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.
Would developing more silly walks benefit society? Possibly. But who will pay for them? Professor Art Carden regrets that the only way he can come up with to receive payment for creating silly walks is through receiving a subsidy from the government. If the government subsidized the creation of silly walks, there would surely be more silly walks around. Prof. Carden points out, however, that if people aren't willing to pay for silly walks voluntarily, they must not be worth the value they create. This draws into question subsides in general. Are subsidies for more serious things, like food, valuable to society? Some argue that without farm subsidies the United States would have a shortage of food. But is that the case? Prof. Carden suggests that while subsidizing food will lead to more food production, it also leads to the production of foods that cost more to produce than they are worth to society. This indicates that resources are wasted. Economists argue that subsidies are useful when they increase something that creates positive externalities, or spillover benefits for society. Some would argue education should be subsidized, for example, because society benefits from a better educated work force. But is the government really a good judge of what deserves subsidies and what doesn't? Even if we assume that markets will produce too little education, for example, this does not imply that government intervention will make things better.
The United States has laws in place to limit the number of immigrants granted entry. How many immigrants should be allowed to call America home? Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that the United States should have open borders. Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, argues that there need to be limits on the number of immigrants. Economically, native-born high school dropouts are the most likely to lose out from the competition from low-skilled workers that will increase if the United States has open borders. In this clip, Prof. Caplan argues that although these are the most vulnerable Americans, they are some of the wealthiest people in the world. Prof. Ting argues that part of being a country means having greater concern for your fellow citizens than for the world as a whole. Prof. Caplan argues that while it is fine to care about fellow Americans more than about the world as a whole, immigration laws are about saying we're going to take care of Americans no matter what the cost we impose on other people. Even when you care more about one person or group of people than others, it is still important to treat the others fairly. The clip also brings up interesting questions about how competition and trade affect individuals and society.
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 perhaps we should consider abolishing the U.S. military. When the Soviet Union's Red Army collapsed, the U.S.S.R. ceased to pose any real threat to the world and no one attacked. He argues that having an army can anger or provoke other countries who feel threatened by a military. While he would not go as far as to say that the U.S. military should absolutely be dismantled, he did suggest that military spending could be cut dramatically without posing any great threat to the United States. What do you think about this topic?
Many people believe capitalism and imperialism are the same thing or at least closely related. Professor Stephen Davies explains that this is not the case. While capitalism is based on voluntary exchange that benefits all parties involved, imperialism is based on exploitation and the exercise of political power, generally backed by a military force. We can see that capitalism and imperialism differ by looking at the history of empire in the world and examining trade patterns. Empires have existed for the whole of human history, long before the development of capitalism. Imperialism has led to the impoverishment of people and bears the blame for terrible famines, especially during the Victorian period in India. Under capitalism, we would expect to see global free trade between many countries, not just from world powers to less-developed countries, but also between less-developed countries. This does not happen under imperialism. While capitalism and imperialism have been closely linked in the minds of many, the truth is that the two systems are at odds with one another. Where one system flourishes, the other cannot. Many negative things, such as political corruption, the exploitation of the poor, and mass famines, have been blamed on capitalism, but that blame is misplaced. Real capitalism should work to improve circumstances for the poor by voluntary exchange, but imperialism hurts the poor by political or military domination that enables countries or government-backed businesses to profit at others' expense.
The 14th Amendment guarantees liberty and equal protection to every American. Do state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate that amendment? Is the federal government's refusal to recognize a marriage that is legal in a state federal overreach? The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the answers to these questions by the end of June 2013 in two cases related to same-sex marriage. Professor Dale Carpenter provides a brief explanation of the two cases before the Court. In 2008, California voters passed Prop 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state. This law is being contested on the grounds that the equality principle is violated because opposite-sex couples have rights that are denied to same-sex couples. It is also contested on the grounds that every American has a fundamental right to marry. A similar case centers on the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996. This law limits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, thereby denying same-sex couples more than a thousand benefits otherwise available under federal law. This means that even when a couple is legally married according to the state, the federal government does not recognize the marriage. There are many possible outcomes in both cases. In the DOMA case, for example, Prof. Carpenter argues that 'there is no legitimate federal interest in denying recognition to validly married same-sex couples.' He has submitted a brief to the Court asking it to strike down DOMA on federalism grounds. But will the justices agree? What do you think about these cases?
