Public libertarian intellectuals

Consider the post-Hayek/Rothbard/Friedman era of libertarianism.

Who has stepped up to fill their shoes? It’s hard to say, but 4 academics who stand out are Tyler CowenMike MungerRobert Higgs, and Bryan Caplan. Their scholarly output is comparable to our own Jacques Delacroix, and their influence within the libertarian quadrant is – or was at some point in time – much greater than Jacques’.

All four of these scholars cut their teeth blogging. The blog is how they teach. The blog is how they vent. The blog is how they share news and knowledge. The blog is how they went from well-respected to essential. All four write opinion pieces for professional outlets, but that’s not how they became essential to libertarians across the globe. Sharing their day-to-day thoughts about the world, to the world (and not just their walled-off social media accounts), is how they were able to step up and usher libertarianism into the next generation.

As the new year approaches, I encourage you to think about what liberty means to you. (Is it best left in the hands of professional Libertarians? You know the incentives they face. You know the choices they’ve made.) I also encourage you to be bold in your goofiness. Be strange! Be strong. Be artsy. Be rude (but never cruel). The professional outlets will always be there, waiting patiently to edit out your voice from The Message. Make 2020 the year a new generation of libertarians stepped up and took on the burden of responsible citizen-scholarship.

On the (big) conditions for a BIG

This week, EconTalk featured a podcast between Russ Roberts and Michael Munger (he of the famous Munger-proviso which I live by) discussed the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). In the discussion, there is little I ended up disagreeing with (I would have probably said some things differently though). However, I was disappointed about a point (which I made here in the past) which economists often ignore when discussing a BIG: labor demand.

In all discussions of the BIG, the debates always revolve around the issue of labor supply assuming that it will induce some leftward shift of the supply curve. While this is true, it is irrelevant in my opinion because there is a more important effect: the rightward shift of the labor demand curve.

To make this argument, I must underline the conditions of a BIG for this to happen. The first thing to say is that a) the social welfare net must be inefficient relative to the alternative of simply giving money to people (shifting to a BIG must be Pareto-efficient); b) the shift mean that – for a fixed level of utility we wish to insure – the government needs to spend less and; c) the lower level of expenditures allows for a reduction in taxation.  With these three conditions, the labor demand curve could shift rightward. As I said when I initially made this point back in January 2016:

Yet, the case is relatively straightforward: current transfers are inefficient, basic income is more efficient at obtaining each unit of poverty reduction, basic income requires lower taxes, basic income means lower marginal tax rates, lower marginal tax rates mean more demand for investment and labor and thus more long-term growth and a counter-balance to any supply-side effect.

As I pointed out back then, the Canadian experiment (in Manitoba) with a minimum income led to substantial improvements in health outcomes which meant lower expenditures for healthcare. As a result, b) is satisfied and (by definition) so is a). If, during a shift to a BIG, condition c) is met, the entire discussion regarding the supply effects becomes a mere empirical issue.

I mean, equilibrium effects are best analyzed when we consider both demand and supply…

P.S. I am not necessarily a fan, in practice, of BIG. Theoretically, the case is sound. However, I can easily foresee policy drifts where politicians expand the BIG beyond a sound level for electoral reasons (or even tweak the details in order to add features that go against the spirit of the proposal). The debate between Kevin Vallier (arguing that this public choice reasoning is not relevant) and Phil Magness (who argues the reverse) on this issue is pretty favorable to Magness (in my opinion). UPDATE: Jason Clemens over at the Fraser Institute pointed to a study they made regarding the implementation of a BIG in Canada. The practical challenges the study points too build upon the Magness argument as applied in a Canadian perspective. 

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The dangers of football safety equipment
  2. Want less pollution? Privatize the roads (just ask the bicyclists)
  3. Octopuses Are ‘the Closest We Will Come to Meeting an Intelligent Alien’
  4. Are Humans the Real Ancient Aliens?
  5. Tennessee Whiskey

Around the Web

Co-editor Fred Foldvary is participating in a symposium over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.  Check him out.

Michael Mungowitz bags on Greece and the Euro Zone.

Zach Gochenour has a complimentary follow-up piece on Dr. Foldvary’s essay: Progress or Poverty: The Economics of Land and Discovery.

All Hail Azawad.  A blogger obsessed with maps from the New York Times writes about the new state’s prospects .  I have written about Azawad here, here, here, and here (oh God I hope I don’t sound like Walter Block!).

Jacques Delacroix provides even more insights into the French elections and its implications for the Euro Zone.

The collapse of the Euro Zone is kind of a big deal.  Personally, I hope the collapse only destroys the currency of the zone, and not the ability of its members to trade and work freely anywhere throughout the zone.  I also want a pony and never-ending supply of really good weed.

The European policymakers and technocrats should not have been so brash as to believe that they could unify Europe politically.  Not only is that bad for democracy, but it has also given the underlying principle behind the EU – free trade – a very bad name.  Repeat after me: large polities that are economically united and politically divided are good for everybody, but large polities that are economically and politically united are bad for everybody.

It’s even worse when you throw in concepts like Old World identities such as ethnicity into the mix and try to get everybody to play nice through the democratic process.