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"...abortions in these cases would allow women to substitute children who would be born later, and would be better taken care of, for the fetuses that are aborted now. That seems to me to be a tradeoff worth making."

Really Dr. Becker? No consideration of the moral implications? I would just like to ask you one simple question- when does life begin? There's only one, obvious answer- conception. If not, then when could life possibly begin? Do you believe murder contains negative externalities?


What about delegating those social issues to states or counties or cities. I agree with your thoughts, but it seems also true that people are happier and the community is more peaceful when they share values.

The difference is between "federal government should not intervene at these social issues" vs. "government at any level should not intervene at all."

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Uzair Kayani

This is an excellent post. I wonder if classical liberal movements are stronger in countries with proportional representation voting rather than winner-take-all formats.

Some writers suggest that changes in the voting system can determine the number of parties in a country. Proportional representation systems encourage more parties to emerge because each one is able to find a niche and secure at least some power. Winner-take-all systems, in contrast, encourage a two-party system because voters balance the power of their vote (that is, the probability that it will matter) against the utility of winning (the smaller the coalition, the greater each member's gain).

In a winner-take-all system, a voter maximizes the power of her vote by voting for either of the two largest parties, because it is only between these two that her vote can make a difference; a vote for the third strongest party would be wasteful. On the other hand, the voter maximizes her utility by keeping the size of the winning coalition as small as possible. This latter point keeps most winner-take-all systems from devolving into single party rule. They end up being two party systems, as in the U.S.

Proportional representation seems reasonable as a civic matter, but the point is moot: it is implausible that the two parties would ever vote to weaken themselves.


You seem to be advocating a libertarian philosophy rather than a conservative one as generally recognized.

Historically, American libertarians allied themselves with more conventional conservatives but this is more a matter of politics than philosophy. The current political challenge for them is whether they can influence the conservative political movement so as to make it a comfortable place to call home in the next few years.


Becker, "Republican Party is trying to incorporate two inconsistent sets of beliefs: one is the support of competition and generally freer markets, and the other is the advocacy of interventionist policies on various social issues."

You could argue that the Democrats do as well: interventionist policies when it comes to the economy, libertinism on social issues.

However, I'm not certain if holding such positions are inconsistent. As Ludwig Von Mises wrote in his book "Socialism",

"PROPOSALS to transform the relations between the sexes have long gone hand in hand with plans for the socialization of the means of production. Marriage is to disappear along with private property, giving place to an arrangement more in harmony with the fundamental facts of sex. When man is liberated from the yoke of economic labour, love is to be liberated from all the economic trammels which have profaned it. Socialism promises not only welfare - wealth for all - but universal happiness in love as well...

>Free love is the socialist's radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income
of her husband."

The problems with the current Republican Party have nothing to do with social issues, but everything to do with supporting an imperialistic foreign policy.


"For there is an obvious conflict between the rights of women to control their bodies and their motherhood, and the rights of fetuses that might be far enough along in their development to be considered human beings."

True, but this is a tougher problem than cases where the status of the parties is agreed, and debate proceeds from a largely shared set of assumptions.

The crux of the issue is the timeline over which the embryo or fetus is granted consideration as a human being. There are conflicting views with insufficient shared assumptions to either choose among the views or to use the shared assumptions to reach judgment on the morality of abortion.


I wonder if people get hung up on defining "conservatism" because there are so many definitions. Hayek's essay "Why I am Not a Conservative" cleared a lot of it up for me. While the conservatism he described was the old European kind, closer to the type Easterly described in resisting change, American conservatism was rooted in the classical liberal philosophy of the 18th century. It seems to me that it has since moved towards the latter European old style of conservatism but hangs on to some classical liberal philosophy, hence the contradictions. Perhaps a lot of it really comes down to confusing semantics due to a switch in the terms "liberal" and "conservative" from Europe to America.


Uzair: I've run a few political campaigns and the issue of getting the best from voter input is truly a confounding subject.

In our own lives we've a broad array of choices, even down to sharing a pizza we can get "half with pineapple" so as not to have to compromise. The temptation to have third or more parties seems related to expecting something closer to MY choice, while our two party system tends to force us to compromise and end up with a "majority" supporting the new government even though that majority may have had to compromise a lot more than they'd wish, or at times, is healthy for the nation.

