people are sheepI just finished listening to the audio of a Bryan Caplan lecture he delivered last year at the Applying Liberty Seminar. The topic of the talk was “Public opinion for libertarians” and it’s one of the most interesting lectures I’ve heard in a long time, in particular because it challenged a lot of the premises I tend to put forward a lot and also maybe more because it simply put forward a lot of fascinating information I just wasn’t aware of. Discussed in the lecture:

  • The idea that the public, when surveyed and on the average, actually are in favour of almost everything the government does. That it’s not necessarily special interests pushing the agendas; the people, when asked, support most of this stuff. Caplan goes even further, suggesting that it’s a surprise the government isn’t even more controlling of the economy. For example, 80% of people are in favour of raising the minimum wage. That the government actually takes fewer liberties than it might if it purely represented the average surveyed opinion is an interesting one. It also implies that perhaps some of the special interests the influence government in some areas might be influencing it more towards libertarian preferences and away from the idiocy of the mob, even if only slightly.
  • He settles an issue I’ve wondered about for a while, why aren’t more women libertarian? Well the answer seems to be that women, on the average, are significantly less libertarian than men in almost all areas. They are less in favour of drug legalisation, more in favour of higher taxes and tend to be more likely to vote for health and safety type regulations.  Although politically incorrect to say, Caplan also cites a colleague who did a study that showed that in general women are far less likely to understand economic issues, which is almost essential in understanding libertarian arguments.
  • There’s a very interesting bit in the Q&A where Caplan talks about Singapore and how it leads the world in certain areas (and I stress certain areas) of free-market, libertarianesque policy despite the people, when asked, being against a lot of the good things that are policy there. His explanation of why this could be the case is very interesting. There’s also some fascinating data about how East Germans, even after having lived under overtly socialist rule, are still more likely to favour socialism than their West German counterparts, Caplan explains it thus: “Brainwashing Works!”

Given the information in this lecture I’m interested to hear what people’s thoughts are on what we as Libertarians can do moving forwards. If people are simply not interested in our ideas, what can we do to help ourselves, even if it means letting go of trying to persuade a lot of the people who seem to actually want a dictatorship? Thoughts in the comments please!

And here’s the lecture. Enjoy.