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Restoring Civilization: We Can’t MAGA Unless We MAMA

They can sense it. They can feel it. Something is seriously wrong in our civilization, and many people know it. This is why despite the relatively good economic times, most Americans polled say our country is on the “wrong track.” Yet many are like a gravely ill man who knows he’s not well but can’t precisely identify his ailment. Most often, Americans have only a vague sense of cultural malaise, or they “self-diagnose” wrongly.

Years ago I had a brief “state of the nation” discussion with a very fine, older country gentleman. While no philosopher, he did offer the following diagnosis. Struggling for words and gesticulating a bit, he said, “There’s…there’s no morality.”

Most believe morality is important both personally and nationally. We generally agree that an immoral man treads a dangerous path; of course, it’s likewise for two immoral men, five, 53 or 1,053 — or a whole nation-full.

Echoing many Founders, George Washington noted that “morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” The famous apocryphal saying goes, “America is great because America is good, and if she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” For sure, we can’t MAGA unless we MAMA — Make America Moral Again.

Yet if immorality is the diagnosis and restoring morality the cure, we must know what this thing called “morality” is. Ah, that’s where agreement can end.

Talk to most people today — especially the people who study people, sociologists and anthropologists — and they’ll “identify morality with social code,” as Sociology Guide puts it. They’ll essentially say what sociologists Durkheim and Sumner do, “that things are good or bad if they are so considered by society or public opinion,” the site continues. “Durkheim stated that we do not disapprove of an action because it is a crime but it is a crime because we disapprove of it.” Yet true or not, would the majority really view an action as a crime, in the all-important moral sense, if they came to believe it was true?

Consider a man I knew who once proclaimed, “Murder isn’t wrong; it’s just that society says it is.” Clearly, “public opinion” isn’t swaying him much.

Yet how do you argue with him? Barring reference to something outside of man (i.e., God) dictating murder’s “immorality,” you’re left with a striking reality:

Society is all there is to say anything.

Then “Man is the measure of all things,” as Greek philosopher Protagoras put it.

Yet acceptance of the “society says” thesis presents a problem: Now you must convince others to equate “public opinion” with credible, binding “morality.” This is mostly fruitless because, frankly, it’s stupid.

Man’s opinion is just that — opinion. If the term “morality” is essentially synonymous, it’s a risible redundancy. If we’re acting as slick marketers, trying to elevate “opinion” via assignment of an impressive-sounding title, it’s false advertising. So if that is all we’re really talking about — “opinion” or “societal considerations” — let’s drop the pretense and just say what we mean:

We sentient organic robots (soulless entities comprising chemicals and water) have preferences for how others should behave (subject to change with or without notice). No, we can’t call these tastes “morality” — but, hey, we can punish the heck out of you for defying our collective will (see North Korea et al.).

To cement the point, consider my patent explanation. Who or what determines what this thing we call morality is?

Only two possibilities exist: Either man or something outside of him does. If the latter, something vastly superior and inerrant (i.e., God), then we really can say morality exists, apart from man. It’s real. Yet what are the man-as-measure implications?

Well, imagine the vast majority of the world loved chocolate but hated vanilla. Would this make vanilla “wrong” or “evil”? It’s just a matter of preference, of whatever flavor works for you.

Okay, but is it any more logical saying murder is “bad” or “wrong” if we only do so because the vast majority of the world prefers we not kill others in a manner the vast majority considers “unjust”? If it’s all just consensus “opinion,” it then occupies the same category as flavors: preference.

This is the matter’s stark reality, boiled down. It’s why serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s darkness-enabling attitude was, as his father related in a 1996 interview (video below; relevant portion at 40:26), “If it [life] all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for a God? Can’t I set my own rules?” It’s why occultist Aleister Crowley, branded “the wickedest man in the world,” succinctly stated, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” (Preference Über Alles 101).

[Please insert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgw0x0TxRO8]

This perspective engenders what’s often called “moral relativism,” the notion that “Truth” (absolute by definition) is illusion and what’s called “morality” changes with the time and people. But saying all is preference is actually moral nihilism, the belief that “morality” (properly understood) doesn’t actually exist — because, again, “opinion” isn’t morality.

Of course, few think matters through as thoroughly as a Dahmer or Crowley. (In fact, a possible reason sociopaths may possess above-average intelligence is that they’re smart enough to grasp the “morality” question’s two possibilities — either morality exists as something divinely-authored, something transcendent, or there is no morality — but draw the wrong conclusion.) Yet moral relativism/nihilism has swept Western civilization. And hell has followed with it.

How relativistic/nihilistic are we? A Barna Group study found that in 2002 already, most Americans did not believe in (absolute) Truth, in morality; in fact, only six percent of teens did. Thus are they most likely to base what once were called “moral decisions” on…wait for it…feelings. Surprise, surprise.

Such prevailing philosophical/moral rot collapses civilization. For anything can be justified. Rape, kill, steal, violate the Constitution as a judge, commit vote fraud? Why not? Who’s to say it’s wrong? Don’t impose values on me, dude.

To analogize it, imagine we fell victim to “dietary relativism/nihilism” and fancied the rules of nutrition nonexistent. With only taste left to govern dietary choices, most would indulge junk food; nutritional disorder would reign and health deteriorate. Moreover, considering one man’s poison another’s pleasure, we might sample those pretty red berries the birds gobble down. Hey, if it tastes good, eat it.

This reflects what’s befalling our “If it feels good, do it” Western civilization. Considering the rules of any system non-existent or irrelevant brings movement toward disorder — and a point where those who can impose their preferences restore order, a tyrannical one.

Having said this, discussing “Truth” and God evokes complaints, as the morally relativistic/nihilistic world view influences even many conservatives, and secularists find faith-oriented talk unsettling.

So let’s focus here on not faith but fact. As to this and the world’s Dahmers, Crowleys and the murder-skeptic man I knew, call them names, but don’t call them illogical. Within their universe of “data”— that “God doesn’t exist” and thus only organic robots can be the measure — they’re right: Murder’s status isn’t “wrong,” just “unpreferred.”

Note that moral principles cannot be proven scientifically any more than God’s existence; you can’t see a moral under a microscope or a principle in a Petri dish. Science only tells us what we can do, not what we should. Finding guidance on “should” necessitates transcending the physical and venturing into the metaphysical. It requires, pure logic informs, taking a leap of faith.

Something else not a matter of faith but fact is man’s psychology: People operate by certain principles. Like it or not, believing as Dahmer did (when young) about God leads to believing as he did about morality. “If man is all there is to make up rules, why can’t I just make up my own?”

As I put it in 2013, “Just as people wouldn’t abide by the ‘laws’ of physics if they didn’t believe they existed (the idea of jumping off a building and flying sounds like fun), and there weren’t obvious and immediate consequences for their violation (splat!), they won’t be likely to abide by morality if they believe its laws don’t exist.”

Of course, this rarely leads to serial killing. But it always — at population level — leads to serial immorality. This is an immutable rule of man.

So how should we combat our time’s moral relativism/nihilism? First, realize that from the Greek philosophers to the early/medieval Christians to the Founding Fathers, Western civilization was not forged by relativists/nihilists. It won’t be maintained by them, either. “If it feels good, do it” yields a healthy society even less than “If it tastes good, eat it” does a healthy body.

Thus, one needn’t have faith to understand that belief in Truth is utilitarian. As George Washington warned, “[R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Second, know that moral relativism/nihilism’s appeal is that it’s the ultimate get-out-of-sin free card. After all, my sins can’t be sins if there are no such things as sins, only “lifestyle choices.” Yet also know that we can have this seemingly eternal but illusory absolution — or we can have civilization. We can’t have both.

So act as if Truth exists; seek it, speak it, love it, for it will set you free. Realize also that relativism is juvenile pseudo-philosophy. For if everything were relative, what you believed would be relative, too, and thus meaningless. So let’s talk about what’s meaningful.

The alternative? Well, it was expressed nicely by an old New Yorker cartoon. It featured the Devil addressing a large group of arrivals in Hell and saying, reassuringly, “You’ll find there’s no right or wrong here. Just what works for you.”

It’s an alluring idea — and a powerful one. It creates Hell on Earth, too.

Contact Selwyn Duke, follow him on Gab (preferably) or Twitter or log on to SelwynDuke.com.

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EDITORS NOTE: This article is the second in a series on exposing modern (liberal) lies, explaining the disordered leftist mind and restoring civilization. The first is here. The “American’t” essay, which illustrates our problems, is here. The edited featured photo by Jonny Swales on Unsplash.

Personal Character Conquers Another Welfare-State Tragedy

On a fateful day he’ll never forget, 18-year-old Lawrence (“Larry”) Cooper, an unmarried black man and high school dropout, found himself on the wrong side of the law. He attempted an armed robbery of a store in downtown Savannah, Georgia. It was April 1987. The cash involved? A mere $80, enough to finance his cocaine habit for less than a day. Larry was caught and sent to a maximum-security prison.

One month after Larry’s arrest, his son was born. The boy wouldn’t see his father outside of a cell until November 2015, when his dad was finally released.

“I wasn’t there to even sign the birth certificate,” Larry told me just a month ago.

These lamentable chapters of the Larry Cooper story are distressingly familiar in America.

Today, incarcerated black American males number about 750,000. That’s more than the entire prison populations of India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel, and England combined. In August 2013, a report from the Sentencing Project on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System revealed that “one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.”

