Posts tagged ‘economic freedom’

Memo to Vox: You Know How This Prosperity Was Achieved? We Let it Happen.

Vox shares what is perhaps the greatest achievement in human history, the continuing disappearance of absolute poverty:



Readers of this blog will likely  have seen this before (though it may well be new to Vox readers).  Here is the amazing thing about the Vox article:  It never once mentions capitalism, trade, economic freedom, or any synonym.  Here is a sampling of the tone of the accompanying article:

There's still much work to be done: 14.4 percent of the world amounts to 1 billion people who still need to be lifted out of extreme poverty. And making sure everyone's making at least $1.25 a day isn't the end of the fight either. The world's median income is still only $3 to $4 a day. By comparison, the poverty line in the US for a family of four is $16.61 per person per day. Once under-$1.25-a-day poverty is eradicated, the world needs to set about eradicating under-$15-a-day poverty, which will be a substantially harder task.

Vox is treating this like it is the result of some top-down effort, using the same language one might use to describe the eradication of Yellow Fever in Panama.  As if this resulted (and as if future progress depended on) some all-hands-on-deck technocratic government program.

No one "set about" eradicating poverty.  It happened because governments, at least to some extent, got out of the way and didn't stop it.  China is a great example.  Mao "set about" trying to eliminate poverty using many of the approaches likely favored by the Vox staff, and killed a few tens of millions of people in the process.

Here is my theory of the world's accelerating wealth formation that I have written on a number of times before.  This chart largely results from:

  • There was a philosophical and intellectual change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns wentfrom being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in vogue. In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone, were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established beliefs and appeals to authority.
  • There were social and political changes that greatly increased the number of people capable of entrepreneurship. Before this time, the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had one. By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability to use their mind to create new wealth. Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom.

So today's wealth, and everything that goes with it (from shorter work hours to longer life spans) is the result of more people using their minds more freely.

Congrats Greece! You are Slightly More Free Than Bangladesh, Burundi, And Yemen

The Heritage Foundation ranks Greece #130 on its economic freedom list, which puts it in the "mostly unfree" category.   Of course, these rankings depend a lot on the categories and the weighting, but the story here is still telling.  The next worst European country I can find is Slovenia at #88 and the first EU country I see is Italy at #80, not great but a good fifty spots higher.

Which begs the question, asked by Megan McArdle today, of why Europe wants Greece anyway.  In terms of political-economy, it had little in common with the rest of the continent.  Everyone assumes the EU is trying to prevent a domino effect, with the other PIGS nations defecting from the Euro, but I think the Greek capitulation this weekend shows how unlikely this is -- it is clear Greece will do absolutely anything to stay in the Euro, and so it is reasonable to assume Portugal, Spain, and Italy face the same incentives and are thus not ready to leave the Euro on a whim just because Greece does.

Liberty or Voting: I'll Take Liberty

Couldn't agree more with the thoughts in this post from TJIC:

I was discussing this with Dan Geer the other day "“ the fact that individual liberty (social, economic, etc.) is the goal, and democracy (political "liberty") is just a tool to get there "¦ and not even a particularly good tool.

I'd be all in favor of a limited constitutional monarchy, if the result was "“ integrated over time "“ more social and economic freedom....

Leftists don't understand this at all "“ they think that the freedom to vote for your choice of bully who will lord it over everyone else is the paramount right, and they don't recognize economic liberty at all.

I said something similar in this post on why I don't necessarily treasure the right to vote.

Now, don't get me wrong, the right to vote in a representative democracy is great and has proven a moderately effective (but not perfect) check on creeping statism.  A democracy, however, in and of itself can still be tyrannical.  After all, Hitler was voted into power in Germany, and without checks, majorities in a democracy would be free to vote away anything it wanted from the minority "“ their property, their liberty, even their life.   Even in the US, majorities vote to curtail the rights of minorities all the time, even when those minorities are not impinging on anyone else.  In the US today, 51% of the population have voted to take money and property of the other 49%.

I go on to discuss what things are more important to a good government than voting.

Voting With Their Feet

Arthur Laffer and the ALEC have a report out with lots of economic, tax, and regulatory data about the individual states.   This chart caught my eye:


They have a hundred pages explaining why these trends might be, but you and I already know, don't we,  just from looking at the names of the states.  It is fairly clear that the current Administration is emulating the policies of the bottom 10 in its recovery plans.  Which brings me back to the question I have asked before:  Where do we all migrate to for freedom when we have screwed up this country?