Do you think that a majority vote is always the fairest way to reach a consensus? Think again! In this Learn Liberty video, Professor Diana Thomas illustrates a paradoxical outcome that arises when people vote on three or more items - known as Condorcet's Paradox - and proves that it is quite easy to manipulate the voting process in this scenario. Condorcet's paradox occurs when a vote is taken on a set of three options that nobody ranks in the same order. Even though a vote of two of the options may yield a consistent winner, it's impossible to achieve a consistent outcome between all three choices. Usually, a majority vote is taken on only two options, so whoever gets to choose which two options are on the table (known as the agenda setter) has the power to dictate the winner of the vote.
Have you ever wondered why politicians seem to all say the same thing, especially during presidential elections? According to Professor Diana Thomas, this is due to the median voter theorem. To guarantee victory, a candidate has to earn just over 50 percent of the vote. Even if a candidate starts out on an extreme end of the political spectrum, he ultimately will aim for the middle to convince the 'median voter' to vote for him. For example, a Democrat running for office may start out expressing ideas that fit well on the far Left side of the political spectrum. To earn the votes of more mainstream Democrats, he will then begin to stand for more mainstream policies. To then earn the votes of the most conservative Democrats or Independents, he will move his platform even more toward the center, in an attempt to win over just more than 50 percent of voters. A Republican candidate goes through the same process in reverse, until both have essentially met in the middle. In a two-party, majority rule system, moving toward the center is not likely to alienate the voters on the ends because they feel there is not another viable candidate to vote for instead. This means, there really isn't any penalty for a candidate chooses to move toward the middle. And it explains why all politicians end up sounding the same.
Why is it so difficult for young people to find jobs today? Professor Carrie Kerekes offers three reasons. 1. Mismatch of skills: Many young people may lack the skills employers desire or require. They may have college degrees but not in fields where jobs are available. Government may help subsidize college costs, but getting a degree does not guarantee that a job will follow. 2. Government regulations: Many government regulations add extra expense to the cost of labor or make it more difficult for firms to hire and fire workers. These regulations may cause the number of available positions to be lower than it would be absent such rules. 3. General uncertainty: As the economy continues its slow recovery after the financial crisis, many firms feel uncertain about the future, which makes them hesitant to hire new workers. New legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act, can also add to uncertainty when it is unclear how much the new rules will increase the cost of labor. The common factor in all of these reasons is government. Prof. Kerekes says, 'The unemployed would be better served if government stepped out of the picture and allowed economic growth and a free market to create more jobs and prosperity.'
The United States abandoned the gold standard completely in 1974. Professor Lawrence H. White discusses what the gold standard was, why it was abandoned, and whether abandoning it was a good idea. The gold standard meant that currency could be redeemed by banks for gold. The dollar had a set value that it retained. If you went to the bank in the gold-standard era before World War I, for example, you could trade $20.67 at the counter for an ounce of gold. Because the currency was guaranteed in gold, paper money based on gold had a set value. Now that we do not have a gold standard, paper money does not have a set value and the purchasing power of a dollar can fluctuate pretty dramatically. This is called fiat currency. The gold standard really constrained the federal government, Prof. White says. The obligation to redeem dollars for gold limited money printing at times when the federal government thought printing money might be a good idea. As a result of ending the gold standard, the U.S. Federal Reserve can print as much money as it decides to print. This can be problematic, however, and many countries without a value standard have seen high inflation because of it. Under our current standard the supply of money is up to the decision of the Federal Open Market Committee. 'The fate of the dollar rests with a handful of political appointees,' Prof. White says. Is this a good idea? Is fiat currency a better choice than gold-backed currency? This begs a practical question: Which system better limits inflation? Historically, gold (and silver) standards have dramatically outperformed fiat standards around the world in providing stable, low-inflation currency.
We hear a lot about school choice. And while that would probably improve the U.S. education system, what we really need is choice in education. When most people think about education, they think of traditional schools. But Professor Stephen Davies says we are seeing a revolution in the delivery of education, both in the United States and abroad. Private institutions, which are prevalent in many parts of the world, have more flexibility than traditional schools and do not necessarily conform to the traditional ideas of what a school is. Similarly, the homeschooling movement in the United States has become a major social movement for which all kinds of educational forms are developing. Parents' cooperatives, learning centers, and all kinds of learning providers are now delivering education to homeschooled students in a more flexible, home-centered but not totally home-based, way than ever before. What has caused these revolutionary changes in education? Professor Davies says the Internet and other technologies are one main source of the changes. The main reason, however, is social transformation. New forms of education reflect the goals and desires of parents and pupils rather than those of governments, large firms, or political movements of any kind. These changes indicate that we're heading for a radical transformation in the way education is delivered. Professor Davies says, 'This can only be an enormous change for the better.'
