A Question for Techies, Engineers and the Libertarian-Leaning


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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262 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    The half-understood pop-psychology version of libertarianism is “intelligence and success are linked, and the most moral act for society is to let smart people do whatever they want, because that is the quickest path to the most wealth and happiness for everyone”.  And of course techies and engineers are smarter than everyone else.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’ve yet to see much of it in my part of the tech world:  they’re Liberals of various flavours.   There have been a few Libertarians in the executive suites.   Perhaps this just some perceived synchronicity of the sort such as when we see someone else driving the same make and model of car we’re driving.

    The business culture might create Libertarians.   The tech culture, with its adherence to standards and sympathy for user perceptions, doesn’t match up to Libertarian thought.   Maybe in the server room or somewhere of that sort.   I’ve yet to meet a Libertarian consultant.

    Science and Math don’t seem to be Libertarian strong suits.   Clearly, Libertarians have some exceedingly unique ideas about markets and information theory.   The Objectivists are completely beyond the pale, beyond any hope of rapprochement with the world as it is.   Rothbard routinely assigns regulators to the role of Bad Cops, he’s useless.   My advice for these Free Marketeers, free as defined by any Libertarian, is to take more math, especially dynamical systems theory, especially complex systems.

    Business types are Libertarian insofar as they wish to game the market, promising, as they always do, not to screw things up or cheat or otherwise game the system.   After Greenspan, let no Libertarian presume to lecture anyone on business theory or the nature of markets.   Greenspan was shamed into admitting he completely misunderstood markets and especially the banking system.   Today’s Libertarians are not as willing to stipulate to the facts.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      You are an odd duck in the technical world, Mr. P.

      I do not, in any wise, mean this as a pejorative observation.  You’ve recognized the truth of the beast much more clearly than the vast majority of people who swim about in this sphere.  But this in and of itself is part of your odd duckiness.

      I certainly agree that the (good) consultants in the tech world are a different breed of cat than the GP.Report

  3. Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

    The tech fields draw people that are somewhere on the autistic spectrum.    These people are well-suited for technical work because they are more inclined to handle working independently, and because they have the ability to adopt a rational, Cartesian mindset.

    These are the same attributes that characterize, I think, the libertarian mindset.    Jonathan Haidt, in his new book on political and moral thinking, The Righteous Mind, notes that the libertarian moral / political profile is most distinctive because it has a much-diminished degree of empathy, relative to traditional liberals and conservatives.

    Libertarianism is a triumph of a “rational” model of politics–simple, and with clear-cut guidelines.   I understand why it appeals to techies (being one myself).   But I believe that it rests with a purely nominal notion of human beings as “the rational actor,” which many more worldly people recognize is an analytical fiction.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      That may be true from where you sit.   The insanely productive people, the ones who actually get stuff done,  have great people skills.   Often they’re musicians or artists:  scratch every great coder and you’ll find one or the other.

      Which rather goes to your point about Libertarian empathy or the lack thereof.   As for rationality, they’ve forgotten how utility works or how it might be maximised.  Ultimately, any measure of utility is subjective.   Take it from someone who writes utility-maximising AI all the live-long day.   Ultimately, it’s the people, not the AI, which determines an optimal outcome.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        The insanely productive people, the ones who actually get stuff done,  have great people skills.


        This makes up a pretty small sub-population.Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          Hookers have great people skills.
          They may well “get stuff done,” but I wouldn’t call them “insanely productive” on that account.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            People who increase the productivity of others are people who add value.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            I dunno.  I suppose a few hookers and courtesans have people skills but a great many hookers are simply too lazy to do anything but turn tricks.  It’s good money, while they still have their looks and can steer clear of the pimps.  There’s not much to commend them at a personality level, though courtesans have often been portrayed as intelligent and sympathetic figures, Madame Pompadour and the oiran of ancient Japan, but even the Japanese lost their taste for all such glorification of prostitution.    Essentially, a prostitute is a parasite.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        hahaha. Great people skills.

        My “insanely productive” friend talks like a cartoon — it’s an adaptation to dealing with so many on the autistic spectrum.

        A good musician? sure — but not the sort of people skills most people mean when they say people skills. (again, consultant. paid to piss off everyone).Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          Actually, most musicians I know, and especially the really good ones, are somewhat awkward socially.
          It takes a lot of time to learn to master an instrument, and it’s often those formative years that are sacrificed in doing so.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        Which rather goes to your point about Libertarian empathy or the lack thereof.   As for rationality, they’ve forgotten how utility works or how it might be maximised.  Ultimately, any measure of utility is subjective.  

        Your objection to libertarianism actually lies at the foundation of libertarianism.

        Ludwig von Mises no doubt wished he could have been a utilitarian.  He talks the talk all the time. But he has to give up on it, because he admits that everyone has their own idea of happiness.  While a principle of utility can be formulated — the greatest good for the greatest number — it can’t be very easily fleshed out with data.

        This is actually a very standard response to utilitarianism in libertarian and proto-libertarian writing.  Similar or even identical argument can be found in Herbert Spencer, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, David Conway, and others.

        People are different — what’s happiness for one is misery for another.  Even asking them doesn’t work too well, because a big part of becoming happy comes from self-discovery.  And even if we could gather all that data up, we’d also have to gather up all the data about methods for satisfying all those different wants.  And then we’d have a math problem more intractable than the game of go.  And tomorrow we’d have to get up and start it all over again.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Oh, you’re absolutely right.  Here’s my problem:  the Libertarian reaches some odd conclusions about utility, many of which trend toward selfish ends.   Utility can only be increased when others participate in its creation, for he would call himself a utilitarian must ultimately become a specialist, convincing others of the benefits of using his particular skills and acquired experience.

          The Libertarian makes much of the concept of rationality, but only according to his own definitions.   Telling you guys, I respect you individually and think the world of our discussions, but as a group, incorporating your philosophers —  in the immortal words of Jay in Men in Black “hire a decorator to come in here quick, ’cause… DAMN.”

          You Libertarians need a make-over.   Idées dépassées dans les vêtements démodésReport

        • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

          Doesn’t preference utilitarianism answer this sort of objection, reconciling utilitarianism with libertarian thought? Accepting that utility is necessarily subjective, that our ability to calculate it, particularly for others, will be minimal isn’t a decisive refutation of the moral theory, it just gives it a different gloss. The path to maximization of utility shifts from tech ocratic questions of resource utilization and paternalistic impositions on others’ decision making to procedural questions of which institutions give the individual the best ability to figure out what works best for him or her. In other words, we wind up at a rules utilitarianism rather than an act utilitarianism, but a species of utilitarianism nevertheless.

          I haven’t talked enou with you on the subject to know whether you fall prey to this, but it feels like a significant number of intellectuals significantly underestimate the breadth and adaptability of utilitarian thought. It is certainly frustrating that most debates boil down to smacking down the ludicrous notion that because Bentham was a paternalistic moral imbecile, we must ignore every consequentialist argument on moral reasoning.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            The problem isn’t with preferences per se.  It’s with discovering what they are, and in what intensities.  Often when I wake up, even I don’t know what I want for dinner.

            Less trivially:  I have no idea what clothes I want to buy a year from now.  This is a question I’d very certainly need to answer — for everyone — if I were to centrally plan the economy.  Markets won’t figure out the answer either, but they will tend to offer different choices at different prices, allowing me to approach an answer that works okay for me.

            We might say that market institutions themselves constitute the rule by which utility is maximized, but I would reply — with Spencer and Hayek — that these institutions’ primary purpose does not lie in maximizing utility (as if we already knew where it was), but in finding what’s going to satisfy.  We just don’t know that yet.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              A centrally planned sizing scheme for women’s clothing might actually cause less waste than currently happens. What’s that, we could have five sizes that fit 95% of women well, instead of 10 sizes that are “vanity sized” so that nobody knows what a size six is?

              Women’s clothing perpetually costs more than men’s — and that’s because the market does a vastly poorer job figuring out what women will buy.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                You’re proving the point about the problem with central planning. Clearly if there is vanity sizing, it is because many women prefer having vanity sizes and uncertainty about their actual size (i.e. they gain more utility from having vanity sizs than in being sure about their clothing sizes.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Honestly? I think it’s just an outdated system.

                Nobody really “needed” sizes when all women had to do all day was go to the mall and chat with friends.

                Nowadays, who goes to the mall anymore to shop? If you buy online, and the size isn’t right, you have to send it back — more waste.

                I think you vastly underestimate the “but it’s a size XVF? What the hell is a XVF??” issue of adoption.

                Let’s assume a $10 premium per piece on clothing, and another $10/hour for trying on clothing… I think if you asked most women, they’d rather have their clothes cost half as much.

                (also, I vastly think you’re underestimating — my fault? — the amount of “women are just finicky” that goes into the waste in women’s clothing)Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Well, if the online shopping contingent is indeed sizeable, we’ll see how the market adjusts. AFAIK lots of women still like the social aspect of clothes shopping etc.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Women’s clothing perpetually costs more than men’s — and that’s because the market does a vastly poorer job figuring out what women will buy.

                You may be right on this.  Men’s business attire is basically a uniform.  Men’s casual attire?  Also a uniform.

                This suggests, however, that central planning would do relatively better for men, and relatively worse for women.  Women value individuality in dress a lot more.

                It also totally neglects the supply side. Where is wool produced the most efficiently?  Where is it sewn together the cheapest?  Et cetera et cetera.  Even if we set our consumption goals perfectly, we still need to know how to meet them without too much waste.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                But maybe not. Hairdressers don’t have to risk extra stock on hand for women, but they still charge men almost twice the amount for the same amount of time.

                Our purchasing preferences rarely fall into the logical neat straight lines that we think they do.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              these institutions’ primary purpose does not lie in maximizing utility (as if we already knew where it was), but in finding what’s going to satisfy.

              Which is one relevant consideration in the determining a correct theory of political economy. Is it the only one? Well, both liberals and libertarians believe in market cops, and market courts, and market rules. A libertarian thinks that’s usually enough (+/-) for a bunch of reasons, while the liberal thinks more intrusive regulation is often necessary. Why? Because collections of individuals acting so as to maximize their subjective utility can actually decrease total utility. The liberal argument doesn’t rest on determining unknown (and unknowable) total valuations in either the future or the present. It rests (when the argument is sound!) on known valuations. So a person doesn’t necessarily need to know all the subjective determinations of utility in order to justify policy P on the grounds of providing ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’, or ‘maximizing utility’ or whatever. All you need is that the baseline of total utility increases if policy P is implemented.

              And if the above is anywhere in the ballpark of correct, then it highlights a couple of differences in the two schools of thought, at least from my pov. One is that liberals look at the world as it is right now, identify areas of political-social-economic life where regulating/prohibiting/permitting/etc action R increases total utility based on what we know right now. So the liberal argument isn’t that regulation R will maximize total utility from God’s pov, but merely increase it based on our limited understanding of things. And further, I think that a consideration of other available options that are both politically and economically feasible might reveal that R, given the alternatives, actually does maximize utility given the context under which it’s introduced.

              Another thing it highlights is that the libertarian appeal to unintended consequences is without merit unless total utility in fact can be determined, in at least a ceteris paribus way. That is, the libertarian argues that regulation R is not justified on utility grounds when, all other things being equal, the total calculus of utility change given R can in fact be shown to be net negative (not that it’s merely possible that it’s net negative). That means utility, even on libertarian terms, can be determined and in some sense measured (or their argument doesn’t go thru). So the libertarian actually is committed to the view that utility, at least ceteris paribus wrt regulation R, can be known.

              Which leads to an argument I’ve had with some people on this site about the justification of libertarianism in general. If maximizing utility (or the greatest good for the greatest number, etc., whatever) is what justifies utilitarianism, then any regulation R ought to be accepted or rejected on utility maximizing grounds in the relevant context, and not based on first principles. This, or something like it, is a pretty close approximation to the fundamental tension I feel in certain strains (not all) of libertarianism, that is, the (sometimes apparent) circularity between justifying first principles by invoking utility, and in turn justifying utility by invoking first principles. It often strikes me as a tight little circle, a priori all the way down.


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Horribly apt and to the point.   Bookmarked.   Especially liked this bit:

                This, or something like it, is a pretty close approximation to the fundamental tension I feel in certain strains (not all) of libertarianism, that is, the (sometimes apparent) circularity between justifying first principles by invoking utility, and in turn justifying utility by invoking first principles. It often strikes me as a tight little circle, a priori all the way down.

                I’ve observed the only way to get a Libertarian to agree to any sort of regulation is to point out how the lack of that regulation will diminish utility as he understands it.   It’s like trying to herd cats, though.   When cornered,  the individual Libertarian is honest enough,  but it’s like pulling teeth to extract the precise word from their vocabulary to describe the exact condition under review.  If you pin him down, and I mean rudely and forthrightly describe how utility is diminished as regulations are removed, he will always resort to the circular fallacy you describe.

