Libertarian Activists Need to Work Harder and Smarter

There are two pop culture items I would like to point you to: The Founder and Hamilton. Both have a significant lesson in them. If you are unfamiliar with these pieces, The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who franchised the McDonalds business empire. Hamilton is a Broadway musical about the trials and hardships of Alexander Hamilton in his attempts to attain a legacy for himself in creating a robust financial system in the United States.

Being libertarians, I am sure most of you have positive feelings about The Founder and negative feelings about Hamilton, however if you are looking for a political message in these pieces, I think you are missing the point. They tell the exact same story. They are both stories of a person who busted their ass to reach their goals. It is the entire theme of both stories.

In Hamilton, they describe Alexander as the “$10 dollar founding father without a father who got a lot farther by working a lot harder; by being a lot smarter; by being a self-starter.” Throughout the play he is incredibly ambitious with his famous line being “there are a million things I haven’t done.” There is even a whole song called “Non-Stop”, which is all about Alexander Hamilton’s work ethic. He never stopped writing. He never stopped advocating. The man was non-stop.

In The Founder, Ray Kroc spends 50% of the movie fighting the McDonalds brothers who drag their feet time and time again. He separates from his friends whom he describes as the “idle rich”, and decides to make better friends with immigrants, door-to-door salesmen, and entrepreneurs. He fills his company with people who know how to hustle and know that the hustle never ends. At the end of the movie he gives one of my new favorite movie speeches:

“Now, I know what you are thinking: how the heck does a 52 year-old, over the hill, milkshake machine salesmen build a fast food empire with 1600 restaurants in 50 states, 5 foreign countries, with an annual revenue within the neighborhood of about 700 million dollars? One word: persistence. Nothing in this world can take the place of good ole persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t. Unrecognized genius is practically a cliché. Education won’t. The world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all powerful.”

Video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocXP1pLeqLM

These are powerful words, and they cannot be understated. Nothing replaces hard work. We constantly in our society use the terms “work smarter, not harder.” What a crime! This is bullshit, and is robbing millennials of greatness. The first half is absolutely correct. The second is the destruction of virtue and achievement.  The phrase should be “work smarter, work harder”.

And the unfortunate truth is libertarians are neither working smarter or harder. We certainly don’t work smarter! We fight unnecessary battles. We die on hills we will never win. We make bed fellows with despicable monsters. This is us not working smarter.

We certainly don’t work harder. I have spent the past two weeks going school to school in the Northeast recruiting students to join the fight for a free and prosperous future. As I walk these campuses, I see the schools plastered with fliers from the College Democrats and socialist clubs. At NYU, I saw 3 different socialist clubs at their club fair. The socialists are preaching on the greens of their campus, working to have dozens of events every month, and forming coalitions. On some of the campuses I visit there are libertarian clubs and on some there aren’t. Either way they are invisible.

I see groups across the nation run two group meetings a semester. TWO!? I see some never meeting at all. I see groups that think putting up 5 fliers is exposure on campus. I see activists that invite 10 people to a Facebook event and think they have created good traction. Many are guilty.

Libertarians constantly make fun of socialists because they think they are holding positions of non-work and laziness. Well guess what? They are working harder than us! They are working smarter than us! And it is so damn obvious. The American revolutionaries gave their lives, all their comforts, and their safety to attain liberty and independence. We can hardly dedicate 3 hours on a Thursday.

In order to be an activist, you have to be active. Our mission is one of incredible difficulty and persistence. We will fail over and over again, and we won’t stop until we attain every last success. We will be tired. Our feet and backs will hurt and ache. Our brains will be fried. But, whether we succeed or fail, we will know that we gave our everything to fight for human prosperity. We will be able to hold our heads high.

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(Classical) Liberals, the Agnostics of Politics

Religion and politics, for many reasons, have been tied together, whether formally or informally. It is most likely because they are both so much like each other in the abstract. Both are systems of authority. In religion there are priests and pastors, in politics there are politicians. In religion there are churches, synagogues, and mosques, in politics there are voting booths and town halls. In religion there are protestants, Catholics, and Muslims, in politics there are Democrats and Republicans. Both are involved with deeply held beliefs about the world around them. Both are uncomfortable to talk about at the Thanksgiving table. Both are uniting and divisive at the same time. Both have their mottos and talking points. For religion, you can hear a Catholic repeat the words “Christ is always with you” to multiple people on a missionary trip. In politics, you can hear a progressive repeat the words “no victim, no crime” during a signature outing. The list goes on and on.

