Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Libertarian Purity Test

Bryan Caplan, who blogs at EconLog, has a "Libertarian Purity Test" that I decided to take. Out of 160 points, I scored a measly 47, four points below his threshold for "medium-core libertarian." For scores between 31-50 points, he says, "Your libertarian credentials are obvious. Doubtlessly you will become more extreme as time goes on."

Some of the answers, especially in Part III, that he considers "libertarian," I would consider straight up "anarchist." I think libertarianism is distinct from anarchism in that libertarianism realizes there are some legitimate roles for government, while anarchism does not. While Caplan would consider a score of 160 a "perfect libertarian," I would consider that person an anarchist, not a libertarian. Otherwise, why the need for two separate words, other than branding?

Part I has 30 questions, and I answered "yes" for 25 of them. Below are the five questions for which I answered "no" for various reasons.

Are worker safety regulations too strict? I have no idea one way or the other. Back in my factory days, I remember safety was usually heavily emphasized, and I don't know how much of that was due to regulation or not. On the other hand, a heavy emphasis on safety seemed appropriate.

Does the Federal Reserve have too much discretionary power? It may, although I don't think it should follow some programmatic rule. On the other hand, I don't feel like I've researched "free money" theories adequately enough to be comfortable supporting them.

Should marijuana be legalized? If I was building society from scratch, I would probably make it mostly legal, and I think it at least should be allowed in certain medical situations with the same oversight as other prescriptions. On the other hand, I'm not persuaded by most of the arguments of the pro-legalization crowd; I think they tend to overlook path dependency.

Should all sex between consenting adults be legal -- even for money? Leaving aside the issue of prostitution, there are cases I believe where sex between consenting adults should not be legal -- for instance, between a police officer and someone they have under arrest.

Does the U.S. intervene too much in other countries? Perhaps, although there are also cases, such as Syria at the moment, where I think the US does not intervene enough.

Part II has 20 questions, and I answered "no" for 16 of them. Most of these questions take the form "Should we abolish X?" Although I believe many of these things should be curtailed, sometimes dramatically, I don't necessarily support complete abolishment. Some questions where I want to comment, including the four for which I answered "yes":

Should we abolish Social Security? Should we abolish Medicare? I think both of these programs would be dramatically improved through privatization and some kind of personal account scheme along the lines of the Chilean model. I'm sure progressives would call it abolishment, but I wouldn't. Privatization of these programs, which would ultimately move them completely off-budget since the personal accounts would pay for themselves, also allows me to answer "yes" to the two questions about reducing taxes and spending by 50%, when combined with some other reasonable cuts.

Would you abolish at least half of existing federal regulatory agencies? Yes, although this is mostly because I think we should consolidate many of the regulatory agencies to eliminate overhead.

Should immigration laws be abolished? I interpret this narrowly as laws regarding actual immigration. That is, I do not think governments have any business saying where people can live or work based simply on where they were born. On the other hand, I do think there is a role for border security, although I would prefer it to be far less intrusive and arbitrary than it currently is.

Should the Supreme Court strike down economic regulation as unconstitutional? While I'm tempted to say yes, I don't know enough about what would constitutionally be considered "economic regulation" to be comfortable actually saying yes. Constitutional law has some bizarre definitions from an economic viewpoint, like the tax/penalty distinction.

Part III has 14 questions, and I answered "no" for 12 of them. The two for which I answered "yes":

Should highways and roads be privatized? I'm not sure they all necessarily should, but in general I think we'd be better off with more privatized infrastructure.

Is it morally permissible to exercise "vigilante justice," even against government leaders? Certainly not always, and not in general. But in certain very narrowly-defined cases, I would say yes, it may be morally permissible. For example, most people probably consider Claus von Stauffenberg a hero, even though what he tried to do amounts to "vigilante justice" against a government leader.


  1. I scored a 27, but it should be obvious that I am not that libertarian.

    1. According to Caplan, that makes you a solid "soft-core libertarian"!