LearnLiberty Audio Podcast
Summary: Welcome to the LearnLiberty.org podcast. Learn Liberty is a resource for learning about the ideas of a free society. Our goal is to provide a starting point for conversations on important questions: _ What is the nature of man and society? _ What are the best ways to organize human society? _ What is the proper role for government? _ Classical Liberal Tradition We believe that the classical liberal or libertarian tradition can offer compelling answers to these questions. Classical liberal ideas have deep intellectual roots, cultivated by thinkers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, the American Founders, and more recent scholars such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. These scholars emphasize the importance of free markets, voluntary exchange, individual rights, and peace. Classical liberal thinkers do not agree on everything, and the speakers on LearnLiberty.org are no exception. We believe exploring and discussing these ideas is so important precisely because we do not all agree. We hope you will join our conversation, and help advance the understanding of these important ideas. Through LearnLiberty.org videos and other content, college professors and public intellectuals provide a resource for understanding: Foundational principles and concepts drawn from disciplines such as economics, philosophy, history, political science, and law Contemporary issues and policy debates that impact individual liberty.
In this debate, Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, and Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, discuss whether war is ever justified. Prof. Ting argues that while war should be a last resort, there are occasions where the consequences of not going to war outweigh the costs of war. He uses World War II as an example in which war prevented great evil. Prof. Caplan argues for strict pacifism, saying it is highly unlikely that any benefits of war would outweigh the horrific costs. In this clip, Prof. Caplan argues that there are a number of cases in the world that involve ideological or religious thinking contradictory to our notion of human rights and dignity that we would not invade. For example, we would not invade Saudi Arabia if they refuse to give women equal rights, even though we disagree with the practice. We would not invade China if they don't become a democracy. Prof. Ting agrees that we should have an aversion to intervention, but that we need to have the option on the table to deal with situations like we saw in Nazi Germany. Prof. Caplan counters, saying, 'It seems like really all that you're saying is even though we have a lot of evidence that our best thinking isn't very good, let's do it anyway and rely on it. . . . Saying we're going to go an attack a country and kill a lot of innocent people when we just have a guess that it might be better is not good enough.' What do you think?
Many Americans do not know what their constitutional freedoms are or why they were established in the first place. The freedoms Americans have are rare and fragile. They were put in place to protect people and ensure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Professor James Otteson explains the importance of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prior to the Revolutionary War, King George III issued what are called general warrants. Essentially, this allowed government officials to seek out and look for any wrongdoing without probable cause. Such general warrants were carried out on anyone in America, including among the people that would come to be our Founders. The Founders instilled in the Constitution rules requiring warrants to have probable cause and limiting them to specific times, places, and people. Why is this important? Prof. Otteson says it's important 'because with unlimited authority, officials inevitably find wrongdoing.' Witch hunts always find witches. Constitutional protections like the Fourth Amendment are especially important for people who want to do things differently than the majority. These freedoms enable Americans to find their own paths to happiness as free and equal citizens.
To understand about ownership, it helps to understand something about surfing. Surfers employ a system of ownership over waves so that everyone gets a turn. Prof. Dan Russell describes a scenario in which three friends are surfing but none wants to be selfish. As a result, the good waves pass by and no one has a good time. If they had prescribed a system of ownership instead, they would all have their turn to the waves. Among people who are not friends, a lack of ownership often leads to pushing and shoving. People who want peace need to instead determine whose wave is whose-or who owns property. Although many people conflate ownership with selfishness, this is not accurate. Ownership plays an important role in a functional society for several reasons: - Ownership allows for more creativity and enables us to do the things we want to do. - Ownership puts a check on selfishness and greed because it gives the owner the right to say no. This also makes conservation possible. - Ownership fosters greater civility and fairness. Respecting ownership is a way to respect each other, and when ownership isn't protected, the most vulnerable people usually suffer most for it. As Prof. Russell says, 'If we care about fairness for everyone, we have to care about ownership.'
Are you concerned about the activities government agencies are engaging in? Does it bother you to think the government is spying on you? If you not, what reason do you have to be complacent? Professor James Otteson says we may feel secure today because we know we haven't done anything wrong. But this is short-sighted. The powers we give to the people in office today will transfer to the people who are elected tomorrow. Maybe you trust, support, or voted for the current president. But what if the next president were someone you couldn't agree with? Would you still want that leader to have the same powers? The government should have to get permission from citizens for everything it does, not the other way around. The government must be accountable to citizens, transparent, and unable to act in ways the citizenry would not condone. This is why we need whistleblowers. We need people to take a stand and point out when the government in not acting in the people's interest. We need the government to answer to us.