However I would like to make the case that in this comparison, classical liberals are the agnostics of politics. They preach a philosophy of complexity and uncertainty in the world. The only certainty the classical liberal has (which is more than vague) is that people have goals and people aim to hit those goals. The goals could be literally anything, short-term or long-term. The goal could be a successful career, getting laid during a night out, or visiting grandma every Sunday. Furthermore, it is probable that everyone has multiple goals and these goals compete with each other with different levels of preference. That is the driving force behind classical liberalism. We also make an assumption that people don’t want to be acted violently against (as in don’t want to get murdered, stole from, raped, or hurt), but everyone seems to make this assumption to varying degrees, which makes it more of a background assumption. These two assumptions pretty much make up the philosophy of classical liberalism and libertarianism. It is a basic philosophy within a complex system. Just like the agnostic position within the scope of theology.

To make this clear, the religious agnostic position is that humans are either too limited, god is too complex, or there is too much to know in the universe to possibly make a knowledge statement on the existence of god or his participation within the universe.

In the context of liberalism and politics, classical liberals assert that humans are too limited, human communities are too complex, or there is too much to know within an economy to make a knowledge statement on what is best for everyone or how to direct an economy. It is principally agnostic. However, socialists and conservatives are the gnostics of politics. They purport themselves to have the secret knowledge to what makes humanity tick. Conservatives have the secret knowledge that it would be best for society to limit gay marriage or keep cannabis illegal. Democrats have the secret knowledge that it would be best for the economy if minimum wage were raised to $15. Socialists and authoritarians have the most secret knowledge that they can run every facet of the economy via central planning, which is probably the most hideous gnosticism of the them all. It is hideous and arrogant because it asserts that they basically know the underlying motivation behind every human action and thus how to guide it. This gnosticism of central planning has created some of the most unsavory human conditions in the Soviet Union, Venezuela, and Cuba.

Socialists claim to know the will of god within politics, liberals advocate based on their own uncertainties.

Could Ending Welfare Programs be bad for the Free Market?

Looking at the strategy of conservatives and libertarians in the United States, one can plainly see welfare activism is a strong focus. But is this the most important topic to promote the free market? We promote the ideas of the free market in order to bring about human flourishing and prosperity, but are welfare programs the main obstacle holding us back from our full potential in trade? I think not. Actually, I think that focusing on this, instead of other facets of the economy, is quite dangerous.

People generally join welfare programs for one of two reasons: 1) they need it to put food on the table. That is to say that they truly need it to survive either because of some disability, some unfortunate circumstance, or what have you. And 2) they see a profit of some kind. This is to say that they see they can make some kind of cash value with doing minimal work or less work then they would need to do otherwise to make that cash. Both are noble causes. In the market we are all trying to both survive and profit. It is what motivates us to fulfill our own wants and needs.

However, those that are for the free market generally demonize those that use these programs. This is a flaw in strategy and in principle. Most of those that promote the ideas of liberalism and the market say that we are all self-interested and we all take actions to advance ourselves and meet our goals. Why is this any different from those that use welfare programs? They are doing exactly what we say is natural. They are either seeking survival or profit or both.

Generally, the response to this is that people who use welfare are not mutually benefiting those around them. Mutual benefit is a natural consequence of market action, but it is not the goal of the actors in a market. When an entrepreneur sells his product or service, they are not intending to benefit those around them from their service, but they do regardless. This follows the logic of the popular Adam Smith quote about the baker not selling his labor and products for the good of his customers, but instead for his own self interest. The mutual benefit between the baker and his customers is simply happy coincidence that should be expected from voluntary action.

The same motivation is behind the actions of those that enroll in welfare programs. The only difference is that mutual benefit (a positive sum gain) doesn’t result from the transaction. The transaction is neutral sum. Value is taken from one and given to another in similar amounts. Someone benefits the exact same amount that someone is negated. However, this is not because of the actions of those that are enrolled. They are doing vaguely the same thing as the baker in the Adam Smith quote. They are taking a tally on the environment or setting they are in and choosing an option that is open to them that gives them the best profit (or the perceived best profit). Therefore the issue doesn’t lie in the receiver, but the taker and giver. The taker and giver in this scenario is obviously the government agency that facilitates the program.