Have you ever wondered why high school is the way it is? The modern school was invented by the Prussians in 1806. It was created to serve a particular purpose: to produce loyal, obedient subjects and soldiers and productive, obedient workers. Prior to this, education was delivered in many different ways. Understanding how the modern school came to be explains why schools are the way they are and why they have the features they have. For example, we can see why schools have a very hierarchical structure and break the day into rigid blocks of time. Professor Steven Davies points out that many of the features of the modern school seem unnecessary, even counterproductive. Why, for example, should students of a similar age be placed together instead of students of similar ability and interest level? The modern school also leads to some misconceptions about education. It gives the impression that education is necessary only at one stage of life, instead of being a lifelong endeavor. Professor Davies argues that school is not the same thing as education, and treating them the same gives us a radically impoverished understanding of what education should be. It is time to move away from the idea that school are the only, or even the best, way to deliver education.
What can we learn about markets from a WWII POW camp? According to British economist R. A. Radford, POWs found that rather than give away unwanted rations to other POWs, 'goodwill developed into trading as a more equitable means of maximizing individual satisfaction.' Professor Michael C. Munger explores what makes exchange more equitable than simply giving gifts. He finds that exchange is important for two reasons: 1. It corrects mistakes in allocation by moving things toward higher-valued uses. 2. It makes everyone involved in exchange happier. Prof. Munger provides a few examples of how exchange can make people better off without changing the total amount of wealth available. In one case, two people each have the same items but different preferences. In this case, they will exchange so each one has more of his or her preference. In another case, two people each have a different item, but both prefer to have some of both items. They will exchange so each one ends up with some of each item and both are happier. Exchange can even make people better off when they have different items and different preferences. This is the power of markets.
Many people have been talking about job creation lately, especially politicians. But is government the best creator of jobs? And is job creation the best thing for the economy? Professor Steve Horwitz explains that there is a difference between creating jobs and creating wealth. It would be easy to create millions of jobs overnight. For example, we could eliminate all of the machinery and innovation used in agriculture. Then many people would be needed to farm in order to produce sufficient food for society. But no one is suggesting that because it is not practical and it would set our economy back 100 years. Creating jobs is relatively easy. The problem is that the most economic progress is made when jobs are eliminated as they become unnecessary. New innovations happen gradually, though, and technological innovation means people will need to learn new skills, and some are likely to lose their jobs in the meantime. That unemployment is a bad thing, but the alternatives are worse. To prevent such labor transitions would halt innovation, growth, and the reduction of poverty. Market signals can indicate what kind of skills people should invest in and where the new jobs of the future will be. But the government doesn't have these signals. Instead, many government job-creation programs are really about meeting the needs of politicians, not the needs of consumers in the marketplace. 'The best job-creation program in human history is the free market and the entrepreneurship it generates,' Professor Horwitz says.
You may be familiar with the tune of Giuseppe Verdi's 'La Donna è Mobile' from his opera Rigoletto. If not, perhaps you recognize it from popular soccer chants. Verdi's famous tune provides an interesting case study in intellectual property rights. Professor Stephen Davies outlines three ways intellectual property can be understood: 1. It can be treated as regular property. If so, it would not be time limited and Verdi's estate would still be collecting royalties from the song. Chanting based on the tune at sporting events could be subject to a fine or penalty. 2. It can have a time-limited definition. This is the more common understanding of intellectual property. If so, Verdi (or his estate) may have held the right to receive royalties from this song for a set period of time. After that time period elapsed, the song would enter the public domain. 3. It could not be protected at all. This was the case in Verdi's time. Although Verdi did not have power to prevent others from using his song or from profiting from it, he still produced the song. Not only that, but he also profited from the song because people recognized Verdi as its creator. They were willing to pay a premium to hear it performed by Verdi's company or by people to whom Verdi gave official approval. This case demonstrates that intellectual property rights are not necessary to stimulate such artistic creativity.
The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States and the attempts to shut down the peer-to-peer music-sharing website Pirate Bay in Europe have brought the debate over intellectual property to the fore. Professor Stephen Davies explains the three different ways people tend to understand intellectual property. Intellectual property: - May be considered a natural right with the same qualities as physical property. - May be considered a special type of property created by governments that is time limited. - May be considered intellectually incoherent and dangerous. Professor Davies holds the third view of intellectual property. He argues that it is dangerous because it limits the way people are able to use their physical property. He suggests that patents and copyrights may actually work to stop or hinder innovation in many areas. Whichever view you hold, the debate is complicated and divides people from all parts of the political spectrum. The argument over intellectual property has widespread implications, and we are going to see a lot more of it in the years to come.