Thursday, August 7, 2008

Should a libertarian vote for a populist?

I had a discussion recently with a friend in which we discussed the possibility of voting for Sen. Obama in the fall. I've been mulling over what he said, which boils down to this: the issue of judicial appointees is important enough that it may be worthwhile to vote against Sen. McCain for Sen. Obama in a state that is in play. If you're in California, for example, there's no reason to bother. Obama will win those electoral votes. Somewhere else, maybe a libertarian could justify the awful bargain.

Somewhere else likely includes Virginia. Over the last few weeks, I've been evaluating my "no way, under no circumstances" position on voting for Obama. Virginia is most definitely in play. Our local and state politics have traditionally been much more Democrat-oriented than our national politics, which is heavily Republican at the Senate and presidential level. (The House is a bit mixed, varying by region.) The local tendency is bleeding into our national tendency because of the large Democratic growth in Northern Virginia.

Then I read stories about Obama's economic pandering, as conveyed in this column by Ruth Marcus on Obama's populism. Among the many examples of egregiousness:

Yes, but what does Obama himself believe? "I think oil companies are amoral. They want to make as much money as they can for their shareholders, which is what corporations do," he says. "The difference is the nature of the kind of outsized profits they make that may have no relationship to their investments or their production. The fact, for example, [that] the shortage of refinery capacity could actually increase their profits so the less they invest the more they make indicates that you are not dealing with someone making widgets out there."

"Outsized profits." Nice, not-so-subtle adjective to describe an amoral, objective goal.

"No relationship to their investments or their production." So, Obama is a trained financial analyst who's spent years learning the oil business? And he's running for Financial Analyst of the United States?

"The less they invest the more they make." Doesn't this suggest that the optimal investment strategy is zero investment? Is that the strategy oil companies pursue?

"Not dealing with someone making widgets." Obama trusts the market. Except this one. It's different. (They always are.) The laws of economics somehow don't apply to it, so he must regulate it. He doesn't want to, but he must. For the people.

I think my friend's strategy is correct. Lose the battle to win the war. But this is a new data point. I see nothing here to convince me that I can vote for Sen. Obama. If his economics are so obviously terrible, why should anyone trust him to not be obviously terrible on judicial nominees, pandering to the politics of the moment rather than a long-standing principle? When we get closer to November, maybe I'll reconsider. Now? No. It's Bob Barr or a vote for myself.

All of this culminates in a continued disbelief that Sen. Obama can be considered good for libertarians. Either he sticks with his populist rhetoric and violates economic rights for four-to-eight years (or more) or he pushes for the policies many libertarians dream that he believes in. Even if the latter occurs, he merely proves that he's a lying politician. I'll stay cynical.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Power of One

Radley Balko yesterday broke the news that the State of Mississippi is removing Steven Hayne from its list of approved medical examiners. Balko has been pursuing Hayne for quite some time, most famously in this magnificent Reason piece, and only Balko has any idea of what he has dedicated to bringing down Hayne's profiteering at the expense of the freedom of who-knows-how-many innocents. While others such as the Innocence Project have certainly done their share of yeoman's work leading to this tremendous (but only initial) victory, Balko perhaps deserves a huge amount of credit for putting this perversion of justice in the public eye. Certainly without his work, it is difficult to see how the local media in Mississippi would have fully pursued this story.

As hopeless as political participation may often seem for libertarians, Balko's work proves that there are ways to make the world a little bit more free that don't involve the ballot box.

Monday, August 4, 2008

That may be so. However...

Kip at A Stitch in Haste, pointing out the Left's penchant for moral authoritarianism, writes:

Does [Ezra] Klein have the intellectual horsepower, I wonder, to realize just how much like a certain other group of majoritarians his argument sounds? His reasoning is utterly indistinguishable from that of the most decrepit anti-gay bigots who seek to ban something a tad more substantive than a fast food restaurant. What a delicious sampling of the faux difference between liberals and conservatives: “power to impose our will on others” … versus “power to impose our will on others.”

This is plain as day to libertarians and there is nothing I disagree with here. Both groups, when their sensibilities are outraged, will seek remedies through government intervention if the opportunity exists to do so.

Unfortuneately, to Kip's question, I'm not sure if the Left will ever get the point, and I think it is more a function of indifference towards the similarity rather than not having the intellectual wherewithall to recognize it.

Anecdotally, when I have engaged in these sorts of discussions with liberals and point these things out, the response that I typically get is a defense of their views under fairness, equality and making things better off for people as a whole, a view they do not have about social conservatives. It seems to boil down to a "mine is better/we know what's best" mentally that dismisses the notion that other "inferior" groups could be similar to them, especially that they believe they are working to move society forward and others are trying to move society backward (it would explain the more juvenile attacks towards libertarians that come from the Left).

Not so anecdotally, one can read Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal and observe much of what I wrote above.