Hypothetical Question On Political Parties

I've been having a back-and-forth with Matt McIntosh on the usefulness of libertarian politics and want to ask a question to readers.

Consider a country whose population is 50% libertarian in its views and 50% pro-big government. What will be the 'equilibrium' state of the political parties if this country has a Constitution like that of the US? (vague question I know, but humor me)

One possible answer is that there will be two major parties of relatively equal popularity, one small government pro-libertarian party and one pro-big government party.

What do you think?

Share this

Assuming that the statists

Assuming that the statists and the libertarians are equally distributed by age and gender:

It depends which side has more children on average.

I think that this effect is under analyzed in lots of demographic/political questions.

I read recently that - by certain definitions of terms - something like 50% of the population is pro-life, and 50% is pro-choice...but 60% of children are born into pro-life families.

Without evidence of countervailing processes (e.g. different rates of ideological defection in college) that suggests that the median attitude will be different in 25 yrs than it is today.

(See also: higher fertility rates of Hassidim in Israel as compared to Reformies, etc.)

TJIC

(http://technicalvideorental.com)

Well, if the libertarians of

Well, if the libertarians of the hypothetical party are as anti-voting as libertarians in general, then they'll only get 25% of the vote at best. :razz:

I believe that the US *is* in such a state, and thus in the hypothetical you'd have 2 big government parties scrapping it out for the statist vote, throwing what bones are necessary to get the libertarian 25% of the population that votes to defect to one side or another, which will be in their interests since their fellows won't help thwart the big gov't party via politics. So you'll end up with a rump party of libertarians who are faithful enough to not defect to the 2 parties yet earnest enough to keep voting libertarian. I.E. the 0.34% the LP gets right now...

The critical factor in this situation would be to increase the voting activity of the libertarian half of the country. Even a small reduction in defection to the statist parties would have disproportionate impacts on politics as usual. Sort of the "law of small numbers." Efforts to suppress the libertarian vote via one means or another will have the opposite effect.

Travis, I think the higher

Travis, I think the higher fertility rates of religious & ethnic minorities are balanced out by defection/assimilation of the descendants. The Hasidim have much higher fertility than the secular, reform, or conservative Jewish populations in the US, but they're pretty much still at the same fraction they've always been (this is my impression, I could be wrong).

Over at Gene Expression they talked about this, with the conclusion that only Roman Catholics in the US seem to have bucked the trend for assimilation/defection keeping the fertile minority from 'breeding' to a significant portion of the population.

As far as RC's go, its kind of easy not to defect when the protestants continually liken you to followers of the Antichrist (and not even worthy of 'conversion' like Jews; we're all going straight to hell, don't pass Go, don't collect $200...)

My guess would be that the 2

My guess would be that the 2 parties would sort of cancel each other out, and you would then still have something resembling the Dem/Repub parties that we have now. :end:

Diana

If only the Republicans were

If only the Republicans were the libertarian party and the Democrats the socialists (er...).

Very likely the libertarians

Very likely the libertarians will gravitate towards states where they tend to hold a majority, and socialists will gravitate towards states where they to hold a majority. This will lead to heavy majorities for one or the other in the various states, and a geographically divided Congress. Very likely, secession will result down the line.

- Josh

Assume that there is some

Assume that there is some other characteristic in this world -- race, hair color, profession, opinions on some contentious moral question, religion, whatever, that is distributed such that 90% of your statists and 50% or your libertarians have it. Consider a political measure that would advantage people with this characteristic at the disadvantage of those without it.

I posit that the statists will support this measure (what else, after all, is big government for). They then would need to win over only one fifth of the libertarians who stand to gain from this measure. The political group has not yet been formed that can prevent defections that completely; enough libertarians would defect from the party line and support the measure.

Note that the converse situation does not hold: A characteristic shared by virtually all libertarians and a few statists will not gain majority support, because the libertarians are libertarian.

On this basis, I think that you would see political parties scrambling to find characteristics such as this -- common among the statists, but with just enough support among libertarians to encourage defection -- with which they could piece together majority support.