                The Libertarian emphasises the individual and his freedoms and if he exists in any larger context, that context should be one of his own choosing.   The fundamental error in their logic is exposed in their caveats about state power: their belief the government should confine itself to protecting individuals from coercion and fraud.   These are worthy sentiments, to be sure, but let a Liberal (or anyone else!)  point out how actual coercion and actual fraud manifest in the world, they simply have no responses other than to chant their mantras about Regulatory Capture etc.   If the Libertarians are to be taken seriously, they must quit mincing around the aforementioned caveats.   Taken to their endpoints, any serious attempt to restrain coercion and fraud without any other role for government would lead to anarchy with a horrid Police State following hard on its heels, like as not.   Lions will not lie down with lambs, not in this world and not in the next.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                As a libertarian I think that an institutional structure with fewer, simpler and (some) different regulations will be better at protecting the worst off. I certainly don’t necessarily think that any structure with fewer regulations would be better (though it is possible that such could happen in really bad cases). I do think that the best kind of institutions will have less regulations and that there are few if any cases where an institution has more  (and more complicated) regulations and is also better for the worst off. I also hold this point rather tentativelyReport

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                How would you distinguish yourself from a Liberal?   Sounds awfully Liberal-ish to me.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Its a matter of degree right? and about which way I’m willing to bet. For example, if a regulation prima-facie looks bothersome, but doesnt seem to be serving any purpose, I am willing to try to see what hapens if we get rid of it. To make an analogy, the problem with a lot of regulation is that it looks like kludge. My libertarianism as squishy as it is when it coms to regulation, is that kludge in and of itself creates its own sets of problems. Presumably with a bit of foresight, the the problem the kludge was meant to solve could have been solved in a more efficient and seamless way. The end result? Smaller, more efficient government. That’s why I call myself a libertarian.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        The insanely productive people, the ones who actually get stuff done,  have great people skills.   

        And the ones who step in and grab credit for the work those guys do?  Incredible people skills.Report

  4. Avatar Ian M. says:

    I work in a basic research environment and agree there are more libertarian leaning types in IT and engineering. I think the reason is that these jobs are well compensated and require relatively little formal education. Before firing off your rebuttal, this is in comparison to a fully trained research scientist – bachelor’s, PhD (5 years minimum), post-doc (3-5 years, required to get independence). Engineers can get a nice paying job out of college (unlike biology majors) and sysadmins might not even have a college background. A biology major with a bachelor’s looks forward to making about $11.50 an hour as a lab tech in basic research, so you don’t get a lot of libertarians there.

    What you have are a group of people who actually made it, more or less on their own. My theory is they believe that since they did it, why can’t other people? Anyone with just average intelligence could work hard, take some classes and have a decent living in these fields – right? Libertarianism is a movement of dudes (with a smattering of ladies) who have their and don’t really care to help anyone else get theirs (beyond complaining in writing). A person’s political philosophy explains the world to their benefit in my experience and that’s why you have a lot of libertarian types in IT and engineering – good jobs with mild education requirements.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      This. I agree with this in general.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      “Libertarianism is a movement of dudes (with a smattering of ladies) who have their and don’t really care to help anyone else get theirs (beyond complaining in writing). ”

      And your evidence of this is where? I mean the second part about not caring to help anyone — the first part we can’t do anything about — it’s open to all.Report

      • Avatar Jeff Wong says:

        Whenever I step over a homeless guy, I’m a libertarian. I know that someone else, someone with more resources will take care of him, eventually. So I don’t have to. And if he dies, too bad. Shouldn’t sleep on the stress.Report

        • Avatar Scott says:

          Whenever I see a homeless guy on the streets I want the gov’t to take someone else’s hard earned money (preferably someone whom I consider to be rich) and give it to the homeless guy, I’m a liberal.  I know that the gov’t should take care of everyone.  And if he dies, it clearly shows there aren’t enough gov’t programs.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:


            Yeah, when I see a homelessman on the streets fighting with a rat for his sammich, I do think that it might be better if he was off the streets. Let it never be said that modern libertarians and conservatives can get their heads out of their asses long enough to control epidemics and disease.

            Ya get a lot more respect if you actually can show some bonafides. If you think that charities can do a world of better job than government (to the point of putting government out of the business of welfare) — show me — what do you do???

            Here’s a hint, pal: sliderules don’t cut it.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      What you have are a group of people who actually made it, more or less on their own. My theory is they believe that since they did it, why can’t other people? Anyone with just average intelligence could work hard, take some classes and have a decent living in these fields – right? Libertarianism is a movement of dudes (with a smattering of ladies) who have their and don’t really care to help anyone else get theirs (beyond complaining in writing)

      I used to think along these lines; when I hear rightwing radio talk show hosts talk about libertarians it still sounds that way to me.

      Talking with actual libertarians rather than people trying to make a buck off their name, however, has made me completely reassess that.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        The misunderstanding comes in when someone thinks that a powerful State is vital to caring for others.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          No, I think what I’m referring to is different than that.  Prior to getting to know some libertarians, the people that I heard (again, usually on the radio) that invoked the word a lot are people that were not small government people so much as they were pro-GOP people.  When those people talked about libertarian ideals, there was a kind of demonizing of the poor attitude.  A kind of, “the reason you’re 35 and still live at home and work at a Subway is because some poor black kid took that spot at Harvard law that would have been yours!” thing.  These people would have no hesitation bemoaning that “whiny” liberals were against the patriot act because they loved terrorism, or treating some big spending pork-barrel congress critter guest like folk hero – so long as that congress critter was on team red.

          Like I said, it wasn’t until I got to know actual libertarians that it began to dawn on me what the political philosophy was about, and that it’s members didn’t see it as a system to keep the poor down, but one that would better help them up.  Does that make sense?Report

          • Avatar Robert Greer says:

            The worrisome overlap between libertarians and Randroids contributes to the anti-poor perception, I’m sure.  But even if I disagree with them, right-libertarians who are passionate about development economics are some of my favorite people.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I’ve always tried to make the distinction between the Objectivists and the rest of the Libertarian.  Trouble is, with the Libertarians, the higher they climb, the better folks can see their asses.  Inevitably, they all come to a very bad end.   The more I read of Libertarians, especially Nozick, the worse it gets.

              Poor old Nozick, very sad case.   Rothbard had him summed up, all right.  Nozick wanted a minimal state without the entirely necessary anarchic phase which would have to precede the formation of that state.   Rothbard understood what the Libertarian really wants deep down is a return to anarchy and unfettering capitalism is the fastest route to that goal.   Well, at least Rothbard was honest, at least as honest as Lenin.   What the Libertarians never quite get, in their lust to be rid of present evils, that anarchy usually leads to tyranny.Report

              • Avatar Robert Greer says:

                See, I’m down with the anarchic impulse — liberals too easily forget that power corrupts, and the reflexive aversion to (most kinds of) force strikes me as a necessary strain of political thought.  The problem I have with libertarians is that they’re generally opposed to anarchic remedies to systematized inequality — they seem to want the government to be just large enough to protect their privilege.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Power corrupts, all right.  So what’s the Libertarian solution?   Ask any five Libertarians and you will be given five different solutions.   This much I’ve already worked out:  Libertarians fight among themselves, as do all idealists of that sort.

                The hallmark of the idiot in my line of work, software consulting, is his immediate declaration that all which came before him is a mass of errors and must be completely replaced before any improvements can be made.

                I tell novice coders:  “Every time you see a kludge, sit down, reformat the code and comment it.   Nobody willingly writes a kludge.   You are looking at a painful compromise.  Come to terms with why it was written before you pass judgement on it.   It may well be you can improve on it but you will not know until you’ve done the detective work.”

                Liberals are routinely accused of some Levelling Impulse, as if society’s inequalities were always the result of some injustice.   I suppose there are a few simpletons who describe themselves as Liberals can be justly accused of such conclusions but it’s never quite so simple.

                There’s an old meme running around where Balzac said “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.”   Here’s what he actually said in Le Père Goriot

                Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’ il a été proprement fait.

                The secret of great wealth with no obvious cause is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done properly.  To which I might add, properly done with the help of an ingenious lawyer.

                Any system, no matter how cleverly constructed, will produce some people who are More Equal than Others.   People aren’t equal, though they may start out that way.Report

              • “Ask any five Libertarians and you will be given five different solutions.”

                And yet you continue to speak of libertarians as a monolithic movement here and elsewhere.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’m not calling myself a Libertarian either.   The Libertarians vary widely in their proposed solutions but not in their core principles.   As I’ve said, Libertarianism is just one half of Marxism in its philosophy, insofar as the State is sposta wither away to some nub.  But as for anything else they might believe, they argue among themselves with all the ferocity and inanity of the Marxists.

                Three-quarters Marxism?   That sounds about right.


              • Or just, the government has a long and well-documented history of screwing up more things than it solves. We should have less of that. Pretty squishy right there. Hardly dogmatic.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Does the government screw up more than it solves?   However well-documented that claim might be,  I can furnish a great deal of evidence for what happens without government, for I have lived under such circumstances.   Let us say a year or so living in those blessedly anarchic realms might cure folks of such facile notions as Small Government.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                yeah, try living in russia for a bit.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                This is where the L v L battle turns into a fight against shadows. How much credit/blame we give to government for helping/hindering where we’re at right now is a senseless discussion. The libertarians arguments rest (it seems to me) too much on appealing to a priori first principles and theory for the counterfactual to make any sense (most of the time). The liberals counterclaim that evidence shows government helped in situation X is viewed by the libertarian as question begging.

                And what does it beg? That the a priori driven counterfactual is actually a good description of history or a specific state of affairs. The argument, it seems to me, ought to be constructed around answering the following question: given that this is where we’re at, what do we do next? Why counterfactuals, rather than actuals, ought to have any bearing on this is a mystery to me.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Rare is the solution which doesn’t produce or at least lead to future problems great or small.

                Governments solve all kinds of problems, they create quite a few as well. Some problems they solve, but inefficiently. I suspect anarchism would lead to a bus load of problems too, probably more than they solve.

                The challenge humanity faces is to optimize the benefits while minimizing the costs and secondary problems. We can argue which path is best, but can we at least agree with the general direction?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:



                It’s comments like these that remind me why it’s better to have the liberals and libertarians on the same side. Tinkering at the machine — coming up with grand plans, and nitpicking away.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                And don’t get me wrong… If a group of anarchists wants to buy a cruise ship and start a brave new world on the open seas I wish them well.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Absolutely Roger. I completely agree with you about that.Report

              • Just for the record, here’s my order, just for shits and giggles:

                1. smaller (and sleeker) government

                2. the present (bloated and impotent) government

                3. Somalia

                But, please, go on caricaturing away. It’s entertaining, at least.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Smaller?  Sleeker?   Mozart and the Emperor:  too many notes.   Which notes do you propose to remove?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                So, are you claiming that the current state of regulations is like a Mozart piece? beautiful and perfect (or nearly so)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let’s play this game as if I wasn’t an idiot, eh?   I’m not the one saying “too many notes”.   Which notes ought to be removed?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                The hallmark of the idiot in my line of work, software consulting, is his immediate declaration that all which came before him is a mass of errors and must be completely replaced before any improvements can be made.

                I tell novice coders:  “Every time you see a kludge, sit down, reformat the code and comment it.   Nobody willingly writes a kludge.   You are looking at a painful compromise.  Come to terms with why it was written before you pass judgement on it.   It may well be you can improve on it but you will not know until you’ve done the detective work.”

                First paragraph: the classic definition of the modern leftist.  The second, Burkean conservatism in a nutshell.  Welcome, Blaise.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No, Tom.   The first paragraph describes Stupid, Arrogant and Inexperienced People in general.   The usual shibboleths about Liberals say we’re all about Moah Gummint, etc.   If anything, that first paragraph describes the Anarcho-Libertarian, who really would like nothing better than to scrap everything and let Paradise rise from the wreckage.

                As for the second paragraph, that’s just Common Sense People of whatever political persuasion.   Those who would tell us of Smaller and Sleeker Gummint are much perturbed by all those crappy adapter routines which are required to fit Square Pegs into Round Holes, little realising why Smaller is not always Better.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Nay, Blaise, I had it quite nailed the first time: Your explanation of Burkeanism is top-notch.


              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Listen BP, if this were 1935, I might be inclined towards New Deal-type legislation. If it were 1860, I might even be inclined towards Union Nationalism (it’s better than slavery), but it’s 2012. Let’s face it. The WORLD is coming into its own. Far be it from me to try and determine how an Afghan might acquire U.S. citizenship. As a libertarian, I would say, that Afghan should just come to the U.S. (if he chooses to do so) and try and exchange whatever service he’s offering in exchange for whatever people are willing to pay. Rock on, multiculturalism, and non-racism and freedom, and whatever.

                If that Afghan doesn’t succeed, then that’s just too bad. Maybe, just maybe, he was selling something nobody wanted. Or maybe he was selling it for more than the market price.     Sucks.