The issues of the minority candidates often serve to move the majors, as even a 5% vote for a Nader or Ron Paul is enough for the majors to try to capture next time if it's not in conflict with their larger platform. It's a "funny thing" but Nader with so little political power has probably done more for mandated auto safety than any individual elected representative, and surely Ron Paul has us at least wondering about a monetary system that has seen a 90% devaluation of the purchasing power of the dollar in just 30 years.

I like the "instant runoff" model (perhaps used in NZ?) in which one can cast their first vote for a minority candidate with their second choice taking effect when the minor candidate falls by the wayside. It would seem that feedback would give the process a better message of the direction voters favored. (I'm of the opinion that today's fast moving world would be better served by such input from the voters with perhaps a quicker response from the government.)

Probably the most important dimension is that of the people having a stronger voice as compared to the money-fueled lobbyists of self-serving special interests. We may be seeing an improvement there as the internet and winning elections via small donation and lower cost campaigning, offers as least some option other than candidates being financed by wealthy donors.

My wish list includes a faster turnover in Congress as well. I think the Senate is 3% which points to an average stay of a quarter century or more........ one of the most secure jobs in the nation!


Becker and Posner way to go, you guys both rock. I'm pleased with Arlen too :).
One of the things that complicates viewing conception as the start of life is that the majority of conception events fail to result in pregnancy. Is a natural abortion before anyone knows about it really as big a tragedy as a baby dying? How far should the state interfere to prevent that happening?
And I think that the 2 party system is a natural result of how broken our voting system is when dealing with more than 2 candidates. Instant runoff voting is not the best(or even a particularly good) solution however. Range voting is as I think I clearly argue here.



The past four posts of this blog have been enlightening for me, not so much for their content, but for the comments by the readers. I broadly agree with the view of classical liberalism endorsed by Becker and Posner, and realize that the asylum that Classical Liberals had found in Reagan's Republican Party was only temporary. The party has two souls, and I have no doubt that the social conservative will reclaim the party as their own. Of all conservatives, the readers of this blog should be the most inclined to Classical Liberal ideals. And yet they confirm Posner's theses, and then some. They are fundamentally anti-intellectual, and reject ex ante Global Warming and Evolutionism. Abortion and Gun Control are bigger concerns than torture, violation of privacy, and illegitimate wars. With friends like these.

It is obvious that libertarians and European-style liberals are in for a long exile. If the Democratic Party doesn't overreach (unlikely) they may find an uneasy refuge in it.
Meanwhile, social conservatives will ossify into a filo-authoritarian organization.


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Roy D. Schickedanz

The abortion issue certainly raises the spectrum of human rights and how any government, right or wrong, can and should interfere in the affairs of man.

Here, I must agree with Henry David Thoreau, less government is best.

No doubt, the conservative movement has made its stand on the issue and cause, raising the boundary of crossing by any government with the general happiness and harmony of its people and society.

What are the rights of government? What are the rights of the individual?

Each has a stake in the question and possible solution and outcome answer.

Man has created government for order and ruling, always maintaining the dignity of the individual with real rights and authority of Life and Living.

Man for man, taking its characteristics of the authority of man its creator, makes governments.

The matter is not easily solved.

To date the question has centered on when life becomes life to find clarity of concern.

Evolution might consider operative feature of life when it initially becomes functionality and cells begin replicating and moving toward an expressional outcome.

Life itself offers what protection of development? The process is now in motion being governed by the miracle life of itself.



Dan, I looked at and considered your "range voting".

I've seen something like this used for corporate policy or say where a city should site a new airport after considering all the variables. The participants would have a limited number of blue, yellow or red inventory dots with blue being for, yellow lukewarm and red for over my dead body for the various options.

Perhaps range voting might be applicable to a primary with lots of candidates but I doubt it. Would those favoring candidate A want to water down their vote by giving a percentage to a less favored candidate??

As we wend our way to picking just ONE for the office it would seem of even less use. I can't think of a presidential race in which many would say they favored one by 80% and the other by 20%. What would be gained?

Television has changed our two party system. While it has never been perfect or even close to being so, in years past it all started at precinct level with hammering out a platform. In the best of times a candidate would be nominated who supported the platform. Of course this system had the drawbacks of "smoke filled rooms" and brokered conventions that smacked of party or old boy politics.

