Prisoner’s Dilemma-XVIII- Mises Caucus (LibertarianParty)

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The libertarian party is arguably the most disorganized political party in the United States. 

For years, debates have waged over the gulf between the actual political philosophy and the official party’s platform. Many hardcore libertarians feel the party has long since lost its way. For many disillusioned lovers of liberty; the remedy came in the form of the  Mises Caucus founded in 2017. The emergence of this faction within the LP has been met with controversy. As more members of the caucus assume leadership roles within the national party, concerns arise regarding the tendinous social views of this strain of libertarianism. Accusations of racism and transphobia have surfaced and put the Mises Caucus in the crosshairs of LP party leadership.

To the casual observer, this tension in the LP may seem like a new development; but the political in-fighting has been a fixture of the party’s institutional dynamics since its inception in the 1970s. The antipathy sowed between the libertarian establishment and Austro-libertarianism dates back to the founding of the Cato Institute. The intellectual father of the political movement sweeping the structure of the LP was none other than economist Murray Rothbard. Rothbard co-founded the institute with the vision of it being an academic nexus between libertarian thought and Austrian economics. Rothbard’s unwillingness to compromise on Cato’s messaging, he was ousted from the institute. He then moved on to establish the Mises Institute in the early 1980s. It is reasonable to this one event as a manifestation of a major schism within libertarianism. A rivalry formed between the moderate libertarian political philosophy and the convictions of full-on anarcho-capitalism. A system of beliefs exalting ideological purity, articulating rhetoric steeped in social conservatism and the mechanism of Austrian economics.

The competing philosophies of Cato and the Mises Institute are the lines between academic establishment and the populist tendencies of the liberty movement[1]. Cato has the ear of the academy, while the Mises orbit has the ear of the people. However, this is not to say there isn’t a deep tradition of scholarly work within the Austro-libertarian tradition; the cadre of academics advancing this political philosophy has to produce voluminous amounts of literature. Cato has not had the same effect on the advancement of libertarianism on the ground level. Aside from the popularity of Rothbard’s polemical pamphlets in the 1970s and 1980s; the movement gained new life in the 2000s with the Presidential campaign of Ron Paul. The Cato Institute attempted to distance itself from Ron Paul for his reluctance to condemn political extremism. Former Senator Paul was an instrumental figure in founding the Mises Institute. He has also had longstanding professional relationships with figures such as Lew Rockwell and Rothbard.

The variety of libertarianism with a hint of social conservatism advocated for by Ron Paul and the Mises Institute cannot disavow extremism as it is part of their political strategy. In contrast to the libertarian establishment, Austro-libertarians have formed alliances with paleo-conservatives, injecting planks of Old Right sensibilities into their platform. Libertarians favoring this hard-right strategy perceive the virtues of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism to be treasonous to individual liberty. Many Rothbardians/Hoppeans believe that policies such as open immigration will erode cultural identity, and private property rights and expand the welfare state.

This is not to insinuate that the Mises Institute nor Ron Paul’s campaign was managed by Klansmen. That would be a bad faith assessment of the political dynamics of Austro-libertarianism, there is not enough evidence to make such a claim. The attempts to annex populous conservatives and the far-right were more pragmatism on Rothbard’s part. The run-of-the-mill country club Reaganite Republican will not have any appetite to “end the fed”; naturally this individual would be a lackluster bedfellow in such an endeavor. On the other hand, a gentleman living in the rural south, raised in an environment of culturally entrenched conservatism and a distaste for centralization, would be a more likely partner in crime.

 Rothbard could foresee the logical instability in the Reaganite brand of “fusionism”. The political progeny of National Review editor Frank Meyer; a doctrine suggesting that libertarians and conservatives should make minor compromises and join forces to gain more ground in American politics. Realistically, this approach is shortsighted in a climate of winner-take-all politics. Disagreements on core wedge issues will eventually create fault lines that cannot be repaired. Rothbard’s vision of liberty was immoderate and immune from the debasing effects of implicit logrolling.

The strife between the two warring factions of libertarianism is nothing short of a textbook example of a prisoner’s dilemma. Frank Meyer was not off base with such a suggestion of political compromise, but neither party agrees to make any concessions. The very stance of the Mises Caucus and other Austro-libertarian organizations is nothing more than an automatic defection. Their hard-nosed commitment to ideological integrity has already taken the possibility of bargaining off the table. Developing a libertarian with the rigidity of Aristotle’s ethical virtue of “right reason”; which is utterly inflexible. The libertarian insiders in the Washington D.C. belt away may garner more appeal to establishments and academics outside of the movement; due to their ideological moderation. These movers and shakers at the think tanks have made no effort to reach out to the populous wing of the libertarian party[2]. If anything, they have either ignored or condemned Ron Paul supporters as hopeless racists or conspiracy-mongering dingbats. None of this is productive when it comes to advancing a political philosophy. It is as much of defection as the resolute principles of the droves of lay libertarians regularly reading the Mises Wire.

The suboptimal results engendered by this mutual defection should be conspicuous; we have yet to have had a true Libertarian in the oval office since the establishment of the official party. The overall lack of consensus has stymied libertarianism’s influence on American politics. There are always several groups arguing over what libertarianism truly is; instead of working together to make an impact. This gives outsiders the impression that libertarians are politically disorganized. It is not that they are a bunch of lazy hippies, bearded mountain men, or a gaggle of goofy naked men kvetching about drivers’ licenses. The party has been sidetracked by years of internal conflict, making this turmoil the ultimate collective action problem.

Footnotes:

  1. The Mises Caucus might be the “Trump moment” for the LP, a populous takeover of the formal structure of the political organization.

2. This is not a defense of the Mises Caucus nor a jab at the libertarian establishment. Rather, it is an expression of how neither subset of the LP is willing to compromise with the other.

Prisoner’s Dilemmas- XVII- Media Coverage of Mass Shootings (Columbine to Uvalde) 

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 In the immediate aftermath of any tragedy, we often struggle to make sense of the situation. The senseless loss of life following a mass shooting is no exception. Various experts and media talking heads list all the potential antecedents that pushed a mentally unstable person to commit such an atrocity. The frequently cited causes of domestic mass murder include bellicose political rhetoricviolent song lyricspsychiatric drugsvideo games, disenfranchisement, mental health issues, and access to firearms (although the effect of gun control on preventing such events is inconclusive).

It would be rash to assume that any one of these purported preconditions for molding a mass murder is the sole reason for these tragedies. It is more likely that various environmental, genetic, and social factors drive a person to perpetrate such heinous acts. One potential cause of violence that often gets overlooked; is media coverage of such incidents [1].

Even when we take a cursory view of the incentives of media outlets, they are not going to take any responsibility for inspiring new school shooters and other varieties of a deranged shooter. After all, they are the mouthpiece for all the experts touting the evils of Marilyn Manson (I apologize for the dated reference), political extremism, and guns. Fixating on these gruesome stories and participating in conspiratorial conjecture about the impetus was for a demented young man to kill innocent people. Sadly, negativity sells, making it lucrative for business. Human beings are plagued by what is known as the negativity bias; we are more apt to engage with articles or news programming that has a negative tone. News outlets lay into this bias by exaggerating the severity of negative news. Validated by the fact that fifty percent (p.5) of news coverage features stories on crime. Media companies have a lot to gain from obsessively presenting all the gory updates on the Uvalde massacre. Business is good when you have audience captivity by the horror and depravity of a madman.