The leading cause of incarceration of black males is nonviolent drug offenses. This is no accident. As President Richard Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman revealed in a 1994 interview,

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

The next leading causes are false accusations, then crimes against persons, followed by crimes against property. Economist Thomas Sowell argues convincingly, as do many others, that the genuinely criminal behavior — the violations of person and property — have much less to do with racism and poverty than they have to do with the debilitating, family-busting policies of the welfare state. (And it doesn’t help that poor, inner-city families are often trapped in lousy government schools.) Sowell observes,

Murder rates among black males were going down — repeat, down — during the much lamented 1950s, while [they] went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families. Such trends are not unique to blacks, nor even to the United States. The welfare state has led to remarkably similar trends among the white underclass in England over the same period.… You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

Larry Cooper was one of the statistics, a prime candidate for exhibit A in this national tragedy. But today, he’s well on his way to a life of honor and redemption. Perhaps the jury on him is still out, but I’m betting he’s a hero in the making.

Growing up in Savannah in the 1970s and ‘80s, Larry faced the challenges posed by a broken family.

“My dad had 33 kids with six or seven women,” he informed me in a February 2016 interview over breakfast.

“Mom and Dad separated early, so Dad just wasn’t around. I saw him maybe twice a year.”

As a teenager, Larry started skipping school, stealing, smoking marijuana, and then doing cocaine.

“I dropped out of school when I was 16 and it broke my mama’s heart,” he said. His mother implored him to find employment so he took a landscaping job that lasted only a week before he was in the streets again.

Hanging out with the wrong people, trapped in a vicious circle of using drugs and stealing what he could to afford more — and with only a brokenhearted mother at home to offer any hope at all — Larry was headed for destruction. His poor choices caught up with him two years later with a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. But things would get much worse before they would get better.

Bad behavior, including aggravated assault, earned Larry additional prison time — a grand total of 28 years. He went in at age 18 and emerged at 47. It will be another decade before he can say he’s been a free man for as long as he wasn’t.

“Over the years while behind bars,” Larry says, “I thought more and more about what my mama had told me. She said this would happen if I didn’t straighten up. She prayed hard for me, all the time. She visited me as much as she could. I still remember how bad I felt when she once came to see me but was turned away because I was ‘in the hole’ for bad things I done. But she never gave up on me.”

I asked Larry what the low point of his time in prison was. I expected it might have been a run-in with a guard or another inmate, an ugly incident of short duration.

His answer: “Seven years in solitary confinement.”

Seven years?” I exclaimed.

“Yes, and every day it was the same: one hour out in the yard, 15 minutes in the shower, and then 22 hours and 45 minutes in solitary,” he replied. “At first, I was in despair. But then I started reading and then writing to folks, exercising in my cell and thinking hard about what had happened to me and what was going on in my life. It took those long hours by myself to make me come to my senses and start feeling bad about the people I stole from, all the friends and family I had hurt. Things mama told me finally started to have an effect on me.”

Larry’s mother arranged his baptism when he was a child, but he never made time to read more than a few words of the Bible — or anything else, for that matter. A prison chaplain introduced him to a Bible study course conducted by mail. Larry enrolled and completed it.

“That’s when my life really began to change,” he told me. “Ever since that course, I’ve been a different man. I’ve settled down. I use my brain now. I’m no longer the man I used to be.”

Larry’s personal and spiritual recovery were well underway before I’d ever heard of him. His reading had brought him into contact with ideas of political and economic liberty. He wrote my former place of employment in Michigan, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, asking for more information. My old colleagues there forwarded his letter on to me at FEE, and that began a correspondence that now fills two shoeboxes on a shelf in my home office.

Never before had I contemplated developing a friendship with a man in prison. I wouldn’t know how to begin. If Larry hadn’t taken the initiative to contact me, such an undertaking would never have happened. I now count it as a great blessing in my life.

Larry was much more diligent in writing than I was, I confess with some remorse.

“I had more time on my hands than you did,” he jokes.

But I’m pleased to have helped deepen his understanding of liberty by sending him many books and articles.

“Were there any particular things I sent you that made a big impact?”

Without skipping a beat, he replied, “Yes. One was your book, A Republic — If We Can Keep It and the other was What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray.” The reader will excuse me, I hope, if I report this with a smile and considerable pride.

Larry and I corresponded but never spoke by phone until after his release. I was looking forward to the day when I could finally drive down to Savannah to spend time with him. Until we met, I didn’t even know what he looked like, but we embraced as if we were brothers.

We dined at the Bonefish Grill on Abercorn Street, then went to see the fantastic film Race about Olympian Jesse Owens. The next morning, we had breakfast, and I recorded the interview with him that this article is based on before visiting the public library on Bull Street so I could show Larry how to create his first email account.

I learned much from Larry during that breakfast interview. For example, he opposes the drug war from a vantage point I’ve never experienced — from inside prison walls where, he says, “drugs are everywhere.” I asked him where they come from.

“All sorts of ways and places,” he said. “Guys out on work detail get ‘em. People throw ‘em over the prison gate. Guards and officers bring ‘em in.”

Larry’s views on current issues are interesting, but his personal transformation is, to me at least, positively captivating. As the well-known expression puts it, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The sad part of it is that Larry’s mother, one of the few anchors in his life, died just three months before he earned his freedom.

“At first I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “She was living for the day I would get out, which was the day after Thanksgiving, 2015. It really hit me at Christmas. At my first Christmas dinner as a free man in 28 years, family and old friends got together. Everybody was there but mama. It took me so many years to realize how important your character is. Thanks to mama and my faith, I’m not going to ever let it slip again.”

The Salvation Army in Savannah is generously providing Larry with a place to live and a church to attend on Sundays as he puts his new life together. He’s working two jobs, one with a prestigious catering service and the other with a local staffing firm that places him in short-term stints at manual labor.

He doesn’t want welfare.

“I try to earn every penny I get,” he asserts proudly. He’s both optimistic and excited about his future. He’d love to start a new family.

“I want to prove to myself that I can be a good independent man and make amends for what I did. I take one day at a time, but my spirits are real good.”

After all Larry’s been through and with freedom so new to him, I suppose there’s a chance of a relapse. Surely there will be occasional bumps on his ongoing road of recovery. I hope I’ve encouraged him and can continue to do so.

There are many lessons here: Strong families and good parenting can make all the difference in the world. Building character for navigating the pitfalls of life is a priceless undertaking you’ll likely never regret. Don’t underestimate the value of a mother who never gives up on a wayward son. Through an inner transformation, in this case facilitated by a spiritual renewal, even the seemingly incorrigible can turn his or her life around. Never miss an opportunity to encourage someone who is clearly trying to do the right thing.

I intend to stay in touch with Larry Cooper. I’ll watch his progress and assist with it if and when I can. He’s already taught me a valuable truth: that heroes aren’t always the ones who make the headlines or the history books. They may just be on the other side of a wall.

For further information, see:

Lawrence W. ReedLawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

The Bible and Hayek on What We Owe Strangers by Sarah Skwire

It’s so much easier to sympathize with our own problems and with the problems of those we love than with the problems of complete strangers.

Adam Smith observes in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that our ability to sympathize with ourselves is, in fact, so out of all proportion to our ability to sympathize with others that the thought of losing one of our little fingers can keep us up all night in fearful anticipation, while we can sleep easily with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands on the opposite side of the world have just died in an earthquake.

Hayek makes the same point in The Fatal Conceit:

Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order. Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules.

It may not be the best part of our humanity, but it is a very human part. We care more about those we see more often, understand more thoroughly, and with whom we share more in common.

And maybe that’s not so bad. We treat family differently, after all. My daughter will get a giant pink fluffy stuffed unicorn from me on her birthday. I don’t believe that I am similarly obligated to provide fuzzy equines for all other eight-year-olds. Different treatment is a way of acknowledging different kinds of bonds between people and different levels of responsibility to them.

All of this is on my mind because the other night, after I gave a talk on liberty and culture, an audience member and I had a discussion about banking, debt, and interest rates during which he carefully explained to me how Jews lend each other money for no interest, but when they lend to Christians, the sky’s the limit. Everyone knows it, because it’s in the Bible.

He was right, sort of. It is in the Bible, sort of.

It’s right there in Deuteronomy 23:

You shall not give interest to your brother [whether it be] interest on money, interest on food, or interest on any [other] item for which interest is [normally] taken. You may [however], give interest to a gentile, but to your brother you shall not give interest, in order that the Lord your God shall bless you in every one of your endeavors on the land to which you are coming to possess.

But textual interpretation is a tricky business. And textual interpretation of a text that has existed for thousands of years and been wrangled with by millions of interpreters — well, it doesn’t get much trickier than that.

But it seems worth noting that the word used here (both in translation and in Hebrew) is literally “brother.” This has been interpreted over the years to mean “fellow Jew.” But the word, as given, is brother.

What I think the passage means to emphasize by using this word — regardless of whether we are talking about literal brothers, or just “brothers” — is the importance and of treating those who are closest to us with particular care and concern. The kind of business relationship that is part of Hayek’s extended order, or that is located in an outer ring of Smith’s concentric circles of sympathy, doesn’t come with extra moral responsibilities to one another. A price is agreed on. A bargain is struck. An exchange is made. Everyone is content. But in an intimate order — with brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, parents or children — we have a responsibility to give more and do more than in the extended order.

