NoL Foreign Policy Results: Preliminary

tldr version; Libertarians are not isolationists in their foreign policy. Left-libertarians in particular are more supportive of things like NATO. Left-libertarians are also more supportive of acting on migration and climate change issues.

These are the preliminary results of the NoL Foreign Policy Survey 2017 Pilot. I will release the raw data and more results in the coming days. I am still in the process of cleaning things up.

The survey targeted self-identified libertarians through online libertarians communities (e.g. the Ron Paul Forums, reddit subreddits, facebook groups, etc.). The survey aimed to better understand the foreign policy views of self-identified libertarians based in the United States. The survey was conducted between December 23rd 2016 and January 1st 2017 and received over 600 replies.

Warning: This survey was a pilot and I discourage trying to generalize its results to the wider libertarian movement with any high degree of certainty.


The survey uses a survey experiment where respondents were placed into one of four alternative scenarios. Each scenario received similar questions, but had slight wording differences in two questions:

(1) whether the respondent supported providing military aid to a US ally and
(2) whether the respondent supported allowing in refugees from that country

The four scenarios were:

(1) A US ally being attacked by a neighbor – the base scenario
(2) The Baltic republics being attacked by Russia
(3) Afghanistan being attacked by Russia
(4) Taiwan ROC being attacked by China PRC

The survey can divided roughly into four parts:

(1) Military policy
(2) Migration policy
(3) Climate change policy and
(4) Trade policy


In the base scenario libertarians we find that the majority of libertarians favor providing military aid to a generic US ally. However that support goes down substantially when details are provided. If Afghanistan, a non-NATO major ally, were attacked it would receive support from less than 10 percent of respondents.


Likewise support for allowing refugees in from the attacked country is high in the base scenario, but drops for Afghanistan. Support for allowing refugees from Taiwan or the Baltic republics is not statistically different from the base scenario.


In the above graphs we see respondents’ support for unilateral action in free trade (“remove all trade barriers”), open borders, and addressing climate change. Support for unilateral action is almost twice as high for free trade than either support for open borders or climate change.


When I dig further into type of libertarian we see that left-libertarians are more willing to act on open borders and climate change than their counterparts. Almost 100 percent of market anarchists are in favor of abolishing all trade barriers.


Respondents are split on support for international groups like NAFTA or NATO. If we look at sub-groups within the libertarian movement (i.e. libertarians, left-libertarians, and market anarchists) we see that left-libertarians are more supportive and market anarchists are less supportive of international action.


Foreign Policy Survey

A project I’ve been playing around with for a while has been better understanding the policy views of libertarians. In a few policy areas one should expect near-unanimous agreement on what constitutes the libertarian position. I would, for example, find it hard to believe someone was a libertarian if they supported minimum wage laws. In other areas though it isn’t clear what the libertarian position is.

Foreign policy is one such area. As has been discussed on NoL, it isn’t clear that a singular libertarian foreign policy can exist. Contemporary libertarianism is heavily tied to the US, which further complicates matters. A US based libertarian might oppose NATO on grounds that it over extends the power of the government. A libertarian based in Poland on the other hand might support NATO as a necessary countermeasure to the threat of attack from Russia.

To answer these questions I’m playing around with a pilot study.  The survey can be accessed here. It should take 10-15 minutes and I would appreciate if you could all take it. The survey is aimed for US libertarians, but feel free to take if you’re elsewhere.

Emphasis on the ‘pilot’. I am still playing around with wording and such. I am debating which demographic questions can be removed to reduce possibility of identification – I know many libertarians are skeptical about taking these surveys out of privacy concerns. If you have any comments/suggestions feel free to do so in the comments.

New Year Research Resolutions – or – What are you working on?

Hi everyone. I am your co-blogger. Seeing as the end of the year is approaching I thought it would be nice to know what everyone is working on research wise. So if you have the time post the three (or less) research projects you hope to finish in the upcoming year in the comments below and in a short sentence describe each one.

I’ll start off:

(1) Social Remittances:

I am exploring how social remittances, the transmission of political capital through emigrants, affected the 2000 Mexican elections by increasing demand for improved institutions. Based on an earlier NoL post here.

(2) Libertarian Public Opinion Project:

I’m working on this with Brandon; the plan is to field a survey of the libertarian movement to answer questions such as ‘Is there a uniform libertarian foreign policy?’. Reddit apparently has done a straw poll of market anarchists: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013

(2) Rodney King Riots 25 Years Later:

Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the Rodney King Riots and I plan to combine new survey data with older regional surveys to see if race relations have improved in Los Angeles since then.