At its core, the dynamics of how media outlets cover mass shootings is a Prisoner’s Dilemma. The media companies act in their self-interest by bombarding us with all the horrific details of these mass killing events. This is done so with little consideration for the ethical consequence of how the story is framed. Typically, there is more coverage of the perpetrator than on the heroes who intervened and stopped the killing spree or even the victims (p.22). The tight focus on the gunman aggrandizes the image of the killer. In the mind of narcissistic (p.16) or otherwise mentally unstable people, they become the protagonist in the story of a folk anti-hero. The previous mass shooter serves as a template for how to quickly gain notoriety. In the canonical literature, there is a model known as the contagion effect, where essentially publicized shootings beget more publicized shootings. We begin to see copycat shooters. A 1999 study found that “.. of 83 would-be mass killers or assassins, who noted that evidence in their belongings or writings indicated that 38% of them emulated previous killers…”(p.24). A 2013 study, found a positive correlation between tweets about mass shootings and the likelihood of another one occurring (p.27). The shooters end up “defecting” by orchestrating and executing a shooting event, believing they are acting in their self-interest by indulging their angst and narcissism.

The suboptimal results in this situation would be the victims of the shooting. They are merely collateral damage in the pursuits of media outlets and mass shooters. Truly this mutual defection is the story of excesses. Whether it be improperly channeled rage, vanity, and narcissism or profit and callous political opportunism [2], innocent people had to die to achieve these ends.  

Footnotes

1.) The suggestion that the media companies bare some responsibility for mass shootings is not an indictment of capitalism or freedom of the press. This presents an ironic fact; news outlets blame many distal factors for shootings; it never occurs to them to look in the mirror. Especially considering that most mass murders have proclivities towards narcissism. 

2.) The incentives structure of media outlets may extend beyond the profit-loss mechanism, as they are generally ideologically driven. Many of the news channels and publications of esteem are politically left-wing, meaning they may also have anti-gun agenda. In effect; driving the obsessive coverage of gun violence.

The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling: Bodily Integrity- Newports and Roe

The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling (Clark, 2021) demonstrates how intra-platform vote trading can lead voters to hold logically inconsistent policy positions. One example is; a Republican purporting to be Pro-life but concurrently supporting an aggressive foreign policy. In the current political climate of the United States, the topic of bodily integrity appears to be the nexus of the most salient examples of this phenomenon. After all, the genesis of this paradox came from the incongruency of Democrats favoring vaccine mandates (93 % of poll Democrats support mandates applied to private companies) and simultaneously defending Roe v. Wade from the standpoint of bodily integrity. 

However, the current trends in the Democratic party’s policy platform‘s lack of logical continuity regarding bodily integrity are evident from the policies the party has recently supported. Last week, the Biden Administration announced a plan to move forward with a national ban on mentholated cigarettes. A measure favored by 57 % of Democrats polled. The fervor of Pro-choice (predominately left-leaning voters) advocates protesting and repudiating the decision in the leaked draft of the Dobbs case. 

These examples are not intended to shame modern liberals, nor are these normative value judgments regarding their ideological positions; these examples are merely observations derived from an applied static model. The bundle of policies favored by the Republican party is also rife with logical contradictions. The DNC seems to be providing us with most of the conspicuous examples of this paradox. The fact that the Dobbs case and the menthol ban magnifies how the topic of bodily integrity causes political parties to adopt policy preferences that pose philosophical contraventions. If it is rational to assume that electing to obtain an abortion is a matter of self-ownership, then would not the same apply to an adult choosing to smoke Newports? It is perplexing how this lapse in logic eludes many folks on the left. President Biden openly spoke out on the Dobbs decision but opted to proceed with nationwide menthol prohibition. It is possible his vocal criticism of the SCOTUS draft decision is a political maneuver to curve the disappointment of the Progressive-wing of the DNC with his centrist policies. Making the correct statements on the right wedge issue can be gold in the sphere of social currency. 

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The Menu Board Theory of Voting

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The Menu Board Theory of Voting:

If the government is a service provider, a middleman providing goods and services to the public, the policy is nothing more than purchasing choice. Laws, regulations, government programs, infrastructure, and other services are chosen or “purchased” by voters and elected representatives. Every form of government action does incur monetary costs, as it is necessary to pay the program staff responsible for administration, implementation, and compliance. There is a direct parallel between purchasing goods on the private market and the policy selection process. But on a more abstract level, it is like a market exchange since even voters and decision-makers are making tradeoffs in this exchange for a specific policy. Therefore, providing some validation for the observation of politics being an exchange.

The one voting scenario that most proves this point is state-level referendums. The most salient issue placed on state ballots in recent years has Propositions seeking to legalize, tax, and regulation of Marijuana. Choosing to vote in favor of or against the proposition question is somewhat analogous to ordering a combo meal at a fast-food restaurant. Arguably, taxes and regulation are more features of implicit logrolling. In the form of the Marijuana legalization ballot question, they are complementary goods. Most polls indicate that the public favors regulation (especially when it comes to consumer protection), perceiving it as a necessary service necessary to be protected from delirious products. The excise taxes collected from Marijuana sales; can be used to fund other government-provided services. Few citizens are willing to challenge the veracity of sin taxes. The abolition of restrictions on Marijuana sales and consumption would be the proverbial burger, while the regulations and taxes are the fries and drink. It is important to note that a minority of (when compared to all voters) cannabis consumers and vendors will find these concessions onerous. 

What about forms of political voting that include bundled goods? The best example is an election where the constituents vote for elected officials. Each candidate (typically corresponding with an established political party) has a platform, in other words, a collection of various policies they support. The political consumer is still selecting options from the menu board, but it is more like purchasing cable television services back in the 1990s. Several packages give a different grouping of 500 channels; the patron cannot simply omit or cherry-pick the channels they want. If a voter selects a Republican candidate because they oppose gun control, they are not just selecting looser gun laws but every other policy in the candidate’s campaign platform.

Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012)- Part II

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The religion and mythology of Greek antiquity were heavily an integral component of the lives of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greeks as a civilization worshipped the same pantheon of deities; however, each individual city-state has a patron deity that was extensively venerated by the citizens of that polis. The manner in which the patron deity was portrayed and their role in mythology often influenced the culture of the polis. The most conscious example of this was in the ancient city-state of Athens, the citizens of which often derived rituals, values, and concepts from the mythological depictions of their patron goddess Athena. The patron goddess of Athens influenced the form of Athenian government, perspective on education, rituals of celebration, and the local function of their institutions of worship.

In the city-state of Athens much like other city-states, religion and mythology were closely intertwined. Athena was a prevalent figure throughout Greek mythology (Mikalson, 68). Athena was often depicted as the following: a cultural hero, a figure of protection, a virgin deity, and a rival of Ares, the Greek god of war. Athena is known as a cultural hero for her role in establishing the crucial institutions of Greek life (Hoffman, 277). She was responsible for life-sustaining institutions such as arts and crafts, wisdom, the structure and order of law, shipbuilding, domestic chores such as cooking, mathematics, etc. (Burkert, 140-141; Graves, 96).