And so observant Jews are told that they should not pay or charge interest to brothers — whomever they consider those brothers to be.

Though it has been interpreted uncharitably by many over the years, this passage from Deuteronomy is not a passage about cheating the outsider. This is a passage about taking special care of those who are closest to our hearts. It’s hard to find anything to object to in that.

Sarah SkwireSarah Skwire

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

How to Win Hearts and Minds: From Energy Supporter to Energy Advocate

In the 2016 election I want to make energy abundance a winning issue—which means that more candidates run on and win on a platform of energy abundance, in contrast to the energy poverty policies many of today’s candidates advocate.

Chances are that if you are on this list, you do, too. But what can you do?

In the next several months out I’ll be rolling out a national energy campaign to impact the 2016 election. But in the meantime, and to prepare for that, there’s a lot you can do to make yourself, your loved ones, or your company incredibly effective at winning hearts and minds on energy.

To understand how, it’s important to understand the 3 key transformations that energy influencers can go through:

  1. From supporter to advocate
  2. From advocate to champion
  3. From champion to thought-leader

Today I’ll discuss the transformation from supporter to advocate.

From Supporter to Advocate

Energy Supporter: An individual who is generally in favor of the most important sources of energy abundance, including fossil fuels, but lacks the motivation and/or capability to persuade others in favor of energy abundance.

Energy Advocate: An individual with the clarity, confidence, and motivation to persuade others in favor of energy abundance.

To become an advocate, an energy supporter requires a) dramatically increased clarity and b) effective tactics to communicate with different audiences.

Clarity is the most important. If you are clear enough about a moral issue you will inevitably become an advocate if not a champion.

Thus, our number one recommendation is to read and/or assign The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which clearly and systematically lays out the moral case for energy abundance in general and fossil fuel energy in particular. In addition, we produce a large amount of online content delivered via social media, email, and websites to enhance clarity on the most current controversies. (See our Facebook, Twitter, and website.)

As a supporter pursues dramatically enhanced clarity, it is important that they simultaneously learn the art of communication—particularly one-on-one communication.

For various reasons there are very, very few individuals who are effective at changing people’s minds on energy one-on-one, so I am currently developing a course called “How to talk to anyone about energy,” available in the next month. If that interests you, let me know, and I’ll prioritize it even more.

In the meantime, we have several online lectures and papers about how to reframe the debate, including “The Key to Winning Hearts and Minds” and “Arguing to 0 vs. Arguing to 100.”

For examples of what’s possible, see the Hearts and Minds section of this newsletter.

If you are a company trying to turn supporters into advocates, and I believe every company should, it is important to motivate employees to learn about the case for their industry—and how to make it. One way to do this is to hold a speech in front of a large group of employees, ideally broadcast to the entire company. Depending on what makes sense for a company, we offer several free video speeches to show, remote speeches and Q&A, or in-person speeches. This gets everyone motivated and gives a common frame of reference. Combined with employee copies of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels which, in bulk, can include a custom page with a message from your company, you are certain to empower a large percentage of your employees to go from supporters to advocates. If you haven’t read it, make sure to check out the story of how Pioneer Resources did just this.

In our next newsletter, I’ll discuss the transformation from energy advocate to energy champion—an individual with a high level of clarity, confidence, and motivation who reaches dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of others.

Power Hour: Steve Hayward on All Things Energy

On the latest episode of Power Hour, “polymath” Steve Hayward and I have a free-flowing discussing of the global energy landscape, from Russian gas to US solar.

Download Episode 118 with Steven Hayward

Subscribe to Power Hour on iTunes

As always, if you’d like to suggest a new guest for Power Hour, or have me appear on your show, you can send me an email at support@industrialprogress.net, or just reply to this one.

Social Science and the Nuclear Family by Steven Horwitz

The question of the importance of family structure, specifically marriage, is back in the limelight. Conservatives are promoting three papers that provide some strong evidence that children raised by married parents do better along a number of dimensions than those raised in other household forms.

For many commentators, this makes for a strong case against those who appear to claim that family structure has either a minimal effect or doesn’t matter at all. As someone who might well fall into that group, or at least appear to, I think there are several responses to these new studies, all of which can acknowledge the empirical evidence that being raised by two loving parents is better for kids than alternative family structures.

One side note: conservatives might wish to not use the term “family structure denialists” as Wilcox does in the link above.

Comparing a legitimate disagreement over empirical evidence and public policy to those who would deny the overwhelming evidence of the Holocaust is an unacceptable rhetorical move whether it comes from leftists speaking of “climate change deniers” or conservatives speaking of “family structure deniers.” The disagreements in both case are legitimate objects of intellectual discussion and the language of “denier” indicates a refusal to engage in good faith debate.

On the substance of this issue, the conservatives cheering these recent studies don’t always note that there are differences among single-parent households formed through: 1) the choice to have and raise a child by oneself; 2) death of a spouse; and 3) divorce. Each of these presents a different set of circumstances and tradeoffs that we might wish to consider when we think about the role of family structure.

The conservative defenders of the superiority of the two-parent family (and it’s presumably not just “two parents” but two parents of the opposite sex, which raises a whole other set of questions), might wish to disentangle the multiple reasons such a family structure might not be present. For example, the children of widows do better than those of women who choose not to marry the fathers of their children, and the children of widows have outcomes that look more like those of kids from two-parent families.

The empirical evidence under discussion has to be understood with an “all else equal” condition. A healthy marriage will indeed produce better outcomes than, say, single motherhood. But there is equally strong social scientific evidence about the harm done to children who are raised in high-conflict households. Those children may well be better off if their parents get divorced and they are raised in two single-parent households with less conflict.

When parents in high-conflict marriages split up, the reduction in their stress levels, especially for women, leads to improved relationships with their children and better outcomes for the kids. In general, comparisons of different types of family structures must avoid the “Nirvana Fallacy” by not comparing an idealized vision of married parenthood with a more realistic perspective on single parenthood. The choices facing couples in the real world are always about comparing imperfect alternatives.

In addition, to say that married parents create “better” outcomes for kids does not mean that other family forms don’t produce “acceptable” outcomes for kids. It’s not as if every child raised by a single mother, whether through divorce, widowhood, or simply not marrying the father, is condemned to poverty or a life of crime.

Averages are averages. Though these three recent studies do continue to confirm the existing literature’s consensus that marriage is “better” for kids, there is still much debate over how much better those outcomes are, and especially whether other family structures are or are not sufficient to raise functional adults.

And this leads to the next point, which is that parents matter too.

The focus of the “family structure matters” crowd is almost exclusively on the outcomes for kids. That parents matter too is most obvious with divorce, where leaving a bad marriage may be extremely valuable for mom and/or dad, even if it leads to worse outcomes for the kids. The evidence from Stevenson and Wolfers that no-fault divorce has led to a decline in intimate partner violence, as well as suicides of married women, makes the importance of this point clear.

We can acknowledge that higher divorce rates have not been good for kids, but we can’t do single-entry moral bookkeeping. We have to include the effects of divorce on the married couple, because adults matter too. When we add this to the idea that conflict in marriage is bad for kids, the increased ease with which adults can get out of marriages, and the resulting single parenthood, is not so clearly a net problem when we consider the well-being of both children and adults.

These calculations are complicated and idiosyncratic, which seems to suggest that they should be left to those with the best knowledge of the situation and not artificially encouraged or discouraged by public policy.

This last point raises the final question, which is what do these studies mean for public policy?

If two-parent families are better than the alternatives, what does this imply? Are conservatives suggesting that we subsidize couples who have kids? Should that apply to only biological parents and not adoptive ones? Isn’t this a case for same-sex marriage? Should we make divorce more difficult, and if so, what about the probable result that doing so would reduce the number of marriages by increasing the cost of exit?

I would certainly agree that we should stop subsidizing single-parenthood through various government programs, but I’d make the same argument about two-parent families as well. In any case, what’s not clear is what the conservatives trumpeting these studies think they mean for public policy.

Perhaps, though, they think the solutions are cultural. If conservatives wish to argue that these studies mean that we should use moral suasion and intermediary institutions such as houses of worship to encourage people to marry and stay married if they wish to have kids, or that we should encourage young people to use contraception and think more carefully about when and with whom they have sex, that’s fine. And in fact, teen pregnancies are down.

But if intermediary institutions can do all of that, then they can also play a key role in helping single parents who make the difficult decision to divorce or continue a pregnancy in the complicated circumstances of their lives. Such institutions will also likely do that more effectively than can the state.

So if we are genuinely concerned about single parenthood, we should be asking what are the best ways to deal with it. Libertarians like me might well agree with such conservatives if they think the solutions are cultural or should rest in the hands of such intermediate institutions. But if they think there are public policy solutions, particularly ones that limit or penalize the choices facing couples, I wish they would spell them out explicitly in the context of their discussions of these studies.

One last thought: It ill-serves libertarians to deny the results of good science and social science, whether it’s climate change from the left or family structure from the right. We should, of course, critically interrogate that work to make sure that it is, in fact, good. But if it is good, we should welcome it as we should first be concerned with the truth and not our ideological priors.

The next questions we should ask, however, are about the implications. In the case of these recent studies on family structure, it is incumbent upon us to assess both the quality of the work and its implications, and we should pay particular attention to what is not being seen and what questions are not being asked.