Who needs a list of progressive professors?

Turning Point USA has a new list out of progressive professors. The list has already begun to be attacked as signaling the rise of a new era of McCarthyism where academics will be prosecuted for anti-American discourse.

I agree that the list should be attacked in so far that it tries to define what is acceptable discourse in academia. Academia should be a place where ideas, no matter how absurd or controversial, can be discussed and this list doesn’t help that goal.

There may be a limited place for safe places. Recently I’ve been willing to accept ‘safe places’ in those cases where individuals genuinely cannot handle certain ideas being discussed. There’s no point in, for example, attending the university’s Jewish student club and claiming that the Holocaust didn’t happen. There’s no point in going to a support meeting of transsexuals and claiming they’re going to hell. Etc etc. Emphasize on the limited though. I am willing to hold my tongue in support group settings, but that’s it.

That said the list, and the response to it, are funny in several ways.

Turning Point USA crafted the list to indicate professors who have been documented attacking conservatives. One professor barged into a Republican student and shouted profanity. I can see a point in the list if it listed only those professors who had a reputation for encouraging an environment of hostility – there is a different between being able to discuss radical ideas and yelling fire in a theater. I’m not so clear why Holocaust deniers are listed though. I don’t agree with such individuals, but if they only express the ideas I see no reason to avoid them. If Turning Point USA is serious about promoting a culture where conservative ideas can be freely discussed in academia it must be willing to protect the Holocaust deniers. Does Turning Point USA not realize the absurdity of trying to, on one hand, create a safe place for Judeo-Christian conservatives, and promoting the right of conservative ideas to be discussed in academia

What I find funny about progressives talking about the need for universities to tolerate their own ‘radical’ speech (what’s radical about wanting more government?), they themselves are intolerant to conservatives. Consider this: I’m a double minority – an illegal alien libertarian. Which of these two identities do you think is more cumbersome in academia?

After the election of Trump several members of the academic community assured me that I would be protected if need be. Yesterday the President of the University of California system released an op-ed defending the undocumented student community. Earlier today she announced that the UCs, including its police force, would refuse to cooperate with any deportation efforts.

In comparison as a libertarian I am often advised to keep quiet about my political views. At minimum I should try to avoid researching things that make it clear that I diverge from the rest of academia in political thought. Otherwise I will have a hard time getting my research published or be cut off from the social networks needed in the job market. On occasion I have found myself ostracized socially for voicing dissent on things like the minimum wage or affirmative action. I’m not alone in this.

In an ideal world I should be able to be an illegal alien, a Holocaust denier*, homosexual, and a devout Muslim** without feeling the need to suppress my view points. Academia should be a safe place for ideas no matter how radical.

Thoughts, comments?

*I’m not a Holocaust denier.
**I’m not a Muslim either.

Safe Places, Continued

This is in response to Will’s response to my initial post on safe places. I’d add it to the comments section, but that area has already been bloated.

If I understand Will correctly he is pointing out that in order to be harmed by words one must to an extent cooperate. If we were, for example, to mail the site’s founder with USC memorabilia the act in itself would be meaningless unless he decided to interpret the act to be an attack on his UCLA background. There are exceptions to this rule, such as those with certain mental conditions (e.g. PTSD).

If this is the point Will is making, I agree with him. I do however feel compelled to add that there is another group of individuals, besides those with mental disorders, who cannot willingly change how they react to certain words or cues – children. Why do I bring children into this discussion? Isn’t the safe place discussion mostly about their inclusion in universities? Let me make the case that a large portion of a university’s student body is composed of children; and to be clear I do not say this with malice towards said students.

The concept of childhood is relatively new in human society. It used to be that once a toddler was old enough to move around they were given work to do, be it helping around the farm or the factory. Delaying entrance into the job market required having parents able to ‘buy’ children’s time and so childhood was only possible following the industrial revolution. I’m sure everyone has heard of a version of this story before. If not I recommend the Cunningham book on the subject.

What if these calls for safe spaces are a response to the development of new period between childhood and adulthood? By all means the students on university campuses are physically adults, just look at their facial hair and sexual activity. They aren’t meeting the traditional landmarks of becoming adults mentally though. They are pushing back having children. Many of them are returning to live back home or never left to begin with. I know of several 20-30 somethings who are still trying to get on a career path.

Many, myself included, have seen safe places as infantilizing students. What if it’s the reverse though? It could be that students were already infantilized to begin with and that safe places are a symptom of universities having to respond to that.

