Squashed

A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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According to Ben Labaree’s history, The Boston Tea Party, the Founding Fathers were actually pretty appalled at the destruction of the tea.

According to Ben Labaree’s history, The Boston Tea Party, the Founding Fathers were actually pretty appalled at the destruction of the tea.

Society, Technology, and the Libertarian

I’m interested in the statistical overlap between the tech industry and the libertarians. It makes sense. My friends in the tech industry have commercially valuable skills in high demand. If the part of the American Dream where you generally work hard and life generally works out is true in any industry, it’s true in tech. There are plenty of open jobs that pay quite well in the industry—and it’s easy enough to forget that this isn’t true for everybody.1

Except … libertarianism only makes sense if you have a strong notion that your property is yours and you deserve it. It requires a strong notion of both property and individualism. That’s a curious thing to believe in an industry where value is primarily linked to intellectual property and the ability to do clever things with other people’s data. Afterall, intellectual property only becomes valuable because other people think it is important. The Coca-Cola trademark has value because it lives in the minds of billions of peole around the world. A social network like Tumblr is only valuable because it has millions of users. Google is only valuable as a search engine because it connects its advertisers to its users and its users to the things they are actually looking for. Remove the users, the advertisers, or the third party content and it’s nothing.

If you’re a subsistence farmer, you might be able to make a solid case for self-reliant individualism. But the technology industry is as far from subsistence farming as you can get. Everything depends on somebody else—and on having a full complement of laws, regulations, standards, and social norms to endure that all those interactions with others go smoothly.

The internet is a giant collection of connected computers that only works because of communally agreed protocols. You can’t invent a better metaphor for the way that society and the rule of law allow individuals to band together and become more than the sum of their parts. It’s kind of ironic that the world’s largest metaphor about functional government spawns so many libertarians.


  1. Somebody, no doubt, will want to argue that people in other industries should just go back to school and learn to be a sys admin or something. This could be a very reasonable career path for a handful of people. It doesn’t scale. 

Crime and the Libertarian

To their credit, the Libertarians have been extraordinarily vocal in the prison industrial complex issue. Liberty, after all, is hardly consistent with locking up 1% of society. But I worry that their solution to the problem is incomplete.

  1. Don’t lock people up for stupid things like minor drug offenses. Correlary: decriminalize things that shouldn’t be crimes, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, and generally try to be less of a police state.
  2. Stop doing constitutionally dubious searches. And while your at it, maybe stop militarizing local police forces. And see if they can be a bit less racist. See also “be less of a police state.”

As partial solutions go, these are both fine. I think the disconnect comes with the question of how to address things like theft, embezzlement, and burglary, and other crimes that Libertarians don’t like. I’m not talking about the massive-scale, shock-the-nation crimes. I mean the crime blotter stuff. I mean the geographically-concentrated crimes we connect with concentrated populations in high poverty.

Sequestration may going to cause the elimination of 185,000. That’s 185,000 families who could have reasonably stable housing that will suddenly be out of luck. With an average household size of about 2.5, 185,000 families is roughly the entire population of Wyoming. Some may be able to find housing elsewhere—but they’ll bump somebody else. The shelters are full. Sequestration is going to create a lot of really desperate people.

Connecting these dots isn’t nearly as simple as saying that crime is something ignorant like poor people routinely commit crime because they are desperate. There are a few more dots to connect. A loss of vouchers causes displacement. Displacement destabilizes communities. Etc. The bottom line is that stable housing, a stable job, and reasonably stable finances can make you the kind of boring person that doesn’t live a life of crime.

All the glorious benefits of a free market require broad participation in the market. That means people need sufficient resources to be full participants. Doesn’t a desire for a flourishing fee market require ensuring as many people as possible can participate? I get that subsidies cause market distortion. But doesn’t homelessness and extreme poverty cause a greater distortion? Bonnie? Jeff?

Food Stamps and Foodbanks

Yesterday, I wrote about how monstrous I though the Republicans’ efforts to cut SNAP benefits (“food stamps”) were. Predictably, I got the response, “what about food banks?”

LivingLiberty’s specific proposal involved cutting SNAP and asking Food Banks to pick up the slack. Rather than dealing with the specific reasons the proposal is impractical to the level of absurdity, let’s pretend that the proposal was to provide Food Banks sufficient federal funding to fully meet the new need caused by the SNAP cuts. In other words, use a site-based distribution system rather than a market-based distribution system. Normally I’m all for the small, efficiently-run non-profits. But it doesn’t make sense in this case. Why add a middle man? And why does LivingLiberty hate capitalism? (Come one, come all, watch a libertarian advocating entralized distribution of food rations.)

Currently, if you have a SNAP card, you can go to a normal store like anybody else, select whatever you want to select, and the only difference comes when it’s time to pay. As highlighted in this post by Rozrawrz](http://rozrawrz.tumblr.com/post/62054176635), allowing normal market participation is more practical, more convenient, and allows a better selection. When you consider that some SNAP recipients get benefits of something like $20 per month, it makes even less sense to require them to go to a separate location. Equally important, the market-based approach SNAP utilizes does not unnecessary segregation of the low-income community. Don’t get me wrong—food banks are awesome. But they are a different sort of thing than a grocery store.

In a follow-up post, Living Liberty defends the impracticality of his proposal on the grounds that, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” That’s the heart of it, right? We have an effective, efficient system now. Normally libertarians love choice and market-based solutions. But for some reason, the passion grew cold when it comes to dignity and choice for less affluent people. It’s as if stripping the dignity from those who recieve public assistance is part of a punishment for being a bad capitalist.