When Edward Snowden revealed to the world that the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies were looking into the lives of every American, many people were shocked. While claiming to protect us from crime and terrorism, says Professor James Otteson, the government has been recording every digital transmission we make. They are keeping a record of every email, tweet, phone call, Facebook post, and online purchase. Things we may have thought were private are not safe from the government's watch. Should we be alarmed? Some say they don't care that the government is spying on them because they haven't done anything illegal. Prof. Otteson disagrees. He says the reason we should worry about these invasions of privacy is because they rob us of the right to say no. When we are able to say no-when a slave can say no to the slave-holder or a serf can say no to a lord, or a child can say no to a bully-we establish a boundary of freedom. This is why privacy is important. Have you thought much about how you value your privacy from the government? Did Snowden's revelation cause you to think differently about what the government is doing? Is privacy a bigger priority for you today than it was before Snowden's revelation? Why or why not?
It's the Great American Taxing Game and you have chosen to tax luxury goods like yachts, fur coats, and expensive jewelry. Many people in the world today are suffering, but a small minority has plenty of money to spend on luxuries. It makes sense to tax these luxury items heavily and redistribute the wealth, right? Your host Prof. Art Carden explains that this isn't as clear cut as it first appears. There are many substitutes for luxury goods. A heavy tax on yachts, for example, is more likely to hurt the people building the ships than the super-rich who might decide not to buy one if the price is too high. Is taxing luxury goods the best option for raising government revenue? Don't forget to see what would happen if you taxed oil companies or cigarettes instead.
It's the Great American Taxing Game and you have chosen to tax oil companies. So what happens if you increase these taxes? And, perhaps more importantly, who will pay these taxes? While you may think raising taxes on oil companies will hurt the profits of big oil barons, consumers are likely to bear the burden of these taxes instead. Your host Prof. Art Carden explains that this happens because the consumer is less responsive to changing prices than the producer. Even if the burden did fall on the oil companies, would that be for the best? Don't forget to see what would happen if you taxed luxury goods or cigarettes instead.
It's the Great American Taxing Game and you have chosen to tax cigarettes to be paid by cigarette suppliers. Who actually bears the burden of the tax? Because smokers are pretty unresponsive to price changes, they are most likely to pay. This is not necessarily a bad thing: smokers pay higher prices and the government collects the revenue. But, does it work at all levels? Your host Prof. Art Carden demonstrates why cigarette taxes are not particularly effective at the state or local levels. Don't forget to see what would happen if you chose to tax oil companies or luxuries instead.
Join the Great American Taxing Game with your host, Professor Art Carden. The question posed is who should be taxed. If you were a government official trying to raise revenue, would you choose to levy taxes on gas, on smokers, or on luxury goods? How would these taxes turn out? Prof. Carden explains that it is important to consider whether the consumer or the producer of a product is more likely to bear the burden of the taxes. Choose wisely and see what happens.
Like most Americans, are you frustrated by ticket scalpers? These middle men buy tickets for events and then resell them at more than face value to make a profit. If you've ever purchased from a scalper, you may have been frustrated at having to pay higher than face value for your seats. But what were the alternatives? Since there may be more people who want to attend an event than the event can hold, an efficient market mechanism is to ensure that the people who are willing to pay the most are the ones who get to go. This cannot be accomplished by a lottery system to allocate leftover seats, as that would fall to pure chance to decide who won. Waiting in a long line might be an option, but maybe your time is more valuable and you'd like to get a ticket now. The scalper is able to help you get the tickets you want in the amount of time you desire. Prof. Stephen Davies explains that although ticket scalpers and other middle men are often looked down upon by the public because they don't physically make any goods, they do provide a service that improves the efficiency of the market. Middle men who connect buyers and sellers and profit for their work do add value to society by enabling people to get what they want or sell what they don't. In some cases, the ability to buy goods at a low price and sell them at a higher price has saved lives. In 18th century France it was illegal to purchase food in areas with low prices and sell them for a profit in areas where food was scarce due to a shortage or a failed harvest. As a result, many people literally starved to death because no one would supply them with food. At the same time, England did not have these laws. So while food prices increased in areas struck by famine, we don't see many cases of people actually starving to death. The middle man's ability to buy food inexpensively in one area and sell it for a profit in an area with a food shortage literally saved lives. Though looked down on by society, middle men perform a useful function in improving human well being.