If that is the case it is tempting to want to find out who is behind this. As with the development of childhood though the source of this post-childhood stage is our wealth. Our wealth has increased life expectancy. Our wealth has allowed parents to ‘buy’ more and more of their children’s time. Our wealth has allowed us to subsidize institutions (e.g. universities) that give these post-children a place to go and further delay their entrance into the labor force.

Should we really be angry then? We will have to adapt certainly. We will have to stop thinking of universities, most universities at least, as places populated by adults. We need to update our institutions. Should non-adults have the vote? Etc. Etc.

What is our alternative? Destroy our wealth so that this post-childhood pre-adulthood stage can’t exist?

Thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

When are safe places okay?

I am against the idea of safe places (see my previous post on the issue), especially in academia. I believe that if an idea is worthwhile it should be able to survive critic from all sides and safe places, regardless of their intent, hamper that process. How can you critic something if you aren’t supposed to even acknowledge its existence?

I also believe that, if our pluralistic society is to continue, we need to be able to empathize with those who are our intellectual opponents. I’m not saying we should become Marxists and rename the site The People’s Notes. Nor should we become Trumpistas. However we should be able to break bread with non-liberals and hear their side of the story out. We can continue to disagree with them, but we need to be careful to not de-humanize someone because of their ideological leanings. Safe places make this hard to do. If X group isn’t politically correct to talk about, much less with, how can we learn about them?

Safe places are, in more than one way, harmful to a free society.

-But they may still have a place in a free society.

Why the change of heart? It is this whole Trump fiasco. If you haven’t read them yet, several NoL bloggers have written about it here, here, here, etc.

I have seen several extreme reactions to the election of Trump, including quite a bit of anger and sadness. I cried for a good six hours myself when I saw the election results; as I’ve mentioned before I’m an illegal alien and so there is a very real chance I’ll be deported and torn away from the country I’ve loved since childhood. After drying up my eyes though I put that aside and went back to work. How I see it, as liberals we are constantly fighting against anti-liberal forces.

Am I sad that Trump won? Yes, but Hillary wasn’t an angel either. Before Trumpistas we had to fight Communists, Fascists, and every other type of ‘ists’ imaginable. After the Trumpistas are defeated we will have new enemies pop up. I am optimistic that in the grand scheme of things the future is better than the past, but I don’t think we will ever be rid of anti-liberal thought. Equilibrium is an illusion.

But I digress. I went back to work after my crying session, but many others around me didn’t. They couldn’t. And we shouldn’t try to force them to.

I still think safe places are a bad idea in so far that we are concerned about promoting free discussion and would never want to go into one. However maybe I can tolerate one or two of them if they help others improve their mental health. Maybe I can use ‘undocumented’ instead of ‘illegal’ if people are really that emotionally disturbed by it. Maybe I can use someone’s preferred pronoun if ‘he’ really hurts them that much. Maybe I can keep my mouth shut and just listen to someone who is in pain.

I think that in the long run we need to be able to stand up to our critics. If you’re gay, you’ll eventually find someone who goes out of their way to tell you your leading a sinful life. If you’re a woman and feel that the patriarchy is why you’re paid less, an economist will eventually lecture you on why that’s wrong. Infantilizing people doesn’t help them. The world is tough, and you need to be rough to survive it. 

However if someone needs a bit more time before they go out and face that world, is it wrong to provide a safe place for them until they feel ready? If I want to make a controversial remark, maybe I shouldn’t do so in the middle of the class. Maybe I should just blog it on NoL.

As always thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

Trump, Liberty and Pizza

These are my obligatory thoughts about this Trump fiasco;

These past twenty four hours have been an emotional roller coaster for me.

I am an illegal alien. I have been able to do accomplish some great things these past few years because I was granted deferred action, a temporary suspension of deportation, and work authorization by the Obama administration. This has allowed me to work with the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Property and Environment Research Center, among others. I have been able to meet several of my intellectual heroes. I went from having been stuck to Los Angeles to travelling through most of the United States (with the notable exception of the south). I have formed countless friendships that would have been unimaginable to me a few years prior. I am today one of a handful of illegal aliens who have gone to do their doctoral study. If you read through NoL’s archives you’ll quickly realize I’m not terribly bright and I have a long way to go intellectually, but I’ve done well for myself I think.