Athena often acted as a protective figure that tended to guide a hero or the Greek people away from harm.  Examples of such accounts are ample, for instance, her aid to Hercules in the myth of Twelfth Labor: The Capture of Cerberus, his task of capturing the dog, Cerberus, from Tartarus, offering him guidance and moral support (Graves, 514-517). Athena was portrayed as being a deity that never engaged in any sort of amorous activity and zealously guarded her prudish nature. The account of Teiresias being blinded by Athena while watching her bathe clearly illustrated this attribute (Graves, 327). Athena has also been depicted as a rival of the god of war, Ares.  Ares tended to be viewed as the boorish representation of offensive warfare, while Athena was the representation of strategic and defensive aspects of war (Burkert, 141, 169).

It is important to realize the cultural context in which Athena was venerated in ancient Athens, the same polis which first developed the institution of Democracy. This development was rooted in the Solonian reform (594 BCE) and came to fruition during the era of Cleisthenesian leadership (508 BCE). Under Cleisthenes is where pure democracy was developed. A form of democracy in which average citizens had an actual say in making policy and were selected to the Assembly or boule, by lot for an annual term. Individual citizens who disagreed with policy had the ability to issue a “writ of unconstitutionality” to formally express any grievances (Starr, 46-47, 50-53). Both developments created a sense of socio-economical equity with regard to the political rights of the polis.

It appears as if this cultural development is rooted in the founding mythology of the city-state. The city-state of Athens has a strong sense of national identity coupled with a sense of equality among the citizens of equal status (Athenian-born male landowners). It is speculated that this value of equality among Athenian men is what engendered the establishment of the first democracy. This sense of equality among Athenian men stems from a myth in which they are identified as having a common lineage with an early Athenian king, Erectheus, who was cared for by Athena (Mikalson, 58-59; Starr, 50-52).  The myth depicting the birth of the first Athenian king begins with an account of Hephaestus attempting to sexually force himself upon Athena. She halts this attempt, but Hephaestus does end up ejaculating on her thigh.  She wipes off the discharge and lets the semen fall on the ground, thereby creating Erectheus. Fulfilling her role as a protective figure, Athena watches over him until he ascends to the throne of Attica and institutes the worship of his protective surrogate mother (Gantz, 77; Graves 96-97). This myth rationalizes direct democracy through the concept of the divine right of kings, a premise based on the idea that authority and order are derived from divine will (Leonard & McClure, 192-193). Due to Athenians being decedents of the chosen king, they are all of equal status and all participated in running the government. This clearly illustrates how humans tend to utilize myths to justify governmental authority.

True to the depictions of Athena, the Athenians held wisdom and education in high esteem. Formal education was available in the polis; however, contrary to Athens’s lack of social stratification in politics, it seems as if it was a privilege of the wealthy. Formal Athenian education was diverse and included: poetry, music, rhetoric, physical training, grammar, didactic, writing, and logic.  All of this suggests a very holistic approach to the education of young affluent males. Formal higher education was available in the form of academies founded by philosophical thinkers such as Isocrates and Plato, which was a development that transpired around the 4th century in Athens. However, male children of lesser affluence were often taught to read at home due to the skill playing a vital role in citizenship (Starr, 44, 61-63; Webster, 59-63, 67).  Athenian males of voting status pursued knowledge in order to be competent participants in the political process, illustrating the value of knowledge (Beye, 113). It is quite evident that the form of democracy practiced in ancient Athens did have an influence on the Athenian values of education and knowledge because of the high degree of civic involvement. However, the city-state’s patron goddess’s influence cannot be ignored when examining this cultural value. Athena has been depicted in Greek mythology as being the divine manifestation of wisdom (Hamilton, 29).  This is shown in the myth of The Wooden Horse, in which Athena suggests using a wooden horse as an effective means of covertly sneaking troops into Troy, which proves to be a worthwhile strategy (Graves, 692, 696). Just as their patron deity inspired the proper application of knowledge, Athenians in the classical era used wisdom to stay informed, so they could govern themselves, instead of succumbing to the consequences of detrimental policies. The value of education is more directly influenced by mythology since Athena created many of the academic disciplines that existed.  She is known to be the deity that taught Prometheus math, astronomy, medicine, architecture, and other fields of study (Graves, 39).

The Bridge Between Partisan Voters and The Paradox of Implict Logrolling

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Political ideologies often develop in a manner that is independent of logical continuity. Political parties adopt platforms that hold philosophically inconsistent policy positions. Can an exponent of the death penalty or a hawkish foreign policy be sincerely “pro-life”? Can a pro-choice activist honestly defend bodily integrity if they support vaccine mandates? Both examples display some of the most salient normative incongruencies of the American conservatives and liberals. This phenomenon is a formal category in observations asserted in Peter Clark’s micropaper The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling (2021):

“…The process of Implicit Logrolling (Buchanan & Tullock,1962) is a form of indirect vote-trading that heavily relies on the bundling of wedge issues. By way of tying specific groupings of policies to attract targeted demographics of voters to a political platform. This political strategy is especially effective in capturing the commitment of single-issue voters. These voters need to tacitly accept the rest of the policies on the political platform to have their one area of interest acknowledged. This is why implicit logrolling is such an effective mechanism in shaping the American political landscape.

Most analysts ignore how voters reconcile selecting programs and political candidates that hold logically inconsistent views. For example, an individual that defends abortion rights on the grounds of a bodily integrity argument concurrently favoring vaccine mandates. Here is where the Paradox of Implicit Logrolling comes in; voters then must rationalize these discrepancies due to the lack of logical consistency. In vote trading, the individual voter expects to make some concessions. However, when these concessions present logical and philosophical contradictions, few people question the conflict. In short, the paradox describes how people are willing to accept contrary political positions if parceled with a party or policy they favor..”

The bundling of various “wedge issues”; might force many voters to justify supporting positions they would not usually. Even if these disjointed amalgamations of policy positions logically cancel each other out. What about voters that consider themselves diehard partisans? The role of implicit logrolling is much more salient on singe issue voters than on unwavering party members. It is difficult to assess if the bundling of opposing political positions does generate some cognitive dissonance among entrenched members. Typically, these political actors only outwardly convey rhetoric consistent with party loyalty, displaying the tribalism of contemporary politics. 

The recent article Political Preferences and Public Policy, written by economist Randall Holcombe provides some insights into how party loyalists end up getting locked into advocating for specific policy platforms. Holcombe suggests that political elites contrive the policy positions that a party endorses; voters merely attempt to conform to these sets of political beliefs. Per his article:

“…Citizens and voters anchor on political identity. It might be a party, a candidate, or an ideology. Most of their political preferences are then derivative of that identity. People don’t think: I support a woman’s right to have an abortion, I support more gun control, I believe the government should be more involved in health care, and I think impediments to voting should be relaxed. Therefore, I am a Democrat. The reasoning goes the other way. People identify as Democrats; therefore, they support a woman’s right to have an abortion, more gun control, and so forth.

