Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Difference Between FLOW and Libertarian Policy Prescriptions

"What matters most about political ideas is the underlying emotions, the music to which ideas are a mere libretto, often of a very inferior quality." ~ Lewis Namier

Namier's quotation is a succinct description of why the FLOW movement is necessary.

Certainly the first and third commitments of FLOW are mainstream libertarian:

1. Voluntary, freely-chosen, rule-based solutions rather than coercive, government-imposed, command-and-control solutions.

3. Passionate, radical tolerance of different ways of life.

The second, however, is not often included among libertarian commitments:

2. A personal and professional commitment to human flourishing, well-being, and happiness.

For myself, I see the role of the second as an exhortation to focus our billions of private initiatives in directions that enhance human well-being. In an age of increasing leisure and wealth, in which more and more people have more and more time and money to devote to making the world a better place, collectively directing our private energies to making the world a better place is potentially a very powerful strategy.

The term "libertarian" is often associated with the Libertarian Party (LP), which tends to focus on issues, such as reducing taxes and legalizing drugs, guns, and prostitution, that are not inspiring or idealistic. Thus the term "libertarian" has mostly become associated with marginal figures pursuing marginalized passions. If we move beyond the LP and look at the cultural creatives, there is an interest in exploring private, entrepreneurial initiative as a way to solve problems. This is inspiring and idealistic.

We want to provide a new music, a passion to make the world a better place, and discover as we go what specific policy prescriptions may follow. By and large, I expect that the first-generation solutions will be similar to the best-thought-out market solutions being developed by economists.

For me, in terms of policy initiatives, the very first priority is educational freedom. Until and unless we can liberate the educational process so that all people have access to empowering education, the least fortunate in the U.S. will fall further andfurther behind. In order to liberate education, we need:

1. To eliminate all government-enforced licensing, certification, and credentials for all professional qualifications. Legally-enforced certification results in government enforcement of the status quo, enforcing class hierarchies, reduced access to crucial professional services, and the stultification of innovation.

2. To liberate K-12 education by minimally-restricted charter schools, voucher plans, and tax credits. We should eliminate compulsory education and gradually move towards the complete separation of school and state. Government-managed K-12 education unnecessarily dooms a significant portion of the population to poverty and misery.

All of this is in line with the views of Ivan Illich, a quasi-Marxist, and John Taylor Gatto, who is supported by Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper's Magazine. Although I am not presently in K-12 education, I am actively working with people to create better ways to educate through large-scale educational entrepreneurship.

Which gets into a broader interpretation of "policy": The most important "policy" changes amount to:

1. Discovering which existing government rules prevent entrepreneurial solutions to problems and then working to change those rules.

2. Developing cadres of FLOW entrepreneurs who can then begin working to solve the problems.

As we have more and more idealistic young people who want to become FLOW entrepreneurs, there will be greater and greater demands for the kinds of freedom that will be required.

Ultimately, fifty to one hundred years from now, I could imagine a truly wonderful world of better cultures and ways of life that is based on something amounting to anarcho-libertarianism.

Thus the FLOW agenda is to be driven by the desire to make the world a better place. Internalizing this new idealism will involve a dramatic and possibly painful gestalt shift for those who come from the Left. The ambition of the Left used to be to create a better society by means of communism. That is gone. There remains an attenuated ambition to create a welfare state or perhaps "sustainable regional economies." Neither of these are particularly inspiring or idealistic. Nor, if partially realized, will they make human life significantly better (In Sweden, the idolized welfare state, one in ten young Swedes now listens to "white power" music, and this sort of racism is increasing across Europe).

At least in large nation-states, government is simply too unwieldy to make the world a better place. But, with adequate freedom, I can create a better classroom, a better school, and a better chain of schools. Even given the severe obstacles faced by innovative educators at present, I can create better, kinder, more wholesome, more intellectual pockets of teen culture.

