I’ve been involved in the libertarian movement a long time. I read Economics in One Lesson at 14 and Atlas Shrugged at 17. I got the Freeman in my college dorm room. I went to a Christmas party in Murray Rothbard’s living room. I had key roles in Ed Clark’s campaigns for governor and president. And since 1981 I’ve led the policy work at the Cato Institute, where I wrote The Libertarian Mind, edited The Libertarian Reader and the Cato Handbook for Policymakers, and edited hundreds of books and policy studies. Ask me about libertarianism, the libertarian movement, working in Washington, doing public policy, and related topics.
Not many people can say they've been in the same organization for more than 35 years! What insights have you learned in that time that young professionals can apply today to stay in the jobs they love?
Well, I had an advantage. Back then there weren’t many libertarians. I got my first libertarian job – on the Clark for Governor campaign – because I was the only libertarian who knew how many members of Congress there are. (How many know now??) Now there are more jobs, but also lots more competition.
I don’t necessarily recommend staying in one place as long as I have. There are benefits to moving and encountering new challenges. But if you’re in a job you love, you can find new challenges and new accomplishments there. Get along with your colleagues, make sure you’re adding value, and stay on top of new opportunities for the organization.
Hi David, thanks for doing this AMA! It's so lovely to see high-profile liberty organizations partnering for events like this.You've done a lot of work on educational choice. What advice do you have for parents concerning the schooling of our children? Can our kids prosper in public school, or is it worth the resources for those of us who can afford it to send our kids to private schools? Are charter schools a good choice? What about homeschooling / unschooling?
I’m pretty cautious about advising parents on their children’s education – except to say it’s the parents’ responsibility. You shouldn’t just accept the local assigned school. Check it out. Does it look like a place where children are engaged and stimulated? Are there better alternatives, and can you afford them? Charter schools are usually free, but that’s because they’re actually government schools. Are they actually better than the district-run schools? Is home schooling right for your family?
Once when a friend told me he had checked out the local school and couldn’t send his kids to it, I said “I’m not sure I’d know what a good school looks like.” He said, “You’d know this one wasn’t.” So go look in on classes before you turn your children over to any school.
I wrote my case for school choice long ago here: https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/libertating-schools-boaz-full.pdf
Hello David, thank you for doing this Ask Me Anything Session. How can we accord environmental protection and economic growth?
This is a tough one. I don’t think there’s any easy or obvious libertarian answer to environmental issues. The book FREE MARKET ENVIRONMENTALISM is a good place to start. In general, I’d say economic growth is good for the environment. Wealthier people and societies demand for environmental amenities and become more efficient at producing more with less. We also want to avoid “tragedy of the commons” problems by seeking to privatize valuable resources. In THE LIBERTARIAN MIND I didn’t try to lay out an environmental agenda, but I suggested some guidelines: rely on competitive systems, not command and centralization; private owners take better care of resources than public entities; decentralization allows experimentation and limits the harm a bad decision can do; and common law can help solve problems.
Hello David. Thank you for hosting this forum. If we could design an ideal city and an ideal county government from scratch, what would it look like? Particularly, what types of taxes would you give the city and county he power to levy? Pretend no state or federal government exist, for these purposes. Thank you.
Start a city from scratch? That’s a tall order. Though of course it’s happened many times in history. Since I think taxation is theft, I’d try to design a city without taxes. Tom Bell’s new book YOUR NEXT GOVERNMENT? would be a good place to start thinking about how that might work. City governments provide valuable services – roads, schools, fire protection, courts, police. If they’re valuable, why not look for ways to provide them for profit (or not for profit) to willing customers? Norman Macrae’s 1984 book THE 2024 REPORT not only foresaw the internet and telecommuting but also communities “adopting insurance contracts as their main instruments of government.” That one is taking a little longer to come to fruition, but don’t count him out.
I want to help the movement for smaller government that protects the liberty of individuals. Do you feel election reform, specifically ballot access and campaign publicity for multiple parties would help the overall Libertarian cause? What do you think of the word bipartisan?