Demonizing the welfare recipient ignores key principles of the liberal philosophy (particularly that people are self-interested) and is clearly bad strategy. The free market is what could help these recipients the most. Yet they are ostracized from the ideas by bombastic and fiery conservatives and libertarians that accuse them of laziness, idleness, or what have you. They aren’t lazy. They are self-interested.

However, there is one more key flaw to fighting welfare programs as a free market supporter. Though, it rests in a strategic hypothetical. What if the market cannot bear the introduction of unemployed or partially employed welfare recipients? What if there are not enough jobs in a particular area? What if the market doesn’t meet demand? People would suffer immensely. In a world with no welfare programs, these people could potentially starve if there isn’t a charity willing to give them support. This should be unacceptable to all people promoting the ideas of freedom and liberty. Not only think of the direct human suffering, but imagine how quickly people will demonize the ideas of the free market if just one person that used to be on welfare starved. The proponents of socialism and immense state control would flourish and our hope of liberty will be lost. We would have won, temporarily, the fight against the welfare state only to lose in the long run not only the welfare fight, but most likely every other fight for more freedom.

This is not to say that libertarians and conservatives should end the fight against the welfare state. It is an abomination and one that creates networks of dependency to the state. This is to say that this fight should be put on a backburner of sorts and we should focus on creating a market environment that would be guaranteed to support these people when welfare is removed.

This means fighting the regulatory state. The regulatory state suffocates our markets to a degree that forces otherwise productive people to be enrolled into welfare programs. I think of licensing laws that force people that want to do something as simple as braiding hair to get a permit. I imagine there are a handful of people that would love (or at least could) braid hair for money, but cannot due to a long, laborious permitting process. I think of licensing laws for florists, coffin makers, and hair dressers. I understand that we all want beautiful bouquets and great haircuts, but to create huge permitting processes for these professions is ludicrous. It isolates people from our markets and forces people into welfare programs.

While I see libertarians, in part, focus on the regulatory state, not so much can be said about conservatives who believe in the free market. The Republican Party’s main focus for years has been cutting welfare. There is hardly a word to be said about regulation, at least on the national stage. Perhaps they have their own strategy that I am not seeing. While libertarians have, in part, had some focus on regulation, they are not perfect in this either. As it goes, libertarians will generally parrot that of their conservative free market allies, even if only to form a coalition.

To me, this is not an arm chair discussion either. This is not simply a whimsical conversation about how I want libertarians or conservatives to act. I truly believe this distinction is the difference between fulfilling a more free society, and the possible end of liberalism in the United States. If free market advocates win the fight against welfare, the long-term results could be devastating for the free market. If free market advocates lose the fight against welfare, they will have only wasted their time as the government continues to grow. If free market supporters shift the fight to regulation instead of welfare, we could have the potential to win both fights.

Political Support for Nuclear Energy

While voter support is important for understanding where a politician’s support will land, the relationship between a voter and a politician is a two-way feedback system. Voters will influence what politicians think, and politicians will also influence what voters think. With this, what political support nuclear energy has among politicians must be looked at.

Former President Obama supported an “all the above” energy policy, which was meant to be a plan that supported all kinds of energy in a way that combatted climate change. Though Obama’s Administration sent subsidy after subsidy to renewables like solar or wind, very few were for nuclear development. However, the Administration did support nuclear vocally to some degree and set up small programs for nuclear energy, which mostly related to research.

For the new Trump Administration, it is not clear exactly what action will be taken, however the administration seems to be more nuclear power minded than the last. For starters, Donald Trump will be allocating $120 million to the reapproval of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility. As mentioned in previous posts, there is currently no repository for nuclear waste in the United States, but if Yucca Mountain is approved, that changes. The CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, Maria Korsnick, thinks that Donald Trump will be friendlier to nuclear energy, as it aligns with his infrastructure goals and put-to-work project goals. During the election season, Donald Trump showed support for nuclear energy development, but not over the development of natural gas. Furthermore, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, Rick Perry, supports cutting down on regulations surrounding nuclear energy.

For Colorado political support, there is very little to be seen. Governor Hickenlooper also follows the Obama Administration’s mission of an “all of the above” energy solution. However, when Hickenlooper speaks on all of the above solutions, he talks about wind, solar, natural gas, and oil, but no mention of nuclear energy. In the wake of Trump Administrations changes to environmental and energy policy changes, Governor Hickenlooper says that Colorado will continue to develop renewable energy as was being done under the Clean Power Plan. However, he makes no mention of nuclear energy. From what was gathered, no significant political voice in support of nuclear energy could be found in Colorado.