                But, the reality is not that simple. Unfortunately, the “reality” of the situation is that that Afghan is never going to make it here, and the reason is liberal meddling, or cowardice, or both. Obama – a liberal I believe (at least according to the last Internet accounting) – is a fishing tyrant: he’s expanded the USAPATRIOT Act, killed hundreds of civilians in drone attacks, cracked down on whistleblowers, authorized the extrajudicial assassination of an American citizen, etc. So, um, defend your elected  “liberal”, or, be silent. The choice is yours!Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                But, the reality is not that simple. Unfortunately, the “reality” of the situation is that that Afghan is never going to make it here, and the reason is liberal meddling, or cowardice, or both.

                …are you serious? Last time I checked it wasn’t liberals making the case that immigration reform was evil or somehow anti-American. Nor for that matter do you see much opposition to FTAs among the centre-left of American politics these days.

                As for the rest….well, “extrajudicial murder” is a very strange string of words to use for a man who was in Yemen, hiding with a bunch of thugs intent on killing Americans and purposefully avoiding the reach of US law enforcement. If Al-Awlaki wanted to be protected from being killed, he it literally would have been as easy as showing up at a Consulate and letting them arrest him.Report

              • Nob, “extrajudicial assassination of an American citizen” was what it was, plain and simple. There’re no charged words there or appeals to emotions. Obama decided to unilaterally kill an American citizen in violation of the most basic laws of our country.

                Doesn’t matter that he was a Very Bad Man.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                2 things.

                1. You’re the one who talks about removing regulations like removing notes from a mozart piece. The implication is that all the notes have their proper role and place, none are jarring etc

                2. If you want to know what we can get rid of. We can start with lemonade stands, move to regulations about hairdressers, then proceed to halve the amount of time and number of procedures it takes to start a business, register property etc. We can talk about medallion systems for taxis.

                If we are feeling adventurous, we could talk about insider trading regs in the financial industry. You’re going to want some amount of insider trading so that important information can filter into the market via price signals. Or else you are going to get a lot of unviable companies and ideas being funded.

                Then lets look at healthcare. My views on what a better healthcare system are known


              • Avatar Roger says:

                I agree in general with CC and Murali on the sour notes.

                I think a small, focused, efficient government that didn’t promote dependence and rent seeking would be a beautiful thing. It would probably have about one fifth the notes of our current bloated monster. Mozart would be great, but we got Wagner.

                This is not to say I am against education or social safety nets. I just disagree with running them via coercive monopolies. I’d like substantially better nets that cost substantially less. The path to this is constructive competition and experimentation.

                If decentralization and competition could get us better institutions, would progressives even be interested? If free markets could lead to less inequality, if competing agencies could lead to better safety nets, would the progressives approve?Report

              • “Mozart would be great, but we got Wagner.” – very nicely put, that.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            Makes sense to me. I think perhaps libertarians need to stop allowing, or being part of, the dvision of libertarianism into right and left — it will eventually split libertarianism and render it impotent. Libertarianism is special only when it maintains consistency with some core principles centered around individual rights (including property rights) and non-coercion as the individual acts freely and peacefully without violating the rights of others. Tibor Machan wrote about this today on his site Passion for Liberty. Machan is a thinker who has reaped the best from libertarianism and objectivism, and I usually agree with what he writes.Report

        • Or in my case, the converse.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Except this doesn’t fit the data, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly. The primary point of contention between the libertarians and leftists with respect to tax policy is whether or not to raise taxes on those making over $250,000 per year, which is considerably more than a pretty wide majority of people in either camp are making. If anything, it’s libertarians who are arguing against our own narrow personal interests, and leftists who are arguing for theirs.

      Where libertarians differ from leftists is that we lack a sense of entitlement to other people’s property.Report

      • Avatar karl says:

        Sigh.  Do you believe that all property is sacrosanct, regardless how it was acquired?Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          No, of course not. But leftism really isn’t about identifying specific individuals who have acquired their wealth illegitimately and returning it to its rightful owners. If it were, we’d be on board. Now, some leftists use the fact that some rich people have acquired wealth illegitimately (or, more often, “illegitimately”) as rhetorical justification for levying heavy taxes on all rich people, but the fallacy there is obvious.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:


            Well said!

            I’ve been arguing with the guy that writes the Philosphers Beard Blog on his ideas to outlaw wealthy people. Other than being a petty and envious idea that leads to economic apocalypse, he has a good point.

            Why are progressives so fixated on the wealthy? Why do they think the wealthy have a monopoly on exploitation?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Why are progressives so fixated on the wealthy?

              Because wealth and income disparity and the whole nine economic yards are important to everyone. But I don’t think progressives are fixated on the wealthy any more or less than many other similar groups. Certainly wealthy people themselves are more interested in the wealthy than progressives are. And I’d say conservatives are also more interested in the wealthy than progressives, but in a much less defensible way than liberals are. (Eg, preserving the inaccurate conception that wealth is a reflection of merit.)

              Why do they think the wealthy have a monopoly on exploitation?

              That’s wrong, I think. Liberals/progressives don’t think the wealthy have a monopoly on exploitation. They think that lots of types of people have and act on all sorts of privileges, many of which are based on or derive from or are instances of exploitation. The interesting thing about the wealthy is that many types of exploitation (or whatever) converge in them: class privilege, cultural privilege, patriarchal privilege, race privilege, policy-shaping privilege and so on down to things like privileged opportunities for education and social advancement. So it’s not that the wealthy have a monopoly on exploitation. It’s more like they have many more ways to engage in exploitation, any one of which is worth considering and trying to eliminate.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Btw, I;m not saying I necessarily agree with that take on things. It just strikes me that something like this is why lefties appear to focus their attention on the wealthy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Would cutting down the tall poppies solve the problem?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Of course not. But lots of people thought lopping off a few tall Wall Street poppies in 2008 might curb some of their enthusiasm 🙂

                I think that’s the problem with alot of the left’s arguments against wealth and income inequality. They (we) focus too much on individuals and not enough on institutional structures which give rise to those inequalities, and I mean that on a deeper level than merely tax rates. If you refocus on that, then the individual sorta drops out of the equation. But reforming those institutions won’t be easy even if doing so could be justified. How to go about that process in any kind of meaningful way isn’t something lefties spend much time thinking about. I’m less inclined to think that lefty solutions to the problem (if it is a problem) are politically or practically possible. Or that they even make any sense to begin with.

                I think on this score the libertarians have it right. Or righter. Focus on barriers to entry, rent seeking, etc. As a lefty, I’m also not opposed in principle to government breaking up big corporate structures as a way to achieve some of these ends. (Which is it’s own can of worms. Ugh.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m also not opposed in principle to government breaking up big corporate structures as a way to achieve some of these ends.

                I doubt anyone would be surprised that I’m dubious about this, but let me note that I’m quite willing to consider whether particular policies and regulations are what have created those big corporate structures.  E.g., the way farm subsidies promote corporate agribusinesses over family farms.  If so, then obviously the first step is to correct those policies.  But beyond that, in those particular cases there may be an argument for disaggregating a firm that only grew to its size because of market-distorting policies.  Of course I’d want to see if a better market resulting from less perverse policies was sufficient to solve the problem.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                Why is disparity important? I can see why getting wealth via exploitation would be bad. I can see why getting wealth in a zero sum, yours-or-mine-way would be bad. Finally, I can see why the threat of the wealthy using their power to exploit or manipulate would be bad.

                I am clueless to why disparity itself is bad. It just strikes me as envy. And I don’t get why progressives focus on this particular form of power rather than all the others.

                Indeed in a positive sum world, which free market economics usually is, wealth and disparity can be good.

                I see envy and eploitation as bad and free market wealth as good.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater: ” The interesting thing about the wealthy is that many types of exploitation (or whatever) converge in them: class privilege, cultural privilege, patriarchal privilege, race privilege, policy-shaping privilege and so on down to things like privileged opportunities for education and social advancement. So it’s not that the wealthy have a monopoly on exploitation. It’s more like they have many more ways to engage in exploitation, any one of which is worth considering and trying to eliminate.”

                That is a really keen observation, Stillwater, and I get that you are presenting “their” argument rather than your own.

                That said, is privilege the same as exploitation? Why should I care that rich kids and senators sons are the fortunate ones? If they didn’t take it from me then god bless them. I am not racing people to get to the top spot of a zero sum hierarchy. I just want to live my life and enjoy my family. As long a they play by the rules of free markets, they can only get ahead by solving problems for me. I wish them well and hope they become zillionaires.

                Indeed, as the recipients to a hundred thousand years of social evolution and progress, we are all the fortunate ones. We are all privileged. Why can’t progressives just be thankful?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That said, is privilege the same as exploitation?

                I think privilege:exploitation::leverage:coercion. That is, egregious examples of acting on privilege sorta entail that another person is being exploited. Think slavery here.

                More generally, I’d say that acting on privilege (which by definition is an unjustified cultural norm of permissibility or expectation applying only to people of type X) means that someone else is deprived of an opportunity or a right or a liberty.

                (I’ll have to think about this some more, tho.)Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I’m still wrestling with this…

                I can’t see how someone raised in a better? culture harms me. Or how someone born with a trust fund, or given fantastic education, or a certain skin color.

                The only way this makes sense to me is to assume a zero sum world. In a positive sum world, I am probably going to be advantaged long term with every “privileged” birth.

                I’m not racing these people. I just want to flourish as they do. That they were born with more livestock than me is not bad unless they use their position coercively. I do not hope their cows die.

                This issue befuddles me.Report

  5. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    The first is, is this observation of mine true beyond my own experience?  Are these industries (relatively) heavily populated by libertarians of various stripes? Or do I just happen to have an odd and uncharacteristically libertarian cross section of techie acquaintances?

    Barring the obvious problem with limited sample sizes… yes.  Generally, I see a higher preponderance of libertarians among technical people than elsewhere.

    If my observations are somewhat correct, then my second question is: why is that?

    People involved in the technical fields have a tendency to skew towards the introverted, particularly in their formative years.  Counter-culturalism is thus something of a badge… if you think of techies as skewed towards “non-joiners”, then a political philosophy that isn’t popular is a draw, to a degree.

    In addition to that, people involved in technical fields skew towards lower emotional quotient, as well, so they have a tendency towards hyper-rationalizing.  Libertarianism works great if you discount irrational actors, so there’s a draw there as well – “If only people could see the truth, everything would work out great!”

    People involved in the technical fields have a tendency to abhor top-down solutions, because they’ve seen so many of them break.  Personal experience informs preference, to a degree.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “People involved in the technical fields have a tendency to abhor top-down solutions, because they’ve seen so many of them break.”

      Great, great line.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        For the record, this isn’t necessarily a justifiable reason to dislike top-down solutions.

        It depends on why they broke.

        Far too often, “We’ve tried to build complex systems to solve this problem for years and all we’ve done is fail!” is as far as the thinking goes.  That’s not going to build much.

        Usually, there’s a pretty obvious reason or three why the something broke.  It was vastly under-resourced.  Nobody actually attempted to find out what the problem was before attempting to fix it.  The people at the top are demanding incompatible things as functional requirements, and the people right below the top are not giving pushback.  Usually, you are one of those reasons, and who wants to admit that?Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      This is my thought, more or less.  Techies are sometimes disproportionately friendly to libertarianism due to on-the-job experience with complex systems, their failure modes and the ironclad law of unintended consequences.

      We can’t be conservative – after all, we are techies/tinkerers – we believe there are ways to make things work better/faster/more efficiently – we know damn well that just because something is old/established, doesn’t mean it is good or there is not a better way.

      But, we also can’t be liberal – we’ve seen too many ill-advised or -prepared attempts to dictate top-down solutions,  or force people to use systems in ways that they can’t or won’t or don’t want to, result in utter chaos.  ‘If it ain’t broke’ is a higher bar to cross for us than for most.

      So what do techies’ guiding principles then look like?  A short list:    1.)  If it ain’t broke…  2.)  Wherever/whenever and as much as possible, allow the users of the system the freedom to decide how they want to use the system  3.)  Attempting to ‘help’ someone without understanding or being him, or fully understanding the complexity and history of a complex, old system can result in instead harming him,  yourself and innocent bystanders (other users, interfacing systems).

      Sound familiar?Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:


      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        Well, except for

        1) It’s always broken, you just don’t know how yet.

        a) … and it’s probably worse than you think

        b)… and it will be very difficult to restore it to operational state when the breakage becomes evident

        2) The users will always choose to use the system in a way that conforms to their ingrained habits from how the previous system worked.

        I’m all for giving users freedom, but inevitably someone will wind up trying to (for example) shove a relational database into a spreadsheet, because they know how to use Excel and they don’t know how to interact with a database.  And correcting this problem when the spreadsheet is 61,345 rows long is much harder than correcting it when someone first emails it to someone else and says, “Here, this is how we can record our invoices…”Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Allow me to say some stuff that I think will come off as much more self-aggrandizing than I intend it.