Citizens and voters adapt their public policy preferences from the political elite–the people who determine public policy…”

Some may interpret Holcombe’s observations as invalidating The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling, but it supports the theory. Why? It is easy to perceive this article as conveying the top-down nature of advocacy selections by formal political parties superseding all over mechanisms for cultivating political preferences; there are a few points to consider. For one, single-issue voters are taxonomically a sub-ideology. It may be true that a dedicated Republican, maybe a party member first and then adopt all the views held by the GOP. In contrast, a single-issue voter is (e.g.) a gun-rights activist first; their party affiliation is merely a second-tier political identity for this individual. Since the gun-rights activist will side with whatever political movement is most advantageous for their ends, they naturally have to acquiesce to policies they have no interest in or may even personally oppose.

Holcombe’s article also supports this theory because his observations imply that most voters do not critically evaluate the positions held by the party they conform to. In many cases, ride-or-die party members never give themselves a chance to ascertain whether they possess conflicting views by labeling themselves a Democrat or a Republican. These voters are preoccupied with aligning their discourse and beliefs to the tenants their self-professed political affiliation. Demonstrating the folly of an individual picking their label before choosing the core philosophical values guiding their political decision-making, they allow party designation to rule their decision at the ballot box.

Overall, Holcombe provides a conceptual bridge for the connection of the Implicit Logrolling Paradox to hardline partisan voters. In most cases, these strongholds within various subsets of voting Americans assimilate to political factions with little consideration of the long-term consequences since partisan loyalties take primacy. Further exploring the mechanisms of issue bundling in party platforms might shed more light on America’s currently contentious political climate. 

Bodily Integrity Arguments and Misapplications

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People have the unfortunate tendency of favoring reasoning that is favorable to their preferences. Once an individual encounters the same logic applied to a position they disagree with, the application is assumed to be invalid. The abortion debate is no different in this respect. Pro-Choice advocates basing their stance on the logic of bodily integrity must be willing to extrapolate this same principle to other situations. Anything else would merely be convenient cherry-picking.

For example, advocating for choice regarding bodily integrity also applies to several other controversial topics. Such subject areas include drug use, the right to commit suicide, and objections to vaccine mandates, to name a few. Despite any Pro-Choice advocate’s misgivings about permitting the listed rights above to be consistent, they must begrudgingly accept that these are rights that cannot be prohibited by law. Any counterargument or suggestion to criminalize the above positions is a deviation from the logic of bodily integrity. Permitting an activity does not mean you believe it is moral. Moreover, this argument is predicated on an externalities argument; in a rash attempt to weigh the societal costs.

However, many Pro-Choice proponents may then surmise that individuals defending the decision to use drugs, commit suicide, and decline immunizations must accept abortion as a permissible procedure. Reverse application is not quite so linear and has several complications. Indeed, abortion presents a predicament for exponents of a Lockean conception of self-ownership. In one sense, abortion violates the Lockean notion of self-ownership. As Locke asserts that we cannot “… nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other… or take away the life or property of another..”(p.43)[1].

If we define the fetus as a living being, there is a conflict between the mother and the unborn child. Drug abuse, refusing immunization, and suicide confines direct bodily harm to the individual making the decision, thereby comporting with the tenants of the Non-Aggression Principle. Although, even in a legal sense, living children do not have rights[2] as they are under the guardianship of their parents. Also, if we truly own ourselves, can’t we choose which procedures we can have performed on our bodies? There is no easy solution to this complex and taxing quandary. 

Foot Notes:

1.) I omitted the portion of the quote regarding self-destruction. This portion of the doctrine is wholly illegitimate. If we own bodies, we have a right to dispose of ourselves; if God exists, he transferred our spirit to our corporal bodies. Through this transfer, God relinquishes ownership of our essence extending to us full possession of our bodies. Meaning we can maintain our physical bodies how we see fit, including but not limited to drug use and suicide.

2.) See Rothbard pages 97-113.

The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling

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The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling

The process of implicit logrolling (p.101) is a form of indirect vote-trading that heavily relies on the bundling of wedge issues. By way of tying specific groupings of policies and candidates to attract target demographics of voters. Per Buchanan and Tullock (1962), such arrangements encompassing political platforms can be manipulated by “…political entrepreneurs…”. Simultaneously considering the zealous nature of many single-issue voters, it is easy to see why implicit logrolling is such an effective mechanism in shaping the American political landscape. If the American voters continue to support controversial political positions, implicit logrolling will be effective.

Most analysts ignore how voters reconcile selecting programs and political candidates that hold logically inconsistent views. For example, an individual that defends abortion rights on the grounds of a bodily integrity argument concurrently favoring vaccine mandates. Whatever happened to “my body, my choice”? Although, if this individual held both positions on the grounds of an externalities argument, perhaps there might not be any logical discrepancies. However, few voters delve that deep into the logic of their political philosophies. Here lies the Paradox of Implicit Logrolling; political platforms drive voters to support policies they would not otherwise choose. We have most saliently observed this phenomenon in the demographic shifts within the Republican Party. The GOP was once favoring free trade, now advocates for tariffs.

Abortion: An Oversimplified Issue

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 The abortion debate is arguably one of the most oversimplified contentious issues in all of public policy. The intricacies of navigating the legal statutes and case precedence that shapes the regulations governing the practice are oftentimes are glossed over in public discourse. This rash reductionist approach has shifted a complex topic into a simple categorical dichotomy. Easily making it a fervent “wedge issue” that has formulated many pithy platitudes and “bump-sticker slogans”.  These slogans which are so pleasing to the ear could have effortless you contrived by a marketing team. All operate more like a carefully constructed marketing campaign than a multi-disciplinary analysis. This not only makes the abortion debate stale and uninspiring but highly predictable because both sides of the fence utilize an “all-or-nothing” strategy of argumentation.  This is highly imprecise for a subject that is steeped in nuisance and minuscule details.  Below is the list of disciplines that intersect in the abortion debate:

  • Medicine
  • Science
  • Philosophy/Logic/ Ethics
  • Political Science
  • Law
  • Theology
  • Sociology
  • History
  • Economics

If a pertinent area of study was neglected, I sincerely apologize. However, while not completely exhaustive, this list conveys exactly how complex the issue is. The intersection of all these vast areas of study converges on a single point,  the refutation or the defense of  Roe V. Wade (1972). This one case has become the quintessential Schellingian focal point in the abortion debate. Potentially providing some insight into why the debate is so one-dimensional.   

Lysander Spooner Week

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I officially declare the week of January 19th Lysander Spooner week. To commemorate the birthday of this legendary contributor to anarcho-political theory. I am proud to say I happen to share a birthday with this renowned theorist. Not to mention one that was heavily influential on the development of anarcho-capitalism (although arguably Spooner had some socialistic tendencies).  Next week, I will attempt to dedicate two essays to the life and work of Spooner. I will not allow this influential figure in Libertarian political theory to become a minuscule footnote!

The Storming of the Capitol

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the past forty-eight hours, you probably have heard about a mob of protestors storming the Capitol in Washington D.C. Since this incident transpired a multitude of commentators has expressed their thoughts on this event. Universally, the actions of the violent protestors (similar to the BLM protests not all the demonstrators were violent) have been condemned. Most pundits have been fixated with how objectionable this display of political discord was but ignoring the irony of the situation. The breach of the Capitol on Wednesday mirrors the events on inauguration day nearly four years ago. Sure we could argue that the magnitude of the violent demonstrations was larger on Wednesday than the riots of ANTIFA four years prior. It should also be noted that ANTIFA primarily targeted private businesses whereas QAnon has primarily gone after government institutions. Both occurrences mirror each other, almost in an oddly formed reciprocal loop.

