What should young libertarians do?

(Continuing the tradition of not finishing a draft and instead creating a whole new post.)

Several months ago I was able to present an essay at symposiums in Georgia and Utah, confident that I was entering the academic world, beginning to make connections. My academic references are even better than my professional. I know I would like teaching because I love tutoring, and I can guess with mild confidence that I wouldn’t get bored with the same material.

Four years of college seemed to be moving me toward grad school and teaching. But now, I’m part of a pool of internship concurrent- and post-students working academic programs, and I couldn’t imagine their lives. I’m one of few activists in the group, where my job is talking to non-libertarians, and theirs is all too often preaching to the choir. Programs like these build our professional skills and cultivate young leaders for the philosophy, but near everyone chose to go the route of policy instead of activism. Why? Is ground work too manually exhausting? Do libertarians lack good people skills? (I don’t even need to ask that, really.) Is activism considered “lowly,” and policy work prestigious? Are there not enough liberty-aligned activism groups and an imbalance of policy/media organizations?

Our project at my group right now is getting good people elected. That requires doorknockers to talk to people. Where are all the young libertarians to get out the vote? Waiting in line for a policy job, it seems. This is not to reject division of labor and say that the academic side isn’t contributing to the success of liberty — we’re winning all the time, about as much as we’re losing. It’s to say that the kid in the classroom who’s always arguing, obnoxiously and persistently, the libertarian case, is suspiciously missing out in the field. The people who can quote Mises and Hayek ad nauseam aren’t prepared to help get a candidate elected who isn’t Mises or Hayek. They are prepared, however, to read more Mises and Hayek.

In politics, nothing moves unless it’s pushed. We need movement, bodies, material, out in the neighborhoods and city blocks; words on a page can only do so much. And maybe this anti-intellectual cynicism will extinguish as the time grows since I last read Feyerabend. But for now, young libertarians are highly frustrating. I’ve tasted victory. And the thing preventing new victories is nothing but a lack of people.

Free speech and campus conservatives: good news

The Weekly Standard recently posted an open letter from a very brave sociology professor at UCLA that’s worth mentioning here. I have just three things to add.

First, the sociologist, a self-identified conservative, is doing the right thing by urging the Bruin Republicans to cancel its proposed speech by a shock jock. The subject? “10 Things I Hate About Mexico.”

Second, as alumni I’m embarrassed. I’ve never been a fan of Bruin Republicans, but aping the tactics of Republican groups at less selective schools is pathetic.

Third, back to the open letter: it’s amazing and you should read it (link, again). Apparently, it was so convincing that the Bruin Republicans cancelled the event. What Rossman does – subtly, clearly, and powerfully – is point out to not only Bruin Republicans but everybody else involved in this fiasco that being politically conservative is not the same thing as being a member of the Republican Party. More importantly, by defending the right to speak while vehemently opposing the subject matter, Rossman makes an excellent case for moving the Republican Party in a more classically liberal direction.

Sticking up for your beliefs is important. Always has been, always will be. The pen is still mightier than the sword.

Angry? Learn economics!

The election didn’t go your way (and if it did, just think about past elections… at least some of those didn’t go your way) and now you’re itching to do something about it. You’re angry and motivated, and at risk of making things worse

Economics isn’t just about money. In fact, it’s barely about money. It’s mostly about cooperation between strangers. But economists also study competition. Most importantly, we study decision making which is essential to understand if you want people to make different decisions!

More importantly, economics helps us understand how to navigate costs and benefits wisely. It turns out wise decision making isn’t as straight forward as we’d hope. So if you care enough to work hard to make the world better, economics is worth your time.

Still here? You really want to make the world a better place! Let me suggest that you study social science. Something I’ve learned during my first decade of studying economics (Jan. 2018 will by my 10 year mark) is that thinking clearly about something as complex as society requires mental tools that we aren’t born with. Our intuitions will lead us astray. The good news: economics mostly boils down to common sense rigorously applied.

Economics doesn’t have a monopoly on the truth (if we did, this post would be shorter but you’d have to pay to read it). But I think econ is the best place to start in an intellectual exploration of society. It will help you build a robust and modular framework for understanding the world. Economics is the ultimate modular social science; you can plug-and-play with insights from anywhere.

So why econ? Because at the end of the day, economics deals with the most important aspect of life: how to live life well. It boils down to this: every choice comes at the cost of a foregone alternative. Opportunity cost. All (good) economics comes down to this profound truth. Whether your goal is to reduce poverty, pollution, or parenting woes, learning to think of cost in these terms will serve you well.