    I have met any number of people who are Democrats because their parents are Democrats and people who are Republicans because their parents are Republicans. I have never met, face to face anyway, people who are Libertarians because their parents are Libertarians. All of the Libertarians I know have parents who are *NOT* Libertarians. (There may be some exceptions when it comes to Libertarians I know online… but none come to mind right away.) (Of course, I’ve met Democrats who have Republican parents and vice-versa… but I don’t know that I know any Libertarians who were raised by Libertarians.)

    As such, all of the Libertarians I know (granted: this sample size is small and, as such, is not likely to be representative) have deliberately chosen a political philosophy that is different than their parents after thinking about it and coming to conclusions. (This is not to say that the Republicans and Democrats necessarily haven’t thought about it, of course. More have than haven’t… but if I know someone who hasn’t thought about it much and doesn’t think about it in his or her free time, they self-identify as one of the big two.)

    In practice, this pretty much means that all of the Libertarians I know are the types of people who think about politics in their free time and, more importantly, political and moral theory in their free time. Since they do it in their free time, I’m going to leap to the conclusion that they do it for pleasure. Which brings me to my conclusion:

    To a person, every single Libertarian I know is the type of person who thinks about political and moral theory for pleasure. (Now, again, this doesn’t mean that *ONLY* Libertarians think about political and moral theory for pleasure. There are many, many, many Democrats and Republicans who do as well. The issue is that there are also many Democrats and Republicans who do not.)

    Now, if there is a trait that thinking about political and moral theory for pleasure correlates to, I’d probably say that it correlates to intelligence with the standard caveats about there being all different kinds of intelligence, of course… which brings me to the next part: the type of intelligence that this trait correlates to the most is the type of intelligence that usually indicates proficiency with Science, Math, and Engineering.

    And that’s how the elephant got his nose.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Well, when it comes to heredity and politics, there that old joke about what lawyers use for birth control….

      Their personalities.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Maybe, but I wonder how much of it is generational.

      Like, when I was growing up, there were the kids that liked Pop, and there were the kids that liked Rock.  There were no kids that liked World Beat, because no one had ever heard of it.  Up until the recent Time Of The Internet, I think the vast majority of folks had no idea such a thing a “libertarianism” existed, and it’s hard not to think this doesn’t have as much or more to do with the “no libertarian parents” observation.

      It will be interesting to see what happens in the next generation, as the children being raised by self-described libertarians become voting-aged adults.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Not only intelligence, but also contrarianism, which I think of as the defining characteristic of libertarians.  The sort of people who go through the process of building their own political identity, as opposed from grabbing one from their immediate community or social circle, are the sort of people who are not fond of the concept of going along to get along.

      Which is why the tech – libertarianism connection is not historically stable, libertarians haven’t been a noticeable fraction of the population before, but there were still plenty of people working in technical fields.  I think you’ll find a disproportionate number of them were socialists, at least before the collapse of socialism.  Equally, I recall Hayek saying that Hitler’s intellectual support was mostly from physical scientists, while social scientists were generally opposed to him.

      Technical people tend to be contrarians with a strong preference for systematic models of thought.  This means you would expect technical people to gravitate any non-mainstream ideological system, and in this day and age libertarianism is the leading contender.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Yet another thread where I wasn’t the first to bring up Hitler.

        Anyway, if you haven’t read this article, you should. It’s a 1941 article from Harper’s titled “Who Goes Nazi?”

        Here’s the opening paragraph as teaser:

        It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times–in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.


        Where was I? Oh, yes. Your comment:

        “I think you’ll find a disproportionate number of them were socialists, at least before the collapse of socialism”

        This is measurable. I’ll see if I can mine up some anecdata from the grizzled veterans down the way.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I spoke with my co-worker who has described himself as a “Red Diaper Baby” about whether there were more socialists/communists/iconoclasts back when he got into it and he told me about how, in his day, there were differences between the guys who twisted wires on the hardware, and the guys who wrote the systems-level stuff, and the guys who wrote the application-level stuff and how they all were very different in inclination. The guys who were hams in their free time were libertarian, the guys who dreamed in cobol were liberal in inclination, and so on… but that could easily have been a function of where he was. The techy folks he knew in Argentina were all Liberals. He warned me about seeing a pattern where there was merely a cluster.

          For what that is worth.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          There have been a shitload of studies on the makup of the early Nazi party (the people for whom the party held the most direct appeal, we might say). The conclusions from what I remember were: middle to lower-middle class, male, ex-soldiers, Nationalists, socially disaffected in some way, anti-Weimar Republic, strong anti-socialist/communist, and young.

          As for libertarians, most of the liberarians I’ve known have been first generation, but very few of them were ever socialists. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats, but mostly they seem to have gravitated towards libertarianism since they first started actually thinking about politics. In the South, I think they tend to come out of Republican households, but in other parts of the country, I think it may be different (the few northeastern libertarians I’ve known tended to have grown up with Democrats or “independents” who were more liberal than conservative for parents). If any of them ever had a socialist period, it was probably just a product of a rebellious streak, which is common among libertarians (in my experience, at least).Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          I did Nazi that comingReport

        • Hey, great article. Do you think this is “us”:

          “Mr. G is a very intellectual young man who was an infant prodigy. He has been concerned with general ideas since the age of ten and has one of those minds that can scintillatingly rationalize everything. I have known him for ten years and in that time have heard him enthusiastically explain Marx, social credit, technocracy, Keynesian economics, Chestertonian distributism, and everything else one can imagine. Mr. G will never be a Nazi, because he will never be anything. His brain operates quite apart from the rest of his apparatus. He will certainly be able, however, fully to explain and apologize for Nazism if it ever comes along. But Mr. G is always a “deviationist.” When he played with communism he was a Trotskyist; when he talked of Keynes it was to suggest improvement; Chesterton’s economic ideas were all right but he was too bound to Catholic philosophy. So we may be sure that Mr. G would be a Nazi with purse-lipped qualifications. He would certainly be purged.”

          By the way, I have a friend who used to profile us all like that back in college. He always said he had everybody figured out but refused to ever do me because he knew it would drive me crazy and that I was just fishing for complements anyways. I’m probably not a Nazi though.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      JB, much as I love you and what you write, I have to strongly disagree with something you’ve (inadvertently?) placed here. You claim:

      this pretty much means that all of the Libertarians I know are the types of people who think about politics in their free time and, more importantly, political and moral theory in their free time

      The mistake is in the word “politics”. The STEM Libertarian types I know decidedly do NOT think about politics per se, but rather the ends and means to which our politicians pretend skills and solutions. Meaning the STEM types like to think about PROBLEMS in their free time – and what problem set is larger than the one “politicians” meddle with? The libertarian minded STEMs are in my personal experience largely in the majority, but not for the “I got mine so screw you” sense that so many around here seem to think. It is a different mindset that says, “the intelligent approach to solving problem A is to use solution B”. These guys have zero problem coming up with the solution to the problem, “given 9 identical marbles and only two uses of a balance scale, determine the one that is too heavy (or light).” STEMs immediately solve this in their heads, political scientists will Google for the answer.

      Hanley might well be offended, but among that crowd there is no such thing as “science” in the term “Political Science”. Something isn’t scientific until it can be accurately measured, and we all know “accurately” measuring feelings and opinions is a fool’s errand at best, at worst, just look at our political system. 😉Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Hrm… I think that all of the Libertarians I know were Libertarians who wandered into the tech field rather than techies who wandered into Libertarianism.

        Edit: and I should point out that I am a Humanities guy who got into tech rather than a STEM guy (I think I had vague plans to go to the seminary when the bottom of the bucket broke).Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Mr. small s smith, there is a lot of small t truth, but a lot of danger in what you say.  There are plenty of people who get their libertarianism from pragmatism, whether it be the Republican that smokes pot* variety or the more ‘pure’ forms.

        But pragmatism often also leads to Third Way We Can Fix This ism.  The 20th century Progressive movement had this.  So does Bloomberg.  It has, to summarize, a mixed record.  It also worth noting again, that, Jefferson aside**, the two presidents with the strongest Engineering / Science backgrounds are Hoover, and Carter.  August company, indeed.

        (there was also once upon a time Stephen Den Beste, who kinda was ok a fusing the self appellation of libertarian and the self appellation of engineerist, but then went completely off the rails in the run up to the Iraq War)

        *not that there’s anything wrong with that!  heck a Republican that embraces decriminalization and gay marriage throws out 85% of what’s wrong with the Republican Party on domestic policy

        **and who betrayed his principles anyway, that’s why he’s on RushmoreReport

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I think this comes closest to the reason STEM people seem to be more libertarian.

        I will add, however, that a lot of the STEM people I’ve known/worked with who’ve self-identified as libertarian tend to love the libertarian ideals, right up until it hits one of their pet prejudices/biases.

        Libertarianism  is great, but don’t get rid of affirmative action.
        Libertarianism  is great, but people can’t be trusted with guns.
        Libertarianism  is great, but drugs are too dangerous to make legal.
        Libertarianism  is great, but business/people need tax breaks to <do something>.

        Etc. ad nauseumReport

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          In practice, this seems to work out as: “I can be trusted with liberty, but other people can’t! I’m willing to trade away my liberty if it means that other people can no longer abuse their own.”Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          Libertarianism is great, but business/people need tax breaks to <do something>.

          Wait…what? With lower government spending, everyone gets tax breaks.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          Libertarianism is great but and Americans are just crazy when it comes to gunsReport

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Libertarianism is great, but if you pass laws that exempt people from being prosecuted for murder if they leave no witnesses, they’ll do that.

          Libertarianism is great, but if you let bankers chase short-term profits at the risk of a world-wide depression, they’ll do that.

          Libertarianism is great, but if you don’t forbid visitors from smoking in asthma wards, they’ll do that.

          Libertarianism is great, but if the market says “thumbs down” to movies about Ayn Rand novels, it’s the fault of the liberal media.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            “Libertarianism is great, but if you pass laws that exempt people from being prosecuted for murder if they leave no witnesses, they’ll do that.

            Libertarianism is great, but if you let bankers chase short-term profits at the risk of a world-wide depression, they’ll do that.

            Libertarianism is great, but if you don’t forbid visitors from smoking in asthma wards, they’ll do that.

            Libertarianism is great, but if the market says “thumbs down” to movies about Ayn Rand novels, it’s the fault of the liberal media.”

            I can tell you have studied this and thought very deeply about it for quite awhile. I’m not sure how anyone can possibly refute these awesome insights.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Most likely by calling me a statist.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                That word really bothers you guys.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                It’s dismissive, sort of like calling someone a glibertarian. Plus, it’s not really that descriptive: it’s either trivially true of most people, or obviously false about most people.

                But hey, whatever works for your purposes.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                No, Chris, it actually pinpoints and that’s what upsets many who prefer obscurantism. Why someone who has faith in the modern State finds being called a statist dimissive is beyond me. If you can’t defend your faith in the modern State which is made strong by an interventionist government, then that’s one thing, but if you can then being called a statist shouldn;t bother you.

                I sincerely don’t use it as an insult, merely a very good word to describe those who have faith in the modern State’s management of the economy as opposed to “unfettered” capitalism, as they call it.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                So, like I said, everyone or no one.

                You can continue to think it’s descriptive if you like. Like I said, it works for your purposes. And for us, it makes your purposes clear. For me, at least, it’s a win-win.


              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                “Why someone who has faith in the modern State finds being called a statist dimissive is beyond me.”

                I think the criticism (at least from me) has less to do with “statism” as a word and more to do with it’s seemingly universal application.  I have come to read “statist” as “someone who disagrees with Mike,” which is a shame – because I think when you flesh your arguments out instead of labeling someone a statist and calling it good you make some of the most persuasive anti-statist arguments I have heard.

                When I see MF has responded to something I’ve written, I think “this is either going to be one of the best comments in the threads, or he’s just going to call me a statist.”  So when I get a statist comment, I feel disappointed.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                ” I have come to read “statist” as “someone who disagrees with Mike,” which is a shame – because I think when you flesh your arguments out instead of labeling someone a statist and calling it good you make some of the most persuasive anti-statist arguments I have heard.”

                I think that is a problem with you, not something I intend. I use statist as I would religionist or Austrianist or monetarist or keynesianist or corporatist. It merely distinguishes someone who promotes government intervention into the economy and economic planning from centralized government. I hardly ever call anyone a statist unless they are making a big point of promoting interventions. I speak of “statism” as a system our government has adopted in vatying degrees over the past 100 years. I speak of statists in general as those in government and society who truly believe that capitalism has destroyed our economy and that centralized government has to fix the economy. This is a reality, not something I invented.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Libertarianism is great, but if you pass laws that exempt people from being prosecuted for murder if they leave no witnesses, they’ll do that.

