Some Comments on the Latin America Liberty Forum 2017

The Latin American edition of the Liberty Forum took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last week. From almost all of the addresses delivered by the speakers, the attendees could single out two main patterns. The first one: a shift from mere utilitarianism to the acknowledgement of the importance of emotions and moral values in the defense of individual liberties. In this sense, the legacy of David Hume was present and I celebrate it. Moreover, we could expect that in a few years’ time we would get rid of an argumentation exclusively articulated in terms of instrumental reason and recover a sense of a substantive raison d’être of the case for liberty.

The second pattern the audience could guess from the speeches concerns the role of education in the formation of public opinion on liberty. Almost everyone agreed on the strong influence of education over the political ideas held by the citizenship. If you look up the state of the opinion, both in academia and the general public, the rest of the conclusions will follow…

Nevertheless, I consider the importance of academia and education in the articulation of public discourse to be overestimated. After all, what educational institutions of every sorts and levels provide to their pupils are adaptive devices to get -or remain- inserted into society. All that the educational system could do to change public opinion is make marginal contributions to be achieved only in the long term.

Since the public opinion is in the short run almost autonomous, the main matter refers to where it dwells. The television? The blogosphere? The radio? The public parks? (In Ancient Rome, by the way, people were very fond of the graffitis). Perhaps it could be a combination of all of them.

They -including education- are stages of the process of production of public opinion –superior stages, to express it in Austrian Economics terms. And if one takes Austrian Economics seriously, one will have to admit that the value of the superior goods is determined by the value of the final good -and not otherwise.

Public Support for OReGO: Preliminary Results

tldr version;

Road pricing can be a useful means of addressing infrastructure fiscal issues, reducing congestion, and improving environmental quality and it has a chance of being implemented if advocates focus on mobilizing urban voters.

Thanks to all respondents.

This post is a quick detour from the NoL Foreign Policy Survey posts.

Among other projects I am working on, I am tinkering with a public opinion project aimed at the OReGO project. The OReGO is a pilot program operated by the State of Oregon to experiment with an alternative to the existing gasoline tax. Currently Oregonians pay 30 cents per gallon of gasoline, on top of the federal 18.4 cent per gallon tax. Volunteer participants of OReGO instead pay a charge of 1.5 cents per mile driven on state roads.


The primary goal of the program is to find a better way to fund the state’s infrastructure. The current system is inadequate because automobiles are becoming increasingly more fuel efficient and so, on a per mile basis, pay less for road use. Despite paying less these automobiles still rack up costs in road damage.

Advocates of OReGO, and other road pricing schemes, also hope that the program will serve as a means of combating congestion by making drivers more conscious of the marginal cost of their driving and encouraging them to avoid excess driving. The gasoline tax does this already, but very crudely in comparison.

Some advocates also hope to use road pricing as a means of improving local environmental quality and addressing climate change. Automobiles are a significant source of pollution and so reducing their use would yield environmental benefits. Even if the program kept the same number of cars on the road it could reap benefits if it reduced stop and go traffic; automobiles pollute more in stop and go traffic than free flow.

There is quite a bit of research from economists and urban planners on the issue, but public opinion research on it is relatively rare. What research exists tends to focus on either toll roads or in foreign regions. The reason for the gap in the literature is simple enough to explain – no jurisdiction in the United States has adopted road pricing. There have been a few small scale experiments, but they were largely engineering tests and surveyed only the opinion of participants. I hope to fill this gap in the literature by (eventually) conducting a large scale public opinion study of Oregonians.

The below pilot study had 220 respondents recruited through various Oregon sub-reddits (e.g. Portland, Eugene, and Salem). Respondents were obviously not representative of Oregon at large. The sample size was also small for an academic study of Oregon and there is a lot of noise. Most of the results presented are statistically insignificant. As a convenience sample though this survey was nonetheless useful. My goal in this survey was more about testing the survey before fielding it more broadly.

I thank all respondents to the survey – you’ve all helped the progress of science.

Survey Experiment Results:

The survey had a survey experiment. The purpose of survey experiments is to see how changes in phrasing, or other survey elements, influences response.

