Monday, January 21, 2019

Concerning Governor Weld

I recently attended an event at which Bill Weld, who was the vice presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 2018, spoke. I learned two things:

1. He is not a libertarian
His solution to the problems of technological unemployment was some sort of government retraining program. 

His view on immigration was that we should have a guest worker program and issue more work visas. There was no suggestion that we should be more willing to accept immigrants.

2. He does not understand economics
His argument for free trade was that it would benefit the U.S. because the U.S. has a very productive economy—he wasn't very specific, but it sounded as though he meant that we had advanced technology, productive workers and the like. That is a reasonable position in terms of 18th century trade theory, according to which strong economies benefit from trade at the cost of weak economies—in the old version, by a trade surplus which results in the strong economy accumulating gold and so becoming richer. It makes no sense in terms of modern trade theory. 

I can well believe that Weld has, for a Republican politician, relatively libertarian views of social issues. But, on the evidence of his talk, he ought not to be a LP candidate for any office. That is a matter of some concern since it sounds as though he hopes to get the presidential nomination in 2020.

The event I heard him speak at was Libertycon last weekend. I expect the talks given there, including his and mine, will at some point soon be webbed, so you can listen to his and see if you agree with me.

I have not yet seen a video of Governor Weld's talk but someone has put up a video of mine.


Austin Bitter said...


Perry E. Metzger said...

Yah, he's not very good from a Libertarian Party perspective. If he was a Republican running for office, I think libertarians might rationally prefer him to many other Republicans, but he's not a libertarian as such, he's just "more libertarian".

Regardless, I suspect 2020 is going to be such an, er, excremental electoral event, that the Libertarian Party candidate will get relatively little attention. Much of the country will be focused on either keeping Donald Trump in office or in electing the Democrat, no matter who that is or what the cost, in order to get Donald Trump out of office. The LP will be even more ignored than usual, and may get unusually low vote counts.

That said, if the LP is to have any purpose at all, it should be to nominate actual libertarians.

Gordon said...

Regarding immigration, is there a per se libertarian theory about how many citizens a country should have? If people are not prevented from crossing borders to work (or buy goods), what more does the ideal libertarian position require?

David Friedman said...

If people were not prevented from crossing borders, then I don't think there is a libertarian problem with restricting the right to vote to citizens and limiting citizenship, although it might not be a good idea. But Weld didn't imply anything close to that--just being more willing to give some people for some purposes permission to come temporarily.

Carl M. said...

In the presence of the welfare state, zero/low tariffs are not free trade! They constitute subsidized imports.

For buying Chinese, run the use cases for a zero tariff regime. If I were to buy a U.S. made widget, the federal government would collect income and labor taxes on the income I use to buy the widget plus the income/labor taxes of the U.S. workers who made the widget. It might also collect some corporate income tax as a result of the transaction. Moreover, the state of the U.S. factory would get state income taxes and the locality would get property taxes.

For there to be zero tax impact from buying Chinese, the tariffs would need to match other revenues lost minus the cost of the government(s) of having the factory located here.

Since we have a welfare state, the government picks up the slack when worker wages drop too far. The local factory might have a negative net cost to our governments thanks to reduction in welfare load.


Note that Gary Johnson proposed replacing income/labor taxes with a gigantic sales tax. The Fair Tax would have been the equivalent of a honking big 30% across the board tax on all foreign made consumer goods. Johnson was Trumpier than Trump.

(And this is how many European nations keep some factories open. They tax the working class with a VAT.)

William H. Stoddard said...

That was indeed my impression of him from the 2016 campaign. Basically he accepted the LP nomination and totally sold out libertarianism (and Gary Johnson, who wasn't nearly libertarian enough himself).

rexxhead said...

@CarlM: "...That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men..."

The primary function of a zero-tariff policy is to benefit the CITIZEN via affordable goods and services. The function of government is to protect its citizens, not to assure its own economic viability. If the government were to self-immolate in order to protect our rights, that would be "the system working as designed".

Fortnit said...
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Fortnit said...
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LH said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

As Justin Amash recently said, "I think that too often the party has made concessions to have more sort of squishy Republican candidates run as the Libertarian Party candidate, and then destroy the Libertarian Party base."

To nominate Weld would be to embrace everything that was wrong with the 2016 campaign.

Anonymous said...

My general advice for those who have strong opinions about how the Libertarian Party could do better is that they're welcome to demonstrate it by running themselves on the message of their choosing.

LP said...

The retraining point merits clarification, though he didn't actually specify government-funded retraining. It was unclear and only mentioned in passing.

Your interpretation of the immigration answer is excessively uncharitable. There's nothing wrong or anti-libertarian about the observation that increasing legal work visas would allow more people to come and go freely for seasonal work. You can always pick at what wasn't addressed in a short answer on a big topic, but neither there or in any of his past comments has he even hinted at supporting immigration restrictions. Of all the things you could complain that Johnson/Weld weren't "libertarian enough" on, immigration was one where they were usually substantially more libertarian than their intra-movement critics.

A position on immigration that merits a categorical "that person's not a libertarian" would be something closer to this:

David Friedman said...

I thought it was clear that he was implying a government retraining program, but there doesn't seem to be a video of his talk up yet, so I can't quote it.

On immigration, he argued for giving more foreigners permission to work in the U.S. on a temporary basis, said nothing suggesting that we should permit more actual immigration.

On free trade, I found the following webbed from him:

"In the purest sense, free trade is always going to benefit the United States compared to other countries because we have the highest rate of productivity and we're the most technologically advanced country in the world. So we're always going to have that edge."

I do not think that could have been written by someone who understood the principle of comparative advantage. Gaining from free trade doesn't depend on whether you are more productive than your trading partners.

Anonymous said...

When I walked into the voting booth in November of 2016, I held my nose and voted Johnson/Weld. Weld is not a libertarian, in fact Mitt Romney said that he wished the libertarian ticket had Weld as the presidential candidate instead of Johnson. Romney is a Neo-Con(emphasis on the "Con") and that speaks volumes for his beliefs. I personally believe that Mr. Peterson should be the parties standard bearer going into the 2020 election.

Fortnit said...
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Anonymous said...

Implicitly misstating an economic principle in defense of a free trade policy might merit a correction, but it's hardly evidence of being un- or anti-libertarian. There are plenty of libertarians out there who don't know the first thing about economics.

As for immigration, he's got a long public record of advocating for more immigration and against immigration restrictions, as a cursory Google check shows. Noting the advantages of having more work visas and more cross-border labor mobility is a perfectly relevant and on-topic part of the issue to speak to in a brief ~30-second answer.

Johnson and Weld ran a pretty radical pro-open-borders campaign, not only by the standards of non-libertarian politicians but also compared to the handful of other libertarian (-ish/leaning/etc.) politicians of any consequence. Of all the things one could complain they were too squishy or moderate or insufficiently radical on, this issue wouldn't seem to be it.

David Friedman said...


I agree that the fact that he doesn't understand economics isn't evidence that he is not a libertarian. The two other points I mentioned are. As I said.

I would prefer to nominate a candidate who both is a libertarian and understands economics, and my conclusion from his talk was that Weld met neither criterion.

Fortnit said...
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RKN said...

I'm just curious, beyond your personal preference what practical difference does it make whether the Libertarian candidate understands economics or not? (Nevermind that many would quibble with what knowledge one must possess to prove s/he "understands economics"). The Libertarian candidate, whatever his grasp of economics is, doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of getting elected, influencing the outcome of who does, or even shaping the debates during the lead up to the election.

Fortnit said...
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