Just because one family structure is better for children all else equal means neither that other family structures aren’t good enough for kids, nor that all else is always equal, nor that we shouldn’t consider the well-being of adults when we discuss the consequences of alternative family structures.

This post first appeared at the excellent philosophy blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Steven Horwitz
Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

Real Hero Jesse Owens: “Hitler Didn’t Snub Me — It Was Our President” by Lawrence W. Reed

James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens famously won four gold medals, all at the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany. But in the hearts of Americans who know their Olympic history, this African American man did more than win races: he struggled against racism.

At the time of Owens’s death in 1980 at age 66, President Jimmy Carter paid this tribute to him:

Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty, and racial bigotry. His personal triumphs as a world-class athlete and record holder were the prelude to a career devoted to helping others. His work with young athletes, as an unofficial ambassador overseas, and a spokesman for freedom are a rich legacy to his fellow Americans.

Carter’s words were especially fitting in light of an unfortunate fact in Owens’s life: unforgivably, a previous American president had given him the brush-off.

Born in Alabama in 1913, James Owens at the age of nine moved with his family to the town in Ohio that bore his middle name, Cleveland. His first school teacher there asked him his name. With a deep Southern twang, he replied “J.C. Owens.” She heard “Jesse,” so that’s what she wrote down. The name stuck for the next 57 years.

Jesse could run like the wind and jump like a kangaroo. He broke junior high school records in the high jump and the broad jump. In high school, he won every major track event in which he competed, tying or breaking world records in the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes and setting a new world record in the broad jump. Universities showered him with scholarship offers, but he turned them all down and chose Ohio State, which wasn’t extending track scholarships at the time.

Imagine it. You come from a relatively poor family. You could go to any number of colleges for next to nothing, but you pick one you have to pay for. At 21, you have a wife to support as well. So what do you do? If you are Jesse Owens, you work your way through school as a gas station attendant, a waiter, an all-night elevator operator, a library assistant, even a page in the Ohio legislature. Owens worked, studied, practiced on the field, and set more records in track during his years at OSU.

The biography at JesseOwens.com tells the stunning story that unfolded in 1935:

Jesse gave the world a preview of things to come in Berlin while at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor on May 25, 1935, [where] he set three world records and tied a fourth, all in a span of about 45 minutes. Jesse was uncertain as to whether he would be able to participate at all, as he was suffering from a sore back as a result of a fall down a flight of stairs. He convinced his coach to allow him to run the 100-yard dash as a test for his back, and amazingly he recorded an official time of 9.4 seconds, once again tying the world record. Despite the pain, he then went on to participate in three other events, setting a world record in each event. In a span of 45 minutes, Jesse accomplished what many experts still feel is the greatest athletic feat in history — setting three world records and tying a fourth in four grueling track and field events.

Ohio wasn’t the Deep South, but in the mid-1930s, it wasn’t a paradise of racial equality, either. OSU required Owens and other black athletes to live together off campus. They had to order carryout or eat at “black-only” restaurants and stay in segregated hotels when traveling with the team.

The eyes of the world were focused on Berlin in early August 1936. Five years earlier and before the Nazis came to power, the German capital had been selected as the site for the summer 1936 Olympic games. An effort to boycott them because of Hitler’s racism fizzled. It would be a few more years before events convinced the world of the socialist dictator’s evil intentions. Jesse Owens entered the competition with Americans thrilled at his prospects but wondering how Hitler would react if “Aryan superiority” fell short of his expectations.

Jesse didn’t go to Berlin with a political axe to grind. “I wanted no part of politics,” he said. “And I wasn’t in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best. As I’d learned long ago … the only victory that counts is the one over yourself.”

If, a hundred years from now, only one name is remembered among those who competed at the Berlin games, it will surely be that of Jesse Owens.

Owens won the 100-meter sprint, the long jump, the 200-meter sprint, and the 4 x 100 sprint relay. In the process, he became the first American to claim four gold medals in a single Olympiad. Owens waved at Hitler and Hitler waved back, but the nasty little paper-hanger expressed his annoyance privately to fellow Nazi Albert Speer. He opined that blacks should never be allowed to compete in the games again.

A side story of Owens’s Berlin experience was the friendship he made with a German competitor named Lutz Long. A decent man by any measure, Long exhibited no racial animosity and even offered tips to Owens that the American found helpful during the games. Of Long, Owens would later tell an interviewer,

It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler.… You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.

Back home, ticker tape parades feted Owens in New York City and Cleveland. Hundreds of thousands of Americans came out to cheer him. Letters, phone calls, and telegrams streamed in from around the world to congratulate him. From one important man, however, no word of recognition ever came. As Owens later put it, “Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send a telegram.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, leader of a major political party with deep roots in racism, couldn’t bring himself to utter a word of support, which may have been a factor in Owens’s decision to campaign for Republican Alf Landon in the 1936 presidential election.

“It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it’s close,” Owens once said about athletic competition. He could have taught FDR a few lessons in character, but the president never gave him the chance. Owens wouldn’t be invited to the White House for almost 20 years — not until Dwight Eisenhower named him “Ambassador of Sports” in 1955.

Life after the Olympics wasn’t always kind to Jesse Owens. When he wanted to earn money from commercial endorsements, athletic officials yanked his amateur status. Then the commercial offers dried up. He was forced to file for bankruptcy. He felt the sting of racial discrimination again. But for the last 30 years of his life, until he died in 1980 of lung cancer, he found helping underprivileged teenagers to be even more personally satisfying that his Olympic gold medals.

For further information, see:

Jeremy Schaap’s Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics

David Clay Large’s Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936

Lawrence W. Reed
Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s.

EDITORS NOTE: Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

Democracy Can’t Really Be Democratic by Ilya Somin

Recent debates over the meaning of “one person, one vote” and the lessons of ancient Greek democracy for the modern world highlight an important truth about democracy: it can’t be democratic all the way down.

Lincoln famously said that democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

But before “the people” can govern anything, someone has to decide who counts as a member of the people, what powers they have, and what rules they will vote under. And that someone usually turns out to be a small group of elites.

Just as the world can’t be held up by “turtles all the way down,” so a political system can’t be democratic all the way down.

The Elitism at the Heart of Democracy

The ongoing litigation over the meaning of “one person, one vote” illustrates these points well.

Before the voters can decide anything at the polls, someone has to decide which voters will get how many representatives, and under what electoral rules. And that someone will turn out to be some combination of the Supreme Court and state legislators, depending on how tightly the Court chooses to restrict the discretion of the latter.

State legislators are democratically elected, of course, which means the voters will have some influence over their decisions. But in this instance, the legislators are determining the very rules under which they will stand for election in the first place, which gives them ability to constrain the electorate, as well as vice versa.

Ironically, the meaning of a principle that many people regard as a core element of American democracy is going to be decided by a relatively small elite.

Ancient Athens also exemplified the elitism underpinning democracy. While the Athenian citizen assembly had very broad powers over public policy, the right to vote in that assembly was narrowly circumscribed in ways that excluded the bulk of the population of the city.

And, at least in the first instance, the decision to exclude these people was not made democratically. Once the system was established, of course, the male citizens who had the right to vote were far from eager to extend the franchise to women, slaves, or the city’s large population of “metics” (resident non-citizens).

Committed democrats might say that such elitism can be avoided. Perhaps the rules of democracy can also be determined by a democratic process. The people themselves can decide the rules of the political game. For example, the US Constitution — which establishes the basic rules of the American political system — was ratified by conventions elected by popular vote.

But this solution simply pushes the problem one step back.

Before “the people” can decide the rules of the game, someone has to decide the rules under which that decision itself will be made (including the rules determining who qualifies as a member of the people).

In the case of the Constitution, while the people did indeed elect representatives to the ratifying conventions, it was a small elite at the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution, decided that it would come into force if nine of the then-thirteen states ratified it, and chose to ignore the provision of the Articles of Confederation that required unanimous consent by all thirteen states before any amendments come into force.

Had the Philadelphia Convention followed its original mandate (which was merely to propose revisions to the Articles) or respected the unanimity rule, American political history might have turned out differently.

The point is not that the Founding Fathers were necessarily wrong to make decisions they did. It is that the decision-making process they followed was not — and could not have been — democratic all the way down.

Before a democratic process can even begin to function, some nondemocratic process has to make the rules. And those rules will have a major impact on the choices available to “the people” once they finally begin to have a say.

Why it Matters

Does it matter that democracy can’t be democratic all the way down?

The answer depends in large part on your reasons for valuing democracy in the first place. Even if its basic rules are the product of a small elite, democracy might still be superior to other political systems for a host of possible reasons.

If your support for democracy is premised on purely consequentialist grounds (e.g. — that democracy maximizes social welfare), you might not care much about how the democratic process got set up in the first place.

But the elitism at the heart of democracy does impact a number of common arguments for giving broad power to voters and elected officials.

One of the standard rationales for the idea that we have a duty to obey democratically enacted laws is that, thanks to the right to vote, we have consented to them. But we haven’t had a meaningful opportunity to consent to the rules under which the vote occurred in the first place. Many of those rules were established influential elites, in often centuries before any of today’s voters were even born.

In the 2016 election, those of us who can vote will get to decide whether the Democrats or the Republicans will control the presidency and Congress. But we won’t get to decide many of the rules under which that vote takes place, or whether the president and Congress should have so much power in the first place.