            Are libertarians actually proposing that? Or did you just make that up? Citation needed, but if you actually have one to some libertarians making that proposal, I’ll wager you more than 3/4 of the self-described libertarians here at the League would oppose the the idea.

            Libertarianism is great, but if you let bankers chase short-term profits at the risk of a world-wide depression, they’ll do that.

            Well, that one would require a long, long, discussion, So I’ll let it stand as is.

            Libertarianism is great, but if you don’t forbid visitors from smoking in asthma wards, they’ll do that.

            And libertarians object to hospitals imposing no smoking policies in asthma wards?  Again, citation needed.

            Libertarianism is great, but if the market says “thumbs down” to movies about Ayn Rand novels, it’s the fault of the liberal media.

            Well, I have no problem believing that the type of libertarians who would get excited about the cinematic version of Rand’s books will include a fair number of that type.  So it seems like it would be easy for you to provide a cite.

            I’m inclined to assume you made up 3 of these 4 out of whole cloth, or are relying on very isolated cases to try to demonstrate your general point.  What you have demonstrated, yet again, is that you have a very simplistic and inaccurate understanding of libertarianism. It’s a shame, because you’re an intelligent guy and you’ve been hanging around here long enough that if you were willing to be honest about libertarianism you would say such things. I hate to impugn your honesty, but I don’t think I can reasonably impugn your intelligence or your longevity here, so I’m not sure what else can explain such silly falsities.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              I’m guessing a lot his post was cheap snark. We all do it every now and then.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              When it comes to Libertarians, it’s awfully hard to work out who’s proposing what any more.   I’ve been trying to work out what an actual Libertarian believes, but this much I do know, when some particularly obnoxious logical consequences of any of half-a-dozen Libertarian precepts are brought up, it’s always “we don’t believe that around here.”

              Is it reasonable to say Ayn Rand was a Libertarian?   She’s just an embarrassment, let’s stipulate to that much.   Is it reasonable to say Murray Rothbard is a Libertarian?   He’s just as embarrassing: him and his gold standard bullshit.  A moron of the first water.   Ron Paul?   See Rothbard.   Hayek?   Fine thinker, Hayek, if a bit dated:  would that the Libertarians actually understood what he said, for they would preach a very different sermon.   I sorta like Roderick Long.   He’s a Marxist, he just doesn’t realise it yet, but I’m through with the Marxists.   Maybe what the Anarcho/Libertarians need is a martyr.   Shooting a few of them will strengthen their cause greatly and do no lasting harm in the greater world.

              In short, who among the Libertarians beyond the friendly confines of LoOG isn’t an embarrassment to the Cause o’ Liberty?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                To what extent can we take Ayn Rand at her word when it comes to her opinions on Libertarians? If she said something like “Libertarians suck, I denounce them as being lukewarm and spew them out of my mouth!”, would that matter?

                In short, who among the Libertarians beyond the friendly confines of LoOG isn’t an embarrassment to the Cause o’ Liberty?

                If you don’t mind Cosmotarians, there’s always Reason magazine.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                A Cosmotarian is a croissant-eating effete with a contrarian streak.   He’s really just a Liberal with some fashion sense.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Yes, Rand rejected Libertarianism as proposed by Rothbard and his ilk.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That’s why I’ll never try to lump the Objectivists together with Libertarians.   It’s unfair.  A cheap shot.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Shooting a few of them will strengthen their cause greatly and do no lasting harm in the greater world.


                I think you’re right about alot of this. I mean, not that long ago (a coupla years) the libertarian websites I frequented were convinced that environmental issues posed a decisive failure of libertarian thought. How can you regulate emissions without compromising property rights? Now, it seems that this apparently fatal conundrum has been resolved and libertarianism is alive and well, cuz regulation of externalities is consistent with property rights (or individual rights, etc). Same with welfare for the poor. And a bunch of other stuff.

                I don’t say that as a knock on libertarians. It just strikes me that the coherent versions of libertarianism are trending in the direction of state intervention above what the theory was initially intended to justify. I also think thinking libertarians have realized that more basic formulations of the theory (property rights trump all!) don’t give the right answer lots of times unless we suppose that our basic moral judgments are in fact radically wrong (which could be the case) or society is actually radically different than what our basic understanding suggests (which could also be the case). But it seems to me that a priori reasoning about a possibility won’t incline anyone to think their basic understanding of the actual is radically wrong, unless they’re already inclined along those lines to begin with (which was the topic of Tod’s recent post).

                I do think that libertarianism has something not only valuable but crucial to offer us non-libertarians in terms of how we understand political economy, and what we as liberals ought to be focusing on in certain policy prescriptions. In that sense, I think liberalism would benefit from trending in the direction of the best parts of libertarianism.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’ve noticed a bit of this too. I think part of it is that, in the newer generation of liberterians, there’s a breed of less contrarian, considerably more milquetoast libertarian that has become more common. Also, I think there’s been a real effort to make libertarianism more politically viable, and that means like some things that libertarians previously would have dismissed on principle.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that Iraq wrung a lot of Jacobin tendencies out of the Libertarians.

                Instead of thinking “won’t it be great that a tyrannical government will be overthrown!”, they think “the government will screw up overthrowing a tyrant.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’ve previously postulated a parabola in the first quadrant.  This parabola describes several different policy views:  we could start with economics as one such view.  The zeroes of the x axis are a Statist Paradise featuring a command economy and an Individualist Paradise, featuring a return to the heart of the Thirty Years War.   No intelligent person wants either.   At the zenith of that parabola is a happy medium where the forces of the State and the forces of the Individual lead to an effective, well-regulated economy.   As a Liberal, I believe the Y axis is a measure of Bentham-ic Utility.

                The Libertarian viewpoint is entirely necessary.  Enumerating the force vectors, we see the well-meaning State attempting to regulate the Individual.   Without the corresponding force vector of the Individual, pushing back against the State, the Y value slides down toward the Statist Paradise.   No sensible person wants that.   The State can whine and complain about the necessity of fondling everyone’s undercarriage and monitoring their communications all its wants:  last I heard the Fourth Amendment has not yet been repealed.

                But in like manner, should the force vector of the Individual grow greater than the State’s force vector, utility is attenuated.   Liberals argue the sum of vectors should be zero:  we need both the State and the Individual viewpoint.

                Problem is, facts on the ground change as frequently as the news feed updates on the TradeStation monitor sitting over there on my overflow table.   Both the Individual and the State must cope with those changes.    As the Individual is forced to adapt, (me, once a market starts zooming around and the beta goes over a certain threshold, I simply back out until that market calms down some)  the State must adapt to changing conditions, say closing down a bad bank or prosecuting an insider trading case.

                Libertarians ought to stick to their Individualist guns; the State shows no inclination to preserve the Individual’s rights and freedoms these days.   Someone has to fight back.   If the Libertarians err on the side of the Individual, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have pushed the government back up toward the zenith of that parabola.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Good way to describe it.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                In short, who among the Libertarians beyond the friendly confines of LoOG isn’t an embarrassment to the Cause o’ Liberty?

                The guys at Bleeding Heart libertarians i.e. people like Matt Zwolinski, Fernando Teson, Jason Brennan (who are part of BHL) as well as Loren Lomaski, David Schmidtz just to name a fewReport

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                I’m wondering if John Stossel is becoming the de facto Libertarian mouthpiece lately? He may be a bit low-brow for you Blaise, but he encapsulates a lot of the ideas that are half-forming in the Libertarian mindset.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              My chief objection to going full board libertarian is that I have not yet seen a really reasonable way for how we get there from here.  Our (American) society has been largely non-libertarian since its inception and was much more so historically than it does today (I’ll take the war on drugs over slavery any day).  That matters.  Like, a lot.  The legacy of our historical structures make it remarkably difficult to restructure as libertarian, institute a true meritocracy, and call it a day.  A vast majority of the wealth held in this country was accumulated during periods when property ownership was explicitly forbidden to all but a select group of white males (not even all white males held the privilege equally).  To suddenly recreate a society with unassailable property rights is basically a giant F-U to the folks that couldn’t partake in those rights until very recently, and for whom it is still difficult to because of the history of how those rights were recognized.

              If someone wanted to blow it all up, give everyone an equal bag of money and parcel of land and leave them to their devices, I’d probably be MORE sympathetic to libertarianism.  But the notion that many trot out, which is to remove the non-libertarian rules with no accounting for the impact of those laws, just doesn’t seem feasible.
              That and I’d take libertarians more seriously when they take up the cause of the various Native American groups who had signed, legal treaties willfully violated by the US government so that land can be stolen out from under them.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                A vast majority of the wealth held in this country was accumulated during periods when property ownership was explicitly forbidden to all but a select group of white males.

                I’d like to see you elaborate on this claim, as it seems very obviously wrong to me. The US, like every other country in the world, was poor by modern standards until the 20th century. Real GDP didn’t exceed a trillion 2005 dollars until 1940 or so; now it’s over thirteen trillion. There’s very little old (19th century or older) money on the Forbes 400 list. Certainly nothing that could be described as any kind of majority, much less a vast majority.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I think you are hitting an important point on libertarianism. There is an element in it that works better on a fresh start that it does in an old, corrupt, encrusted system of feuding special interest groups.

                Note how the Great Leap of modernity occurred at the time in history when new colonies, states and societies were being formed from 1492 to 1959. Libertarian ideas are a lot better in a fresh start. Libertarians like start ups, and start ups are the perfect environment for new freedoms. Special interest groups have too much too lose.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I don’t think this is right at all. Special interest groups are one of the major reasons why government interventions work so badly.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                But once the parasites infect the host, they become the host.

                How can we convince parasites to quit sucking blood? We won’t. We need to set up new hosts without the infestation.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              I thought the referent for 1 was pretty obvious — we’ve discussed the case often enough.  If there’s a general libertarian consensus against SYG, I have yet to see it.

              “Asthma wards’ is obviously hyperbole, but I love the fact that I can go to baseball game and not have it ruined by smokers sitting next to me.  What’s the general libertarian position on smoking bans in public places?

              And you can google “Atlas Shrugged” + “liberal media” as well as I can.  http://constitutionparti.blogspot.com/2011/04/atlas-shrugged-will-movie-bring-down.html is just the first of over a million hits.

              I’m not ging to accuse you of dishonesty, but continuing to say “That isn;t libertarian” without some positive definitions for leavening is not exactly communicative/.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                1.  You mangled “stand your ground” laws beyond recognition.

                2.  Smoking on public property?  The government decides.  Smoking on private property?  The owner decides.  “Public place” is an equivocation.

                3.  The Constitution Party is theocratic, not libertarian. They love to use the term libertarian, but no one who favors public stoning for homosexuals is really a libertarian.  This is not a difficult call.

                3.5  It’s altogether possible that obstacles other than the liberal media brought down the Atlas Shrugged movie.  Even the libertarian press didn’t give it overwhelmingly positive reviews, and when you think about it, the book’s just not especially filmable anyway.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                While I agree with your sentiment, there are many folks who conflate private bans on smoking (or other activities) with government regulation.  I heard a guy (a personality, not a caller) on the radio recently who was freaking out because the MLB park near him created a peanut-free section.  He was railing against a the PC, overreaching government kowtowing to whiney parents who didn’t want their kids to die.  He didn’t care that the policy was instituted voluntarily at the park out of consideration for fans with allergies.  So, the bastardization of such laws and policies goes both ways, which makes it hard to have reasonable conversations around them.  If folks are going to rail against voluntary policies, then it isn’t exactly unfair to ascribe to them such positions.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                If folks are going to rail against voluntary policies, then it isn’t exactly unfair to ascribe to them such positions.

                Would it be fair for us to judge your political philosophy by its dumbest adherents?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                If my dumbest adherents had major media platforms and millions of viewers/listeners? That wouldn’t be the unfairest way to go about it…Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Smoking on public property?  The government decides.  Smoking on private property?  The owner decides.  “Public place” is an equivocation.”

                Unless the government decides that a particular sort of private property is actually public property and therefore subject to regulation.

                “Your yard?  Well, the laws in this area are that you can’t limit access to any part of the yard in case emergency services needs to get there.  Therefore your yard is accessible to the public.  Therefore it’s public property and we’re allowed to ban you smoking in any room that has windows to keep people from being exposed to second-hand smoke.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Jason’s response covers what I would have said.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                1. I’m describing SYG as it has turned out.

                2. Commercial airliners are private property.  I’m very glad that smoking has been banned on them.  Are you old enough to recall the bad joke that non-smoking sections used to be?

                3. I’ll give you.

                3.5 It might be filmable by people not so enamored of the book that they can accept the changes required.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                1. I’m describing SYG as it has turned out.

                So are you asking whether some libertarians support SYG as it has turned out, or trying to claim that supporting SYG as it has turned out is a necessary libertarian position?  The first is undoubtedly true, but rather trivial. The second would be non-trivial, but is not true.

                2. Commercial airliners are private property.  I’m very glad that smoking has been banned on them.  Are you old enough to recall the bad joke that non-smoking sections used to be?