The arc of this political drama being Donald Trump losing reelection. On inauguration day in 2017, the extreme socialists opposing his presidency resorted to destroying private property to express their indignation. A presidential term later, Trump’s most extreme supports ended up using similar violent tactics to express their angst regarding the purported mishandling of the 2020 election. This shift in vicissitudes for Trump supporters is dripping with irony. Trump supporters are making all the same accusations about the 2020 election that the Democrats did back in 2016 when Trump was elected. Nothing is more fitting than seeing the right-wing equivalent of ANTIFA have a meltdown, a tantrum, over the election results. All of Trump’s most extreme supporters are equally triggered as all the socialists were when he assumed office. It is perplexing that no one else seems to be assumed by this irony. An irony that anyone with a dog in the fight is too obtuse to recognize. Due to the fact they either have an invested interest in backing or tearing down Trump.

From a superficial standpoint, this appears to give some credence to the notion of the Horseshoe Theory of Politics. Succinctly it can be described as the far-right and the far-left qualitatively have more in commonalities than differences. For example, both have a proclivity toward authoritarianism. This theory provides some insights into why Trump assuming office and leaving office has elicited such reactionary responses. Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises implies the veracity of the Horseshoe Theory through his conception of Polylogism. Polylogism is essentially the assumption that people from different categorical groups reason differently (p.75). Left-wing socialists tend to base their assumption of all people of the same social class possessing the same mentality. Making it easier to condemn the rich as immoral. Right-wing social (Fascism) similarly divides people. Except by ethnicity instead of socio-economic status. It would be sloppy to suggest that QAnon is overtly a fascist organization. It does seem like it is merely the inverted version of ANTIFA with a right-wing ethos. Surprise, surprise… if this group is nothing more than the conservative version of ANTIFA why would we expect them to be peaceful (not that the violence was justified, it is only permissible in self-defense)?

This is truly irksome that these parallels are lost on the general public. Most people are too fixated on either the atrocity of the protest gone awry or attempting to distance themselves from being associated with the violent protestors. ANIFTA and QAnon are two sides of the same coin.

Abolish The Electoral College: An Argument of Convenience

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It felt like just yesterday droves of indignant voters were decrying the Electoral College as an unjust institution.  Any attempt to verify or even discuss the election results precipitously degenerated into a circus sideshow event. These calamitous episodic displays of hysteria were four years ago. Another Presidential election cycle has come and gone. It superficially appears as if the candidate with the electoral and the popular vote won their seat in the Oval office. All must be right in the world. Karma has been restored. The cosmos is back in alignment. Hopefully, the tantrums and other displays of poor deportment will subside.

The pacified consensus has been magnified by the utter silence on the front of the Electoral College debate. Many would counter this criticism by stating that the candidate with the popular vote won, why do we need continue to reevaluate this system? From a utilitarian standpoint, there is some credence to this dismal. To be fair it is something of an anomaly (having only occurred in this nation’s history five times). The irony being many who are relatively unconcerned now regarding the Electoral College were some of the most vociferous critics of the institution back in 2016, How can an individual be so passionately inclined to denounce this institution four years ago to now possessing a tepid acquiesce of its existence? It possibly the masses have changed their opinion regarding the Electoral College and its role in determining national elections? The probability of this occurring is highly unlikely. What is more probable is that those who disliked the 2016 president-elect utilized it as a point of contention to delegitimatize the conditions under which he assumed office. In other words, there was little concern regarding the Electoral College. The public outcry was nothing more than political opportunism. A feeble attempt to use this fact to mobilize the impeachment campaign.  Rather than a principled stance against the voter’s voice being muted by an institutional safeguard.

An individual who fundamentally opposes such the Electoral College will do so regardless of who sits in office. Hardly anyone with strong convictions on issues ranging from gun control to abortion is going to change their position based upon slight alterations to the political climate. Why is such ideological promiscuity viewed as being consistent? This shift could be attributed to voter fickleness. However, I am more persuaded by the notion that this is a byproduct of political bias. Opponents of the populous right-wing candidate took every strategic angle they could to oust him from office. The first line of attack was to gripe about the institutions that made his victory possible. The murmurs of protest and despair were highly visceral and reactionary. Few were questioning the inner-mechanics of this electoral apparatus nor made any legal arguments against it nor provided any arguments of any technical fortitude. Resorting to vague and sweeping statements about how this system was nothing but perverted. With little in the way of facts and figures substantiating these emotionally charged claims.

Now that Joe Biden has secured victory and he has won the popular vote, all I now hear are crickets! No one seems to care. The same people exalting the position that the Electoral College is an anachronism— nothing more than a hangover from the era of powdered-wigs, are curiously silent. Odds are they are content with the elected official who will soon grace the Whitehouse. Giving the observant political spectator the impression, these individuals truly didn’t care about the Electoral College. The genuine aims of these invested interests and the duped masses were to contest the presidency of Donald Trump at all costs. Trump was far from perfect. He made grandiose promises, he was dishonest, and weaponized entitlements as a bargaining chip in his risky game of political brinksmanship. Then again, these actions are no different than those taken by any politician. If anything, this behavior could be seen as an attempt to assimilate into his new role. All of this is par for the course. What set him apart from the establishment was his lack of finesse or tact. Most politicians treat their true agenda like a high stakes poker game. Trump was dumb enough to reveal his hand. Machiavelli didn’t expound upon the strategic intricacies of “statecraft” for idle conservation. The polished statesman understands the truth-and-perception gap intimately and strategically. Blatantly ignoring these nuances of political norms made Trump a target. Making the motivation to mobilizing the average voter to create a stir top priority. Early on the most salient targets were stress the potential of Russian meddling and deride the Electoral College. Now that a “real politician” has won the election, abolishing the Electoral College has fallen off the agenda.

If someone sincerely believes that the Electoral College was a hindrance to our society they would hold this position regardless of which one of the hollow and spineless marionettes became commander-in-chief. Unfortunately, it seems as if for most of these aggressive opponents this was nothing more than an argument of convenience. Nothing more than low-hanging fruit. That they blithely used as a lazy argument to advance their agenda. Anyone with clout doesn’t care if the vote of a regular constituent carries any weight in an election. However, if you can control public perception you win the game. That’s all political process is a puerile and trivial game with no room for principles, ethics, or wise policies.     

Trump Appointing A Supreme Court Nominee Late in The Election Cycle: Is This Legal?

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The Trump administration has drawn some controversy by appointing a Supreme Court Justice less than 90 days away from the presidential election. The president has declared Saturday he will publicly announce his replacement for longstanding Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Many pundits find this move distaste full for two main reasons.  First off, this decision is being made only eight days after the passing of Justice Ginsberg. The other concern is Trump selecting a justice within months of an election. Public sentiment seems to be leaning towards allowing the winner of the 2020 election to fill this vacancy. The issue with public sentiment is that it seldomly considers the law of the land. Often is fueled by visceral passions more so than reason.