Let’s take that concept for a test drive… would banning plastic bags reduce environmental harm? The benefit is that you’ll eliminate the problems associated with these bags (litter, use of oil, etc.). But we need to understand the costs before we know if we’re helping or hurting the environment. Notice that link starts with the question “paper or plastic” and goes on to say nothing about paper bags; it’s looking at the silver lining without acknowledging any possibility of a storm cloud. That lack of economic thinking opens us up to new problems: making heavy paper bags also creates pollution and could very well create more.

In other words, this simple concept showed us that it’s possible to do harm by doing something that sounds good (the road to hell is paved with good intentions!).

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees: economists specialize in researching very specific areas–foreign exchange markets, agricultural futures, political change, pirates–and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. Studying economics in school means studying under specialists. But once you’ve got the basics of the economic way of thinking down, you’ll see that those specializations are really just applications of the same general concepts and the same basic way of thinking. It’s easier to understand once you speak our language, but there are lots of great resources. Two places I would start:

Now get to it! Start making things better!

Wake up the People.

Draconian laws not only deserve lampoonery, they require it. Alert your community to the truth and drive a dialogue of liberty amongst the people. The NSA is directly assaulting free speech, attempting to silence the voice of the people — exercise your rights or lose them!

I Supported Ron Paul Because of Weed… So What?

When Ron Paul campaigned for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, I had no idea who he was nor did I care much for politics, let alone his. Like many recent high school grads, the extent of my interest in politics didn’t go much further than the U.S. Government class I was required to take to graduate. I was what you would call a single issue voter.

The only issue that I really cared about at the time was, admittedly, marijuana legalization. Yes, I was one of the kids that spent his days before–sometimes during–and after school smoking weed. I literally sat through school sleeping until I could leave and go smoke. You could say I was bored with my education. I tired of listening to teachers and their sometimes ludicrous assignments and consigned myself to sitting in the back of the classroom so that I would be allowed to sleep, undisturbed. Apathy dictated my high school years. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy learning, but I was bored and didn’t really give a shit.

Fast forward to the 2012 Republican primaries. It was campaign season, and the debates between Republican candidates Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul were just starting to heat up. To be honest, I was mostly interested in seeing if any of these candidates embraced marijuana legalization. President Obama had never actually opined for the plant’s legalization, but his pro-marijuana statements were enough to get many young peoples’ votes, crucial to his being elected in 2008. This somehow led to the erroneous belief that Obama would push for legalization of the plant, which never happened.

Personally, I wasn’t disappointed. I mean, it’s not like he had promised to legalize. No promises were broken. With the Republican primary race in full swing, I wanted to see whether I actually had any real hope of seeing marijuana legalized, or if I would have to wait yet another four years to get my hopes up. It was soon after that I started to pay attention to Dr. Paul.

Here was this stoop-shouldered, old Texan with a slight stutter who spoke with such passion and reason I couldn’t help but pay attention. Mostly, he talked about economic and foreign policy issues that I had little knowledge of. Even before I knew his stance on ending the War on Drugs, for some reason Dr. Paul’s honest delivery and conviction stood out to me. I knew that he had been in Congress for years, but beyond that I defected to my parents’ opinion of him: crazy.

I started to do some research on Dr. Paul’s background and found that he was a man of extremely reputable character. He was an anomaly from the get-go. Defying conventional opinion of politicians; a brief look at his voting record betrayed the saying that all politicians are liars. With voting records now published online and easily accessible, I would have been able to find out right away if he had voted contradictorily to what he said. Here was a politician that held an ideology that sometimes went against his personal views, yet defended it to the death because of his conviction in its power to affect widespread positive societal improvement.

I suppose at this point it’s important to iterate my own opinions on liberty. Mostly, I don’t think it’s proper to glorify the idea of liberty to the extent that some do, and I think that it even hurts the movement as a whole when some consider themselves missionaries of the ideology. I don’t worship liberty, but I do see it as a fundamental right for humanity—and liberty to me means the ability to make decisions regarding your own social, economic, and political lifestyle, as long as they’re peaceful.

I researched Dr. Paul online, found YouTube videos of him speaking, and was instantly hooked. Beyond marijuana legalization, I found that I agreed with everything that he pushed for: his main issues that stood out to me were a non-interventionist foreign policy, ending the War on Drugs, returning to some semblance of budgetary balance, accountability of the Federal Reserve, and free markets. As I know now, these very ideas form the primary backbone of the liberty movement. Before, liberty was just something I included in the Pledge of Allegiance and was told that it was somehow crucial to being American. I had never bothered to ask why. Once I did, I came upon entire organizations devoted to spreading the ideas of liberty. They’re dedicated to educating any who might listen on the importance of social, economic, and political freedom.

