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L. Neil Smith's

Number 852, December 20, 2015

The important question is not
"What's your religion?" but
"How do you feel about the Bill of Rights?"

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Who Loves Liberty More—Liberals or Conservatives?
by Paul Bonneau
[email address witheld by request]

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Back when I was living in Wyoming, I put together a website that purported to rank those in the Wyoming legislature, based on their support of or hostility to liberty. The site is here:

Wyoming Liberty Index

Naturally, that was when I still believed in the utility of political work. I might have been called a minarchist back then as well (although I went back and forth on that one). If some people used the Index to help them unseat liberty-hostile legislators, or support the more liberty-friendly ones, it wouldn't have bothered me; however I stayed out of that end of things, mostly because the ruling class feels the need to punish anyone who influences elections. So much for free speech...

After a while I turned into an anarchist and also moved back to Oregon, so I lost my interest in maintaining this site and in doing the research. I handed it over to Charles Curley, well known in libertarian circles in Wyoming.

I noticed recently he has a new page about recruiting volunteers, to help rate the bills. The part that got my attention is this:

What does it take to be a rater for the Wyoming Liberty Index? If you are fairly conservative or libertarian, and are politically active in Wyoming, you probably qualify.

[You should have] A liberty oriented political philosophy. The Wyoming Liberty Index was started by libertarians as a part of the Free State Project, but you don't have to be a libertarian. Conservatives, conservative-libertarians, constitutionalists and others who are comfortable in this crowd are all welcome.

A minor quibble: this project really had nothing to do with my earlier involvement in the Free State Project, other than the fact that they both involved the use of spreadsheets.

More serious is this notion of calling out conservatives.

Now I should say, before I get into that, that I understand what it means to hand something off to somebody else. It means they own it, not you. So, I have been trying to keep to a low roar any "suggestions" I send to Charles—anyway I am an anarchist, so I shouldn't care. But still, my name is associated with this website, so I do have an interest, even if now a minor one. I was going to just nag Charles some more privately about this, but I thought the subject might be worth a broader sort of investigation and exposure.

My problem is this notion (implicit in the above-noted recruiting of conservatives), that conservatives are naturally more liberty-oriented than liberals are. I don't believe it.

The site was not designed by me to help R politicians get elected, but primarily to help voters understand whether their "representatives" support liberty, and how much—no matter what label was on them.

What's more, I think a lot of people who don't think of themselves as "libertarian", still know what liberty is. They may think a particular liberty ought to be trampled to achieve some other social good they value, but they still understand it is liberty they are trampling.

Virtually anybody could be a rater for the Wyoming Liberty Index, provided they are honest.

Let's take an example. Say there are only two bills this session, one of them allowing "constitutional carry" of firearms, and the other de- criminalizing the growing and smoking of pot. And let's say we have two bill raters, one a conservative and the other a liberal.

The conservative is likely to rate the carry bill as very liberty- enhancing. What does he do with the pot bill? He probably doesn't like it too much, and he may rate it as neutral, or at best a small positive. But if he's honest he won't say it is liberty-hostile. There is no rational way to twist a bill like this into something liberty- hostile.

The liberal is likely to rate the pot bill as very liberty-enhancing. What does he do with the carry bill? He might not like it much, and rate it as neutral, or at best a small positive. But if he's honest he won't say it is liberty-hostile. There is no rational way to twist a bill like this into something liberty-hostile.

When you combine the results of these two raters, neither of them libertarian, you still discover the bills that are liberty-enhancing - both the pot bill and the carry bill. They can then be used to rank the legislators, depending on how they voted.

Notice how the outcome depends on the content of the bills before the legislature. If only bills concerning personal liberty were being voted on, the liberals should come out looking better than the conservatives (in the classic formulation, anyway). If only bills concerning economic liberty were being voted on, the conservatives should come out looking better.

In the long run, I don't really know whether conservatives or liberals are more liberty-friendly; there are an awful lot of issues to base one's judgement on. Liberals seem to fear things (e.g. guns, nuclear power plants and fossil fuels) while conservatives seem to fear people (Mexicans, "blacks" and Muslims). However I believe most really do understand what liberty is, even if they want to curb it in this respect or that, to relieve their fears. They simply do not put it at the very top of their priorities. They are not like Mencken:

"I believe that liberty is the only genuinely valuable thing that men have invented, at least in the field of government, in a thousand years. I believe that it is better to be free than to be not free, even when the former is dangerous and the latter safe. I believe that the finest qualities of man can flourish only in free air—that progress made under the shadow of the policeman's club is false progress, and of no permanent value. I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave."

I hope Charles at least links to this article, explaining my take on this subject. Even recruiting people because they are libertarian is questionable. Recruiting conservatives while ignoring liberals certainly is.

By the way, I can legally smoke pot in liberal old Oregon...

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