I'd like to see ballot access rules eased. And I would take away subsidies for the established parties. I'm sympathetic to things like instant runoff voting and ranked choice, but I'm not sure they'd help much. They might help the Greens, the socialists, or the far right as much as the libertarians. In multiparty parliamentary systems you often see a liberal (rarely libertarian) party, but I'm not sure you see better governance. Our job is to persuade more Americans to want libertarian(ish) policy solutions, and to encourage people with those views to think of themselves as a coherent group; if we do that, I think our electoral prospects will improve under any voting system.
"Bipartisan" is certainly a word that excludes Libertarians and other parties. More importantly, as I've written several times at the Cato blog, "bipartisan" is usually a warning that the two parties are getting together to take our money and our freedom.
This is the first time I've participated in any type of AMA...I finally found one I was interested in! I became interested in Libertarianism in college, but never did much to get directly involved (partially due to lack of opportunities in my area, although I feel like it's becoming easier in the digital age). I am an attorney with three years of litigation experience and am currently working in Labor and Employment law defense. I enjoy helping employers, but I would like to be more directly involved with the Libertarian movement and am more interested in Constitutional Law and economics. With my lack of experience with Libertarian organizations, how can I still get involved, either through side projects or some type of employment down the road? Thanks!
Welcome! There are lots of ways to get involved, especially these days with so many online opportunities. Wherever you are, you probably have a local Libertarian Party. Cato and FEE and other organizations have events around the country; watch their websites. Do you want to do pro bono legal work? There should be opportunities for that. Lots of organizations can use help with fundraising, volunteer efforts, maybe even legal work. And if you want to get a job in the movement, then watch for online job postings, and don't be afraid just to send your resume and a letter about your interests and abilities to groups you'd like to work for.
Hey David! Hope your Friday is going well. I have a few questions:- Given that the Libertarian Party was the first major party to endorse same sex marriage in it's party platform all the way back in 1973, why do you think the contemporary libertarian movement seems to have taken an antagonistic stance with regards to trans individuals?- With people like Roy Moore receiving endorsements from people like Thomas Massie and Rand Paul, what is your opinion of the fate of libertarian conservatism. What would you say to someone who thinks that a libertarian might have better chances running as a Democrat given that they seem to agree with us more on economic issues now that the GOP has been taken over by protectionist nationalists?I might have more but let's start with these.
Hi. I'm sure you have a different perspective on this, but I can't say I see the libertarian movement being antagonistic to trans people. Uncertain maybe. Definitely not "out front." I think one big difference is that gay people have been around forever, and there were gay people involved in the libertarian movement from the early days, but the trans phenomenon is very new to most people. Libertarians ought to read CROSSING by Deirdre McCloskey; they're likely to be shocked by the social and legal horrors that even a respected professor encountered when she transitioned. But I think the legal issues here may be more complicated than the repeal of sodomy laws and marriage equality were. Feel free to tell me what I'm missing here.
I'm very disappointed that people in politics with libertarian sympathies endorsed Roy Moore, not to mention Trump. It seems like some people think "crazy" is close enough to "libertarian." In the case of Moore, of course, it's not just the allegations of sexual assault. Even before then, he was a "constitutionalist" who thought Muslims couldn't serve in Congress and gay people should be arrested (though he wasn't sure about executing them). I think Trump and the rise of the alt-right are making the alliance between libertarians and what now passes for conservatism even more difficult. I think libertarians should stress our liberalism on issues such as personal freedom, free speech, police misconduct, and foreign policy more than we have, and that may change where we find allies.
I have to say, though, that I'm dubious that Democratic voters are very free-market these days. They've become more "pro free trade" since the rise of Trump. But would they vote for a civil libertarian who wanted to reduce spending and regulation? I hope somebody will test the proposition.
I hope you don't mind a second question! I was discussing Libertarianism with a friend, and she was concerned about what would happen to people who can't take care of themselves due to legitimate disabilities without government assistance. All I can recall from The Libertarian Mind (but it's been a while) is a mention that family would take care of them. But what if family doesn't? What is the best response? Certainly there are many private charities who do care for the disabled, would this be enough?
With welfare in general, the idea is that if you take away the support, people will have to find ways to care for themselves, but if someone is disabled they may not have this option. I don't want to seem callous to this group.
What is your opinion of the Niskanen Center?