Current Support for Nuclear Energy

For Americans, the current support for nuclear energy is relatively low. Gallup reports that 2016 is the first year that a majority of Americans were opposed to nuclear energy in their own polls. Clearly, there have been other times that Americans have been more than 50% opposed to nuclear energy, just not in Gallup polls. In addition to the Nuclear Energy Agency’s public opinion trend, we can examine Gallup’s that is up to 2016. While support was at a peak in 2010, it has seen a steady decline since then, and hits an all-time low in favor and an all-time high in opposition in 2016 since 1994.

Gallup Current

Image from: www.gallup.com/poll/190064/first-time-majority-oppose-nuclear-energy.aspx

However, a University of Texas-Austin poll shows a less negative picture in public opinion. In the most recent wave of polling, which occurred in January of 2016, 26% oppose nuclear energy and 39% support nuclear energy. Out of the remainder polled, 35% were not sure or did not have an opinion.

Out of the 2,043 people polled, 526 opposed nuclear energy. From those that opposed, 34% were concerned of the effects of radiation on their community, 24% are concerned with waste storage, 19% are concerned with a power plant meltdown, 18% are concerned of a terrorist attack, and 5% are concerned with other issues.

Also out of the 2,043 people polled, 792 people support nuclear energy. From those that support, 81% support because they view nuclear energy as a “steady, reliable source of energy,” 19% support because it is emission free, and 1% support for other reasons.

UniversityofTexas Public Opinion

Image from: www.utenergypoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Topline-Wave-10.pdf

Ann S. Bisconti from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists describes the variability between years and between polls as a context issue:

Public opinion on nuclear energy is highly changeable and easily influenced, because most Americans do not feel well informed about the subject. The UT poll shows many people in the middle. The NEI spring 2016 survey also found a large segment of the public sitting on the fence; 26 percent strongly favored nuclear energy and 11 percent strongly opposed it, leaving almost two-thirds of the public in the middle.

However, even with the slight discrepancy between polls, nuclear energy does not appear to be currently very favorable among Americans, and it can be implied that it is most likely not very favorable among Coloradans.

Historical Perceptions of Nuclear Energy

Historically, it could be argued that nuclear was one of the most favored energy sources ever, and then soon became to one of the least liked energy sources. The political implications of nuclear energy for Colorado may be clear, but there is very little data on what Coloradan’s perceptions were historically. Therefore, we will examine the perceptions of Americans generally, although, Coloradan and American perceptions of nuclear energy are not exactly the same, they are most likely similar to some degree.

A year after World War 2 ended, the United States established the Atomic Energy Commission in order to cultivate the newly discovered power of the atom. In 1945, the book The Atomic Age Opens was published and popularly read, and expounded on a world in which nuclear energy would reign supreme so much that all other energy sources would most likely be abandoned. In a 1956 Gallup poll, Americans were asked “would you be afraid to have a plant located in this community which is run by atomic energy?” 70% answered that they were not afraid. According to Benjamin Sovacool, the military also, unsurprisingly, put its support behind nuclear energy. “Military planners believed that demonstrating the civilian applications of the atom would also affirm the American system of private enterprise, showcase the expertise of scientists, increase personal living standards, and defend the democratic lifestyle against Communist intrusion”.

However, the tune of Americans changed greatly throughout the years. Environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, originally supported nuclear energy as a clean energy source. As time went on, though, the Union of Concerned Scientists formed out of the Sierra club in 1969, and the Sierra Club officially turned against nuclear energy in 1974.

In 1973, Roper put out a similar poll to the 1956 Gallup poll, and asked Americans “how do you feel- that it would be safe to have an atomic energy plant someplace near here, or that it would present dangers?” Only 36% answered that it would be safe. While this language is not exactly the same as the Gallup poll, it can be seen that Americans’ attitude clearly changed towards the safety of nuclear energy between 1956, in which 70% answered they were not afraid of a nuclear plant, and 1973, in which 36% answered that a nuclear plant was safe.

