Mick Jagger Knew It

To cut it very short, libertarians argue that government should interfere much less with grown citizens' affairs and generally stand back much more often. These guys are really into liberty.

But, having read libertarian blogs for quite a while now, I think one can distinguish two sentiments held by people calling themselves libertarian. Libertarianism1, as I call it, is simply the position sketched in the above paragraph, as an alternative to other political positions such as social democratic or conservative ones. I often agree with the libertarian position. What I call Libertarianism2 is maybe best described as a deeply-felt outrage about the government because it simply has no right to infringe on individuals' liberties by doing X, which leads to metaphors from the thugs-and-dictators realm when democratically elected governments are the topic of discussion. Am I exaggerating?

On the libertarian blog EconLog contributor Bryan Caplan recently stated: "If the American public really swooned to libertarian rhetoric, political competition between power-hungry politicians would ensure an ample supply." His co-blogger David Handerson countered "that there's a basic unarticulated libertarianism in a large percent of the U.S. public that few people are articulating" and offered an anecdote in support. Then the third contributor Arnold Kling gave us the following:

Rasmussen reports,

Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans oppose the federal government subsidizing mortgage payments for financially troubled homeowners, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Thirty-eight percent (38%) think government subsidies are a good idea, and 18% are not sure which course is best to follow.

It seems likely to me that more people oppose the auto bailout than support it, more people oppose the housing bailout than support it, more people oppose the stimulus than support it, and more people oppose the bank bailout than support it.

Starting last September, our country has gone through six months that shook the world. We have abandoned free markets. We have abandoned democracy, in the sense of having policies that reflect the popular will. The United States has become a technocratic dictatorship.

I'm tired of watching Paulson, Geithner, Bernanke, and now the Obama Administration picking through my wallet and giving my money to people who I don't want to see get it. President Reagan expressed a vision for the fall of the Soviet Union when he said, "Mr. Brezhnev Gorbachev, tear down that wall." My vision for the fall of the technocratic dictatorship might be expressed as, "Mr. Obama, give back my wallet."

Where to start? Maybe with a look at the Rasmussen report, including the exact question wording.

First off, the question Kling refers to is leading. It reads: "To reduce the number of mortgage foreclosures, should the federal government subsidize mortgage payments for financially troubled homeowners?" This is a nice textbook example of what not to do: The view government should act to reduce mortgage foreclosures - a debatable view - is presented as a given. With a fairer question, one would have received even more anti-subsidy answers: Americans would have appeared more libertarian on this issue.

But using the same survey, Kling could also have reported that "66% of Americans say government should help homeowners reduce their payments" had he chosen to cite the answers to the second question. To be sure, this one's also asked in a pro-intervention way*, but given the rest of Kling's argument, his picking and choosing seems notable.

But those are technicalities. It is new to me that Dr. Kling's litmus test for a good policy is that it is supported by a majority of the electorate. (If he contemplates going down that road, maybe he should have a chat with his co-blogger Bryan Caplan, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter, first.) His rather unusual use of the word "democracy" can be skipped as the next sentence gives us the full treatment: The USA are now "a technocratic dictatorship". Apparently the bailout came with dramatic changes in how officials in the USA are appointed.

Maybe David Henderson is right. Maybe Americans are more libertarian than American governments' policies would lead you to believe. And maybe it would help the popularity of libertarian policy options if libertarians didn't behave like hysterical children that aren't allowed to stay up late and watch wrestling when the outcomes of competition in the political marketplace aren't to their liking.

*because there are two pro-intervention answer options given and only one anti-intervention answer. The way around this is simple: First ask whether government should intervene, yes or no, and then follow up with more detailed questions if someone answered yes.

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