But television has allowed any telegenic candidate with a fair sized war chest of campaign funding to virtually ignore the party and the platform and jump in.

I don't know if the current system of primary caucuses and primaries is better, but it seems to short-circuit working within the party to move the party and bring in the people and issues that create the desire for third parties, in favor of charismatic "leaders" who may or may not be thoughtful or fit for the task.


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Steven R., Bayne

If we define 'conservatism' as a desire to return to the good old days,
this might easily characterize Roosevelt Democrats of today. This
characterization marginalizes the philosophical conservative by making the idea of "local" interest only, applying to one set of traditions and regional interests. The animus of philosophical conservatism transcends provincial interests that are exploited to marginalize conservative influence. The philosophical conservative is devoted to the principle of freedom over equality, notwithstanding a commitment to due process, etc. A resistance to social engineering is guided by a realization that such engineering brings with it a brittleness, one which by emphasing freedom maximizes adaptation to sudden disasters which are unpredictable. Prof. Posner in his excellent book relies too frequently on the idea that probabilities are real, if only we could find out what they are. The philosophical conservative is a "frequency" theorist by contrast, preferring freedom over social engineering as a way of maximizing adaptation in probabalistically uncertain and changing conditions.


I agree with you .wellcome my blogseo


1. Abortion is an issue mostly because of the "slippery slope" issue around the sanctity of life. How can it be legal when murder is illegal in the face of uncertainty when personhood begins?
Conservatives want to be on the side of caution and liberals want unfettered freedom. We need Solomon!!!

2. Conservatives want guns because they feel that the police cannot protect them in a still violent society (by the time the police arrive, you are already dead) and the gun makes them feel as though they are in charge of their own security. The liberals don't like guns because they consider them unnecessary in a "civilized" society. As one conservative wag put it to his liberal friend, "I promise not to use my gun to defend you if you are attacked.". Since there are as many privately owned guns as there are folks in the USA, stop arguing about gun control but enforce severe penalties for the commission of a crime using a firearm, fired or not.

3. There are some serious academic scientists who take issue with global warming and its causes. No one yet has explained how the last ice age ended in global warming when there were very few people around. Was it dinosaur flatulence? The conservatives don't believe in man-caused global warming because they doubt the integrity of the proponents of that theory or perhaps of academia in general (another subject). Liberals accept the academic more easilly and believe that government can take a problem and design a solution effectively (the civilized approach).

To say that one or the other of these approaches is more "intellectual" than the other is to mis-state the analysis. It is more a value system that underpins the debates since neither approach has all of the answers. There is no question that the issues will not be solved without a continuing conservative-liberal dialectic and political power struggle. One thing is for sure---history as in economics is cyclical.


Relative to elections there should clearly be term limits. One for the senate and two for the House with being able to run again after a one term interim out of office. Let's face it. If you can read and write lucidly and pass a brief psychiatric test, you should be able to do those jobs and there would be an incentive to quickly learn the ropes and not screw up too badly knowing that you have to return to your community sooner. That way, as Obama says, you would spread the power around.


Mr. Becker I am a little concerned by your call for the Republican party to move away from interventionist social policies. They are the biggest and most reliable vote gainers for the party. After all I am not sure why a majority of the people would choose a party that decreases marginal taxes on the rich and generally promotes policies that increase income inequality.


Don't Ask Don't Tell has been a holding of the middle position for a long time.

I am opposed to it basically because it forces people to in effect lie-even though it tries to limit the conditions for that.

Given all that it still is a question of reality,economics, and feasibility.

There are a lot of arguments to be made about certain costs and the best timing for changing the policy-mid war is probably not a good time.

It might be easy to assume that the military is not overtaxed because especially after BRAC most of the general public does not have to come into immediate contact with the military but the Ops Tempo for some critically manned fields has been unrelenting for some time now.

Certain units were experiencing divorce rates that hit 80% and went upwards from there-this was under Clinton by the way-when he was trying to increase the Ops Tempo while not adjusting the RIFT formula.

So unfortunately Obama like Clinton before him is just being practical when he pushes that particular issue on the back burner.

That's not something you can pin solely on Republicans and they aren't the ones who end up breaking their promises.