Prior to deferred action I was in a dark place mentally. I was about to finish my undergraduate studies, but had no work experience unless you counted under the table odd jobs. How could I have any experience? Up till then it had been illegal to employ me. Once I graduated I had no idea what I could do. Become a gardener? I had no future. It didn’t help me that the longest romantic relationship I had been in ended because my significant other couldn’t stand my (lack of) legal status anymore.  Deferred action gave me the chance to give my life meaning.

It is highly likely that, due to its discretionary nature, Trump will cancel deferred action once he enters the White House. I honestly don’t know what I will do. It is very likely that my life has reached a dead end. Upon hearing that Trump had won I spent several hours crying. I wept for all the things that I am likely to never have. I wept for the fact that I am unlikely to ever become a US citizen. I wept for the fact that I am unlikely to ever find a wife or have children. After crying though I decided that it was pointless to let myself be consumed by it any further.

I think it better to concentrate on counting my blessings.

I am not a US citizen, and I am likely to never become one. Truth be told though I don’t feel like a stranger in this country. I have friends, family, and work colleagues that have extended a helping hand to me in the worst of times. I am grateful beyond words for that. Thank you. I love you all for it.

I may never be recognized as a son of America and I cannot claim to be a blood descendant from American heroes like Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas, or Milton Friedman. I am however an intellectual descendant of them. I am a son of liberty.

Mind you an American conception of liberty. I think that government, in so far as it exists, should exist to minimize social conflict by promoting disputes to be resolved through non-violence. I think that society should judge people by their actions, not incidents of birth. I think that the market is the best mechanism for peaceful coordination of production of goods, services, ideas, and love. I emphasize that word because love only matters when it is felt voluntarily. Forced love is not love.

The common interpretation of Trump’s victory is that his supporters were a collection of racists, bigots, and pigs. While I am sure there are genuine racists mixed among his supporters, I think such a view too simplistic because it fails to consider why this racism has fermented.

Racism, in its many forms, is an inherit condition of man. Due to evolution we human beings have a built-in system of distinguishing between in and out groups, between those who are ‘us’ and those who are alien. This trait was necessary to allow early hunter-gatherers to form bands and survive. I do not pretend to be exempt from this; I’ve told my share of racist jokes over the years and am more inclined to help others that share similarities to myself. Racism, to the extent we see currently, however is not due to natural conditions.

I think that today’s level of racism is due to us forcing fake love down people’s throats. There is nothing wrong with celebrating diversity. Pizza, one of mankind’s greatest achievements, is the ultimate symbol of diversity. It’s core ingredients could not have been combined until relatively recently. Pizza is born of the union of the old world (Europe, Africa and Asia) and the new world (the Americas). There is nothing wrong with praising pizza.

The problem is that when we try to force others to eat a specific type of pizza. If someone won’t eat pineapple with their pizza we consider them bigots and exclude them from our social group. We tell them they’re subhuman and banish them far away. Should we be surprised then if, upon being ostracized, they come to resent pineapple pizza? In the past they simply didn’t care for pineapple, but now they hate it because it reminds them of how they were rejected in the past for holding unpopular views.

In our pursuit of celebrating pizza we ended up forgetting the great thing about pizza – choice. Pizza comes in countless varieties from plain cheese to pepperoni or a mix of vegetables and meats. Pizza doesn’t even need to have tomato sauce or cheese to be a pizza. Pizza is the ultimate manifestation of choice. It is no wonder that we Americans, in our love for liberty, love pizza.

Diversity is great. However if someone doesn’t like to be around blacks, homosexuals, or Jews we are not advancing the cause by making them feel like awful people. They may come from a background where they only interacted with others like themselves. They may feel uncomfortable in diverse environments, but we should not presume it to be because of bigotry. It is better to give them the benefit of the doubt. If diversity is great it will win them over time – they will voluntarily come to love diversity.

If we force them to love something however we deny them the opportunity to fully understand why diversity matters. We also force them to be hypocrites that claim to love something they don’t care for. We set up the groundwork for someone to come along and offer them a chance to get back at those who dehumanized them if they vote for him.

It is easy to want to punch people and force them to agree with you. I know full well the temptation of violence. Again, in the past day my life has come to an end. It would be easy to fuel my emotions into anger. It wouldn’t solve things though.

If we want to live in a better world we need to break this cycle of hatred and concentrate on what brings us together, our love for pizza.

Does academia have a diversity problem?

As those of you who have me on Facebook may know, I’ve spent the past few months running around in a Trump costume at various comic conventions. I did so for the simple reason that I found it humorous for a Mexican to be running around as Trump. To my surprise the experience was surprisingly enlightening.