Have you ever wondered why it is illegal to purchase alcohol in many U.S. cities, states, and counties on Sunday? It is not illegal to drink alcohol on Sunday. Professor Bruce Yandle explains that such laws benefit two distinct groups: bootleggers and Baptists. The Baptists benefit because they have seen to it that alcohol sales are nonexistent on Sundays. In their view, this means a reduction in the alcohol available. Bootleggers also like these laws. Sunday is the day they can sell alcohol-often purchased from legitimate stores on Saturday-for a handsome profit. The bootleggers and Baptist theory of regulation can be extrapolated to other types of regulation, and helps explain characteristics of government regulation. It has to do with coalitions of people who do not necessarily meet and organize but who want the same outcome. In the case of bootleggers and Baptists, both groups like to see liquor stores closed, albeit for completely different reasons. Prof. Yandle explains how the theory applies to environmental regulations. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency creates new standards that do not apply to existing organizations, two groups benefit: environmentalists and owners of existing plants not subject to the new standards. Environmentalists lobby for the stricter standards and are pleased when the standards become law. Existing plant owners benefit because the new regulations will make it more difficult for new competitors to enter the market. The bootlegger and Baptist theory applies to many regulations. When you hear of new regulations, try to see which groups benefit.
Corn growers receive billions of dollars each year in subsidies from the U.S. government. The average American family pays $400 per year to subsidize corn. As a result, corn products and derivatives can be found in many items at American grocery stores. In the video, Professor Daniel J. D'Amico discusses how farm subsidies and other food regulations affect what Americans buy and eat. Regulations can also act as barriers to entry for smaller growers. For example, requirements for marketing food sold in the United States as 'organic' are strenuous. While we may think this means the consumer is better protected from unscrupulous farmers, Prof. D'Amico shows how they form barriers to entry for small farmers. The paperwork and other costs associated with complying with the regulations for organic produce may prove too expensive and time consuming for the small farmer. This, in turn, makes it more difficult to find organic produce locally. Instead of allowing government to regulate and subsidize specific food types or farmers, Prof. D'Amico recommends a freer market. There are too many unintended consequences of food regulations and subsidies, such as price distortion and unfair competition between members of the same industry. A market without these distortions would allow consumers to buy less expensive, healthier food.
Millions of people in the developing world struggle to survive on just a couple of dollars a day. Fair trade claims that buying fair-trade labeled coffee is a way to help the poor. But is it the best way? Professor Colleen Haight has been researching fair-trade for the past 10 years; she's also spent time on coffee plantations in Central America talking with the coffee farmers there about their experiences. She says that while fair trade has done a lot to increase consumer awareness, it may not be the best way to actually help the poor. Fair-trade coffees cost a little bit more than necessary and the extra profit is returned to the farmer. Fair trade farmers are small landowners, but migrant workers-who are much poorer than any landowner-do not benefit from fair trade. Fair-trade farmers are required to pay migrant workers the minimum wage in their country, but that's already the law. Prof. Haight says there is a better way to help these poor migrant workers. You can help them by buying premium coffees instead of fair trade coffee. Premium coffee beans are harvested with greater care and fetch higher prices at the market. As a result, migrant workers receive higher pay working for farms that produce premium coffees. Premium coffees and fair-trade coffees cost about the same amount, but buying premium coffees does more to help the poor than buying fair-trade labeled coffees. You have a limited amount of money; you should be able to use it in a way that maximizes the benefits to the poor.
Professor Art Carden is able to mow his yard, build a fence, and install a faucet all at the same time. How? He does this by specializing through trade. Rather than try to do those things himself-especially since he isn't very good at doing them-he uses the money he earns doing what he specializes in to pay others to mow his yard, build a fence for him, and install a faucet. By employing others to do this work, Prof. Carden benefits because he can spend more time doing what he does best. He may also have more free time available because he does not have to use his spare time to mow his lawn, for example. At the same time, the people he hires to do the work around his house also benefit. They earn money working for him and are able to do what they specialize in, instead of having to spend too much of their time doing other things. Even if Wes, the man who mows Prof. Carden's grass, is able to mow lawns and prepare economics lectures faster than Prof. Carden is able to do them, it still may be beneficial to trade. In the example that Prof. Carden uses to illustrate this, both he and Wes save thirty minutes by trading instead of each doing the same work. This frees up valuable time for them to spend as they please. This is a small example to show some of the logic behind a key principle in economics: Trade creates wealth.
Should same-sex couples be permitted to marry? Are civil unions or domestic partnerships sufficient? What kind of effect does same-sex marriage have on heterosexual marriage? Do the children of same-sex couples face undue challenges because of their parents? These questions have all been raised in the ongoing debate about gay marriage. Professor Dale Carpenter makes a compelling argument in favor of same-sex marriage from a philosophical, rights-based perspective while presenting data to answer these questions and others. Marriage imposes obligations and confers rights on a couple. It does this from a legal standpoint, but even more in the sense of social expectations. Every person has a fundamental right to marry, says Prof. Carpenter. And marriage is good for families and for society-whether a couple is straight or homosexual.