For these reasons, among others, voting does not entail any genuine consent to the policies enacted by the winners. This calls into question consent-based justifications for a duty to obey democratically enacted laws, and even consent-based justifications for the legitimacy of the entire apparatus of democratic government.

Another standard rationale for democracy is that it gives everyone (or at least all citizens eligible to vote) an equal voice. But that equality is severely limited if the most important rules of the system were actually set by a small elite, often before “the people” were even defined, much less allowed to decide anything.

Elite determination of the rules of the democratic game might also affect purely consequentialist rationales for democracy. While consequentialists may not care about the origins of the rules for their own sake, they might have good reason to worry that the elites who make the rules will skew them in their own favor.

There are many historical examples of such shenanigans. To take just one example, the elites who drafted the US Constitution included the notorious Three-Fifths Clause, which gave extra representation in Congress to slaveowners by enabling them to count slaves as part of the population base determining the number of representatives a state had (without, of course, giving the slaves any say in the selection of those representatives).

The inevitability of elite control over at least some phases of the decision-making process makes this sort of problem difficult to avoid.

Democracy’s inability to be fully democratic doesn’t do much to strengthen the case for dictatorship or oligarchy. After all, these systems are generally even more coercive and inegalitarian, as well as more prone to a range of other pathologies.

But the superiority of democracy over these rival systems should not blind us to its own significant weaknesses, or to the case for imposing tight limits on the scope of democratic government.

The elitism at the heart of democracy is far from the only factor we should take into account in evaluating political systems. But it is an important issue to keep in mind. At the very least, it should make us more skeptical of claims that some policy is wise or just because it represents the democratically enacted “will of the people.”

Ilya Somin
Ilya Somin

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. He blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy.

EDITORS NOTE: This post first appeared at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The War on Air Conditioning Heats Up: Is Climate Control Immoral? by Sarah Skwire

It started with the pope. In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, he singled out air conditioning as a particularly good example of wasteful habits and excessive consumption that overcome our better natures:

People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning.

Now, it seems to be open season on air conditioning. From a raging Facebook debate over an article that claims that air conditioning is an oppressive tool of the patriarchy to an article in the Washington Post that calls the American use of air conditioning an “addiction” and compares it unfavorably to the European willingness to sweat through the heat of summer, air conditioning is under attack. So I want to defend it.

Understand that when I defend air conditioning, I do so as something of a reluctant proponent. I grew up in the Midwest, and I have always loved sitting on the screened-in porch, rocking on the porch swing, drinking a glass of something cold. I worked in Key West during the summer after my sophomore year of college, lived in an apartment with no air conditioning, and discovered the enormous value of ceiling fans. A lazy, hot summer day can be a real pleasure.

However, let’s not kid ourselves. There were frequent nights in my childhood when it was just too hot to sleep, and the entire family would hunker down in the one air-conditioned room of the house — my father’s attic study — to cool off at night. When we moved from that house to a place that had central air, none of us complained.

And after my recent article on home canning, my friend Kathryn wrote to say,

When I was growing up in the Deep South, everybody I knew had a garden, shelled beans and peas, and canned. It could have been an Olympic event. What I remember most — besides how good the food was — is how hot it was, all those hours spent over huge pots of boiling something or other on the stove in a house with no air conditioning.

There’s a lot to be said for being able to cook in comfort and to enjoy the screened-in porch by choice rather than necessity. Making your family more comfortable is one of the great advantages of an increasingly wealthy society, after all.

So when I read that the US Department of Energy says that you can save about 11 percent on your electric bill by raising the thermostat from 72 to 77 degrees, mostly I want to invite the Department of Energy to come over to my 1929 bungalow and see if they can get any sleep in my refinished attic bedroom when the thermostat is set to 77 degrees, but the room temperature is a cozy 80-something.

And when I read Petula Dvorak arguing that air conditioning is a tool of sexism because “all these women [are freezing] who actually dress for the season — linens, sundresses, flowy silk shirts, short-sleeve tops — changing their wardrobes to fit the sweltering temperatures around them. … And then there are the men, stalwart in their business armor, manipulating their environment for their own comfort, heaven forbid they make any adjustments in what they wear,” mostly I want to ask her if she’s read the dress codes for most professional offices. In my office, women can wear sleeveless tops and open-toed shoes in the summer. Men have to wear a jacket and tie. Air conditioning isn’t sexist. Modern dress codes very well might be.

But arguments based on nostalgia or gender are mostly easily dismissed. Moral arguments, like those made by Pope Francis or by those who are concerned about the environmental and energy impact of air conditioning, are more serious and require real attention.

Is it immoral to use air conditioning?

Pope Francis certainly suggests it is. And the article in the Washington Post that compares US and European air conditioning use agrees, suggesting that the United States prefers the short-term benefits of air conditioning over the long-term dangers of potential global warming — and that our air conditioning use “will make it harder for the US to ask other countries to continue to abstain from using it to save energy.” We are meant to be deeply concerned about the global environmental impact as countries like India, Indonesia, and Brazil become wealthy enough to afford widespread air conditioning. We are meant to set a good example.

But two months before the Washington Post worried that the United States has made it difficult to persuade India not to use air conditioning, 2,500 Indians died in one of the worst heat waves in the country’s history. This June, 780 people died in a four-day heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan. And in 2003, a heat wave that spanned Europe killed 70,000. Meanwhile, in the United States, heat causes an average of only 618 deaths per year, and the more than 5,000 North American deaths in the un-air-conditioned days of 1936 remain a grim outlier.

Air conditioning is not immoral. Possessing a technology that can prevent mortality numbers like these and not using it? That’s immoral.

Air conditioning is, for most of us, a small summertime luxury. For others, it is a life-saving necessity. I am sure that it has environmental effects. Benefits always have costs, and there’s no such thing as a free climate-controlled lunch. But rather than addressing those costs by trying to limit the use of air conditioning and by insisting that developing nations not use the technologies that rocketed the developed world to success, perhaps we should be focusing on innovating new kinds of air conditioning that can keep us cool at a lesser cost.

I bet the kids who will invent that technology have already been born. I pray that they do not die in a heat wave before they can share it with us.


Sarah Skwire

Sarah Skwire is a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

Politics Worsens Racial Divides — Markets Can Mend Them by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Do you know what inspired the great Frederick Douglass finally to escape from slavery? He was working for a man in Baltimore, Maryland, and getting paid at the end of the day. He took his earnings to his master, who then decided how much Douglass could keep. This struck him as inherently unjust, a wicked symbol of servitude.

He fled to freedom because he wanted to realize and retain his full value in the marketplace. Effectively, he cut out the middle man, the coercive hand that presumed to control his life and property. It was then that he truly began to live a full life.

So it has been since slavery finally was finally abolished in the United States. Markets and commercial culture have been the respite from servitude, the enabler of social peace, the means by which justice is realized, and a source of empowerment for all peoples. Markets turn tension to harmony, injustice to personal fulfillment.

But when government intervenes, much like the role of Douglass’s master, it creates conflict, unfairness, and harms people’s capacity to work toward a more peaceful and prosperous world.

This is the message I gain from a poll released last week. It reveals that both blacks and whites think race relations are generally bad, and by wide margins. In general, two-thirds of survey respondents say that people are not getting along and that tension is high.

The striking fact: This is the reverse of what people believed in the days after the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.

American civic culture has always treated the presidency as some kind of mystical pinnacle, a beautiful bellwether of where we are as a people and where we are headed as a country. The idea is that we all look to the great man to set the tone and shape the character of us as a people.

Surely, then, because most everyone but a few trolls wants peace, understanding, and cooperation between blacks and whites, the best path forward is to elect a person of color. Surely that will fix something. Right?

Of course it did not. It’s one thing to observe little improvement in these poll numbers but it is quite something else to see them flip to reveal more despair than ever.

During Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, nearly 60 percent of blacks said race relations were generally bad, but that number was cut in half shortly after he won. It has now soared to 68 percent, the highest level of discontent among African Americans during the Obama years and close to the numbers recorded in the aftermath of the massive riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.

The presumption that a black presidency would repair the US race problem trivializes the on-the-ground reality. It presumes that people will respond to symbolism, to identity, to the perception of a new form of power-sharing in society, regardless of reality. Something similar is emerging in the case ofHillary Clinton: her womanness will surely bring new forms of gender justice and therefore harmony between the sexes. Based on the experience with Obama, we can look forward to a similar shot of optimism followed by a dramatic reversal of fortunes.

But let’s dig just a bit deeper into the polls, because it reveals something interesting. Though the news was buried in the story, the polls show a huge chasm between people’s macro and micro perceptions. It turns out that when people are asked about their own communities, which is to say their own lives, the picture is much brighter. Fully 77% said that race relations are good at this level — a number that has not changed in 20 years.

In other words, in terms of people’s experiences in daily life, we find evidence that both blacks and whites get along pretty well. And what does this mean? How do the races typically encounter each other in their own lives? Mostly it is through commercial settings. Shopping, trading, working, and engaging in all the normal activities of life, people find common interests despite their differences. Or it takes place in our social lives: at our houses of worship, the community pool, the neighborhood barbecue. On this very human level, it would appear that matters are better.

So in what respect do people perceive problems? It is when they reflect on the larger picture, which usually involves perceptions of politics and official institutions. Here is where differences manifest themselves. And in this respect, what has changed so dramatically over the past six years to signal new levels of racial tension? It is in the new every day: It is the treatment of blacks by civic institutions, meaning cops and criminal justice in particular. Here lies a major source of the problem.