I am likewise certain that there will be entrepreneurs who will be able to create better communities, better wellness centers, better therapies, better social norms, better forms of recreation, better kinds of entertainment, better policing strategies, better judicial systems, and so on. The human potential movement was never really launched. We need radical freedom of action to launch the human potential movement.

Moreover, in terms of electoral politics, welfare state ambitions are clearly electoral losers in the U.S. and there is every reason to believe that they will become ever more definitively losing strategies in the years to come. The intelligent and witty book, "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America," makes a compelling case that demographic trends -including rapid growth in the exurbs and the continuing loss of support for the Left among the young – will ensure Republican victories for years to come.

On the other hand, "Right Nation" also points out that these growing "Republican" constituencies often tend to be socially liberal but anti-government: Which is another way of saying that the proto-FLOW demographic is steadily growing. My hope for the FLOW movement is that it creates a conscious choice for idealistic humanists among the American Left:

1. Continue to support welfare-state growth which is no longer credible or inspiring, and which ensures ongoing, increasingly humiliating and devastating electoral defeats for Democrats, while resulting in personal disillusionment, bitterness, and despair.


2. Support FLOW, a realistic vision based on a growing demographic that can lead towards global peace, prosperity, happiness, and sustainability while also either making the Democrats viable again and/or getting the Republicans to tone down the propensity for social conservatism, big government, and foreign aggression that increasingly characterizes them.

To me, this choice seems like a no-brainer and it is just a matter of time before more and more open-minded people on what used to be the American Left buy into FLOW.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Learning to Sail in High Winds

As someone who very gradually came to accept market mechanisms as a better way to organize society, I would say that along the way I had to let go of a certain type of passion for justice, a certain type of expectation that life outcomes would be based on desert or moral worth.

For instance, often people on the Left are for rent control because they are outraged that a retired person on limited income who has lived in a particular apartment her entire life suddenly has to move at an elderly age, leaving behind a rich life and community in her lifetime apartment. She has done nothing to deserve this sudden loss of well-being. Market forces (sometimes personalized in the form ofa "greedy landlord" who may or may not be "greedy") have changed the rent levels and she must leave.

At an intuitive level, I still find this narrative very compelling and would not wish for events like this to occur. At the same time, I now find the argument against rent control even more compelling: rent control reduces the quality and quantity of lodging available in an area and, ultimately, produces even greater corruption and injustices than do market forces. That said, if private philanthropies, municipalities, or FLOW entrepreneurs want to provide rent vouchers to help out such people, such actions might be considered laudable humanitarian acts.

MiltonFriedman has long made a sharp distinction between policies such as rent control or public schooling, on the one hand, in which government intervenes in the economy, and rent vouchers or education vouchers, on the other hand, in which the poor are assisted but markets are allowed to function properly. I would likewise make a sharp distinction between market-friendly welfare states, such as Finland, compared to highly interventionist anti-market governments, such as France.

But ultimately we want to create a world in which there exists a radical acceptance of choice and personal responsibility in all aspects of our life. Charles Murray suggested a libertarian idealism based on a folksy, American sort of respect for personalresponsibility. A recent op-ed in the WSJ suggests that this is the real sense in which "moral values" determined the recent election:

In addition to the traditional American respect for personal responsibility, the Cultural Creatives are often very serious about personal responsibility. Tibetan Buddhists such as Tarthang Tulkuand "New Age" spiritual writers such as Anthony de Mello and M.ScottPeck all state directly that each of us is responsible for our own happiness. If we are unhappy, we are not to blame others for our own happiness: We are strictly responsible for our own well-being. Indeed, these and other writers in the Cultural Creatives' canon would state clearly that acceptance of personal responsibility in ourlives is virtually identical with spiritual growth.

