Stoner vs. Munger: Citizen or Consumer? How Do You Choose When You Vote?

Entrance to City Hall, San Francisco,California

There is a marvelous ambiguity in the question that Mike and I are debating.[1] Idiomatically, a question that begins “How do you . . . ” might be asking how one should do something; or it might be asking how, typically, it is done. As with any ambiguity, the interpretation depends upon the context.

For example, if an older person who looks a bit baffled asks, “How do you use an iPhone?,” you would show him how to enter a code to unlock it, how to swipe a finger across the screen to make various icons appear and disappear, perhaps even how to dial a call.  If, by contrast, a 20-something carrying an iPad asks “How do you use an iPhone?” you would assume he or she was taking a survey, and you might answer by mentioning your favorite apps and showing him or her some favorite photos or videos.

So, if someone asks our question, “How do you choose when you vote?,” one would consider the questioner. If a neighbor or a stranger asks, one might answer “Democrat” or “Republican,” or “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” or even say “None of your business!” But if a student asks, or someone young enough not to be fixed in his or her opinions and habits, then perhaps the questioner means, how should one think about voting, how should one go about making a political choice?

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Citizen or Consumer? Michael Munger Responds

Target audience

When it comes to voting by citizens in a democracy, there are four essential questions, as I see it, in marrying up the “should” and the “is.”

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Dismantling the Leftist Academic Complex: A Conversation with Roger Scruton

foolsRoger Scruton is certainly no stranger to Liberty Law Talk. His return is occasioned by Bloomsbury's republication of his 1985 title, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands, a book that caused tremendous academic controversy, threats against the publisher, and the book's eventual scuttling by Longman, its original publisher. Scruton's crime was to have attempted to take the New Left seriously, finding it severely wanting, if not absurd. We revisit the book's fallout, discuss its ideas, and consider the state of contemporary Leftist thinking.

The Camera of Liberty


The abolitionist newspaper founded by Frederick Douglass was called the North Star, after the direction of travel taken by runaway slaves. As his fame and influence grew, Douglass became a living version of that guiding light (and the newspaper was eventually renamed Frederick Douglass’ Paper). Like Polaris, he was the brightest star in the constellation of the 19th century.

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Margaret Thatcher, Heroine of Classical Liberalism

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When I went to Oxford in 1978, I had looked forward to spending many weekends in London, one of the great metropolises in all of history. But after an initial visit, I rarely returned. Outside of a few well-known precincts it was a shabby city. But even worse than its appearance was the general sense of lassitude, even paralysis. For instance, it was hard to find places to sell you the simplest groceries outside of very strict business hours. And I was always worried about getting back to Oxford. Industrial action in the form of railway and tube strikes could occur at any time. The economic and spiritual climate of the country was as dismal as its fall and winter weather.

But now London is again one of the great cities of the world, vibrant, innovative and resplendent. One woman is responsible for the transformation of the city and the nation of which it is the capital. That is why it is such a wonderful event to have a superb new biography of her glory years by Charles Moore: Margaret Thatcher at Her Zenith: In London, Washington and Moscow. The book shows why she is one of the rare leaders who transfigured her nation for decades, if not centuries to come. The comparison is less to other British Prime Ministers, but to other transformative world leaders, like Peter the Great or Ataturk. And what separates Thatcher from those leaders is not only her sex, but her democratic methods. She was able to accomplish her goals while persuading fickle and shifting popular opinion.

In this volume Moore details the manner in which Thatcher replaced the state with the market in occupying the commanding heights of the economy.

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Magna Carta’s Votaries, Skeptics, and Traditionalists

The octocentennial of Magna Carta has presented an auspicious occasion for reflecting on exactly what we ought to be celebrating, if anything, about Magna Carta, an ancient document with a tenuous connection to our own time and place. Is Magna Carta the fountainhead of our most cherished rights and liberties? Or is it a document entirely of its own time—an unremarkable set of compromises between King John and a few of his rapacious barons—with next to nothing to say to us today? In this post, I’ll describe the responses of Professor Martin Krygier, one of the more penetrating writers on the…

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Buckley’s Prize


On Friday, National Review published a scathing editorial in opposition to Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President, followed by the statements of 22 prominent conservatives ranging from neocons like Bill Kristol, to social conservatives like Cal Thomas and Michael Medved, to radio/television personalities like Glenn Beck. The editorial slammed Trump as “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” True to pugnacious form, Trump fired back, asserting that “the late, great William F. Buckley would have been ashamed of what happened to his prize.”…

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Confessions of a Campaign-Finance Racketeer

Dirty Money

The year was 1988, the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote, and the trauma is still nearly too much to recount. The duo, brothers, arrived at my dormitory room at the University of Texas, hauled me from the intensity of my studies and dragged me to a polling place, where one wrenched my left arm behind my back and the other bodily placed the right on the voting machine and, depressing the lever, made my choice. As they released me into the chill and black of a November night, I demanded their names. “Koch,” they replied, their snarls announcing they made no apologies and felt no remorse.

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Lenin’s Ghost: How Did Marxist Professors Create a New Wave of Political Leaders?

Pablo Manuel Iglesias Turrion, a political science professor, leads Podemos ("We Can") in Spain.

Europe has by no means recovered from its crisis. The new wave of migrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East has worsened the economic forecast. The economies of the Eurozone, with a collective growth rate of under 1.5 percent in 2015, are almost stagnant. Gone are the days of the German economic miracle. Nowadays, nearly 4.5 million young persons under 25 are unemployed in the EU-28 — a staggering figure, to which Chancellor Merkel just added an extra million refugees. Particularly in the Mediterranean countries, youth unemployment is at very high levels: 47.9 percent in Greece, 47.7 percent in Spain and 39.8 percent in Italy.

Confronted with this bleak picture, politicians, journalists, religious leaders, and public intellectuals all search for an explanation. Why is the European dream failing so many young people? How long will the economic recovery last? Will the EU be able to cope with another massive crash of the financial international system?

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Two Non-Constitutional Ways of Protecting Economic Liberty

In two recent posts, I have suggested that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution does protect economic liberty against the states but in a modest way. Legislation, like a state granted monopoly,  that merely protects one group of people over another is illegal.  But states are free to pass inefficient legislation that trenches on liberty so long as it has a bona fide police power rationale, like health and safety. The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact cost-benefit analysis.

Thus, the direct results for economic liberty of hewing to a more originalist understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment will be modest, because much legislation is inefficient, but not simply protectionist.  But there are other means of achieving the goals sought by a more stringent judicial review of economic legislation, most importantly more vigorous use of the federal antitrust law and the establishment of state and local agencies that impose cost-benefit analysis on regulations.

In North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, The Supreme Court recently made clear that agencies that are composed of a majority of industry representatives are subject to antitrust scrutiny, unless they are “actively supervised by the state.”

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