                Private property…’nuff said.

                3.5 It might be filmable by people not so enamored of the book that they can accept the changes required.

                Maybe… I’m thinking the only way to make it watchable is to do a total I, Robot on it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                1. Reason is running a series supporting SYG as we speak.

                2. Yes, they are private property. If the libertarian position is that passengers should be subjected to tobacco smoke while flying on them, it’s nonsense.

                3.5I  I’m thinking the only way to make it watchable is to do a total I, Robot on it.

                Make the previously asexual female characters both sexy and gorgeous?  Yeah, I might watch that.


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If anyone wants to see where Libertarians take a position on SYG ground laws, this might serve as a primer.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think the general take on SYG laws among Libertarians is something to the effect of “if someone attacks me, the onus ought not be upon me to protect them. Self-defense is a human right.”

                What’s the liberal position on SYG laws? “You traded away your right to self-defense when you used our roads”?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                You have the right to self-defense, not offense because a guy stole your TV.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “If someone breaks into your home, your assumption ought to be that they are their for your stuff, not your life”?Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                In the case I believe Jesse is referring to, the “guy who killed someone” followed the person to stab them.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Bingo. Yes, if a guy is in your house, shoot him if you’re actually in fear for your life. But, if he’s heading out the door, then no, you don’t get to shoot him in the back to get back your laptop.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If you’re following someone, you’re no longer standing your ground.

                Are the libertarians suppose to support following someone because a particularly poorly written law has a loophole for people who aren’t, in fact, standing their ground?Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                As to where libertarians fit into everything with SYG, I can’t say… though I suspect, knowing the ones I do here, that they aren’t thrilled with SYG laws.  I’m happy to have a libertarian tell me, though.

                As to where SYG laws fit into the case Jesse is referring to, they kept the guy from being investigated or tried.  So whether or not following someone that has taken your TV and stabbing them is “standing your ground” in a colloquial sense, it appears to be very much so according to SYG laws.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, it seems to me that the stock libertarian response would be something to the effect of “of course the legislature is going to write a bad law that the executive is going to enforce poorly and the judiciary will make an even bigger hash of.”

                That said, if someone attacks me, I don’t know that the onus ought to be on me to protect this particular person. The “social contract”, for lack of a better term, between me and him has been broken by his attack on my person.

                *THAT* is the problem here. Me saying “I should be able to defend myself”? Not the problem.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                As I said, I suspect that libertarians would not love the SYG laws.  They appear to me to be badly written laws that fixed a nonexistent bogeyman ginned up by law & order candidates, and created a legal problem that is hard to get untangled from.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                IANAL, but my understanding of SYG is that it prevents the police from immediately arresting a person who kills another & then claims self-defense, i.e. I just shot a guy in my front yard, then I called the police & when they arrived I claimed self defense; under SYG they can not arrest me without some evidence or a belief (that they could articulate to a judge, no hunches or gut feelings) that the killing was foul play.

                An example of why SYG was created.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                That’s my understanding as well.  The Florida law says so in so many words, and it’s the reason the police chief gave for not arresting Zimmerman in the first place.  I’d love to hear from someone who knows this stuff first-hand (a policeman or a prosecutor) about what effect not being able to arrest the ground-stander has on the ability to investigate and gather evidence that might later be used to prosecute him.  Also, whether there’s any way to prevent him fleeing the jurisdiction until it’ decided if he’ll be charged..Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Florida Firearms Lawyer

                He seems to know the law.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Nonsense.   Liberals still believe in the Second Amendment.   We’re the ones who have been challenging chiefs of police on this subject.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                So we have the right to carry a gun, just not the right to do anything with it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                This is one of those things that is terribly incongruent with my experience to the point where I am prone to disbelieve it out of hand.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:


                this seems a city/country thing. you’ve got liberals all round,b ut the liberals in the city think somethuing totally different than the ones in the country.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Believe it.  It was a huge issue in Illinois.    There was a consistent problem with burglaries in the prosperous suburbs just north of Chicago, all these lo-lifes coming up Lake Shore Drive.   So a couple of these villages, — now this was a while back, so I can’t be held to all these facts, I’m pretty sure Winnetka did — passed ordinances encouraging residents to obtain firearms.   Burglaries dropped precipitously:  word got out in the lo-life community to the effect those rich white Libruls up there were all done with putting up with this crap.

                The police chiefs were all up in arms.   They don’t like the idea of coming into a home with firearms, especially in these domestic violence situations.   Understandable sentiment.  But the aforementioned Rich White Libruls pushed back, very hard.   Among the Democrats dealing with the chiefs of police was then-State Senator Barack Obama.

                Funny how we always misconscrew our political and intellectual opponents.   Sometimes, there’s no real disagreement, such as in this case.Report

              • Avatar Scott says:


                Wrong, Winnetka was one of the librul Illinois cities that had a 20 year long hand gun ban. I guess your memory isn’t what it used to be.



                I’m still curious to know which libruls you think support the 2nd amendment?  Maybe you are thinking of Mayor Bloomberg and Chuck Schumer?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


                Can you define “support”?  Does Russ Feingold count?  Do you have to be against *all* gun control?  A CCW supporter?  An Open Carry supporter?Report

              • Avatar leviramsey says:

                Vermont? The state that is quite likely to go single-payer and elects Bernie Sanders, but is also arguably the state whose gun laws the NRA et al. dream about:

                * No permit to purchase any firearm
                * No registration of any firearm
                * No rules concerning assault weapons
                * No licensing of owners
                * No permit required for carrying a firearm (open or concealed) (issuance of permits is explicitly banned: the view is “the Constitution is the permit”)
                * State law prohibits localities from enacting restrictions

                The extent of gun laws in Vermont is:

                * Dealers must keep records of all handgun sales
                * Cannot carry a gun on school property or in a courthouse

                Every so often, the gun-rights crowd advocates in another state for “Vermont Carry”.

                “The people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State — and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and the military should be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.” — Constitution of the State [formerly Republic] of VermontReport

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          My point is that a lot of “Libertairians” I know in the STEM fields (hell, a lot I know in general) have a very hard time with the idea of state non-intervention when it’s something that makes them feel “icky” (Libertarianism is great, but we can’t be letting them gays marry).

          There are a lot of things in the world that I find “icky”, but before I publicly state that “There ought to be a law against X”, I try to think real hard about why there ought to be a law.  Is it because the idea sticks in my craw, or is it because such a law would truly be toward the greater good.  Then I wonder about why such a thing exists in the first place (is it inherent/natural, is it structural/artificial, etc.) & if it exists because we made it so, would we be better served by unmaking it before we try to pile on more rules (e.g. economic protection schemes). Then I try to imagine the unintended consequences.

          I honestly TRY to research, understand, & think about such things before I talk about them.  Unlike many self-identified libertarians who want to cut welfare; & who, when you talk to them & drill down a bit, you learn that they don’t really care about fixing poverty & dependance, but really, they just don’t want crack-whore mothers spending their tax money.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            “I honestly TRY to research, understand, & think about such things before I talk about them. Unlike many self-identified libertarians who want to cut welfare; & who, when you talk to them & drill down a bit, you learn that they don’t really care about fixing poverty & dependance, but really, they just don’t want crack-whore mothers spending their tax money.”

            Then research and find some examples of libertarians who in the course of presenting libertarian ideas state what you have accused them of above. You are taking some few people you know who have some superficial idea regarding libertarian thought, and you are making it look like libertarianism in general believes these things. This is pitiful. Don’t you see the irony of making intellectual mistakes yourself that you are accusing “libertarians” of making?Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              I’m sorry. Most people don’t have deep philosophical thoughts. The truth is, a lot of conservative people are either very rich people who’d rather stab their mother than pay another cent in taxes or religious zealots who think gay people should be sent off somewhere, a lot of liberal people just want rich people to pay for stuff, and a lot of libertarians think, “screw the rest of the world, I want mine.”

              That’s how the world works. I’m sorry.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You need to hang out with a different crowd.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                So libertarians can nobly be judged based on the most intelligent and thoughtful among them, while liberals have to defend Al Sharpton?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, I think, at least, there should be an example given. “The Libertarian Tyler Cowen says ‘screw you, I’ve got mine’.”

                Now I get to defend Tyler Cowen’s statement. If I’m just stuck with “Libertarians”, what defense is possible? “No they don’t”? If you have to defend Al Sharpton saying “something”, at the very least, you get to point to Al Sharpton walking it back the next week. “Libertarians” get no such leeway.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                “I’m sorry. Most people don’t have deep philosophical thoughts. The truth is, a lot of conservative people are either very rich people who’d rather stab their mother than pay another cent in taxes or religious zealots who think gay people should be sent off somewhere, a lot of liberal people just want rich people to pay for stuff, and a lot of libertarians think, “screw the rest of the world, I want mine.”

                That’s how the world works. I’m sorry.”

                The world works in more complex ways, I’m sorry. I thought we were discussing ideas and political philosophy, not how screwed up the thinking of some people becomes. You are exaggerating and overlooking the fact that most people aren’t like this. Just because a lot of people don’t think deeply doesn’t mean that their lack of thought defines the political philosophies we’re discussing. The more we can clarify the ideas, maybe the more people in general will understand the ideas better. It’s doesn’t help anyone to highlight the bigotry of a non-thinking person and pretend that the person is a spokesperson for a political viewpoint.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Again, I wasn’t pretending that subset represented the vanguard of libertarian thought, only the group that self identifies as such until they hit something that makes them feel icky, then they are all happy to have government get involved.  If you want to plumb the depths of a persons political philosophy, you have to find their prejudices & biases & confront them with those.Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              As I said before, I was recounting the subset of people I personally know, not the overall general population.  I could show examples, but then I’d have to open up my Facebook page to you lot, and I’m not inclined to do so.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                I’m not impressed with anectdotes regarding people I know nothing about and likely have no idea what libertarianism stands for. If you have a self-described libertarian who is fairly influential and is being hypocritical, then that might make me pay attention, but unless you had more than one example it wouldn’t mean much. You would have to pretty much show me where, say, the Libertarian Party platform is now calling for government interventions because enough libertarians became worried about their jobs in the economy and now want government to rescue them or give them more benefits — then, you’d have something.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Except the OP asked for personal accounts.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Kinda like how most atheists/agnostics got there by really taking the time to think about religion, and coming to a conclusion that drew them away from it.Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I can’t speak to whether the observation is true or not, but conceding that it is… a few broader thoughts…

    Tech people, in my experience, tend not to be the most socially inclined people.  Libertarianism might be a draw because it does not seem to emphasize the social realm as much as other philosophies.  This would seem to fall somewhat under theory number one.

    “Is it possible that the part of our brains that uses pure reason, unencumbered by emotional pulls and tugs, is more susceptible to libertarian arguments?  If so, this seems a powerful argument for why we as a society should start to collectively take libertarian arguments more seriously than we do.”

    As someone who tends to be “hyper rational”, there is a part of me that is sympathetic to this.  However, you are going to have to do a lot more to substantiate this.  There is plenty of room to argue that “pure reason, unencumbered by emotional pulls and tugs” is one of the worser ways to build society.  Why do you think libertarian’s lack of emotional pulls and tugs makes it something we should take MORE seriously, given the (acknowledged) fact that man is an emotional animal.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      I came here to say your last paragraph.  If anything (and accepting for the sake of argument that it’s true), a tendency of libertarians to be non-typical in their understanding of human behavior means that their policies might have new and exciting failure modes.  I’m not an expert by any means, but consider something like the ultimatum game.  If your model of human behavior indicates that the second player will always accept, that could have real implications for how you design a welfare system or tax code, and if that assumption is systematically likely to underperform, so too will your tax code.Report

  8. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    In my experience yes, this is the case.

    Also in my experience, this has to do with a greater likelihood of sci/tech types to read science fiction (Heinlein, Niven, etc) and Ayn Rand.

    As someone who went from being a capital-L libertarian (I mean, working on campaigns, serving in the state party) to a liberal, I have more thoughts on this. But I don’t have the time.

    I will say, though, I expect this trend to decrease for several reasons. One: sci-fi is moving away from libertarianism. (see e.g. Charles Stross; China Mieville).

    Two: libertarian institutions are being taken over by the anti-tech right, and the culture of the right in general is becoming increasingly hostile to science. My local Libertarian party is now dominated by anti-immigrant, far-right Christians. Cato is in danger of being dismantled by the Koch brothers. Etc.

    I could be wrong, of course, This is an anecdotally driven analysis.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Alex, this is a fascinating answer.  Thanks.

      Of course, if true it will spark the question, “what caused the connection between sic-fi and libertarianism?”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        “[W]hat caused the connection between sic-fi and libertarianism?”  Are you asking us to explain the human defect known as “nerd-dom”?Report

      • Avatar Alex Knapp says:

        Of course, if true it will spark the question, “what caused the connection between sic-fi and libertarianism?”