When dressed in Trump I got a range of reactions from people wanting a comedic photo with/of me, being attacked by a pair of Hispanics dressed as ‘cholo’ Mario and Lugio, and Bernie supporters saying they hated my guts until I explained I didn’t support Trump.

Yesterday though, when dressed as Trump for Halloween, I got the strangest reaction when walking around my university campus. A meek boy came up to me and asked me if I identified as a Republican, I responded that I did but that I had actually supported Jeb in the primaries*, and his eyes light up. He began to shake my hand and talk about how great it was to find someone else after looking for so long.

The incident really hit home for me since I recall my own undergraduate years of feeling politically isolated from my peers. I had resigned myself to biting my tongue whenever politics were discussed. This didn’t work though since I was often in social sciences and my leanings quickly showed when we had freedom to elect subjects for our assignments. So I just kept shut and tried to produce as bland as possible papers so that I wouldn’t be singled out.

This didn’t change until I discovered there were a few conservative/libertarian professors sprinkled across the university. I didn’t become a chatter box in their classes, but I felt an immense weight off my shoulders knowing that I could voice an opinion outside the mainstream Democratic party line and not have to defend myself from claims of being a racist one-percenter.

Unfortunately, as Landberg et al.’s recent paper shows, there just aren’t many non-Democratic professors in academia. Does academia have a diversity problem? Yes it has an intellectual diversity problem, but its not clear what can be done about it.

Thoughts? Have others had similar experiences?

*This is of course relative to my disdain for the Democratic Party.

What is the state of experimental social science?

This is a genuine question: What is the state of experimental social science?

What I know of experimental social science comes largely from Vernon Smith and his colleagues from George Mason and Chapman Universities. From the way the topic was discussed I assumed the field was in its infancy and limited to a few economic departments. During my undergrad I recall my professors discussing a job candidate that specialized in experimental methods, but from their tone it was clear they were skeptical of what could be learned from it. Back then I could hardly believe that experimental methods were being toyed with in the other social sciences.

It was only about a year ago that I learned from a friend that psychology had its own experimental methods movement. From what I could make out experimental psychology was being developed independent of experimental economics. Even then I assumed that experimental methods were on the fringe.

I am genuinely surprised then to find that experimental methods exist in political science and, from what I can make up, part of the mainstream research. As NoL readers may know I recently started my PhD in Political Science at UC Riverside. My training up till now has been in Economics. What I find interesting about the political science literature is that it seems heavily influenced by the experimental psychology field, but not experimental economics.

Here is one of the better examples of experimental political science I’ve come across. In this paper participants role play as bureaucrats who have to distribute $1,500 in funds between two applicants of various race and work ethic, in addition to having the choice of reducing the government deficit. Note the citations include several psychology journals, but no mention of the economics literature.

Also note that, unlike experimental economics, there is no pay off for acting in a given way. This I think is a major error since the researchers are trying to measure degree of racism, but in this experiment there is no ‘cost’ to being racist. In real life though racism comes at a cost. If you’re racist you lose out not on potential trade partners, but potential friends and even lovers. Anyway;

So I ask, especially to those of you with backgrounds outside economics, what is the state of experimental methods in your field? Is it considered mainstream or is it a novel technique? Has it been influenced by experimental methods in another social science? And if so, which one?

Can money have a negative effect on happiness?

About a year ago I was part of a liberty fund colloquium at PERC. At one point the discussion turned to the issue of how important money was in achieving happiness. I don’t recall the exact context, but I believe we had been discussing limitations of using the market system to solve environmental problems. The concern was that the market system failed to capture the full value of certain goods.

The consensus among the discussants was that happiness was one such example of when the market failed.

I had to bite my tongue when this was said. Never mind the empirical research showing the relationship between income and happiness.  I was biting my tongue because most of the discussants were wealthy individuals. The marginal dollar might have mattered little to my fellow discussants, but that was because they had not lived through poverty. Getting ten dollars can change your mood immensely when it is the difference between paying the rent or having to sleep on skid row.

I had forgotten about the incident until I read Grigorev’s story and I started to ask myself if I was happy. On second thought, happy might not be the best term. Satisfied? Comfortable? Content? Safe?

It isn’t a question I’ve had the chance to ponder on much. As a rule of thumb I spend most of my day worrying about money. When I was young I worried about whether my parents had enough money to pay the bills till the next paycheck came in. I often damned myself for not being able to work – the United States’ child labor laws are plain stupid. Even when I grew up, and my family’s finances improved slightly, thinking about money became my obsession as I took more and more economics classes. In my mind money and happiness are so strongly linked that if asked how my day is going I think about how much money I’ve made (or lost) since waking up.