You can see this in the data too. Here are the charts on how police treat people by race.

These are wide disparities. Among whites, 82% feel safe concerning the police, but only 58% of blacks say the same. Only 5% of whites believe that they have been singled out by police because of their race. Among blacks, 41% believe that — which is quite high (though not as high as I might have expected).

The polls are surely affected by the daily barrage of YouTube videos coming out that show horrendous treatment of black people by police. For white Americans, this has been a remarkable parade of injustice, causing a serious consciousness-raising on the part of every white person I know. Everyone has noticed has much more militarized policing has become over the last couple decades, but the problem is felt particularly intensely by blacks, who are disproportionately harmed by harassment and abuse.

My friend T.K. Coleman, who is black, posted a note a few days ago about his own experience. He and his wife were detained, handcuffed, and questioned for absolutely no reason. His account is harrowing.

He concludes:

There’s this naive idea floating around that people should never be afraid of cops as long as they’re innocent and compliant. For a lot of people in this country, that’s simply not true. …

But if we want to have intelligent discussions about authority in this country, we have to stop using a logic that tells us that people in authority always have a fair reason for doing what they do. We do a lot of talking about what people can do to avoid being abused by cops.

We don’t talk as much as we should about the abuse that happens to people who follow all those instructions. If we can’t question authority, we are doomed.

What we can tease out of these polls is the single most striking fact about human relationships. When they are politicized, and when we rely on government to rule our associations with others, the result is less harmony and more tension and injustice. But when we let go and let voluntary human associations take over, letting people trade and keep property and make decisions for themselves and cooperate as equals, we see progress toward what most everyone wants: peace, harmony, and mutually beneficial engagement.

The implications of this realization are epic. For hundreds of years, governments at all levels have been interfering in race relations, favoring or disfavoring one group or another, sometimes in petty ways and other times in egregious ways. In taking this path, governments have done no one any favors. And today, government remains the single biggest obstacle towards a more harmonious social life of inclusion and free association.

In these last days of his presidency, Obama has finally turned his attention to the problem of criminal justice and the horrible problem of prisons. Finally! I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, even if it turns out to be too little and too late. To the extent he manages to reform the system, removing the boot from the neck just a bit, he will have made his greatest contribution toward racial reconciliation.

In the long run, no one benefits from top-down control. If we are to forge good lives and good communities for ourselves, it is going to be by deferring to the emergent processes of social and economic engagement, one person at a time. Government divides people; markets bring us together.

Frederick Douglass made a courageous decision to seek his own freedom as a path to realizing his highest value in this world. He did this by saying no to the master who presumed to rule his life and property. So must we all.


Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

Why Is Economics “the Dismal Science”? The Reason May Surprise You! by David R. Henderson

In an otherwise excellent post responding to Noah Smith about economic growth, my Hoover colleague and friend John Cochrane makes a mistake in the history of economic thought.

John writes:

They do not call us the “dismal science” because we think the current world is close to the best of all possible ones, and all there is to do is haggle over technical amendments to rule 134.532 subparagraph a and hope to squeeze out 0.001% more growth.

Usually, the role of economists is to see the great possibilities that every day experience does not reveal. (“Dismal” only refers to the fact that good economics respects budget constraints.)

Actually, that’s not what dismal refers to. David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart write:

Everyone knows that economics is the dismal science. And almost everyone knows that it was given this description by Thomas Carlyle, who was inspired to coin the phrase by T. R. Malthus’s gloomy prediction that population would always grow faster than food, dooming mankind to unending poverty and hardship.

While this story is well-known, it is also wrong, so wrong that it is hard to imagine a story that is farther from the truth. At the most trivial level, Carlyle’s target was not Malthus, but economists such as John Stuart Mill, who argued that it was institutions, not race, that explained why some nations were rich and others poor.

Carlyle attacked Mill, not for supporting Malthus’s predictions about the dire consequences of population growth, but for supporting the emancipation of slaves. It was this fact–that economics assumed that people were basically all the same, and thus all entitled to liberty–that led Carlyle to label economics “the dismal science.”

They go on to write:

Carlyle disagreed with the conclusion that slavery was wrong because he disagreed with the assumption that under the skin, people are all the same. He argued that blacks were subhumans (“two-legged cattle”), who needed the tutelage of whites wielding the “beneficent whip” if they were to contribute to the good of society.

In a speech at Susquehanna University earlier this year, I quoted this and pointed out that it was the classical economists, John Stuart Mill, et al, who believed that black lives matter.

This post first appeared at Econlog, the blog of the Library of Economics and Liberty. © Liberty Fund, Inc., reprinted with permission.


David Henderson

David Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He is editor of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund) and blogs at econlib.org.

Will Your Child become a Robot’s Pet? Apple’s Co-founder Thinks So…

I have written about how technology can be used for both good and evil. Technology has become ubiquitous, it is everywhere. Our children and grandchildren are becoming more addicted to technology, as they do so the evil side may rear its ugly head.

The Guardian reports:

Apple’s early-adopting, outspoken co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks humans will be fine if robots take over the world because we’ll just become their pets.

After previously stating that a robotic future powered by artificial intelligence (AI) would be “scary and very bad for people” and that robots would “get rid of the slow humans”, Wozniak has staged a U-turn and says he now thinks robots taking over would be good for the human race.

“They’re going to be smarter than us and if they’re smarter than us then they’ll realise they need us,” Wozniak said at the Freescale technology forum in Austin. “We want to be the family pet and be taken care of all the time.”

Artificial intelligence was the theme of the movie Ex Machina. The prime character is another tech billionaire who believes, like Wozniak, that he can create the perfect AI robot. This dream results in his death and the death of others. As I wrote in my column “Ex Machina: Consciousness without a Conscience“:

This film is disturbing because is shows how humans without a conscience (morality) can, when given the chance, pass along their lack of morality to a machine.

[ … ]

Humans must control their urges to use technology to become God, as Caleb points out to Nathan. Robots must never be allowed to act alone. Think of the film The Terminator. You see machines may have a goal but lack a soul.

If the goal of AI machines is to have us as pets then perhaps we need to rethink having AI machines?

In “Cyber Security: Where are we now and where are we headed?” I warned:

The more we tune in, turn on and hook in to technology the greater the threat to individual privacy and freedom.

[ … ]

What are the future threats?

bio chip embedded in hands

Sub-dermal chip implants.

Restorative and enhancement technologies, biohackers, cyborgs, grinders and sub-dermal technology (chipping). Restorative technologies include devices used to help individuals medically. They are devices, that include a computer chip, used to restore the lives of individuals to normal or near normal. Restorative technologies include devices such as: heart pace makers, insulin pumps and prosthetic devices.

Enhancement devices are those which the individual implants into their bodies outside of the medically approved arena. Individuals can for just $39 buy a glass-encased embeddable chip that works with some Android smartphones.  A full DIY cyborg kit, including a sterilized injector and gauze pads, runs about $100. Amal Graafstra, a cyborg who creates and sells biohacking devices, said, “Some people see the body as a spiritual vessel not to be tampered with.  And some people understand their body is their own, treating it like a sport utility vehicle. I see [biohacking] as, I got fancy new fog lights on my SUV. “

Some of these enhancement devices are being designed to be used with computer games. The idea is to give the gamer a more realistic experience by using sub-dermal technology to provide pleasure and pain as the game is played. Mr. Jorgensen states that the gaming industry is “spending $300 million annually” to provide sub-dermal gaming chips, effectively turning gamers into cyborgs.

Will your grandchild become a cyborg’s pet or become a cyborg? It is immoral to have a human become the “pet” of a robot.

Pet is another name for slave.

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What Should Libertarians Think about the Civil War? by Phillip Magness

The current national debate over the display and meaning of the Confederate battle flag has reopened a number of longstanding arguments about the meaning of the American Civil War, including within libertarian and classical liberal circles.

Because of its emotional subject matter, lasting political legacies of race and slavery, transformative effects upon American constitutionalism, and sheer magnitude as the most destructive military episode ever to occur on American soil, the Civil War exhibits strong tendencies toward politicization in the modern era.

Unfortunately, bad history often accompanies this politicization, and libertarians are by no means immune from this tendency.

Two common interpretations of the Civil War stand out as particularly problematic:

  1. libertarian support for the Confederacy; and
  2. libertarian support for the Union.

The Problem with Pro-Confederate Libertarianism

The first and perhaps best known “libertarian” approach to the Civil War attempts to find sympathy with the defeated Confederacy because of its resistance to the federal government and northern military authority or its professed cause of free trade and political self-determination.

Some aspects of this position have intuitive appeal that produces sympathy for the Confederate cause: it professes outrage against a Union that is said to have conquered by force, trampled on the rights of states and individuals, unleashed a military invasion, suspended civil liberties, denied government by consent, elevated Lincoln to a “dictator,” and effected a lasting centralization of federal power. In this view, the Union cause and victory is the foundational work for the modern state and all that is anathema to political libertarianism.

This interpretation falters in what it neglects: slavery.

This is no small irony, either, as the anti-slavery cause was arguably the preeminent political occupation of libertarianism’s classical liberal antecedents. A continuum of classical liberal thinkers from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill and J.E. Cairnes forged the main intellectual case against the slave system.