        That’s an easy one: Robert Heinlein.Report

      • Avatar Ian M. says:

        Sci-Fi is the only place where Libertarian philosophy can work.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          A sufficiently advanced technology solves a lot of the implementation problems.Report

          • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

            You refer, of course, to Clarke’s Third Law?Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            That was pretty much the lesson of “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, where Step One of a successful space-colony revolution was “have an omnipotent AI on your side” and Step Two was “give it control of the orbital mass drivers”.Report

            • Avatar Alex Knapp says:

              Don’t forget step 3 – Have a society where, in defiance of everything we know about human history, having fewer women gives them MORE power.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              The omnipotent AI also solves all the usual problems of “How do we male sure our revolutionary group isn’t 50 % cops?”  But, even though they’re completely irrelevant to the story, the author still has to tell us his improvements on the standard Communist cell structure, because the point of THiaHM, like that of most late Heinlein, is what a deep thinker he is.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Most science fiction authors put in “I had an idea” stuff into their books… At least this doesn’t involve surfboarding on a tsunami… (Okay, so Niven puts in “that’d be awesome” even if it is impractical)Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          read the consumerist lately?

          Pal, we’re working on it. Well, when I say we, I mean my liberal friends… but … *snickers*Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          You all must be really threatened by libertarianism.Report

  9. Avatar Robert Greer says:

    Lots of plausible explanations in this thread.  I’ll add a geographic one: The field of IT grew up in a region, the American West Coast, that also boasts a disproportionate share of libertarianism.

    There also might be a sort of “founder effect” going on in the connection between techies and libertarianism: insofar as the trailblazers in tech held countercultural views (yet still loved all the money they made), this could have perpetuated itself through the second- and third-generations of tech workers.  But as these positions are becoming more mainstream, it seems that so are the politics of the people who fill them.

    Then there’s the Richard Stallmans of the world would say that the structure of the Internet lends itself to bottom-up organization.  Let’s not forget that the left-libertarian strain in the tech world is disproportionately strong as well.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      I like Richard Stallman quite a bit.  He’s a loon, and I mean that affectionately.Report

      • Avatar Robert Greer says:

        Eben Moglen is also fantastic.  Tech-anarchism really speaks to me.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        A complete loon.  I heard him have a talk once in which he:

        1. Insisted that selling software for more than the price of the tape you’re shipping it on is completely immoral.
        2. Whined for 15 minutes that Linux isn’t called “GNU Linux”.

        Because we can all live without money, but attribution is an absolute necessity.Report

  10. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Okay. Brin had a fascinating piece up about how liberal different science fiction authors are.

    But — this isn’t about the companies.

    We’re scientists, one and all around here. Used to fixing problems. Used to letting the market handle what it can — or brownian motion, or other strange things that “just sort of work” with a degree of “seat of the pants” that would make gold personalities scream (evolution, among others).

    Everyone in the Sciences knows why you don’t pay physicists to build you a better mousetrap (or, god forbid, something involving electricity). But everyone in the sciences knows that physicists come up with a lot of crazy shit, and occasionally some of it really works out. Then you call an engineer to make it safe and replicatable.

    Top down ain’t in a scientist’s heart — the idea of “everybody does their job because they love it and they’re good at it” just seems to make sense.

    That said, most scientists can see problems — cracks in the foundation — and most of them tend to be pretty liberal. In general, they tend to have this “I’ve got my toys, now leave me the hell alone” attitude — if you ask “care to give up some of your money”? There’s a *blink blink* and then probably a “sure.”

    Because scientist types are obsessed with fun, with new, with interesting — not with hoarding money.

    And that’s a big reason why Obama got elected. the Professionals (the creative class), are all about new solutions, trying things until they work.Report

  11. I think your observation is mostly an aretfact of where you stand.  I have spent most of my career in Ivy League/other academic science and engineering settings, and those skewed overwhelmingly liberal, not libertarian.  Then again university settings are known to go that way.

    Which suggests that the correct way of seeing it, is just that: it’s not a matter of there being an attraction to libertarians in science/engineering areas, so much as a slight counterselection in some other areas combined with natural clumping tendencies of such a small group: the academic setting may not be congenial, and in terms of career choices for itnellectuals/college grads, the arts might not be congenial (and often depend heavily on public support) and other areas — social studies, policy, law, history — seem likely to disproportionately attract folks with particular interests in liberal or conservative settings for their material.

    But most libertarians I know are soldiers (which doesn’t make much sense, but I think it _is_ known that libertarian viewpoints are overrepresented there) and tradesmen wthout a college education; I think libertarianism isn’t rare in either set.  If you don’t know libertarians from either set, I think that’s an artefact of your particular social position.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      Quick sidenote. Are the libertarian soldiers you know actual libertarians outside of foreign policy to any large extent, or is it, they just don’t want an administration apt to send them into dumb wars?Report

      • It’s all personal encounter (although I think really high levels of support for Ron Paul among military are well documented, and no I’m not interested in hearing your liber-nerd arguments about Paul’s libertarianism and other libertarianism, the point is he largely fits a public concept of “lebertarianism) but: far as I can tell, no.  I mean, yes, there’s those who really want a noninterventionist foreign policy, but far as I can tell, soldiers — even the “libertarian” ones, skew towards an assertive, militarily strong foreign policy (as you’d expect).  The “libertarianism” has more to do with, small-government -that-doesn’t-get-involved-with-me feeling (which I concede makes no sense), with a hefty dose of “don’t-deficit-spend” in there too.  But of course the soldiers are often socially very conservative as well.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “But most libertarians I know are soldiers”

      That’s interesting and unexpected.  I wonder if it’s similar to what Pat said upstream, about “a tendency to abhor top-down solutions, because they’ve seen so many of them break.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The ones I know are all Libertarians in the Constitution Party sense of the word. Not Cosmotarian at all.

        I’m one of those “scratch a libertarian, find an anarchist” Libertarians. The soldiers I know that are Libertarian are “scratch a Libertarian, find a PaleoLibertarian” Libertarians.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          This guy posted frequently on a libertarian board I am familiar with. (I regret that I never had the chance to meet him in person)  There were a non-trivial number of other members of that board who were prior (and some current) military that came to their libertarianism (or just help to maintain it) by seeing what pure (but voluntary) fascism – or if you will, big government – looks up close.    And don’t get me wrong, most are very copacetic with their military service – they just want to make sure the necessary liberty trambling ways stay hermetically sealed within that institution.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Techies in general make a comfortable amount of money without heroic amounts of effort and are low in empathy, particularly for those who lack that knack.  And (those from my generation, anyway) grew up on Heinlein.Report

  13. Engineers and programmers tend to see little correlation between the popularity of their technical work with non-technical colleagues and the effectiveness of that work in meeting it’s requirements.

    Imagine a programmer’s reaction to this: “We took a vote across the company.  Since most people in the company are comfortable with spreadsheets, they voted to build our enterprise financial system in Microsoft Excel.”Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      As opposed to the usual “We’re using X because their sales guy took the VP out for food, booze, and ladies of negotiable affection”?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Perhaps on  a related note, engineers and programmers are also more likely to have experienced a very large spread in capabilities at a particular level in the heirarchy — in my experience, which is getting old now that I’ve moved out of serious technical work, 10:1 differences in productivity are not that uncommon.  Or worse — as BlaiseP has pointed out on occasion, there are programmers with negative productivity, who not only get paid, but someone else has to be paid to find and and fix their mistakes.  Salary and benefits have a much narrower spread.  I’ve known a number of engineers/programmers who, after a few too many beers, will rightly complain, “I am not being compensated in proportion to my contribution here.”  Such resentments tend to carry over into a libertarian attitude of “don’t take from me to reward the less deserving” towards life outside of the technical realm as well.

      It’s a very old observation, as indicated by the dollar amounts involved, but I remember sitting next to an IT staffing consultant on a plane flight who considered his most difficult job “convincing non-technical managers that there are cases where no number of $10K/year programmers will be able to do what a good $20K/year programmer does, because they’ll never have the insights into the problem that leads to breakthrough solutions.”  Most of the successes in my technical career were based on finding a way to shuffle the pieces of a problem so that it could be solved using clever software on cheap GP hardware when no one else thought that was possible.Report

  14. Avatar Aaron W. says:

    In my experience (basic research, chemistry), there are probably more libertarians among scientists than most of the population. Liberals are often the most common, though, with conservatives barely existing at all. In general, they tend to be the really socially libertarian types rather than economically libertarian, since most scientists favor, say, environmental regulation of air and water quality. There may also be some element of tribalism at play since Republicans have spent a while demonizing evolution science (and now unfortunately climate change) so many scientists may find it hard to vote for the Republican party or identify as conservative. There may also be some kind of innate bias among scientists since the majority receive funding from a government agency such as the NSF, NIH, etc.  I think this poll from Pew, which while a few years old, is somewhat illustrative: http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/public-praises-science-scientists-fault-public-media/

    I have much less experience in regard to the tech industry or engineers, but I do have quite a few friends who work as computer programmers or engineers, and have even tried to start their own companies. My small sample size seems to suggest something similar, where libertarians are probably more common than the general population, but liberals are by far the most common. At the same time, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so this may also be affecting the circle of people I know. Given the climate of entrepreneurship that exists among the scientists, engineers, and techies in this area, though, I would say that they are not usually very left-wing liberals, though. (I don’t think most socialists would think starting their own company would be a socially useful endeavor.)Report

  15. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Somewhat random, somewhat disconnected observations-

    1) The STEM’s among the generation retiring now were overwhelmingly in the millitary industrial complex (and it’s little brother, NASA and aerospace generally).  These type of people, to the sense that they were or are ‘political’, either embraced the weird conservatism/socialism hybrid of the enterprise or rebelled against it entirely.  There was, in any extent, as I think is well known, a broad cross-pollination between tech-geek culture and counterculture throughout the 70’s and 80’s

    2) And for those that stayed the course with the Reagan revolution, and/or came up in their education a bit later (late Cold War or early post-Cold War) college left wing politics were starting to get a bit silly.   Being an engineer meant being able to avoid a lot of the shennigans, and for many, a propensity to look at them with disdain.

    3) But the overtly religious aspect of right wing politics is also somewhat troubling to many who consider themselves ‘men of science’.  So, what’s the answer for a person that’s skeptical of both dirty hippies and holy rollers?  Bam! Libertarianism.  (and you discover later that dirty hippies aren’t the actual problem – they are in fact your natural allies)

    4) And that’s the other thing.  STEM majors (with some narrow exceptions) are still overwhelmingly male.  Being male is highly correlated with internet libertarianism.

    5) I would also note that throughout the developing world, for what middle class does exists, the equivalent of helicopter parents want their kids to study either medicine or engineering as a way of getting a ticket to an upper middle class lifestyle (or a ticket to a first world immigration visa).  It’s also normally a way to avoid the even higher shennigan rate among developing world university poltics.  However, the propensity for engineers to eschew politics has some notable exceptions.Report

    • Avatar Robert Greer says:

      These are all great, especially #3, which explains my own (brief) foray into right-libertarianism in high school.  (Yes, I was arrogant enough to consider myself a “man of science” back then.)Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      I fall into the #2 category.
      Although I consider myself to have ‘libertarian leanings’ rather than being libertarian per se.
      Or just a shithead individualist, on my less pretentious days.Report

  16. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Grabbing Alex’s comment above and moving down here for more room. I’ve had discussions off and on (under a different nom de guerre) with Charles Stross for almost a decade. Charlie is very socialist in his leanings but readily acknowledges that it is an unworkable system. He is quite reasonable in that regard, he admires the “take care of everyone” element of socialism while dismissing the “this will never fishing work” problem of implementation.

    That said, there IS a place (and not just science fiction) where Libertarianism is alive and well. We are using it right now. It is called the Internet. I worked on about a dozen IETF committees (working groups) during the Internet’s formative years. I’ve also worked on a similar number of IEEE standards committees. They are night and day. The IEEE committees exist to build a rigid standard that pleases no one while being inclusive of all the weaker players who don’t have the technical chops to implement the elegant, efficient and brilliant solution the small company has developed. The IEEE committee therefore acts as a stonewall to keep ABC Corp from gaining too much market share from the bigger entrenched players. ABC Corp can’t gain the market share without the IEEE imprimatur because we need the “standard” for interoperability. Anyone who can’t recognize the similarities with the way our government does things needs some myopic repair.

    Contrast this with the IETF. Similar committees similar goal, but the IETF moves at lightning speed compared to the IEEE. While vendors can try and slow down the process (for similar reasons as the IEEE example above), they are more likely to be left out in the cold or semi-compliant (think Microsoft’s email implementations).

    This comment site is largely a Libertarian society in makeup and methods. People are pretty much free to engage in the commerce of ideas any way they choose and the worst offenders are only rarely expurgated. Massive multi user game domains are even more Libertarian, even when built around capitalist themes.