After thinking about it for a week I’ve come to the conclusion that I was wrong about money’s effect on happiness. My summer job pays well enough and my bank account has never been so full. I am not happier for it though. To the contrary, I have fallen into a bout of depression. It is hard to explain, but it is what it is. After paying for the essentials (rent and food), a few luxuries, and stashing away some rainy day savings I just don’t know what to do with extra money and it makes me uncomfortable. I think I could live a comfortable life on a budget of $12,000~15,000 annually, a bit above world average income.

I knew that the effect of money on happiness was diminishing, hence my fellow discussants waving away the importance of money on happiness. I however never thought that money might have a negative effect on happiness.

For the time being I have quit my summer job and given away my extra cash to family members whose returns are still positive. Hopefully once the school year starts, and I return to being near the poverty line, my depression will be replaced by happiness.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Or am I an outlier? Alternatively, what are you all spending your money on?

A note on the police or – “Why I don’t trust the police.”

Police brutality is back in the news cycle following the Dallas shootings, Philando Castile shooting, and [insert your regional news cycle shooting here] in early July. I expect the topic to be removed from the news cycle as the Olympics draw closer so I am writing this note now explaining why I don’t trust the police and why I hope other classical liberals have similar reservations.

Two quick asides:

  1. I am at heart at pacifist and I don’t encourage the use of violence against anyone.
  2. The current literature shows that police activity reduces crime rates; here is an ungated article for those interested in reading part of that literature.

I come from a poor migrant family and was raised in Los Angeles’ Koreatown back in the 90s. The area has become more middle classed in recent years due to new development, but at the time it was a working class neighborhood populated largely by recent migrants and other minority groups. Unsurprisingly there was plenty of crime and the sound of police sirens and helicopters was common for me growing up.

Despite this I don’t think I ever held police in a high prestige. It is true that I often saw the police round up criminals, but I also saw them round up several innocents or perpetrators of ‘victimless’ crimes, mostly unlicensed merchants.

Many of the migrants in my neighborhood, including my family, were illegal and therefore unable to acquire employment in the formal sector. To survive they instead turned to work in the informal sector. I had a neighbor who ran a bakery from her kitchen and sold her goods on the street. Another neighbor sold various electronics and clothing apparel; during the weekend they would go around buying things from garage sales in bulk and re-sell them during the week. My father ran a taco stand. Often times the police would harass these informal vendors by confiscating their goods and/or destroying their makeshift stands. I vividly remember my father’s taco stand being thrown to the street when he didn’t have the proper documents for passing police.

In my mind the police were worse than the criminals they put away. To be sure criminals are undesirable, but most of the ones I encountered in my youth only wanted to steal what cash you had and they would leave you alone otherwise. On the other hand whenever my father’s taco stand was raided by the police his cash would be confiscated and he’d be put back several hundred dollars in fines and having to rebuild his stand. Not only was a robbery cheaper, but criminals never pretended to have the moral high ground.

Note that in my story there was no mention of police corruption. The police who harassed my family and neighbors might have been acting out of genuine belief that they were serving the public good. Their good intentions still had negative consequences for the neighborhood though. Those who were harassed were the immediate losers, but so were their consumers. There were plenty of people who would have wanted to purchase from the informal vendors, but were denied the freedom to do so.

-And for what reason? It was not like vendors in the informal market have any incentive to cheat their consumers. The neighborhood baker might not have been licensed, but she could hardly afford to give food poisoning to anyone.  The apparel salesperson relied on repeat business and would quickly be out of business if they didn’t sell clothing others wanted. My father certainly wasn’t adding horse meat to the tacos or anything like that – migrants are picky about how their tacos are made!

The police may be filled with good intentions, but they ultimately are enforcers of illiberal laws. If well intentioned can so easily cause harm one needn’t much imagination to see how corrupt police can do much worse. It is difficult for me to understand those who defend the police or even honor them. It may be the case that they are a necessary evil to discourage other criminals, but they are still an evil themselves. Police ought to be tolerated at best, but never glorified.

NOL Foreign Policy Quiz, Part Two

This is a follow up to part one, where I discuss under what conditions a libertarian can engage in foreign policy beyond pursuing free trade and so whether the creation of a NOL Foreign Policy Quiz is even worthwhile.

In this post I outline how to design a foreign policy quiz.