That’s no way to treat people.

Should we suspend student visas, or at least those from high-risk areas, pending an investigation into the national security implications of this program?

Rand Paul

As others have noted there are some real civil liberty concerns at issue in the question of how to treat the Boston bombing suspect. Rand Paul has done a whole lot of showboating on that topic of what constitutes due process, who is entitled to it, and whether it is permissible to deny due process to somebody within the territorial United States. So when Lindsey Graham says that the suspect should be denied an attorney as an “enemy combatant,” one might think Paul would push back on it.

Apparently the Great Libertarian Hope had other things to do. He wants to crack down on immigration and, apparently, suspend student visas.

I’m not a libertarian—and if you are, I won’t presume to tell you how you should feel about Paul. But … he’s sort of an awkward hero, right? I mean, he sure looks like he’s as much or more neocon as he is Libertarian.

The Libertarian Awakening

In 2001 the Libertarians were the guys who had the booth at the street festivals sandwiched between the Revolutionary Maoists and the Revolutionary Stalinists. Now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Libertarian.1 So where did they all come from?

My unscientific survey concluded that (unsurprisingly) the vast majority of Libertarians are children of Republicans. The politics of parents certainly don’t determine the politics of the children—but one of the awkward truths of political thought is that the apple rarely falls far from the tree. (This isn’t me talking down on Libertarians—it’s just how it is with every political group.)

The relative strength of the Liberty Movement has a lot to do with a crumbling in support for Republicans among young people. Proposals like “let’s all be scared of people who are different and/or gay” simply aren’t resonating like they use to. And maybe the brain needs at least forty-years of buffering to handle the cognitive dissonance necessary to simultaneously maintain that we have to immediately cut spending and that we shouldn’t under any circumstances touch military spending. The Republicans have always struggled with young people. But now they seem to be struggling even with young Republicans.

So what’s next? A huge chunk broke off the Republican glacier. Where is it headed? Will the wayward Republican children rejoin the fold? That seems unlikely, unless the Republicans can bring their platform into the 21st century. Will Libertarianism be a strong, independent force going forward? I don’t think that’s likely either. Opposition to things like Medicare gets harder when people you love start retiring.2 Will the Progressives see an influx? It’s not inconcievable. Advocacy for a more humane foreign policy could plausibly lead to support for a more humane domestic policy.


  1. If you’re proud to live in a jurisdiction where you have the freedom to swing dead cats around without running afoul of some sanitary code or animal cruelty law, thank a Libertarian! 

  2. Hey Libertarian friends. I realize how obnoxiously smug it sounds for me to essentially say, “You’ll grow out of your cherished beliefs you naive little duckling.” With that said … I’ve harbored some libertarian sympathies in the past. But then … life takes you outside ivory towers. You see friends with crippling depression and no family to fall back on whose only means of survival is SSDI. You see other friends who worked their whole life anticipating a pension held by a suddenly bankrupt company. 

A question for the young(ish) Libertarians

It’s clear enough that a lot more young people identify as libertarian than did a decade ago. It’s less clear to me where all the Libertarians came from. I’m curious. For those of you who identify as libertarian, which political party did your parents, more often than not, vote for?

I think he’s wonderful and I think he’s doing a good job and people should look at him and every individual should make up their own mind.

Ron Paul on Gary Johnson

Bait and Switch

Traditionally, the Democrats have sought to preserve civil liberties and reduce military adventurism. Running the country means that princpled stances sometimes run into other principled stances and compromises are made. Compromise means controversy. Civil libertarians have reason to be frustrated.1 So do those who categorically oppose military intervention.2 No politician is entitled to your support—and nobody should blame you for looking around.

Many of those looking for somebody with a more hardline stance on civil liberties and against military action found Ron Paul.3 Ron Paul, a Republican, has emphasized that he cares about “liberty,” by which he means a combination of protecting civil liberties and an extreme hands-off approach toward economics, even when that comes at the expense of a lot of people without a lot of money or influence. And if you joined Ron Paul for his civil liberties stances, maybe you’ll adopt—or at least tolerate—some of his economic stances as well.

So what happens when Paul loses the race and Romney gets the nomination? Romney’s stances on civil liberties and military action is far worse than Obama’s. He wants to “double Guantanamo” and stick with the Afghanistan war indefinitely. Apparently he’s against allowing same-sex couples to adopt now too. But, like Paul, he’s a Republican. And he’s going to make a hard sell that he’s going to protect the same kind of “economic liberties” that Paul did.[^4] And a lot of Paul supporters are going to come around—even though Romney is dramatically worse than Obama on the issues the primarily claim to care about.

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It is my view that the withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year is an enormous mistake, and failing by the Obama administration. The precipitous withdrawal is unfortunate — it’s more than unfortunate, I think it’s tragic.

Mitt Romney

I understand and respect that a lot of folks think Obama was both too slow in removing troops from Iraq or that he should have pushed for an immediate and complete withdrawal from Afghanistan rather than the more orderly strategy he has adopted. I don’t always agree with this criticism. But I get it.

I’ve criticized my Ron Paul supporting friends as simply subscribing to a slightly hipper version of the same money-for-the-rich conservativism we’ve seen since the conservatives ended up on the wrong end of the civil rights movement. If, come November, they stay home, vote for a third party, or (I can dream) vote for Obama, I’ll retract the criticism.

I think it’s more likely that we’ll see them explain, one at a time, how they have rationalized themselves into supporting Mitt “Double Guantanamo” Romney.