When a large number of such measures had been enacted, the net result would be a system of transfers from libertarians to statists. This would likely become self-reinforcing, as resources are not useless in swaying political outcomes.

I believe that the eventual outcome would be that people would prosper to the extent that they were statists, and suffer to the extent that they were libertarians.

Funny that some

Funny that some conservatives I know actually think that their party is the party of small government.

As to the question:

A 50% libertarian / 50% socialist country is still subject to the law of concentrated benefits and diffuse losses. So, we should note first that the fact that half of this imaginary country is libertarian doesn't necessarily mean that half of all politicians will follow suit. People who become politicians are generally more self-serving than the rest of us, and even if this weren't true, all of them have a strong interest in catering to the concentrated benefits in their districts to the detriment of those who suffer diffuse losses nation-wide.

For example, the 1/2 of a district who are libertarians don't have a significant interest in protesting (or writing their Congressman or turning out in droves to the polls) because they had to pay $55 extra for their last automobile purchase. But the 1/2 who are socialists and also happen to be steel workers have a strong interest in doing everything short of setting themselves on fire in protest of tariff reduction. So, ceteris paribus, steel tariffs stay high.

Your hypothetical country points out that, even given a significant libertarian population, government will continue to do what it is most prone to: aggrandize and entrench itself to the detriment of individual liberty.

Certainly, constitutions and separation of powers are checks against this trend, but as history has shown, they are limited in effect and staying power.

How similar is this

How similar is this hypothetical situation to what occured in the late 1800's? Until the democrats went to WIlliam Jennings Bryan, weren't they pretty much libertarian while the republicans were the statists?

Also, if we assume the constitution we have today, does that mean if republicans were actually libertarians and democrats were seen as socialists? Or would it mean an entirely different world? Since percent of population doesn't matter so much - the distribution of electoral votes count.

As to the 'equilibrium state' - It really depends on where you are starting. If you start with minimal government the statists will slowly capture different issues. If you start with a large government... I have no idea - I haven't read anything about any governments turning libertarian, I agree with Josh that maybe the equilibrium is the libertarian areas seceding and perhaps war occuring.

(My second Catallarchy link

(My second Catallarchy link in a week, whoo! :) )

I'm not really going to answer the hypothetical because I find that such artificial models are often misleading due to oversimplification.

Most of us are familiar with the arguments why libertarians have an uphill battle when it comes to promoting their policies in the political arena. I don't aim to contest any of that. But we do have the added advantage of having reality on our side. Even if our arguments fail to persuade the statists on their own, history has a way of bearing us out. Let's not forget how, for example, Hayek was initially more or less alone in predicting the inevitable Soviet collapse decades before it happened. Austrian economic theory was more or less ridiculed from the era of the New Deal up until the 70's, but now most of mainstream economics takes a lot of it for granted. Is there any intelligent person who still thinks price controls are a good idea? Etc etc etc.

Yes the path is often a matter of 100 steps forward and 99 back. But that's life. Difficult does not mean impossible. It may be hard to tell sometimes, but by and by we are winning.

Assuming that we are right,

Assuming that we are right, that doesn't guarantee success, or even progress. After all, there's a lot of incentive for others to spread "wrong" beliefs and arguments. Nevertheless, I do think having the truth on our side is another chip in our pile.

I think the question is not, or at least should not be: "How will our ideas fare in the political arena?" but rather, "How will the productivity of our time spent playing politics compare to the productivity of our time spent in other pursuits, writing books, debating friends, funding Anarcho-capitalist causes, etc?"

My general feeling is that the political realm is not comparatively particularly fertile, but I would be happy to be corrected. If we are to have any luck there, it will not be through politics, but rather by spreading education amongst people by our position.

Over all, I think a reputation for good will, honesty, and pragmatism will serve us well in whatever realm we choose to disseminate our ideas. So I spend much of my time honestly debating others, in hopes that I will spark some kind of anarcho-capitalist flame within them--to spread, with luck.