The Silver Lining

TJIC has the silver lining nailed for libertarians:

Let us not forget the good news from the election: one statist, speech limiting, freedom-agnostic candidate lost.

I'm kind of ambivalent this morning -  I knew in advance that freedom was going to lose again in this election, no matter what the outcome.

If I am depressed this morning, it is more about propositions and side issues than about the President and Congress.  Had this been a leftward shift in the county, I could have been satisfied that at least losses in freedom in one area might be substituted by gains in others  (though for me personally, changes in economic freedom tend to have far more direct and immediate impact than changes in social freedoms).

But the only pattern I could see yesterday was not leftward but government-ward.  In the same states where Democratic candidates won with economic interventionist messages, Constitutional bans on gay marriage also won by sizable majorities.   In Arizona, gay marriage was banned, an initiative to limit future tax increases was defeated, an initiative to protect health care choice was defeated, an initiative to soften last year's anti-immigrant legislation was defeated, and a payday loan ban was confirmed.  The voting in some way defies a traditional left-right explanation and is only consistent in that it was almost all the reverse of the libertarian position.  And to make the results even more irrational, nearly the biggest defeat of any ballot initiative in Arizona was for a pay increase for state legislators -- the voters seem to like government but don't trust or respect the individuals employed there.

After the last Bush election, a number of leftish folks claimed they were moving to Canada or France or wherever.  But that's the problem for libertarians in this country -- there is not place to run.  Those who want to run away to a country with a more controlling government have 180 or so choices.  Those of us who seek more freedom have approximately none.

Update: This slight paraphrase from the movie Zoolander encapsulates my thought on this election:

They're the same! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

I am actually less frightened by the candidates than by people who seem to get so excited by one or the other of them.

Maybe Its 1850 Again

In 1850, the hottest topic in politics was slavery.  But an awkwardness developed in the political parties.  The Democrats were pretty clearly the pro-slavery party, or at least the conservative maintain the status quo party.  But the Whigs, their opposition, were internally split on slavery.  What that meant was that there was no obvious home for the voters who were against the expansion of slavery into the territories, or more radically, were for slavery's abolition.  A Free Soil third party emerged, but the US has always seemed to seek out a two-party equilibrium.  In just a few years, the Whigs collapsed, and the anti-slavery wing merged with the Free Soilers to form the Republican party.  In the end, having no real contrast among the two major parties on the major issue of the day was unstable.

The only faint hope from this election for libertarians, particularly those concerned with economic freedom issues, is that it may finally highlight to lack of choice we have on these issues between the two major parties.  A few examples like Jeff Flake notwithstanding, the Republican party under GWB and McCain have become virtually indistinguishable from the Democrats on most economic freedom issues.  While I might have had hope 15 years ago that the Republicans could reinvent themselves as classical liberals, I now think this is demonstrated to be hopeless.  Unfortunately, an 1850's style breakup of the party seems unlikely too.  So I guess I don't have much hope after all.

Postscript: Remember, it was Republicans who did this:

The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the
United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury
Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each
handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the
government, then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said they must
sign it before they left.

"They weren't allowed to negotiate.
Mr. Paulson requested that each of them sign. It was for their own good
and the good of the country, he said, according to a person in the

At least one banker objected. "But by 6:30, all nine chief
executives had signed "” setting in motion the largest government
intervention in the American banking system since the Depression."

There Are Two Americas, update

In a previous post, I observed that there did indeed seem to be two Americas:  the one productive people want to live in, and the one productive people are trying to escape because the local government is so controlling and confiscatory.  I further observed that, unfortunately, both Democratic candidates appeared to be from the latter.

This is an interesting follow-up

"When California faced a Mount Everest-sized $14 billion deficit in
2003, one of the major causes for the red ink was the stampede of
millionaire households from the state," says a report called "Rich
States, Poor States" by economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore.
"Out of the 25,000 or so seven-figure-income families, more than 5,000
left in the early 2000s, and the loss of their tax payments accounted
for about half the budget hole."

I am not sure how they got to this number, but holy crap!  20% of the wealthiest families left the state?  I'm not sure even Hugo Chavez is doing that poorly.

Update:  Even more here, comparing inward and outward migration rates of states vs. a state-by-state economic freedom index.

I'll Accept This Description

David Boaz:

Maybe libertarians should try to describe their philosophy by saying
"libertarians believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe
in, and the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in."