    To close, a quote from Stross (who doesn’t like Libertarianism for similar reasons to Blaise, he doesn’t understand much of it and doesn’t like what he understands) and a better rebuttal than I could write here:

    “Libertarianism, like Leninism, is an attractive, internally consistent ideology which provides a prescription for achieving a utopian society populated entirely by frictionless perfectly spherical human beings.

    Lenin and his followers tried to achieve their goal by, well, the political equivalent of chopping off all the spiky extrusions and compressing people into vaguely spherical shapes. We’ve seen how well that worked, and most of
    us said “no thanks”. The trouble with Libertarianism is that because we don’t have a clear, recent historical example of a Libertarian nation built on the same pile-of-skulls methodology, Libertarians can apply the “no true Scotsman” argument when defending their fundamentally broken model of human behavior. Which is why they’re so tiresome and persistent.

    TL:DR; don’t trust ideologues who come bearing attractive theories that over-simplify human behavior.”Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      “TL:DR; don’t trust ideologues who come bearing attractive theories that over-simplify human behavior.””

      Like Hope and Change?Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        Yeah, right.
        First it was ‘Hope to God something’s gonna change.’
        Now it’s ‘Hope I still got a bit of change rolling around in my pocket by the time he gets through.’
        It’s all about Hope and Change, bro.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      I readily grant that Ward is onto something when he compares IETF to IEEE, but I would find the conclusion re: IEEE more compelling if the big players actually followed standards offered by anybody.

      They don’t.

      IETF standards are notoriously also ignored by big players.  Anyone want to rant about Microsoft Outlook or… well, Any Database Vendor and how well they follow the SQL standard (that’s ANSI/ISO, for those playing “standards body” scorecard bingo).

      I think this is a function of the standards body moreso than the commercial-entity influence or lack thereof.  Sounds like an interesting research project, though… hm….

      I wonder how much the litigation factors in?  Has IETF ever sued anybody for claiming that they’re compliant when they aren’t?  I would be surprised if IEEE has, but that’s just a gut feeling…Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        If only there were a group backed by the IEEE that would deal with compliance and conformity issues, something like ICAP?

        Re: IETF “standards” you’re right, and the big boys don’t feel they need to play by the rules, although they play lip service to the system. I’ve sat with Mickeysoft engineers on IETF in-person groups, let’s just say they were not there to facilitate the process, anything but. Furthermore, if you look carefully the IETF never actually publishes a “standard” but an RFC. That in itself is a wink and a nod to other sclerotic standards bodies since we should all know what the acronym stands for.

        This is always about a kind of regulatory capture, without the government involvement (except when ISO gets involved), and is often more about barriers to entry than innovation. Do standards bodies as practiced stifle innovation (deja vu your IP essays)? Absolutely! Are they a necessary evil? Unfortunately yes. In all purchases, caveat emptor.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Do standards bodies as practiced stifle innovation (deja vu your IP essays)? Absolutely! Are they a necessary evil? Unfortunately yes. In all purchases, caveat emptor.

          Yeah, pretty much this.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            not seeing it. read the mpeg standards once. x264, xvid, – lotta freedom. maybe that’s not always the case.Report

  17. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Is my initial observation even close to being correct? 

    No idea. Well, none that I’d want to share. I’ve learned through experience that little good can come from trying to interpret teenagers or libertarians if you aren’t one.Report

  18. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Regarding #3, there’s no better way to learn about the law of unintended consequences than working on a complex software system. How anyone can not be skeptical of government tinkering after checking in that one simple fix that broke everything, I’ll never know.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Heh.  Perhaps you should spend some time on an open source project.    Many submitters, few commiters.   Any developer who works on one of my teams submits a unit test alongside his code for inclusion in the regression testing.

      Government tinkering is just fine.   I worry about those who think we can just go on treating the bugs in this system as if they were features.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Except you can’t really do unit testing or regression testing with government. They do pilot programs occasionally, but those often fail to scale, and for the most part, changes go live with no testing at all. And you never really can verify whether they work.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          That’s simply not true.  We learn from our mistakes but those lessons don’t stay learnt. Auden said

          The enlightenment driven away,
          The habit-forming pain,
          Mismanagement and grief:
          We must suffer them all again.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Brandon – this is essentially the point I was trying to make above @ 36, and I agree wholeheartedly.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Minnesota’s done a lot of work with social work, from what I understand. And it, by and large, scales up decently. Like anything human-related, you can’t expect 100% simularity, but it does generally work.

          Pittsburgh’s testing some new NWS equipment before they roll it out to everyone.Report

  19. Avatar dhex says:

    for #1 – i don’t think so? in part because the idea that libertarian ideas are not at least somewhat driven by emotions is wrong; even the DEMAND KURVE! types have, somewhere in their muddy heads, an emotional revulsion towards various kinds of coercion. so rather than “more calculating” or whatever, i’d go for “differently emotioned”.

    almost all the it/tech/science folk i know in nyc are various kinds of liberal/liberalish/apolitical types, at least for those that i’m aware of. but it’s a small sample set.

    theory: the idea of it being bloodless or less emotional stems from two divergent reactions from the dominant political narratives – liberals see it as heartless and conservatives see it as having no moral heart. “only a robot or a monster doesn’t want to xyz!”

    the biggest question in my mind is why so many of my minarchisto peeps are hardcore into prog rock. maybe it’s part of the same cultural package as the sci fi stuff, a la the venture bros.?Report

  20. Avatar M.Z. says:

    I think the 2001 bubble burst took care of a significant portion of IT triumphalism/libertarianism.  The industry has also matured, which also has a way of reducing idealism, which libertarianism is a variant of.  That said, fields that are reductionist such as engineering and sciences are going to have a disproportionate number of libertarians because libertarianism tends to be quite reductionist, e.g. increase welfare spending, then unemployment increases or make something free and watch people destroy it.Report

  21. Avatar Roger says:


    Sorry I am so late to the discussion, I was chaperoning 4th graders at camp for past few days.

    I recently been reading something which addresses your question. It is Fiske’s model of Human Relations.

    Fiske’s model explains that all human interactions can be sorted into four fundamental styles. These build upon each other, with the later relations types embracing everything in the earlier or lower ones. The first is communal. It is base tribalism. You are either in or out. Our side or theirs.

    The next is authoritarian. This is your ranked hierarchy of relationships. Next up is equality matching, which is tit for tat. It involves matching actions with similar responses. The final is market pricing. It involves abstract thinking with money, statistics, markets and so forth.

    I am VASTLY oversimplifying, but the point is that though all reasonably intelligent adults can use all four types of relationships and blends, there is a complexity element as you go from communal up to market pricing. Indeed, simple societies and immature individuals have trouble climbing the scale.

    The reason I bring this up is that I think a lot of the friction between libertarians and non libertarians occurs because libertarians are arguing at a level of relationships that rubs others wrong. Some of this may be that the non libertarians just don’t get the level of complexity. The other is that the non libertarians find it morally reprehensible that libertarians are suggesting something that doesn’t play by the rules of tribalism, authoritarianism, or equality matching.

    You think consumers are capable of rational decisions? These should be left to elected officials!
    You want buy and sell to Outsiders? Lets take care of our own!
    We should let supply and demand set wages? That would not be fair!

    Long way of saying that there is an intellectual and a moral element to the discussion. I think libertarian thinkers are pushing down from a more abstract way of approaching relationships. This doesn’t mean they are right, or that the rest of society is ready for their ideas yet.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Hey, Roger – thanks.  Hope you have returned with your sanity intact.  (I have done similar chaperoning in my time.  Some times it was bliss; other times it was like bing a character in Lord of the Flies.)

      Some of what you say strikes me as right, and others not so much; I need to think through which is which and why I feel that way.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        To address your specific questions, I agree with all three hypotheses. Libertarianism is an abstract way of thinking that makes no sense without knowledge of economics and a grasp of complex adaptive systems. There is likely to be a bias toward certain types of professions for all three reasons you suggest.Report

        • Avatar M.Z. says:

          <i>Libertarianism is an abstract way of thinking that makes no sense without knowledge of economics and a grasp of complex adaptive systems.</i>

          This is a convenient thought.  The problem with it is that mainstream economists are not by and large libertarians.  The “Austrian School” – the pride of libertarians – isn’t respected domestically or in Europe.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            But mainstream economists are, by and large, more libertarianish than the general public, at least in my experience.  Krugman may break out into a cold sweat when he hears the word libertarian, but he’s one of the most eloquent advocates for free trade.

            And to the extent many economists aren’t very libertarianish, it’s worth noting that lots of them make the error of not applying their tools of analysis to government (an inexplicable and unjustifiable error–like biologists studying the effect of evolution on every living thing, but not using it to understand humans).  Those who do are almost inevitably more libertarianish than those who don’t.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              Krugman breaks out into hives when he hears the word libertarian for a reason (*cough*Greenspan*cough*). That’s not to say he’s not a leftie-libertarian…Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              MZ and JH,

              In a room full of economists, I doubt I would even be called a libertarian.

              I am not suggesting that libertarians are the only smart people. I am suggesting that much of economics and libertarianism is counterintuitive and complex and that it makes no sense if you are not intelligent or immersed in the theory.

              I fully respect that intelligent people that can grasp economics can still refuse libertarianism or capitalism. Blaise and Jason are both probably way smarter than me. One is a libertarian, one isn’t.

              My point is mainly that libertarians argue from a complex economic perspective. Most people don’t even get what the heck they are talking about. Others do get it, but reject their values or conclusions. One reason for rejecting these values is that people believe certain relationships should not be converted to market pricing relationships.

              By the way, does anyone have stats on education or IQ for libertarians vs other groups? Anyone care to guess how it compares?Report

  22. Avatar smarx says:

    Are the libertarian leanings of programmers, engineers, and tech workers an American phenomenon or a universal phenomenon?  Or, could it be a Western phenomenon?

    I’ll admit to reading most, but not all, of this comment thread, so my question may have already been answered.  In any event, the anecdotes given here have focused on American “techies” and not those from other countries.  Of course this probably has to do with the fact that most of the commenters are Americans, but there are a couple non-American commenters as well.

    If you want to get closer to an answer about the relation between libertarianism and “techies,” then you’ll have to look outside of the American sphere and compare it to places that also have a strong tech industry.  Do Chinese and Japanese “techies” also have libertarian leanings?  If not, then why is it so?Report

  23. One thing I’ve noticed no one else has really touched on is that the whole thing is just random.

    Take for instance, how I feel about some representatives of various political ideologies I’ve encountered over the years: on the conservative end of things, I have an affinity for AmCon-style conservatism and an ever stronger attraction to Front Porch Republic (in the sense it really is a fundamentally “conservative” publication); I loathe most of what I hear on talk radio or faux news. I identify strongly with the endgame of liberals like Rachel Maddow, even if I find their methods kind of ill-conceived or in the very rough draft or even non-existent phase, yet I find the methods of liberal wonks like Yglesias, Klein, etc. to be sort of aimless and autistic; on the libertarian end of things, I like the platform for unconventional ideas I see at Cato Unbound, but I’ve been sort of disappointed and bored by BHL so far.

    That is all to say that my preferences – like the preferences of any other – are nuanced and layered and tailored to the narrow eyepiece of my own experience through which I view the world. My particular eyepiece spends a lot of time on the Internet, reading all sorts of different things and being exposed to all sorts of different ideas. It’s probably rather random that I eventually settle down on “libertarian”, considering my affinity for AmCon and FPR, but that’s sort of the measured decision I’ve made so that when people ask or when it becomes relevant, I say that I am a libertarian.

    Similarly, I bet there are an equal if not greater number of people who have had similar experiences to me that eventually settle down on “conservative” or “liberal” for political-cultural self-descriptive purposes. What I’ll also bet is that the people who have not spent a significant amount of time on the Internet self-describe as libertarian at a much lower rate simply because they haven’t really been exposed to the concept. There are few libertarian outlets in First Life – the most prominent examples are probably the occasional David Boaz appearance on cable news or Andrew Napolitano’s show. Articles like Jane Mayer’s put us on the map for people who do not spend a lot of time on the Internet.

    That’s probably the most significant variable here – the fact that a certain percentage of a certain class of people has been exposed to something (nearly 100% of people who work with computers for a living have been exposed to libertarianism.) and another class of people has not.Report

  24. Avatar Carole Rand says:

    Yes, your observation is accurate.  The reason for the linkage is found in the ‘temperament typing’ work of two psychologists, Myers and Briggs.  There are several books and courses based on their work;  one of which I used in the 1990s to teach libertarians (who are very often ‘intuitive thinker’ temperament types) how to communicate and empathize with other temperament types.  Intuitive Thinkers process information taken in from the world using logic and reason.  This proclivity causes them/us to be drawn to science, math, engineering, and technology.  Those of us who also have people skills wind up in leadership positions in many fields.

    Pick up a copy of Please Understand Me or one of the other fine books about Meyers-Briggs Temperament Typing for a more in-depth answer to your question.  Hope this was helpful.