Though, one of the most dramatic and visible changes in opinion towards nuclear energy occurred during the Three Mile Island accident. The accident occurred in the March of 1979. When Americans were polled in January, before the accident, 50% were in support of nuclear energy. When Americans were polled in April, after the accident, 39% were in support of nuclear energy. This is an 11 percent drop in only a few months, which is quite drastic in the context of public opinion.

To add to the Three Mile Island accident, 12 days before the accident the movie The China Syndrome with Jane Fonda was released. The movie depicted a disaster in which a meltdown at a nuclear reactor would mean a hole would be melted all the way to China. Throughout the movie, the nuclear power plant worker and managers are shadowed as shady and dishonest. Luckily, when Three Mile Island melted down only 12 days later, the doomsday depiction was proven wrong. After investigation of the scene, only a trivial amount of radiation leaked into the environment and there were no reported health effects from the accident. However, the public did not see it that way. The China Syndrome must have been correct if a meltdown happened so quickly after the movie was released.

As for Chernobyl, the American response was negative, though not as negative as Three Mile Island. Polls found that after the Chernobyl accident dropped around 6%.

In a report published by the Nuclear Energy Agency, a French nuclear energy organization, we can see the trends of public opinion for nuclear energy more recently. The report can be seen below and looks between 1998 and 2007.

Support for nuclear energy

From this figure, an overall increase in support for nuclear energy can be seen more recently. However it is only slightly increasing, and it is also fairly unstable.

Note: a lot of the information sourced in this blog is from Eric R.A.N. Smith’s book Energy, the Environment, and Public Policy which can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Energy-Environment-Public-Opinion-Smith/dp/0742510263

Voter Knowledge on Energy Issues

After looking at the economic implications of nuclear energy, we can see that there is a lot that is preferable about nuclear energy. However, living in a democracy means that policy and regulation will be based heavily in public perception of issues. In order for politicians to be elected or re-elected, they must serve the interests of their constituents in some kind of degree even if the constituent’s interests are uninformed. However, how informed are voters when it comes to energy issues?

To examine what voters could know about energy policy, several polls taken in the United States are helpful. The first one is explained in Eric R.A.N. Smith’s book, Energy, the Environment, and Public Opinion:

In 1977, when a Roper survey asked people whether they thought that solar, wind, and other power sources could realistically replace foreign oil within the next 5 years, 52% said they thought solar power could do it, and 16% thought that wind power could. These people had listened to too many exaggerated claims about the coming utopia; they were seriously mistaken.

Clearly, this forecast did not come true. Half of Americans polled got it completely wrong on solar power, and around a sixth of Americans got it wrong on wind power. Eric Smith goes on with data showing what percentage of Americans got energy policy questions correctly, which is seen in the figure below.

Smith_Eric_Energy_Environment_Public_Opinion_PG101

The most correctly answered question was whether or not Exxon housed its headquarters in the United States in 1978 and 1986. The most incorrectly answered questions were “what percentage of our oil do you think we now import?” in 1990 and 1991 and “What percentage of the nation’s electric power is currently supplied by nuclear power plants?” in 1979 and 1986. No questions got above an 80%, but got as low as 5%.

Energy policy is a difficult area of policy to know a lot about for many people. It is a combination of a lot of science, economics, and politics, which are all areas that the average American citizen struggles with. Eric Smith explains this complication with energy policy:

Consider, for instance, the news attention given to Newt Gingrich. Numerous stories about him appeared every day for weeks after the Republicans startled the nation by gaining House and Senate majorities in 1994. Even after the initial surge of attention subsided, Gingrich was in the news most days of every week through 1995 and 1996. Yet by May 1996, only half the public could supply his name when asked, “Who is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?” Given examples like these, we can hardly expect energy policy, which receives much less attention, to be well understood- especially the more complicated, technical aspects that are necessary for making informed choices.

Since energy policy is not always specifically focused on by the media, it is most likely that voters don’t have many venues to actually get to know much about energy policy. Furthermore, since there are many scientifically technical elements to energy policy, it should be looked at how Americans do with science topics. In 2005, the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers asked 1,200 Americans about genetically modified foods. When asked if regular, non-GMO, tomatoes have genes, 60% answered that non-GMO tomatoes do not have genes. 58% thought that if you were to combine catfish genes with a tomato, the tomato would taste more “fishy”.

Americans clearly do not know enough about politics or science in order to have a coherent opinion on energy policy. However, American’s, and particularly Coloradan’s, opinion on energy policy is essential for understanding if nuclear energy is feasible politically.