For starters I imagine two major axis:

  • Soft vs. Hard Power and,
  • Nationalist vs. Internationalist

The first axis corresponds to whether an individual prefers using soft non-coercive actions to achieve their foreign policy goal or hard coercive actions. The second axis would correspond to whether someone prefers to act unilaterally, a “Nationalist”, or through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, an “Internationalist”. Combined the two axis produce the below spectrum.


The questions themselves would be formatted something like the below:

Question: A foreign policy question on defense, trade, or resources/environment.

Answer 1: Nationalist, Hard Power action.
Answer 2: Nationalist, Soft Power action.
Answer 3: Internationalist, Hard Power action.
Answer 4: Internationalist, Soft Power action.
Answer 5: Do nothing.

On each question respondents would be given two points, one for the Soft/Hard axis and another for the Nationalist/Internationalist axis. A respondent’s coordinates would be the average score for the two respective axis.

For simplicity I think we ought to limit the NOL quiz to ten or so questions, but if a longer version were developed we could also assign scores on whether the question was about defense, trade or resources/environmental issues. That way we could further distinguish foreign policy views dependent on the type of issue at stake.

Note the inclusion of a fifth answer for all questions – to do nothing. This is an essential option as there are times, especially for the libertarians among us, where all available options are just awful. In those scenarios it may be better to simply not act at all.

I suspect that most of us who are based in the United States will tend to be most ‘nationalist’ than others all else held constant. Beyond that I am not sure where most libertarians would fall on spectrum. To be sure I think many would elect the fifth answer – “Do nothing” often and gravitate towards the center, but I’m doubtful many would be perfectly in the center.

Thoughts? Opinions?

In part 3 I will hopefully have an actual quiz developed so that we can have fun calling one another statists.

Should UNM replace its seal?

The University of New Mexico is under fire to change its seal. The current seal depicts two Spanish conquistadors. This is part of a wider movement asking for universities to remove controversial symbols. This includes calls to rename Calhoun College at Yale, remove Wilson imagery at Princeton, or change the Harvard Law School Crest. This movement is not exclusive to the US. Similar calls are being made to remove perceived symbols of colonialism in South Africa and elsewhere. Nor are these calls exclusive to the political left. Conservatives at my alma mater want to get rid of a Che Guevara mural.

I for one am against these calls.

I am against these calls on the basis that I do not feel college campuses should be safe spaces. Students should be exposed to ideas they may found troubling in college. Students need not embrace these ideas. I am not making the case that we should re-institute slavery or attack the nearest Indian reservation. Students are free to, and I hope, reject these ideas but they should be exposed to them if only so they know their weaknesses.

More importantly though I feel that it whitewashes history. I am against these calls for the same reason I dislike seeing whites celebrate Native American Day. Removing symbols of colonialism or observing an indigenous people’s day are good symbols that efforts are underway to correct historical injustices. However in practice they are a way for people to pat themselves on the back for being socially progressive and little else.

There are many things that could be done to improve the welfare of Indians, but few have the drive to carry them out. Why should they? Instead of changing bad public policy they can get rid of a seal or statue and think they’ve done their part. If they’re particularly lazy they can change their facebook display image to include a rainbow or French flag. Symbols of colonialism should be kept and used to remind people that historical injustices continue to be propagated.

In the specific case of the UNM seal I am concerned that it is too easy for attacks against Spanish conquistadors to be turned into general attacks against the Columbian exchange. The enslavement and massacre of Indians was awful. However it is difficult, especially since I am a mestizo, to believe that the interaction between the two worlds was ultimately for the worse. To the contrary the exchange made the world richer.

Pizza is a prime example of this. Pizza could not exist prior to the Columbian exchange. Europeans lacked tomatoes and native Americans lacked wheat. The first pizza was made in Italy, but even then what most of us think of pizza has its roots in New York City. Pizza is a mestizo, half European half American. If UNM does change its seal it should consider having a native and conquistador sharing a slice.

The Case Against Galactic Government?

Samuel Hammond, a friend of a friend, has recently written a blog post musing about whether trade between Mars and Earth should be discouraged. The basic premise is that the case for colonizing Mars is to decrease the likelihood of a catastrophe leading to the extinction of humanity due to a black crow event.

Inter-planetary trade would allow both planets to minimize the harms of minor to moderate events, Samuel seems to acknowledge this. This is how international trade today helps nations minimize the harms of localized events. The harm of the ongoing drought in California has been lessened due to ability of consumers to tap into markets elsewhere to meet their demands.  What Samuel is concerned about is those events whose danger increases in proportion to the inter-connectivity of markets. Samuel gives the example of financial markets, but allow me to introduce another similar danger: the Mule.