Since initially paying attention to Ron Paul and happening upon the liberty movement, I feel like it is almost my civic duty to at least inform others of these ideas, even if they disagree. These ideas are founded in reason and logic. These days, you’ll find me telling any like-minded friends who will listen how a lazy stoner like me was motivated by liberty not only to get off my ass, but to learn. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ideas are ultimately important beyond me. Although I find it wrong to tell others they hold erroneous opinions, all I can do is to try to help inform and see where that takes them. I don’t think I’m alone in finding Dr. Paul’s passion contagious. At the same time, I’m not glorifying the man, but the ideas that he manages to deliver are powerful, and it’s these ideas that are worth paying attention to.

Even though Dr. Paul did not win the 2012 Republican primary, he instilled something far more important, affecting an entire generation still in its intellectual infancy. I truly believe that these ideas will come to reach more people in the future and will affect many in the same way that they have moved me.

I think it’s only fitting that I end this article in Dr. Paul’s own words:

Ideas are very important to the shaping of society. In fact, they are more powerful than bombings or armies or guns. And this is because ideas are capable of spreading without limit. They are behind all the choices we make. They can transform the world in a way that government and armies cannot. Fighting for liberty with ideas makes more sense to me than fighting with guns or politics or political power. With ideas, we can make real change that lasts.

Pushing Back Against the State

A friend recently brought my attention to the Orwellian American Community Survey (ACS), a 48-question survey that is sent by the Census Bureau to a random sample of households and asks whether you have difficulty concentrating, how much you paid to heat your home last year, how many times you’ve been married, whether you have a toilet, and on and on.

In 2010 (and in the previous three decades) I sent in my regular census form with the first two questions filled in, those that respond to the Census Bureau’s Constitutional authority to conduct an enumeration every ten years.  I left the rest blank.  I got one visit from a census-taker and told her to get lost.  That was the end of it.  My friend, who is less interested in matters of constitutionality, tells me he simply threw his away and ignored the people who came knocking on his door until they gave up.  I think that’s what I would do with the ACS if I ever got one.

I got my driver’s license renewed last week and they took my thumb print.  I thought of resisting, but to what end?  The DMV drones would simply deny my license, and then what?  Mount some kind of campaign?  I have no time for such a thing, and a driver’s license is a necessity.

Last fall I was summoned for jury duty.  I called the specified phone number the night before and heard that I needn’t report.  But for some reason they decided I was a no-show.  The consequence?  I got a post card scolding me, no more.  (I was prepared to quote the 13th Amendment to the judge, the one that outlaws involuntary servitude.  I was also prepared to go ahead and serve, if the case were an interesting one where I might apply jury nullification.)  My friend just ignores jury summons.

I am about to begin remodeling work on my house, including re-doing a couple of bathrooms.  The building code has gotten quite a bit more intrusive since I built my house in 1978.  My neighbors are laughing at me since both did their bathrooms without permits.  But for various reasons I am going the permit route.  And in truth, some of the provisions that I bristled at first turned out, upon reflection, to be beneficial to me.

And to round out my list of sins, I never mounted the front license plate on my Thunderbird convertible.  I just thought that would spoil its looks, but it occurred to me that I probably can’t be caught by red-light cameras.  I’m amazed that I haven’t been stopped in eight years.

So the question I ask myself (and you) is: where to draw the line — when to push back and when to go along.  The aforementioned examples suggest that the consequences of resistance are likely to be far less than what we fear.  For that we can thank bureaucratic ineptitude.  Random citizens are almost as likely to fall prey to some bureaucratic outrage as are resistors.

I guess the answer is that each of us should do our own cost-benefit analysis.  How good will I feel about resisting and what is it likely to cost me?  Of course that’s often difficult to estimate, but I know one thing: I don’t want to be just a bystander to the slide into fascist dictatorship, if that’s where we’re headed.

While freedom of speech survives we should make the best of it, as in blogs like this.  But almost all the tools are in place for government agents to persecute people for their expressed opinions.  For example, the NSA is developing a capability to intercept and decrypt almost any sort of electronic communication such as emails, phone calls or Google searches. They may well be trolling the entire internet for posts like this.

What are your thoughts?  How are you pushing back?