Abolitionism was also always a preeminent political cause of liberalism, extending from 18th-century statesman Charles James Fox to the 19th century’s Richard Cobden in Great Britain and strongly influencing such figures as William Lloyd Garrison, Lysander Spooner, and Frederick Douglass in the United States.

This is no small matter for the libertarian intellectual tradition either, for in sidestepping the slave question’s intimate connection to the Confederacy, pro-Confederate libertarians also inadvertently abandon what is perhaps the single most important and beneficial contribution that classical liberalism has made to the human condition: the abolition of slavery.

This is not to suggest that libertarian defenders of the Confederacy share its historical affinity for chattel slavery or the plantation system. Rather, they are guilty of turning a tin ear to the one unequivocally beneficial outcome of the war in the permanent destruction of American slavery.

The Problem with Libertarian Unionism

A smaller set of libertarians gravitate to a second common interpretation of the Civil War, defined primarily by its consequential outcome.

Unlike the pro-Confederate position, these libertarian defenders of the North are keenly aware of both the centrality of slavery to the conflict as well as the importance of the abolitionist cause to the liberal intellectual tradition. Standing as a direct antithesis to the pro-Confederate arguments, these faute de mieux Unionists recognize the inherent and fundamental contradiction between slavery and human liberty.

Their position embraces the Union victory on a consequentialist acceptance of the resulting emancipation of the slaves, and disavows any conceivable association between libertarian thought and a brutish Southern slavocracy, born of no other motive or purpose but to entrench and expand that pernicious institution — and deserving of nothing short of a violent and warring elimination by any means or justification.

The argument is both morally appealing and marked by its clarity, but it also suffers from its Manichean simplicity and a tendency to read an inevitable “irrepressible conflict” into the hindsight of the Civil War’s destruction.

This view recognizes slavery and celebrates its abolition, but it tends to neglect or even rationalize the war’s uglier features and consequences: a dramatic weakening of the constitutional federalism laid out in 1787, a rapid acceleration of the scope and power of the federal government, a precedent-setting assault on habeas corpus and expansion of presidential war powers that persists to the present day — and the horrendous destruction itself.

Measured by deaths alone, current estimates place the war’s military toll at 750,000 soldiers. Civilian deaths are more difficult to estimate, though the most common number given is 50,000. And perhaps most telling of all, between 60,000 and 200,000 slaves likely perished as a result of disease and displacement caused by the war.

Why a New Interpretation Is Necessary

Where then does this leave the conscientious libertarian in assessing the Civil War’s legacy?

To address the faults of both the pro-Confederate and pro-Union positions, I’ll offer two propositions for libertarians to consider:

  1. One needn’t be for the Union to be against slavery.
  2. One needn’t be for the Confederacy to object to the North’s prosecution of the war.

Stated differently, a morally consistent libertarian view of the war should strive to dissociate itself from the political actors that waged it, while also seeking to recognize its consequences, both positive and negative.

This much may be seen in the faults of the two views described above. Libertarians who embrace the Confederacy are more often than not reasonably aware of both the evils of slavery and the distinction between the abolitionist cause and the Union.

But they neglect the second rule; because of their distaste for the Union’s wartime policies, they stake their claim to a Confederate cause that, whether they admit it or not, thoroughly attached itself to the moral abomination of slavery.

And libertarians who embrace the Union are also usually aware of the objections one might lodge against its indulgences in unrestricted warfare, suspension of civil liberties, centralization of power, or any of the other charges often made against the Union’s wartime cause or its outcome.

But they thoroughly subordinate these objections to the greater moral purpose of emancipation — a focus that obscures all but the most simplistic reading of the war’s other political and constitutional consequences.

In each argument, the problem is not its primary emphasis, but the complexities it obscures or leaves out.

In place of both views, and in recognition of their deficiencies, libertarians might develop a better appreciation for the Civil War’s complexity by turning their analysis to the nature of the ruinous agency of the conflict itself.

War, whether waged to hold human beings in bondage or subjugate a political rebellion, is a consciously coercive action of the political state in its most expansive and direct form. And armed warfare, as both the Union and Confederacy came to discover across four destructive years, is horrifically messy, unpredictable, and destructive of human life and human liberty.

Military goals and political motives also matter, as they define the objectives of the armies and prioritize their execution. Thus, a military maneuver to capture an opposing political capital will take a very different form from one that eschews political objectives and seeks to maximize the liberation of slaves or the protection of civilians.

There may also be small glimpses of just action amongst individual participants in a far more ambiguous conflict. When the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson raised the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, an all-black unit composed of escaped slaves, there is little doubt that they were fighting for emancipation, even as larger Union war goals moved far more slowly on this objective.

There is similarly little doubt about the motive of some Southerners who fought for their homes and families as hostile armies marched through their states; even a handful of Confederates — Patrick Cleburne, Duncan Kenner — pressed their government (in vain) to consider emancipation as a means of securing independence.

These graces on the periphery tell us more about the conflict’s moral complexity than anything that may be found in its political objectives. History is not a Manichean struggle between pure good and evil; we are not served by filtering its conflicts through a dualistic moral lens.

Instead of looking for a “side” to champion, we are better served by recognizing that even amid the unbridled horrors of slavery and the devastation of war, there may still be a few who are fighting for something better than their country’s cause.

Phillip Magness

Phil Magness is a policy historian and academic program director at the Institute for Humane Studies.

Students Expect (and Demand) to Have Their Beliefs Confirmed by George C. Leef

With so many more Americans going to college than in the past, you would think that anti-intellectualism would be a distant, rapidly fading memory. But you’d be mistaken, argue Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow, editors of a sharp new book The State of the American Mind.

“Instead of acquiring a richer and fuller knowledge of U.S. history and civics, American students and grown-ups display astounding ignorance of them, and their blindness is matched by their indifference to the problem,” write Bauerlein and Bellow.

Increasingly, Americans shrug at the idea of basic liberties but “accept restrictions on speech, freedom of association, rights to privacy, and religious conscience.”

The book they have put together shows the depth of these worrisome trends.

Each of the sixteen essays included is worthwhile. I am going to focus in particular on one that dovetails especially with the work of the Pope Center — Greg Lukianoff’s “How Colleges Create the ‘Expectation of Confirmation.’”

Lukianoff is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that stands up for free speech on campus no matter who the speaker is or what the content of the message might be.

In his essay, he laments the fact that many college students have become so bold as to demand that school administrators silence speakers with whom they disagree and “protect” them from arguments contrary to their beliefs.

Or, it would be more accurate to say, “assume they disagree with,” because they refuse to allow the individuals to speak. Therefore, they are spared having to actually think of logical responses after listening to the speaker’s arguments. So is everyone else on campus, of course.

The “heckler’s veto” thus affects those would like to hear the speaker’s message just as much as those who think they’re entitled to silence perceived enemies.

Lukianoff presents quite a few instances, starting with one at Brown University, where Ray Kelly, former New York City police commissioner, had been scheduled to give a talk. A group of students managed to so disrupt the event that Kelly finally gave up and left the building. Afterward, a student who had been at the center of the disgraceful, anti-intellectual protest bragged, “They decided not to cancel the lecture, so we decided to cancel it for them.”

The intellectual climate on many campuses has been in decline for years, but it seems to be speeding up. Just a few years ago, the big new trend was the demand that lectures, books, and everything else on campus that might possibly offend anyone be scrubbed of ideas or images that might “trigger” a sensitive student. Lukianoff senses that we are moving further into this swamp as the “right not to be offended” morphs into “the right to have your views confirmed and not challenged.”

Although it occurred too recently to make it into the book, the Laura Kipnis furor is evidence for Lukianoff’s point. When a liberal feminist professor at Northwestern wrote an essay that took issue with the popular trope that college campuses are dangerous places for women and need more federal oversight, she was blasted by women students who couldn’t stand Professor Kipnis’ disagreement with their cherished beliefs.

The students did more than just wring their hands and write about their hurt feelings. They filed an official complaint against Kipnis with Northwestern’s “Title IX coordinator,” claiming that her writings had violated their rights. Thus began an amazing, Kafka-esque series of proceedings for Kipnis, which she details here.

My point is not that Title IX invites abuse, although it certainly does. My point is that we now have college students who think that it is proper to bring down the weight of federal regulation on the head of a professor simply for saying something that clashed with a view they expected to be reinforced.

It’s especially troubling that the students went after a member of the faculty. In the past, you would have expected students to at least show a bit of deference towards scholarly thought. “Maybe we should consider the possibility that Professor X has a point here….”

But now we find a new breed of know-it-all students who eagerly use the machinery of federal regulation to wreak vengeance on a professor for writing something they find disagreeable.

Lukianoff’s analysis of the reasons for this deplorable state of affairs centers on the way Americans increasingly “cluster” ideologically. That is, they tend to hear only opinions that coincide with theirs and, disturbingly, that phenomenon becomes more apparent as educational levels rise.

Citing Diana Mutz’s book Hearing the Other Side, Lukianoff notes that “people with a high school education or less are the most likely to engage in discussions along lines of political and philosophical disagreement, while those with higher levels of education are less likely.”

I suspect that observation is generally correct, but the effect is much more pronounced among leftist students. Students who have at least some sympathy for private property, free enterprise, and individual responsibility are very apt to encounter people, especially in the education system, who will argue against their beliefs. (“Denounce” would often be a more accurate word than “argue,” however.)

