Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

19 thoughts

  1. Ideas and norms can’t stick if our evolved minds are inhospitable hosts for them. So the fixed part of human psychology is a constraint on cultural transmission. If we find liberal individualism at all compelling, it’s because we already have a taste for it.
    To tie this to our debate – this is a big part of why I favor secessionism over proselytizing in terms of creating a libertarian state. If libertarianism only appeals to the 6%-16% of people who are hardwired libertarian, rather than liberal or conservative, then that sets a cap on how large the libertarian movement can grow. That’s not enough people to make a democracy very libertarian, yet its more than enough to go start a libertarian country elsewhere.
    Unless libertarians out-breed liberals and conservatives, which from my observations seems…unlikely.

    1. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that Will wants to resist acknowledging that 6%-16% statistic and hope that we’re all equal (or close) in this regard (having a hardwired taste for individualism), and open to argument.
      But, I know that he’s already noted the preponderance of NT (Rationals, about 12% of the population) temperaments among libertarians, so I think he’s got a problem here.
      Maybe he has some new and improved rhetorical techniques or arguments that have never been deployed effectively yet. But, that doesn’t seem to be the way to bet.

      1. Yup. One way of putting my argument is that the preponderance of NTs among libertarians (hi y’all!) is a big part of libertarianism’s problem. “Rationals” are relatively poor at relating to others and often actively resist effective rhetorical strategies. It’s hard to break out of the NT circle because NT’s will attack you if you try it! NTs are indeed libertarianism’s early adopters, but that doesn’t mean some variation on the ideology can’t “cross the chasm” toward the fat part of the bell curve. Now, I don’t think the secret is putting a savvier rhetorical spin on standard issue libertarianism, but accepting that standard issue libertarianism has a lot of real problems and that a strongly libertarian-leaning liberalism is both more intellectually and politically attractive.

      2. By “more intellectually…attractive” do you mean you expect them to result in more human flourishing?
        Or, do you expect them to result in less human flourishing but be more attractive, intellectually, to the many people who will never accept the better policies?

      3. I mean both more coherent and relevant. And yes I expect uptake to result in more flourishing than… what?
        What’s the comparison point? How much people would flourish if only people were very different? Or much people flourish in various really feasible alternatives?

      4. I meant under “standard issue libertarianism” policies vs. “strongly libertarian-leaning liberalism” policies.
        I don’t know that either are politically feasible.

    2. I think it’s badly mistaken to think of there being any such thing as a hardwired libertarian. My limited amount of research into the matter shows most younger libertarians to be dispositional liberals who understand economics better than average. (The full story is complicated.) Anyway, I see the possibility of very large gains in the portion of dispositional liberals who are willing to accept libertarian-leaning policies. So that’s where I’m pushing. The point about the shifting nature of the cultural liberal-to-conservative continuum is key here.

      1. Me too. But we increase our overall odds if we diversify strategies, yes? And division of labor is good, too. I’ll work on the moral/political/cultural problem of increasing respect for mobility rights and economic growth, and you build/inspire people to build some new places with alternative schemes of governance that people can choose to move to when the political and economic option is really open to them. If either half of that equation works, it’s a big improvement.

  2. I’m a big fan of diversification and division of labor, certainly. I think seasteading is perhaps 20% likely to succeed, so I sure don’t want it to be the only thing libertarians work on. But given the history of the libertarian movement over the past century, I am just not seeing the kind of slow and steady progression at winning hearts and minds or academic mindshare which would give me hope for that path. But I could well be wrong, it is difficult to measure.

  3. Shrug. Overall, I think people are wired to like things easy.
    “Someone is going to give me free stuff? I’ll take it and not think of the consequences.”

  4. A better comparison would be monozygotic twins who have grown up together vs. raised in different homes. Of course, it’s a lot harder to get such a data set.
    i think bouchard et al did that. or perhaps they only looked at religious intensity.
    craig, you’re either stupid or can’t read.

  5. Razib –
    Yes, I must be. And indeed, being stupid and not being able to read
    are not mutually exclusive categories.
    But in any case, feel free to continue believing that
    there were people with “conservative” and “liberal” psychologies
    in the late Roman empire (though you might want to read some history to go with your pop psychology).

  6. Will Wilkinson still cannot answer Mencius’ simple Darwinian argument: if libertarianism is reduced from a philosophy to a slogan, what tangibles does it offer to its rabble-rousers, the “fat part of the bell curve”, for that belief? Nothing. What can other ideologies offer? Lots of things, especially the philosophy of the Marxist and race hustler. This truth ensures the inviolability of libertarianism in the democratic state.
    Libertarianism is an abstract ideal to be reached towards in the USG, not a political system. Its very efficacy relies on the fact that it does not similarly offer the fruits that other ideologies do, that deform the incentives of the State’s caretakers. All we can do, for now, with little scientific knowledge of the process of ideological formation, and more importantly, the lack of ability to raise the IQ of peoples incapable of understanding the idea, is to combat the predatory state by exploiting the very same collective action problems those who lead the corruption employ – mechanisms like federal lawsuits, installing favored politicians in positions with “soft power”, and exploiting existing cultural mores and biases (e.g., gun culture) for our own ends.

    1. Yes, libertarians are just smarter than everyone else. That’s why we don’t win elections. Or is it that everyone else just isn’t as moral? That could be it, too. Well, it’s one of those. Either everyone else is radically evil, or they’re really stupid, at least relative to us REALLY smart, REALLY moral libertarians (talk about redundant!).

      1. Yes, I am just using an operational definition of “smart” as having higher IQ. More specifically, the average libertarian has a higher IQ than the average liberal or conservative. I don’t think there ever will be a specific cite for that, but that comes sort of naturally from Bryan Caplan’s work in Myth of the Rational Voter which shows the higher IQ tend to think more like economists; libertarians tend to have a better-than-average grasp of costs and benefits and an appreciation for the role of price signals in the economy.
        I’m not trying to pump anybody up here. There is plenty of research describing the ability of knowledge each IQ tier is capable of; since these aren’t going to be mutable any time soon, one would think to become familiar them. In any case, describing the average doesn’t tell you the shape of the “# of people” vs. “IQ” ideology curves; our domestic liberals have a two-humped curve, composed of a smaller, very smart group subsidizing a much larger low-skilled group. Domestic “conservatives” probably have a more slowly declining curve from left from to right, with no hump.
        I called no one evil. That was a dumb accusation. I called the state “predatory” because it nearly always become malignant and cancerous over time, reducing the expectations of its constituents’ standard of living. That process is “corruption” of the ideal. If anything, I am calling for more “evil” libertarians, not starry-eyed optimists who can’t judge human nature for what it is.

  7. HI i guess that makes you my cousin leo draveling is my grandpa too so i guess dorthy most of been your mom i never meet her but only heard good things about her i never got to met my grandpa or my grandma either but i know them throgh story’s i’ve heard growing up.

    1. Hey RJ, Yup, Dorothy was my mom. So you’re Leo Jr.’s your dad, I’m guessing. Perhaps we met briefly at Gene’s funeral? Drop me a line some time and tell me what you’re up to.

Comments are closed.