Just like to correct the

Just like to correct the record as it was Mises who first laid out the impossibility of socialist calculation (and thus of rational central planning and advanced industrial production sans property). And done a decade or two before Hayek's Road to Serfdom.

Hayek, of course, was Mises' student...

without scanning through

without scanning through previous comments, this may overlap, but:

The key here is that voters are not distributed 1-dimensionally. So there may be positions which bring in a crucial few percent of the enemy, without alienating your own group. The 2 parties will dance around the center trying to find the platform which best accomplishes this - making them the best choice for their half, and wooing a few opponents.

They do have to worry that if they move too far toward the center, their half will create another party with closer beliefs.

Patri, Note that I did not

Patri,
Note that I did not state any sort of political parties to start with (not sure if that is what you thought), just beliefs among the population. I was asking what the political parties that resulted looked like.

Well, I just glanced the

Well, I just glanced the comments, but a %50 split presuming what, a spectrum or 2 homogenous groups? That distinction would make all the difference in the world.

Well, I just glanced the

Well, I just glanced the comments, but a %50 split presuming what, a spectrum or 2 homogenous groups? That distinction would make all the difference in the world.

I'm not sure. Take your pick.

Matt, I’m not really going

Matt,

I’m not really going to answer the hypothetical because I find that such artificial models are often misleading due to oversimplification.

It's not a model; it's a thought experiment. Just like the Broken Window Fallacy is a thought experiment that cuts through all the nonsense that gets published whenever a natural disaster strikes.

Most libertarians have a fixed amount of resources by which to pursue a free society. I believe it's important to consider this particular question I've posed because it could help figure out whether or not those resources are best spent in the political arena or elsewhere.

Most of us are familiar with the arguments why libertarians have an uphill battle when it comes to promoting their policies in the political arena. I don’t aim to contest any of that.

But how uphill of a battle is it? A rolling hill or Mount Everest?

But we do have the added advantage of having reality on our side. Even if our arguments fail to persuade the statists on their own, history has a way of bearing us out. Let’s not forget how, for example, Hayek was initially more or less alone in predicting the inevitable Soviet collapse decades before it happened. Austrian economic theory was more or less ridiculed from the era of the New Deal up until the 70’s, but now most of mainstream economics takes a lot of it for granted. Is there any intelligent person who still thinks price controls are a good idea? Etc etc etc.

Agree. I wouldn't be blogging if I didn't think our ideas were correct (though I do enjoy it). But this particular question does not relate to whether or not our ideas are correct.

I think that is mostly what

I think that is mostly what we have already, but since the customer (the political party) is going after the marginal good (the swing voter) you will have two big muddle parties targeting that marginal voter and ignoring the non marginal voters, as they already have them in the bag.

Assuming a spectrum, my

Assuming a spectrum, my guess is that we'd have 2 parties (maybe more?) competing for the hypothetical marginal voter who is somewhere in the pro-government 50% The marginal voter would be a pro-government type, of course, because the likelihood of libertarians participating in gov't and democracy is relatively low. Still, I think the marginal voter would be sympathetic to limited gov't views. And finally, on such a spectrum Republicans and Democrats would be irrelevant to the model, because both parties would be far on the "pro-gov't" side. I'm presuming that such a choice between pro-gov't and pro-liberty is inclusive of all policies (social, economic, foreign, etc.) and not selective.

I do not believe that we have a spectrum today where 50% of the public can be truly considered "libertarian," unfortunately. What would a reasonable guess as to the libertarian make-up of our country be? 10%? And that number, sadly, would include a majority of those who sympathize with libertarians but are more interested in short term battles as a Dem. or Rep.

Nice thought-experiment, though. It's important to know why we do try to educate others. Hopefully, once there is a wide-spread and growing libertarian movement, it will lead us somewhere.

Jonathan, Sorry to post this

Jonathan,

Sorry to post this here, but alas, my Blog won't let me post, comment, or edit my spelling errors! Grrrrr . . .

Didn't want you to think I was ignoring your question, and will respond as soon as I'm able -- or I can do it here if you wish.

Diana