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Opening Arguments

Economist who's wrong about everything tries again

What's that you say? No such thing as a libertarian? You, sir, are talking through your, er, hat:

In a recent post , famed economist Paul Krugman claims that “there basically aren’t any libertarians” out there because public opinion breaks down neatly along a liberal-conservative spectrum where almost everyone who favors government intervention in the economy is a social liberal and almost everyone who is skeptical of it is a social conservative. But Krugman cites no data to support his conclusion. And, in fact, extensive survey data contradicts it.

The relevant evidence has been catalogued by David Boaz, polling guru Nate Silver (who is far from being a libertarian himself), and economist Bryan Caplan. Depending on what measures you use, anywhere from about 10% to as many as 44 percent of Americans hold generally libertarian views in the sense that they favor strict limits on government power in both the economic and social spheres. I believe the lower estimates are more credible than the higher ones. But even the former are still a substantial fraction of the population.

Most of these people aren’t as consistent and thoroughgoing in their views as libertarian intellectuals are. But the same can be said of most conservatives and liberals in the general public relative to intellectual advocates of those viewpoints. At least within the Republican Party (which is a major focus of Krugman’s post), the percentage of libertarians is rapidly increasing; younger Republicans are much more libertarian on social issues than their elders, while still being skeptical of government intervention in the economy.

The point is that, while some of us a little more of something than other things, we're all a little bit of everything. Even those of us the most against big government can accept a limited welfare state. Even those most in awe of government power can admit there might be a few things government should stay out of.

As for libertarianism having a growth spurt, I have my doubts. I think it's a philosophy that waxes and wanes depending on how incompetent and/or intrustive government seems at any given moment, and whose ox is getting gored.