However, I would be derelict in my duties as an armchair commentator if didn’t voice some criticism of the Trump administration. Let’s face it, even if Trump does not get reelected, filling the vacancy with another conservative justice will contribute positively to his presidential legacy. Help retain a strong right-wing influence even if Joe Biden is elected. Making the action of quickly selecting another justice before the election boldly strategic.  Before you dog-pile on trump, just remember this variety of behavior is common among presidents at the end of their term. Prior to Obama leaving office he passed a record-setting number of regulations. Why would any elected official do this? Because they are making a last-ditch effort to implement any agenda focal points that hadn’t been previously enacted. Once you hit the level of President of the United States you are no longer vying for money or power. You are vying for your legacy. Imagine what the paragraphs under your photo in a history textbook will convey. The portrait of a strong leader or that of a half-witted and cowardly buffoon.  

The real question should be is it legal for Trump to appoint a new justice this late in the election cycle? Formally, there isn’t anything legally holding him back. The decision of whether to make this selection is more a matter of adherence to social conventions than being a legal matter. Historically, there was only one other instance of a Supreme Court Justice passing away within 90 days of a presidential election.  This was the passing of Justice Taney 27 days before the election of 1864. Lincoln opted to delay the appointment until reelection. What most people express precedence dictating that the present should wait until the election is over before appointing a new justice is invoking the Thurmond Rule. This informal and dates back to Senator Thurmond blocking LBJ’s appointment of Abe Fortas to chief justice. When Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016 republicans cited the Thurmond Rule in their objection to Obama selecting a new Justice in an election year. Clearing there is nothing legally binding that prohibits Trump from making the appointment.

Considering that Trump’s decision is legal, any concerns are more aimed at him not respecting social conventions. If you are attempting to cultivate a positive public image, being so bold and brash might not be the best strategy. Then again we are discussing a president who ascended to his lofty perch by breaking ties with social conventions. Coincidentally, it has been somewhat effective. Then again, this may have been unique to the peculiarities of the 2016 American culture. Seldom does drifting away from a Nash-Equilibrium strategy ensure success.

Tocqueville and The Free Press

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Over the past couple of years, the issue of media bias has become a regular talking point in public discourse. Contrary to popular belief, “fake news” has existed long before the advent of the 2016 election cycle. However, some may cite the work of William Meckling and Michael Jensen and claim that left-wing media has existed since at least the late 1970s (P. 49). One only needs to read Barry Goldwater’s 1988 memoirs to see how media coverage mispresented him during his 1964 presidential campaign. Media bias is not relegated to only left-wing media outlets. Conservative publications also suffer from distorting the facts when reporting the news. Liberal media bias is just more salient since liberals dominate the media. When ideologically loaded editorials start being presented as information this is problematic. Regardless of which political proclivities of the author or correspondent. This is nothing more than clear deception. A snake oil salesman presenting opinions as information. Talk about being sold a false bill of goods!

Alexis De Tocqueville reveals to us in Democracy in America that media bias also existed in the 19th century.

“What the latter look for in newspapers are knowledge and facts; only by altering or distorting these facts a journalist can gain some influence over his views (Tocqueville, Transl. Isaac Kramnick, P. 216-217)”.

Tocqueville didn’t dwell on the biased nature of American journalism. This is because he viewed news publications as not so much as vehicles for disseminating information. Rather, as a form of networking. Individuals who share the same values will invariably read some of the same books and obtain their information from the same sources. While it tempting to blame social media companies for indirectly creating powerful echo chambers through data aggregation to maximize user engagement; this problem predates modern technology. Due to confirmation bias, it is always easier to read publications that reinforce our prior beliefs. Converse with people who already agree with our perspective. Considering this quirk of human nature it isn’t surprising that Americans of the 19th century would levitate towards certain publications. Naturally, journalists of the era would either inject their own opinions into news stories or manipulate the facts to make their article more enticing to specific demographic.

This counterintuitive observation regarding the American press bucks our conventional understanding of the intended purpose of news media. Conventional wisdom would dictate that news is purely designed to inform.  Tocqueville obliterates the myth of a journalistic “golden age” in the mid-20th century. Romanticized images of smoke-filled greenrooms and hardnosed reporting epitomized in the likes of Edward R. Murrow. The notion of the news being fact-driven back in the early years of television is an illusion. Per Democracy in America, even in the 19th century, the line between fact and opinion was blurred. Making Tocqueville’s suggestion that the press represents institutions of political association more than they do sources of information a sizeable argument. Presents a hard reality check for those entranced by the tidy and staid conservatism of the 1950s. The news correspondences may have been more eloquent and professional, but were still imparting bias in their reporting.

If media organizations are nothing more than a collective association of like-minded content producers and readers, how do these coalitions form? This a profoundly difficult question to answer. Did ideology bring the members of the media outlet together? Did the political leanings of the content consumers influence what the organization produces? It is hard to say. However, there is certainly an interconnected relationship between content consumers and producers. Tocqueville expounds upon this co-dependent relationship stating:

“… a vital connection between association and newspapers; the latter creates associations which, in their turn, creates newspapers. If it is a truism that associations must multiply as social conditions become more equal, it is no less certain that the number of newspapers increases as associations proliferate. (P. 602).”

While it may be fair do disagree with Tocqueville’s assertion that political associations are the impetus for the establishment of publications, he does touch upon an important aspect of this dynamic. That is  if one media outlet of a specific political disposition is established more will follow. One just needs to look at the history of network television to see this principle in action.  Back when network television was first established in the 1980s the 24-hour news channels were all left-of-center. Conservative media was essentially relegated to AM/radio talk shows. Then in 1996 the Fox News Channel was launched and provided a conservative presence on network television. The proliferation of conservative media shifted from the dying platform of network cable to the wild frontier of cyberspace. Leading to the development of outlets such as Newsmax, The Blaze, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, The Drudge Report, The Daily Wire, etc. All platforms whose success was propelled by the internet. One can’t help but wonder if Fox News had never been established if these outlets would have ever achieved their present level of success. Especially when you consider The Blaze was founded by former Fox News personality Glenn Beck.

The above example details this relationship of associations and the growth of media outlets for conservative publications, this rule most likely applies to any ideology imaginable. Just think of all the political movements that have spurred by the zealous distribution of literature by pamphleteers.  This ranges from movements as diverse from the American Revolution to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. What is the first thing any wide-eyed college kid at a protest does when you approach them? Offer you a pamphlet detailing the rationale for their outrage and indignation. If a movement becomes large enough eventually formal media outlets fixated on the political movement are established.

Polemics such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the Cato Letters may provide the rebel-rousing fodder for revolution. What sustains these political movements and their various supporting publications? It is easy to see that ideas spread through collective association and the proliferation of related literature/media. As enthusiasm, wanes momentum starts to sink. Convictions and commitment among supporters start to dissipate. Making the role of publications much more important.

“ This association can be more or less strictly defined, more or less restricted, more or less numerous but at least  the seed of such an association must exist in men’s minds to ensure the survival of the newspaper (P. 603).”

Tocqueville believes that the conviction conveyed by journalists only continues to live on if supported by the readers. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. If no one is buying your newspapers or magazines your firm will go out of business. In terms of the transmission of ideas, the intertwined nature of content publisher and consumer is much more co-dependent. Yes, the passions of the readers need to remain resolute for the publisher to keep their lights on. But,  the publisher needs to keep putting out engaging content to further perpetuate the movement can keep the movement from getting stale. It may be bold to argue with a thinker as brilliant as Tocqueville, however, let’s say he is only half right on this account. Fostering strong political coalitions requires both the publisher and the reader.

