Rise of the Libertarians


10 reasons why Slate, Salon and the progressive media are afraid

Max Borders writes:  A lot of people are messing with libertarianism. We get it. If you see an alternative worldview gaining currency as your own is starting to lose out: attack, attack, attack. Strategically, it’s probably smart.

When Jane Mayer wrote that sloppy hit piece for The New Yorker against the Brothers Koch a few years back, it was way more strategic than personal: These are the folks who give money to organizations that don’t agree with you about lots of things. If you want to weaken those groups, villainize the funders by any means necessary to make their donations toxic.

the_libertarian_plot_sticker-refecfbfb70314a6b92b50b97a0b7c25f_v9i40_8byvr_512Well played. The bigger problem for progressives, however, is that libertarianism has grown far larger than any billionaire’s money. So you have to do still more to kill the movement. At the very least that means using heaping helpings of intellectual dishonesty. Can you swiftboat a movement?

In a recent New York Times piece profiling Rand Paul, Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg write that libertarians are a bunch of “antitax activists and war protestors, John Birch Society members, and a smatter of truthers who suspect the government’s hand in the 2001 terrorist attacks.” Why would the Times not instead describe folks like Times columnist Tyler Cowen, Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, or investor Peter Thiel? That’s not part of the narrative.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: Progressives are afraid. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Dreams of Being Average?

The American Dream has long evoked the idea that the next generation will have a better life than the previous one. Today, many Americans feel that dream is in jeopardy.

The American Dream has long evoked the idea that the next generation will have a better life than the previous one. Today, many Americans feel that dream is in jeopardy.

 Average Is Over—But the American Dream Lives On

Who dreams of being average? Americans define personal success in different ways, but certainly no one strives for mediocrity. The children of Lake Wobegon, after all, were “all above average.”

Perhaps this explains why some reviewers have understood the glum predictions of Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over—that shifts in the labor market will cause the middle class to dwindle—as heralds of the death of the American Dream. This understanding misses the real thrust of Cowen’s book.

Everyone has their own notions of what constitutes the American Dream, but when writer and historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase in the 1930s, he wrote that in America “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Cowen’s vision of our future actually reinforces this idea. Read the rest of this entry »

The Gold-Plated Ambulance

The necessity of innovation and the social value of gazillionaires.

Kevin D. Williamson observes: A few years ago, a friend of mine was mortally ill with little prospect of treatment for his condition. He learned that there was a newly developed experimental surgery that might be of help, but there were only a few doctors anywhere in the world performing it. But he was a man of considerable financial resources, so he tracked down the physician who had invented the procedure, negotiated terms, and flew him several thousand miles for the treatment. How much expense this entailed I do not know, but I assume it was somewhere between sobering and staggering.

Very wealthy people can do things like that — that is the definition of being very wealthy. The economist Tyler Cowen was denounced for his “sociopathic callousness” for arguing that realistic health-care reform means accepting the fact that “sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor.” Laura Clawson, who hails from the shallow end of the dime-deep intellectual pool at Daily Kos, spoke for the conventional liberal worldview in maintaining that this line of thinking is “monstrous. In the direct sense that you have to be a monster to think it, never mind publicly advocating it as policy. His equation of health care with ‘all sorts of other goods’ that the wealthy have and the poor don’t is a moral and ethical failing, not a logical one — he’s simply suggesting that the right to have treatment for asthma or diabetes is a moral equivalent with the right to have a gold-plated Rolls-Royce.”

But as in the example of my friend, sometimes health care is the equivalent of a gold-plated Rolls-Royce. The most generous national health-care program we can imagine is not going to have the resources to provide each and every one of the 314 million citizens of these United States with the same kind of health care that Bill Gates can access. There are financial limits, and there are physical limits as well: only so many doctors, so many hospital beds, so many doses, so many transplantable organs. Which is to say, sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor, and sometimes middle-class people will die because they are not millionaires, and sometimes millionaires will die because they are not billionaires. And if we can set aside the gold plating, the Rolls-Royce analogy turns out to be more apt than Ms. Clawson might imagine: The cost of a kidney transplant is about the same as that of the least expensive Rolls-Royce, starting at a bit over $250,000. An interesting aspect of our health-care economy is that kidney transplants are available to many people who are not in the market for a bespoke luxury sedan.

But we owe a little something to the Rolls-Royce crowd. Read the rest of this entry »

Was America’s Economic Prosperity Just a Historical Accident?

The Blip

What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?

By Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Illustration by Mario Hugo

Picture this, arranged along a time line.

For all of measurable human history up until the year 1750, nothing happened that mattered. This isn’t to say history was stagnant, or that life was only grim and blank, but the well-being of average people did not perceptibly improve. All of the wars, literature, love affairs, and religious schisms, the schemes for empire-making and ocean-crossing and simple profit and freedom, the entire human theater of ambition and deceit and redemption took place on a scale too small to register, too minor to much improve the lot of ordinary human beings. In England before the middle of the eighteenth century, where industrialization first began, the pace of progress was so slow that it took 350 years for a family to double its standard of living. In Sweden, during a similar 200-year period, there was essentially no improvement at all. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the state of technology and the luxury and quality of life afforded the average individual were little better than they had been two millennia earlier, in ancient Rome.

Then two things happened that did matter, and they were so grand that they dwarfed everything that had come before and encompassed most everything that has come since: the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in the north of England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and created mostly in this country. That the second industrial revolution happened just as the first had begun to dissipate was an incredible stroke of good luck. It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward—which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States—human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents’ standard of living. In the space of a single generation, for most everybody, life was getting twice as good.

At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off. The shift was modest at first, and it was concealed in the hectic up-and-down of yearly data. But if you examine the growth data since the early seventies, and if you are mathematically astute enough to fit a curve to it, you can see a clear trend: The rate at which life is improving here, on the frontier of human well-being, has slowed.

If you are like most economists—until a couple of years ago, it was virtually all economists—you are not greatly troubled by this story, which is, with some variation, the consensus long-arc view of economic history. The machinery of innovation, after all, is now more organized and sophisticated than it has ever been, human intelligence is more efficiently marshaled by spreading education and expanding global connectedness, and the examples of the Internet, and perhaps artificial intelligence, suggest that progress continues to be rapid.

But if you are prone to a more radical sense of what is possible, you might begin to follow a different line of thought. If nothing like the first and second industrial revolutions had ever happened before, what is to say that anything similar will happen again? Then, perhaps, the global economic slump that we have endured since 2008 might not merely be the consequence of the burst housing bubble, or financial entanglement and overreach, or the coming generational trauma of the retiring baby boomers, but instead a glimpse at a far broader change, the slow expiration of a historically singular event. Perhaps our fitful post-crisis recovery is no aberration. This line of thinking would make you an acolyte of a 72-year-old economist at Northwestern named Robert Gordon, and you would probably share his view that it would be crazy to expect something on the scale of the second industrial revolution to ever take place again.

“Some things,” Gordon says, and he says it often enough that it has become both a battle cry and a mantra, “can happen only once.”

Read the rest of this entry »