The gay marriage decision is a good thing for libertarians (and even Christians)

Steve Horwitz (via Facebook) speaks my mind more eloquently than I ever could regarding the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. In short, here’s why legalized gay marriage is a good thing for proponents of small government, and even for religious people who don’t endorse homosexual relationships. It’s not the state’s job, anyways!

What follows, then, is that we can and should view this decision in light of whether it promotes a healthier view of marriage — one defined not by legal status, but by private and/or religious convictions — in the long run, without worrying about marriage being “redefined” here and now.

Here’s Horwitz:

It may well be that the expansion of state-granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, and perhaps to groups of more than two down the road, leads to people being willing to more radically re-think the whole nature of marriage and its relationship with the state. That may have the effect of generating more creative thinking about how a more private institution of marriage might emerge in a world where the state continues to do the things it does. At the same time, libertarians might be better off focusing on figuring out how to offer alternatives to the government programs that are deeply entwined with marital status so that those programs can be eliminated. Such alternatives could reduce the costs of separating marriage from the state.

For example, doing more to promote a libertarian anti-poverty agenda as an alternative to the harmful ways in which the welfare state undermines marriage as an institution, while simultaneously depending on its definition, would perhaps be a better long-run strategy for separating marriage from the state than focusing on that specific goal right now.

I the Person vs. We the People

The person who assumes the mantle of society in order to self-righteously dictate how you must live has carved an idol called ‘the greater good’ and has fallen on his knees to worship it as God. But there is no social good greater than the individual, without whom society itself does not exist.

– Wendy McElroy, I the Person versus We the People

When economists say nothing

Explaining spilled milk by saying the milk left the glass is no explanation for spilled milk. It’s a restatement of the question. When we ask why the milk spilled, we want to know why the milk left the glass—what did someone do, or not do, to bring this about.

While this is obvious even to a child, I can’t say the same for most economists.

For example, I recently participated in a classroom discussion regarding shifts in the federal regulatory climate since the 1970s. Back then, deregulation was the norm. Today, it’s anything but. What happened?

Theories varied, but most of us agreed that the voting public has come to value regulation more than they did in the past. The majority of people today care more about achieving some semblance of social justice than about maximizing economic efficiency (though, I suspect, only if a certain minimum level of efficiency is maintained). Stark few have any understanding of how the first of these goals depends on the latter. Politicians and regulators, seeking voter support, reflect this shifted attitude in their actions, which has led to more regulation all around.

But it struck me at the end of this discussion that citing changed voter preferences to explain why policies change doesn’t say much. In fact, it says nothing at all. In the context of a representative government, asking why certain types of policies have become more prevalent is asking why voters have come to support such policies. So simply asserting that they do now but did not before is like explaining spilled milk by saying the milk left the glass: It merely restates the question.

I’ve also noticed similar tendencies among economists when discussing the role of institutions (whatever those are…I’m still confused). In their award-winning book Why Nations Fail, MIT economist Darren Acemoglu and Harvard political scientist James Robinson write:

Nations fail today because their extractive economic institutions do not create the incentives needed for people to save, invest, and innovate. Extractive political institutions support these economic institutions by cementing the power of those who benefit from the extraction.

While institutional analysis like this might be an improvement from the traditional neoclassical paradigm (which leaves theorists with virtually no explanation for variances in economic growth other than “variable factor accumulation rates)” it still fails to offer an actionable explanation. Yes, institutions matter. Bad institutions stifle development. But why are institutions so different from one society to the next? From the perspective of one truly concerned about development in poor countries, that’s the important question. Unfortunately, mainstream economists have yet to offer any substantial answer.

Of course, the idea of causality is confusing at a philosophical level. We really don’t explain anything, in a sense, without reference to something else that must be explained. All said and done, our explanations are circular. We can’t appeal to some first cause that needs no explaining.

But that doesn’t mean some explanations can’t be more useful than others. And too many economists’ explanations are simply pointless and unhelpful.

Or if it’s not the economists, but rather the politicians and pundits and average-Joe readers, who are too confident in the usefulness of their explanations, then economists could do a better job delimiting the explanatory reach of their science in a way the average-Joe reader can understand.

Have economists learned anything?

From Gavyn Davies at the Financial Times:

Seven years after 2008 crash, there is relatively little sign of a major transformation in the mainstream macro-economic theory that is used, for example, by most central banks. The “DSGE” (mainly New Keynesian) framework remains the basic workhorse, even though it singularly failed to predict the crash. Economists have been busy adding a more realistic financial sector to the structure of the model [1], but labour and product markets, the heart of the productive economy, remain largely untouched.

On Donald Trump

From RedState’s Erick Erickson:

There is also a reality about Donald Trump’s candidacy that you should also not underestimate. People hate Washington, they hate politicians, and they are perfectly happy to champion a candidate who tells politicians to go to hell and provides creative directions on the path there. Donald Trump’s candidacy does not exist in a nation where people think the politicians actually care about making the country great again. It only exists in a nation of cynics who think the powers that be want to manage decline and profit from it.

Some predictions for 2016

I’ve learned that more than a few people enjoy my political commentary on this blog. I’ve also discovered that writing about political figures (or, to be more precise, citing political figures as keywords in my posts) draws more traffic to the blog. So here are a few thoughts (and predictions) on the 2016 election.

1. Hillary Clinton is going to lose ground in the primaries simply because she has nowhere to go but down. Bernie Sanders will make her look too stiff and too calculated. Martin O’Malley will have a similar effect and make her seem old and uncharismatic. But she’ll win the primaries by more than a little (as long as she stays healthy, which isn’t something I’d bet on), and Martin O’Malley would make a great running mate.

2. Scott Walker will struggle in New Hampshire. He’ll also bore Republicans of all stripes as he tries desperately to appeal to all of them (which is impossible). He’ll struggle in the debates, too, which is never good for Republicans.

3. Rand Paul will place a consistent second or close third everywhere, no matter the state and no matter what happens in the rest of the field. In this way, he’ll be just like his dad.

4. Jeb Bush’s popularity will rise, slowly and surely and without hiccup, through 2015. He’ll shine in the debates. Skeptical Republicans will realize that he’s really about as conservative as they come, and he’ll win Iowa and New Hampshire and, therefore, the nomination.

I’m a big believer in the power of party—I think at least half of voters choose a candidate based on who they think has the best chance to beat the other party, and not based on candidates’ specific views or policies. In 2015, this effect will only be magnified on the Republican side because the opponent is already known. The drive to simply “beat Hillary” will work in Jeb’s favor since he’s the only one (I think) who has a chance at beating her. I also think Jeb believes this, which is why he doesn’t (and won’t) pander to the far-right.

So Jeb vs. Hillary in the general election, assuming no major scandal or health issue for either of them.

Now, some mysteries in this election are: Marco Rubio (almost impossible not to like, but I don’t think anyone believes he can beat Hillary), Chris Christie (if he runs, could either shine or bomb), and Rick Perry (perfect candidate on paper, with a record to back it up, but no support). Non-mystery, definite losers are: Carly Fiorina (too boring) and Santorum-Huckabee-Carson-Cruz (you know why).

One weird scenario would be if something happens to Hillary–health issue, major scandal, etc.–and she can’t run. No other Democrat has enough clout to put up a serious general election fight. That is, except for Joe Biden. He’s always wanted to be president, and Democrats love him. His campaign could amass in a matter of days. Heck, maybe he’ll run anyways, which would change everything.