In a world in which each of us is responsible for our own well-being, we will not whine or complain about market forces. We will accept personal responsibility for our habits, for our character, for our personal and professional decisions, for our financial choices, for our purchases, etc. We won't complain about rent increases or jobs going over seas. We will realize that we will live our lives in a world which is undergoing an endless process of creative destruction and that change is productive. In the words of Leif Smith: "We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds."

Monday, February 07, 2005

FLOW and the Cultural Creatives

I've been reading an interesting political analysis concerningthe "Cultural Creatives" by Paul Ray, one of the authors of the book by that name. By means of market research ("13 years of survey research studies on over 100,000 Americans, plus over 100 focus groups and dozens of depth interviews"), Ray claimed to have discovered a large population (50 million) of "cultural creatives" who do not fit into traditional left/right political categories.

Major areas of agreement between FLOW and Ray's version of "Cultural Creative" political beliefs include:

  • The desire "to get beyond left/right"
  • A distaste for public schools
  • An interest in direct entrepreneurial action
  • A distaste for the anger/class warfare attitudes of the Left
  • A disillusionment with government solutions

Ray believes that these people are alienated by the traditional left, including its "Big Government" paradigm. At the same time, in a two-dimensional political chart that is rather different from the Nolan Chart, he opposes in one dimension Left ("Modernist New Deal Liberals") against Right ("Cultural Conservatives") with the other dimension defined by the "Cultural Creatives" at one pole and the "Profits Over Planet and People Business Conservatives" at the other pole.

Ray claims that the cultural creatives represents 36% of the population and 45% of the voters; that the Left is 12% of the population and 15% of the voters; the cultural conservatives are 19% of the population and 22% of the voters; and the business conservatives are 14% of the population and 19% of the voters (and 80% of the money). If he is correct in his percentages, it would appear as if large numbers of cultural creatives voted for Bush in the most recent election.

In his paper, "The New Political Compass," Ray is explicitly trying to develop a market research-based strategy by means of which his Cultural Creatives can have more political power:
(click on "The New Political Compass" for access to the pdf file)

Assuming that his market research is legitimate, there are several interesting implications for the FLOW project.

The first is that insofar as Ray, and people like him, regard "Cultural Creatives" and "Business Conservatives" as opposite poles of a spectrum, it would seem that our task is very difficult. In part, FLOW was started because John and I are Cultural Creatives who happen to believe that markets are the best way in which to
express our cultural creativity. But from Ray's perspective, we are strange beasts.

I, at least, would counter that in part Ray's perspective is characteristic of people who don't understand how markets work; although Ray explicitly rejects "Big Government" Leftism, he still does not understand how entrepreneurial Cultural Creatives will need exactly the same kinds of freedom that entrepreneurs of all sorts have always needed. From this perspective, our task would be to educate the young cohort of cultural creatives on how they can change the world by means of entrepreneurial activity - along with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the kind of increasingly simplified government that will be necessary for them to engage successfully in such entrepreneurial activity.

The biggest areas of conflict between the political beliefs of Ray's "Cultural Creatives" and FLOW are on:

1. Different beliefs regarding ecology. While FLOW is eco-friendly, it does not accept the mainstream eco-hysteria.

2. Different beliefs regarding big business. There is nothing wrong with big business per se. Wal-mart, for instance, has probably done more for the poor, through lower prices, than all government programs from FDR onwards.

3. Different beliefs regarding globalization. Ray believes that globalization is harmful, despite abundant evidence that the world's poor benefit (e.g. Oxfam's position that global trade is the only way to eliminate hunger).

4. Commitment to national health care. We would look for more market-friendly approaches to health care.

With both 2 and 3, there is a principled libertarian/FLOW position that is very hostile to crony capitalism. The "Big Business" position which Ray finds so distasteful is in part due to the crony capitalism which libertarians have always criticized. Ray would not understand why/how limited government is the best solution to crony capitalism. According to Ray the Cultural Creatives are also very hostile to the corrupt, well-funded political process, but Ray at least doesn't see how limited government is also the solution to that one.