Some observant readers may be wondering, how does this model apply to local newspapers?  After all, they tend to be more provincial in their scope and less politicized.  The less politicized part may be a false assumption, due to the fact the local paper tends to conform to the political leanings of the region. If hypothetically there was a local or regional newspaper that was completely objective it still would provide a form of collective association. The news stories and editorials would focus on local issues.  Presumably, all the readers would have interests in the commentary about new ordinances and municipal taxes. Readership and the employees of the publication bound by a mutually shared self-interest in local affairs. A cohesion that sometimes breaks through partisan barriers and transcendent party affiliation. National and international publications look to sow a connecting ideology among its viewers and readers. The local media outlets unite its staff and audience with universal concerns about daily affairs.

Did Alexis De Tocqueville Predict “Cancel Culture”?

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Alexis De Tocqueville was arguably one of the most insightful writers to ever detail the intricacies of American Democracy. Tocqueville’s journey sounds like an unlikely one. Something analogous to an intellectual version of the excursions taken by Lewis and Clark. A royal magistrate from France traveling throughout North America in only nine months. Even spending some time with local tribal nations. Based upon his keen observations of American political culture Tocqueville made many predictions. Some of his lofty inferences fell flat and resulted in nothing more than faulty speculation.  What was truly impressive about his insights is what he got right.  He did possess an uncanny aptitude for being able to foreshadow various political and societal shifts in America. Much of his writing was quite prescient.

Any modern reader of Democracy In America can’t help but wonder if Tocqueville predicted the phenomenon of “cancel culture”. The present trend in which individuals guilty of engaging politically incorrect speech is de-platformed. Whether it be shadow-banning on twitter or having their radio talk show pulled from the airwaves. Tocqueville shared many of the same concerns that James Madison voiced in Federalist Papers #51. Both men understood how the collective passions of the people could veer into the territory of authoritarian mob rule. That is precisely what “cancel culture” has morphed into, figurative lynching-mob. Relishing the downfall of anyone transgressive of the virtue of political correctness. Resorting to de facto censorship to prevent such subversive individuals from having the ability to transmit any more socially intolerable ideas.

Tocqueville shrewdly points how often any minority must contend with institutional barriers when it comes to seeking justice. The outcry for prohibiting offensive speech targets individuals who are out of lock-step with the majority opinion, effectively infringing upon their First Amendment rights. The true intention of codifying protections for free speech is meant to protect the expression of unpopular opinions. Where is an individual to turn their right to free expression is violated, but their views are perceived as being reprehensive by society?

“My main complaint against the democratic government as organized in the United States is not its weakness, as many Europeans claim, but rather its irresistible strength And what I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom that prevails there but the shortage of guarantees against tyranny.

When a man or a party suffers from an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? That represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To executive power? That is appointed by the majority and serves it as a passive instrument. (Tocqueville, P. 294-295. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”

He could easily see that those with unpopular opinions could very well have little recourse in enforcing their liberties. It’s easy to defend someone’s right to denouncing racism. It is profoundly more difficult to defend the right of someone to publish racist literature.  This is mainly due to societal pressures. In the present climate defending the First Amendment rights of a bigoted person is tantamount to be racists. While this assumption rests on a rickety premise, public opinion only seeks to promote this fallacy. Due to public passions being more concerned with social justice, there is a willingness to mischaracterize people and to even dispense with critical rights if they do not comport with the grand objective of “tolerance”.  Both Madison and Tocqueville intuitively understood the social dynamics of crowds which would later be expounded upon by social psychologists. Not only to members of the crowd feel a decreased sense of individual responsibility, but there is an emotional amplifier effect. Having either attribute present will make an individual less apt to rely on reason and more apt to go along with the mob. Even if their outrage and indignation are hyperbolic.

The shrewd Frenchman not only understood how popular passions would overwhelm sound reason and effectively alienate minorities, but he foresaw the development of Progressive ideology. Tocqueville noticed that democracy had a proclivity for drifting towards equality. He wrote at length detailing the lack of social stratification in the United States. Even noting that the capitalistic tendencies of America could provide a man from a poor family with the opportunity for exorbitant material success if he is willing to work for it. Democracy as a whole has an equalizing effect on society.  The people elected officials that represent their will. The whole notion of “the government works for the people”.  An idea completely foreign to continental Europe in the 19th century (foreign in practice, not so much in theory). Tocqueville audaciously claims that disposition towards equality implies perfectibility within human nature.

“As classes disappear and grow closer, as a tumultuous mass of mankind, it practices, customs, and laws alter, as new facts emerge, as new truths come to light, as old opinions disappear and are replaced by others, the image of perfection in an idealized and fleeting form is offered to the human mind.

….. Some changes improve his lot and he concludes that, in general, man is endowed with the faculty of indefinite improvement. . (De Tocqueville, P. 522-523. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”

It is the tendency towards  “indefinite improvement” that lays the groundwork for Progressive ideology. Progressivism generally holds that people are capable of constant betterment. The goal is to keep striving towards an idealized world where all the ills have been neutralized. Most adherents of Progressivism do not mind using the levers of government or other institutions to help lead people in the right direction. One of those corralling techniques would be punishment for veering off the path of social improvement. Such as making a culturally insensitive joke. This would explain the functionality of “cancel culture”. The de facto censorship is one of the means utilized to keep people on the straight and narrow.  If you say something offensive you will be ostracized and have your career ruined. The logic being you will avoid making such a social faux pas when faced with the severity of the consequences. Why? Because followers of the Progressive movement believe that you can do better. Some even sincerely believe that a world without prejudice could exist. Unfortunately, is nothing more than a pipe-dream. Nothing more than good intentions knocking on the door of utopianism. If man is fallible, the odds of offensive speech dissipating is unlikely. Such an assumption demonstrates an unrealistic perception of human nature. We can mold people into the image we desire through social pressure and coercion.  Rather, they need to come to their conclusions not to be forced into socially desirable opinions. There may be immorality in racism. However, there is also immorality in weaponizing social conventions to callously achieve social goals. Especially when innocent parties have their comments taken out of context and are used against them. Making these innocent bystanders nothing more than collateral damage.

Ballot Access Laws in Arizona Are Too Strict

 

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Authors Note: This a Draft for An Op-Ed piece. Please feel free to provide candid feedback.

 

 

Many Americans are displeased with the present state of American politics. Much of this dissatisfaction is spurred by being limited to the narrow choice between two parties. Per a 2017  Gallup poll, 61 % of participants surveyed expressed that a third-party is a much-needed alternative to the present Republican/Democrat paradigm. While the idea of promising contender to the DNC/GOP establishment may receive quite a bit of fanfare from average voters that does not mean that such political force will be a reality. Unfortunately, countless third-party and independent candidates have been kept off the ballot by stringent ballot access requirements. Historically, as ballot access laws have become more rigorous the number of minor party candidates has decreased.  Effectively confining the number of choices available to the American voter.