The Mule, primary antagonist in I. Asimov’s Foundation & Empire

In Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi universe much of the known galaxy in the distant future comes under the rule of the Foundation Federation. The Foundation is a liberal galactic government that promotes intra-galactic trade, but grants each planet wide freedom to settle its internal matters. It has waged wars of defense, but is notable in that it has never waged a war of conquest and its members have all joined voluntarily. I would go as far to say it is an ideal form of galactic government. However the Foundation’s promotion of galactic inter-connectivity backfires when the Mule, a mutant human with the ability to influence minds, takes control of the government elite. The Mule is a single man but, due to the hyper-connectivity of the Foundation, can assume control with a few well placed followers. Almost overnight the Mule transform the liberal Foundation into his personal dictatorship. The last bastions of freedom are those regions of space controlled by pirates free traders.

Eventually the Mule is defeated and liberal government restored, but only because of the efforts of those polities outside the Foundation’s control. If the Foundation had been a monopolis, a government that controlled all of humanity, then it is doubtful the Mule would have been defeated. Inter-connectivity can yield significant benefits, but as outlined above it can also maximize the damage of black crow events.

Does this mean that Samuel is correct and that any further space colonies must be separated from Earth in terms of trade and governance? Not quite. Although I think Samuel’s concerns serve as an argument against extreme inter-connectivity between worlds, I do not think it is sufficient to justify actively building barriers between worlds. Rather I interpret black crow events as arguments in favor of tolerating the existence of rogue nations, such as North Korea, Somalia, and other contemporary nations that exist outside the primary world system.

As space exploration becomes a reality I think all efforts should be made to promote inter-connectivity between the various worlds. We should promote Earth-Mars relations. We should not however oppose those who wish to live in the asteroid belt and minimize their contact with the rest of us. This break away colonies will arise naturally and need not be actively created, only tolerated. These break away colonies will be founded by an assortment of pirates, religious zealots, political dissidents, and other outcasts. By tolerating their existence we will reap the benefit of space exploration while minimizing the likelihood of black crow events to destroy all of humanity.

Does the EU promote liberalization?

This is in response to Brandon’s earlier post asking for literature on the EU’s effect on promoting liberalization. The short reply is the EU promotes liberalization – sometimes. Below are two pieces of the literature on the issue.

On a quick aside, I have mixed feelings towards the recent Dutch referendum on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. I don’t think that the EU should extend a hand to Ukraine. Namely because I think the Russians are much more willing to use force over the issue than West Europeans. Secondly, because I think it gives peripheral countries the idea that they don’t need to join/remain in the EU to receive its protection. Moral hazard if you will.

However I disagree with co-blogger Evgeniy Grigorjev that Ukraine, and other peripheral nations, should be denied EU affiliation until they reach certain benchmarks. I’m sure that Ukrainian politicians would consider EU association a victory and feel less compelled to act. However the long term effect of EU membership would be greater trade in goods, people, and ideas. With any luck liberal ideas. I would welcome the EU expanding into North Africa and parts of the Near East if it meant the expansion of liberal ideas to those regions.

The Effect of Labor Migration on the Diffusion of Democracy: Evidence from a Former Soviet Republic {LINK}

This empirical paper looks at the effect of return migration on political attitudes in Moldova. The basic idea is that return migrants bring with them new political ideas from abroad.

In the late 1990s Moldova experienced financial trouble that encouraged many of its laborers to migrate temporarily to Russia and the west (largely Italy) in search of work. Regions with more return migrants from Italy were found to have the least support for the Communist Party in future Parliamentary elections. Regions where migrants went to Russia had increased (albeit sometimes small and/or statistically insignificant) support for the Communist Party.

There are two take aways here:

(1) Trade in ideas matter.
(2) The type of ideas you trade matter.

The EU, and the Schengen area, can promote idea trading but what makes the EU important is that it is a liberal institution. An institution that needs reform, but one worth keeping.

Anchoring Democracy from Above? The European Union and Democratic Backsliding in Hungary and Romania after Accession {LINK}

This paper looks at the different responses the EU took towards Hungary and Romania when the national governments of both respectively introduced illiberal measures. Discusses some of the weak points in the EU and how it can be reformed to improve its ability to react to similar future events. As Evgeniy points out, the EU has a weakened ability to punish illiberal policies once EU membership has been granted. Intra-EU coordination is also difficult to achieve to use those tools it does have. The EU is not however impotent and reforms could be introduced to rectify this.