This is clear in Reagan's successful efforts to wear down the Soviet Union.

Some believe we probably won that arms race after upping the ante-with SDI because of our superior economic system.

That system is going to look nothing like itself very shortly. You could believe that over 60% of the youth vote thought that the more pressing issue was Global Warming and voted accordingly even though McCain made a lot of concessions to them over that very issue.


Jack, What range voting allows you to do is give 2 candidates scores of 100%, so you can say (just for example) "I like Gore so he gets 100%, Nader is cool so he gets 100% also, but my crystal ball says Bush will drive our country off a cliff so he gets a 0%" In a 2 person election there is little benefit, but our electoral system spits out garbage once there are more than 2 candidates, which is why everyone worries about "throwing away" their vote. The difference between where people get a limited number of colored buttons and range voting is in range voting you don't have a limited number of buttons, so you can express your views without bizzare ranking systems.



1. Perhaps you catch yourself in your own logic: First you equate abortion with murder, but then go on to say "uncertainty as to when personhood begins". Roe, thoughtfully, dealt with that very issue 40 years ago and despite it being a fairly short and readable decision it seems to me that few anti-individual-choice advocates have bothered to read it.

2. As an Alaskan I'm hardly a "gun banner" but the "feeling" of being made safer by having a gun handy is likely A. in one's home, B. in bear country. In a car or downtown, and god help us! in a bar full of inebriates, I doubt they are of much help, as typically in old westerns, the decisive edge goes to the first to move regardless of weapon. In terms of lowering our horrendous level of gun killing better we limited guns on the streets of our murderous cities. Works well in nearby Canada where the kill is less than a fifth that of the US and in Europe where the rate is lower yet.

3. I'll skip GW but to mention your honesty regarding the extreme right "doubting academia in general" and remind you that the response to global warming is very much the same as responding to Peak oil and the obvious divergence of supply and demand curves, or even responding to the nation tanking aspects of worsening our soaring trade deficit by sending ever more dollars to OPEC for fewer and fewer bbls of oil. CONSERVation of energy we've grown use to wasting pays dividends to us all, the world, and to our future, and I suspect the wise and principle conservatives of the past would be the first to adopt conservation.

Kinda dumb to spend ourselves into bankruptcy wasting, finite, NON-renewables, eh?


madawaskan: Do you think the USSR fell due to perhaps eight years of outspending them along with a fairly transparent SDI bluff?

We studied the USSR in a comparative politics class in 1970 and concluded that the utter failure of EVERY five year plan and their failure even to provide enough food to feed themselves indicated the bear would fall within a few decades. (Interestingly during that era, we know now that the CIA estimated USSR's GDP at 2.5 times what it really was.)

As for Global Warming, if it belatedly rallies Americans to address the myriad problems of a wasteful over-consumption of pollution causing non-renewables it would be just fine with me if it turned out to be a false icon. Go youth VOTE!


Becker should clarify what should be the role of the father in the abortion decision.


This is confused.

You write:

Easterly argues that the true definition of a conservative is someone who respects traditions and existing institutions, and who wants to limit change. Although that is a common definition of the essence of conservatism, I do not believe it is a consistent or sensible one.

Nothing that follows gives any reason to believe that this definition is in any way inconsistent or not sensible. All you say is that if this is what “conservatism” is, then it does not entail a consistent view of government.

First, there is no reason why “Conservatism” or any other political movement should have a consistent view of government. You may be right (but I don’t think you are) in arguing that a consistent view of government is a good characteristic in a political movement, but it is hardly a matter of definition that conservatism should have only good characteristics.

Secondly, there is nothing incoherent about believing that governments are good at some things and bad at others. It is perfectly sensible to say that whether a particular matter is susceptible of government intervention is dependent on the nature of the matter in question, rather than on the nature of government. This view may be incorrect (again, I don’t think it is), but it is hardly incoherent.

Thirdly, a “Conservative” in Easterly’s sense would not, in any event, be bound to disagree with your examples. Easterly merely referred to a conservative as someone who “respects traditions” and “wants to limit change”. Even someone who wanted to limit change may quite logically consider the kinds of social change you refer to as falling within the limits that are acceptable. Merely respecting traditions does not entail that all traditions must be followed at all times.

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