner), you have a large "we hate Mexicans" contingent. On the libertarian side (the Reason corner), it's all drugs and gay sex all the time. Neocons (the Weekly Standard crowd) still preach the greatness agenda and still want to coopt the Haiti model and apply it in places where failure isn't tolerable. I kinda like Jim Glassman's approach now, which with The American is to just back away from the politics and try to pick out what's good in our culture of commerce. Arnold, perhaps you need to start a bi-monthly magazine to articulate his perspective and give people a way to vote with their subscription dollars.

Brent writes:

I generally admire anyone having a go at such a tough task as writing this !!!

Can I ask for attempt(s) at a better phrase than "limited government" - we thought we had that here in NZ in the early 1980s while living in a heavily regulated quagmire. The key point about govt activity is that it is founded on "coercive powers". We forget that at our peril.

Other key notions are those of govt being a rule maker and enforcer never a player, being accountable to a higher standard than individuals because of its use of coercion and being limited to a "narrowly and explicitly defined" set of activities.

PJens writes:

I am not the originator of this statement, I wish I knew who was...but I believe along with them that:

The greatest freedom is to be left alone. Government ought to leave people alone as much as possible.

Wild Pegasus writes:

People all over the world don't yearn for liberty. They yearn for power. They resent being dominated and being told what to do, but they enjoy dominating others and telling them what to do. Few wish to leave others alone.

- Josh

Barbar writes:

When foreign leaders issue threats against us, we take them at their word and act accordingly.

Arnold, there is an exciting new field in economics called "game theory." It may be somewhat relevant here!

(You may also want to consider how often foreign countries issue "threats" like, "We will invade America soon"; or if it's rational for members of an "Axis of Evil" to want to acquire nuclear weapons.)

Atheist writes:

Jason: if it's simply a selection of what could be relevant, the whole part of the paragraph should not be there. Selections of this kind almost always leave out other important (meaning they are considered by some to be important, at least) and relevant approaches irritating their followers.

Manifests like these should be as concise as possible. [1]

And I still stand by my view that most of biblical scripture isn't compatible with freedom very much.

[1] While I think Communist Manifesto is an interesting piece in its own right, it's waaaayyy too long.

jp writes:

Brad H -- Nice summary.

ks writes:

"I used to receive the news letter from the Libertarian party while I thought they had some points in their favor. I found them selfish and spritually deficient in that they seem to be the kind of people who look the other way when it comes to helping others.I canceled it when in a funk of hypocrisy they asked me for money."

I don't know any Libertarian who is selfish or spiritually deficient. The Party stands on principles of self reliance but also a society where people voluntarily help one another. Many Libertarians are Christians but they don’t feel the government has the right to push any belief onto any person in terms of spirituality or religion. I also know of NO Libertarian who would consider it hypocrisy for you to VOLUNTARILY give YOUR money to whomever you wish.

ks writes:

Mr. Kling,

I think your essay has some great points and some of the comments here reflect what is wrong with Libertarians and why our Party has never gained any traction. Too many Libertarians belong to the “all or nothing” school of politics. Either you believe in EVERYTHING and you push for ALL reforms or you throw up your hands and forget the whole thing. By its very nature political change is incremental (at least in the United States) and Libertarians should not push so hard for things that are impossible to achieve. Badnarik claiming that all federal income taxes are illegal marginalizes us and labels us all as fringe fanatics (even if there is any truth to the 16th amendment not being ratified). We must find some common ground and ally ourselves with any Party that shares our beliefs. We must push for gradual incremental change and try for victories no matter how small.

Zabrina writes:

I like what you've written. I've added my comments to your draft of principles here:

http://thoughtyoudneverask.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-do-contemporary-libertarian.html

Matt writes:

A libertarian went to a National Review summit? You must have went as an enemy agent.

Whenever National Review policies are implemented, there are two results:
1) Government grows like a starving socialist, and
2) National Review blames someone else.

Bill Buckley, by founding the National Review, has identified himslef as a communist, small "c".

Everyone repeat after me: "Conservatism is all about growing government"

Jason writes:

Atheist,
your point about conciseness has merit. I'd like to say a little about the Bible/Religion etc. Of course you are right about the Bible being incompatible with freedom, but only when a government is based on it. But, in a free society, people can and do limit their own freedom based on many things. Adherents to certain religions agree to a set of rules beyond that set by any government. This is compatible with libertarianism. Followers of the Bible should be free to live as they see fit, as long as they don't force anyone else to do anything. As libertarians, Christians and Atheists should have much to agree upon. Now, there are a lot of Christians out there that DO want to force people to live like they do, and they need to be sent to reeducation camps. Just kidding! Seriously, (and getting off topic) I think that Christians as a group are ripe to be convinced to come over to the libertarian camp. The moral argument for libertarianism, I think, can be very persuasive.

Taxes writes:

The problem for conservatives and libertarians is that they got away from their uniting raison d'etre: cutting taxes and regulation. That's all they need to do, over and over again. Republicans need to stop trying to ban gay marriage and stem cells, and libertarians need to stop pushing for gay marriage and open borders. If we just focus on our common goals, it will take all the energy and time we have just to make modest progress. Medicare, Social Security, Tax Reform, Education Reform, Deregulation (including energy, telecom, and trade). We can talk about other issues when these 5 are done.

Matt writes:

Response to taxes:

Libertarians do not push for gay marriage or any other kind.

How does a libertarian get reform in education after we just passed "No Kid Left Behind" We hase to cancel that conservative program first.

Regarding taxes, liberetarians want taxes to pay exactly for services, that is match them.

After 8 trillion dollars in deficit spending, conservatives are gone.

Follower of Jesus Christ writes:

Atheist & Jason
Since you two brought up the topic of Christianity. In particular how Christianity is incompatible with freedom and liberty, I figured I would provide you two with a Christian rebuttal. First Christianity is first and foremost about God, but also one of its key principles is freedom and liberty. First the secular argument, the founders of this nation were primarily protestant Christians and a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence will show their faith in God. I quote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The founders argued correctly I might add that God is the endower of mans rights and Liberty. They believed this to the point of death, had they failed during the revolution they surely would have hanged for treason. Original freedom and Liberty in this country stemmed from Christianity not in spite of it.
Now the Biblical view (Yes I will quote the Bible, since you gentleman portrayed it as incompatible with freedom lets see what it says, instead of talking without citation)
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:33-8:36
One of many possible quotations. You might say well if the Bible says I can’t do this or that, well then I am not free. Well things like murder and theft violate other peoples God given rights. Things like say narcotics violates the individuals’ liberty (One has to question how much freedom and liberty a Heroin addict has in choosing his vice). In terms of your wondering’s about the immorality about adultery the cheated on spouse had contract rights violated. You broke a vow, your word, integrity so on so forth. Property contracts are judged by society at large why not the most sacred of contracts?
In conclusion one of the main themes of the Bible is Liberty and Freedom. In terms of coming to ‘Libertarian camp’ I am closer to those that would ‘reeducate those in camps’ If you are persuaded to come over to our camp ‘the address is easy Romans 10 :9 -11

Follower of Jesus Christ writes:

My closing statement should of said
I am closer to the "libertian camp than those that would ‘reeducate those in camps’ If you are persuaded to come over to our camp ‘the address is easy Romans 10 :9 - 11
My apolgies for my inmcoplete thought

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