The experiment was in how OReGO was presented. Respondents were split into three sub-groups and received slightly different explanations of the program. In the base scenario they were told the program was simply a funding mechanism. In the congestion scenario they were also told about its possible congestion benefits. In the final they were additionally told about its possible environmental benefits.

OReGo is a pilot program currently being operated by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Participating drivers are being given the opportunity to pay 1.5 cents per mile they drive on public roads instead of the current 30 cent per gallon tax that the state of Oregon currently charges.

Advocates of OReGO, and similar road pricing schemes, argue that the program serves as a more dependable means of funding infrastructure than the current gasoline tax. They point out that as vehicles become more fuel efficient the amount that drivers pay per mile is decreasing, but costs associated due to road damage are not similarly decreasing. This means that in the long term the current gasoline tax will be unable to cover infrastructure costs. (/End of Base Scenario)

Advocates of OReGO also point out that the program can help reduce congestion by discouraging excessive driving and encourage the use of alternative means of transportation such as bicycling, walking, or transit. Although drivers currently pay for their automobile use in the form of the gasoline tax, many view it as a fixed payment. OReGO, which is charged on a per mile basis, may serve to make drivers more conscious of the marginal cost of their driving. (/End of Congestion Scenario)

OReGO could lead not only to reduced congestion, but could also serve to improve local air quality. One of the major sources of air pollution is automobiles, especially in stop and go traffic. (/End of Environmental Scenario)

Looking at support for adopting OReGO within five years the different treatments are little different from one another. The congestion treatment received a decline in support, but it is pushed back up in the environmental treatment.

I regret not adding a fourth group where respondents are told about the base option and the environmental benefits, but congestion is not added. As it is, it is hard to tell if the decline in support for OReGO in the congestion treatment is because people don’t care about ways to address congestion, or they dislike attempts at social engineering.


When we look at treatment effects among only those who identified living in an urban area the effects get more interesting. Urban voters were very responsive to the idea of environmental benefits and increased support for OReGO by over 10 percentage points.




What seems to be driving the difference in support for OReGO is inter-regional differences in perceived local air quality. Those who perceive local air quality to be ‘very good’ are least likely to support OReGO. This finding is exaggerated when looking at only urban respondents.

I played around to see if this was a statistical artifact from the above treatment; i.e. it is possible those who lived in ‘very good’ air quality regions received the ‘environmental treatment’  and I am picking up the latter effect. This was not the case.



Is this a simple case of those living in high quality areas having no interest in improving the region? A “I have mines” attitude. No. When I look at support for OReGO by how respondents judged local air quality had changed in the past five years, those who thought their local air quality was improving also had the highest support for OReGO.

There is a definite relationship here between support for OReGO and perception of one’s local air quality. I can’t put my finger on it just yet.


Bonus result: daily bicyclists are those most supportive of OReGO.


Libertarians on Climate Change

This post is part of the preliminary results of the NoL Foreign Policy Survey 2017 Pilot. I will be posting results throughout the week as I play around with the data. As always, I strongly emphasize that this is a pilot survey and these are just preliminary results

Are libertarians climate change deniers? No. The majority agree that it is occurring, caused by human activity, and that it is harmful. They do not however support unilateral action by the United States government. At least not the average libertarian respondent.


Note that the last question, asking about supporting unilateral action, is on a different scale from the other three.


When you drill down by type of libertarian though you start to see stark differences. Left-libertarians agree much more strongly that climate change is occurring, caused by human activity, and harmful. They are also much more in support of unilateral action to prevent climate change.



What is driving the differences between type of libertarian? Part of the story seems to be that those who think climate change is harmful are more willing to act to address it, but I suspect a large part of the story is also that some libertarians, particularly market anarchists, simply do not trust the government. Market anarchists are less likely to believe climate change is harmful or caused by humans compared to libertarians at large, but the big difference in opinion is whether the government should act on it.

Thoughts? Tomorrow I will be posting the demographics of those who took the survey.


Update: Updated graphs; minor coding error.

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.