As Professor Michael Munger observed in this Pope Center piece last year, it is leftist students who are likely to get rewarded just for stating the “correct” beliefs. Conservative and libertarian students don’t develop that expectation of having their opinions validated and their egos stroked because they can hardly avoid intellectual combat. There is a huge ideological asymmetry here.

Moreover, leftist students themselves tend to cluster in courses where ideology is the primary focus and professors are prone to reinforcing their already formed views about the array of “social justice” topics.

As a means of countering this noxious trend of students who think that the point of college is to reinforce their existing beliefs, Lukianoff suggests that part of freshman orientation be devoted to “instruction in productive academic engagement.” That is, tell students “we fight offensive speech not with censorship but with contrary words.”

That is a superb idea. Orientations should be used for the salutary academic purpose of explaining to students what intellectual arguments are and how they’re conducted. An assignment might be to read that part of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty that deals with the importance of free speech and debate.

Schools should be just as interested in making sure that students know the rules of academic dispute as that they know the rules, say, about drinking on campus.

We hear again and again from college leaders that they want students to learn “critical thinking skills,” but evidence keeps mounting that the exact opposite is happening — that many students are learning how to make life miserable for those who dare to disagree with them.

Leaders who really care about the intellectual development of the students who come to their schools ought to pay attention to the alarm Greg Lukianoff is sounding.

This post first appeared at the Pope Center.

George C. Leef

George Leef is the former book review editor of The Freeman. He is director of research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

What Is “Libertarian Parenting”? Laissez-Faire Is Wrong for Families by Steven Horwitz

One of the dangers of modern libertarianism is that some people want to apply the ethical rules and insights that make complete sense in the market to micro-orders such as the family and the firm. Because our day-to-day life is made up of these micro-orders, it would seem to many libertarians that any consistent philosophy should go all the way down.

But as Hayek argued in The Fatal Conceit, the macro order and its rules — which he called the “extended order” — are distinct from the norms and rules that make up these more localized levels of description. When we fail to make this distinction, we wrongly apply the ethics of the extended order to the intimate orders of families and firms, which risks crushing those micro-orders.

This problematic tendency is most pronounced in the ways some libertarians discuss parenting.

They often begin by asking what “libertarian parenting” would look like. Naturally, they then imagine parents being analogous to government and children being analogous to citizens. Unsurprisingly, they conclude that, on libertarian grounds, parents should interfere as little as possible in the lives of their children. Some even propose organizing the household on market principles.

For example, advocates of libertarian parenting might argue that children should always get paid for chores and that parents should never say, “Because I said so!” to their kids. With the best of intentions, they believe that what we might call “laissez-faire” parenting will create children who will be more likely to support a laissez-faire society.

I think they are deeply mistaken for several reasons.

First, there is the empirical evidence from psychology. Psychologists distinguish among a number of parenting styles, but the major ones fall on a spectrum from most involved to least:

  • authoritarian
  • authoritative
  • permissive
  • neglectful

The advocates of libertarian parenting clearly reject the “authoritarian” style and presumably would reject “neglectful.” What they seem to want is perhaps something like permissive parenting:

Permissive parents … allow children to make their own decisions, giving them advice as a friend would. This type of parenting is very lax, with few punishments or rules. Permissive parents also tend to give their children whatever they want and hope that they are appreciated for their accommodating style. Other permissive parents compensate for what they missed as children, and as a result give their children both the freedom and materials that they lacked in their childhood.

As it turns out, permissive parenting doesn’t work very well. The psychological research indicates that children of permissive parents suffer from a variety of problems as they mature.

By contrast, authoritative parenting provides the best results:

Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place limits on their actions. Extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused, and parents try to be warm and nurturing toward the child. Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling as authoritarian parents, allowing the child to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, authoritative parents produce children who are more independent and self-reliant. An authoritative parenting style mainly results when there is high parental responsiveness and high parental demands. Authoritative parents will set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits that they set, and also allow children to develop autonomy.

In other words, it’s perfectly appropriate to place limits on your children’s actions and to insist on only such freedom as is age appropriate. Authoritative parents have high expectations and are not hesitant to say no to their kids. The evidence is clear that this style produces the best psychological outcomes for children.

This style of parenting is not just the best for individual outcomes, but also for promoting a liberal social order.

Many things that might seem to be “anti-liberty” that happen within healthy families are, in fact, preparing children for life in a free society. What children need to become responsible adults is not freedom but structure. For example, they need to learn the importance of following rules, as a free society is a rule-governed society. Political and economic freedom are enhanced by rule-following, and parenting can model that.

It’s perfectly fine as a libertarian parent occasionally to say, “Because I said so.” Obedience to legitimate authority, which includes following rules, is not anti-libertarian. It’s a necessary skill in a world where some people and institutions actually do have authority. And small children in particular do not need everything explained to them. That’s how you end up putting them in the center of your familial universe, which is the mistake that permissive parents make. Parents should be leaders, and they should lead by example.

Encouraging and even forcing your kids to share their possessions is not socialism and it’s not bad parenting. It is not a bad thing to demonstrate to kids that sharing with other individuals they know, even when they might not wish to share, is often an effective way to prevent conflict and establish trust. You can also help them to understand the difference between the expectation to share with known others versus anonymous others. Sharing is what families do, after all. Would children rather their parents didn’t share the income they earn and the food they prepare?

And requiring chores without compensation is an excellent idea and it’s not anti-liberty. The institutions of civil society, such as families and religious organizations, are not bound together by the cash nexus. (There’s a reason that cash gifts among close friends are often considered tacky.) The world does not divide into either state or market. Outside state and market, we often do things out of obligation to others, whether it’s some form of expected sharing or providing help without monetary compensation. Learning that this is often the appropriate way to behave helps to ensure that the institutions of civil society survive and thrive. They are just as important to liberty as are the institutions of the market.

One area where the “libertarian parenting” advocates are correct is in the importance of allowing children to play on their own, without constant parental supervision. The psychological literature is clear about the benefits of unsupervised play for helping children develop the capacity to create, follow, and enforce rules; think about issues of fairness; and learn empathy. Most important, from a libertarian perspective, such play requires the continuing consent of the players. Behaving in ways that upset other children will bring play to an end. Unsupervised play teaches children how to negotiate and compromise to ensure that playing relationships are consensual. Consent is at the core of both markets and civil society, and parents who let their children play without parental supervision are helping those children to develop skills and abilities central to a free society.

When libertarians think about parenting, we should not be asking, “What sort of parenting appears to be implied by our ethical and political views?” Instead, we should be studying what psychologists know about child development and seeing how that aligns with the aptitudes and attitudes we know are necessary for a free society. We shouldn’t want parenting to be libertarian; we should want to parent in ways that produce children who have the skills they need to value and sustain liberty.

Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

Religious Charities, Gay Marriage, and Adoption: A Case for Pluralism by Walter Olson

At Reason, Scott Shackford has a valuable piece on where libertarians’ interests are likely to coincide with those of organized gay rights advocates and where they are likely to diverge, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage.

One flashpoint of controversy is likely to be the role of conservative religious agencies in areas of adoption that are commonly assisted with public funds (as with the adoption of older kids from foster care).

It is now legal all across America for gay people to adopt children, and now with same-sex marriage, they can adopt their partner’s child as well. This fight is largely over, and was actually pretty much won even before gay marriage recognition.

But there is another side, and it ties back into the treatment of religious people. Some adoption agencies are tied to religious groups who do not want to serve same-sex couples or place children in same-sex homes. They are also typically recipients of state funding for placing children, and are therefore subject to state regulation. Should they be required to serve gay couples?

Some states, such as Illinois, attempted to force them. As a result, Catholic Charities, which helped the state find adoptive and foster home services for four decades, stopped providing their services in 2011.

At the time, a gay activist declared this a victory, saying “Finding a loving home for the thousands in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma.”

Some libertarians I admire have taken the view that where any public dollars are involved, private social service agencies must be held to rigorous anti-discrimination standards.

While I respect this view, I don’t share it.

Programs that are explicitly voucherized (such as G.I. Bill college tuition benefits, which can be used for seminary study) often go to institutions that I might find discriminatory, and the same logic can apply even with some less explicitly voucherized benefits.

If a state depot is dispensing gasoline to rescuers’ boats after Katrina, and Catholic Charities’s boats spare the need for government boats to reach some rescue targets, the “subsidy” might in fact save the taxpayers money.

In Olson’s experience, the more agencies out there serving the needs of the children looking for homes, the better. …

Much as with the controversies over bakers and florists, being denied service by one agency does not actually impact a gay couple’s ability to find and adopt children at all.

But eliminating Catholic Charities from the pool reduces the number of people able to help place these children. It’s the children who are punished by the politicization of adoption, not Catholic Charities.

This is especially important when dealing with older children or children with special medical needs. … Allowing both sides (and others as well) to play their role as they see fit benefits all children in the system.

As for the concern that some adoption agencies take taxpayer money and then discriminate, Olson points out that it’s much more expensive to the taxpayers to leave children to be raised by the state, not to mention terribly cruel.

“If you don’t care about the kids or the families, at least care about the taxpayers,” Olson says. But you should probably care about the kids, too.

I’ve written about the same set of issues (in the foster care context) before. The new Reason piece is here.


Walter Olson

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

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EDITORS NOTE: This post first appeared at Cato.org.