The bulk of the prohibitive ballot access requirements that third-party candidates are subjected to are passed at the state level. Over the past couple of years, Arizona has consistently ranked among the states with the most onerous requirements. Especially after passing Bill HB 2608 back in 2015 which expanded signature requirements for a candidate to appear on the ballot, under ARS 16-322. This revision has been particularly burdensome to the Libertarian Party, which is arguably the strongest third-party contender in the state. Even when the Libertarian Party attempted to challenge the law in 2019 the Supreme  Court sided with the state. Concluding:

 

“… state’s signature   requirements   are   reasonable   restrictions   that   impose, at most, a modest burden on the Libertarian Party’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, while directly advancing Arizona’s  important  regulatory  interest…”

 

The Supreme Court also rejected the Libertarian Party’s 2020 appeal to contest the law. Leaving Arizona’s hopes of breaking up the present duopoly on politics in shambles. The prime culprit appears to be the 2015 revision to ballot access requirements which solidifies the current two-party dynamic. These restrictions should be eliminated because they fail to protect the voter, designed to target prevalent minor parties and impose direct violations on the First Amendment rights of voters and candidates.

 

Ballot Access Laws Fails to Protect the Voter:

 

The main arguments for stricter ballot access requirements tend to be shielding voters from confusion, ballot overcrowding, frivolous candidacies, and political stability. Historically, ballot overcrowding has never been cited as a direct reason for increasing signature requirements. Before the 1930s minor parties had very “lenient” access to the ballot in the majority of states. Even with lower barriers to entry the calamities of voter confusion and rampant frivolous candidacies seemed to be virtually nonexistent. Typically are issues that will be invariably sorted out by voter preferences. In the unlikely event of confusion, voters will levitate towards parties and policies they are familiar with. Candidates lacking strong convictions and direction will generally have potential votes re-direct towards another candidate. It is quite clear that these concerns are not pitfalls that the government must insulate the average citizen from. Especially, when most ballot access restrictions imposed by the state government tend to also exclude legitimate candidates.  These problematic quirks of liberal ballot access can easily be resolved by the voters themselves.

The second category of the aspiring purposes of ballot access laws is to protect voters from political instability. Preventing “unconstrained factionalism” from eroding the political stability of the country. Undermining the steady nature of a two-party system which interrupts the proliferation of splinter factions. The more probable side of the political stability argument suggests that it would help prevent indecisive elections. Through directing votes to one of two prominent parties it will help reduce the odds of a stalemate. Whereas dividing votes between three or more parties would increase the probability of this issue be prevalent. This argument is flimsy at best because indecisive elections were not a common problem before the restrictive ballot access laws of the 1930s. Beyond the evidence of history, Public choice theory also demonstrates how accessible ballot access will not compromise political stability. The country being splintered into a multitude of quarreling factions is unlikely, per the Median voter theorem to win an election you need to aim for the center. There are only so many unique ideologies that can be formulated that are not so extreme that it philosophically alienates moderate voters. Putting an informal constraint on the speculated “electoral chaos” that would ensue from looser ballot access restrictions.

 

Ballot Access Laws Are Designed for the Benefit of the Major Parties

 

There is also some evidence to suggest that ballot access laws are catered to benefit the existing mainstay parties.  The United States has had ballot access laws since 1888. The proliferation of strict ballot access requirements did occur until the 1930s and was generally perceived as a means of prohibiting members of the Communist Party from running for elected office.  These tactics over the years have been applied to other minor parties once state governments realized that manipulating signature requirements proved to be an effective means of keeping third-party candidates off of the ballot. For example, back in 1995, the state of Alabama tripled the signature requirements to appear on the ballot. This was a direct result of the Patriot Party diverting votes that would have otherwise gone to a Democratic candidate. Third-parties have achieved some modest victories in court against unjust ballot access laws. Such as in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) where Hawaii’s ban on write-in candidates on elections ballots was ruled as unconstitutional. However, generally, the courts rule against the complaints of third-party candidates. Simultaneously the courts tend to minimize the Constitutional concerns of third-party candidates. Demonstrating that the institutional barriers to the ballot box are sealed with the blessing of the Supreme Court. As evident in the  2019 ruling of  Arizona Libertarian Party v. Hobbes.

One glaring fact that often gets ignored is that the majority of ballot access laws have been formulated by legislators who are affiliated with one of the major parties.  This presents an unfortunate conflict of interest, as this brings into question the motives of passing such laws.  Therefore, making it difficult to determine whether these laws are being passed for the benefit of the voter or the callous self-interest of those involved in politics. Creating an internal lever for our elected lawmakers to preserve their influence in state politics. Solidifying this potential rationale for passing  HB 2608 (2015) has been the commentary of a publicly known affiliate of the Republican party. Insinuating that the Libertarian Party has been siphoning votes away from the GOP.  This individual stated quote: “I can’t believe we wouldn’t see the benefit of this”.

 

This statement implies that increasing the signature requirements was not done to foster political stability or reduce ballot overcrowding. Rather, it was passed to aid Republicans in retaining political influence in Arizona.

 

 

Strict Ballot Access Requirements Encroach Upon the First Amendment:

 

               

Strict ballot access requirements present some unique challenges to the First Amendment that often are unscored in many of the Supreme Court decisions. Per the revised signature requirements in Arizona, the Libertarian Party would require to obtain petition signatures from nonparty members. Viewed by the party’s attorney in their 2019 case as a violation of free association protected under the First Amendment. While the free association argument is a valid concern, it is an only peripheral concern. Above all, voting is a form of free expression.  The courts typically ignore the expressive function of voting, however, it is a form of speech that should be protected.  A vote can serve as a form of protest, a vote can reflect a certain philosophical point-of-view.  The market-place of ideas may lack tangible currency; however, the value of ideas can always be quantified by the will of the voters.  A mere vote can convey so much more than a constituent preferred candidate. It is generally a representation of a set of ideas, which can be symbolic or literal. Keeping third-party candidates off the ballot effectively limits the variety of forms of self-expression allotted to the voter. Operating as a circuitous form of censorship.

Imposing burdensome ballot access requirements not only limits the free speech of voters, but also the First Amendment rights of candidates. Campaign platforms present specific positions on issues that undoubtedly serves as an expressive function. Lending itself to be interpreted as a protected form of speech.  Third-parties have been invaluable for presenting novel perspectives on policy issues.  For instance, the  Liberty Party that formed in the 1840s brought the abolition movement to the table when most major parties refused to entertain ending slavery. Even in the modern era, the candidacy of Ross Perot for the Reform Party back in the 1990s presented alternative views that were invaluable to public discourse. Such as Perot being one of the few aspiring presidential candidates critical of the NAFTA agreement.  Perot reminding us of the virtue of balanced budgets. Through keeping minor party candidates off the ballot, we are in-turn we are limiting the variety of opinions in public discourse. This is nothing more than a legally sanctioned form of de-platforming.

 

Conclusion:

 

                A significant number of voters may be frustrated with the current two-party duopoly on American politics. Little can be done if prohibitive ballot access laws work to keep third-party candidates off the ballot.  These laws do not protect voters, nor do they secure our political institutions. Seemingly existing to keep the status quo intact with few substantive arguments soundly justifying such measures. Until the Supreme Court starts taking the constitutional concerns of minor parties seriously, the two-party system will remain.  It would foolish to expect the Republican and Democratic state legislators to repeal laws that serve their interests.