Why Are Most Libertarians Male?

The character Alex P. Keaton, from the TV show Family Ties, is a Republican, but he has some Libertarian traits, being obsessed with economics and markets.

Author: Bill Chapman: email

People who don't like Libertarians (which is most people) often observe that Libertarians are mostly white, and mostly male, and that this somehow proves that something is wrong with them.

I have actually read articles by people analyzing this, and typically they are people who have no understanding whatsoever of Libertarian ideology.

My Personal Libertarian Journey

I was a Libertarian in college. I had several reasons for this at the time.

In my childhood, in elementary school, the boys formed gangs. And we had a gang leader, Jeff, who was a terrible tyrant. To maintain his power over everyone else, he would put others down. He'd yell "Everyone on Richard!" and everyone would pile on Richard, physically hitting him. Anyone he wanted, he would get everyone else to pile on. And he especially did this to me, and I didn't have the social graces to figure out why.

Years later, I discussed this with a school counselor, and the counselor told me that that was because Jeff must have considered me a threat in some way. In all those years that had never occurred to me. I was just really, really socially clueless. I think this is just a part of being a fairly geeky guy.

But while all this schoolyard oppression was going on I was reading a lot, and I was reading a lot of stories about kings who were tyrants, and I felt that political tyranny was one of the biggest problems facing the human race.

By the time I was done with elementary school, I had a very, very strong antipathy toward leaders. This was mainly aimed at political leaders, leaders who wielded violent force. I had no experience with economic bosses, but I put them in a different category, since, unlike political leaders, they can't wield violent force.

Then, by about sixth grade, I figured out microeconomic theory and the law of supply and demand. I loved it. It was a miracle. It was a wonderful solution to a basic problem -- how we could organize the production of society without having it all organized by the political leaders I hated so much. It was a miracle.

It was soon after that that, in 1972, when I was 12 years old, that Richard Nixon imposed a wage-price freeze on the American economy. I thought that was insane, because I understood that for supply and demand to really meet in the middle and shake hands and make the right compromises to avoid shortages, prices and wages had to be allowed to constantly fluctuate to reflect the forces of supply and demand. Years later, when I was a Libertarian in college, some older Libertarians I knew said that it was Nixon's wage-price freeze that disillusioned them with the Republican Party.

In college, I started hanging out with a lot of drug users, and many of them insisted that taking hallucinogenic drugs gave them profound insights that couldn't be obtained any other way. While I was too timid to follow their example, I believed this at the time (no longer do), and I believed that the intellectual progress of the human race depended on the freedom to experiment with drugs. The Republicans were strongly against this position, the Democrats were very, very slightly in favor, but the Libertarians were completely in favor of the freedom to experiment with drugs, even if it meant ruining your life.

In my early college years, before Reagan was elected, the students discussed politics a lot. Identity politics were discussed a lot less than they are now, but economics much more. And there were several features of the discussion:

  • At the schools I was at in California, Liberals were the overwhelming majority, and they had no hesitation to gang up on those they disagreed with.

  • Most college students had no understanding whatsoever of the law of supply and demand. It wasn't that they had some sophisticated theory of "market failure" or anything like that, no, they had no idea. As I will discuss later, the public was much more ignorant about economics than they are today. For example, they did not feel that wages were calculated in a complex trade-off between the number and quality of people wanting a type of job and the number of openings, they just felt that wages were arbitrarily dictated by management. Similarly, they felt that retail prices were arbitrarily dictated to them by sellers. They had no concept of how the economy worked. So a big part of my world view was that most of the public had such a poor understanding of economics that any government elected by such voters would be incompetent to intervene constructively in the economy, so the best course of action was to advocate a position of extreme non-intervention in the market.

  • Prior to Reagan's election, liberal college students were utterly convinced that their ideology had a complete monopoly on the future. In their minds, any conservative or free-market advocate was just an ignorant yokel who was always wrong about everything, like Archie Bunker, or Frank Burns from M*A*S*H.

  • This is important: politics was perceived to exist along a one-dimensional political spectrum, with communism on one end, and fascism on the other. So being a moderate on either side was a choice between being a "mini-Hitler" or a "mini-Lenin". And the media was reminding also everybody about "6 million Jews" about once a week, but nearly everybody was completely ignorant of the many horrible atrocities, with many million dead and millions more tortured, by communists. So a lot of people felt that being a "mini-Lenin" was a lot better than being a "mini-Hitler", so they were liberals. So if you disagreed with the liberals, as I did, it was desirable to distinguish yourself from being a "mini-Hitler". And with my very deep distrust of political leaders going back to early childhood, I wanted nothing to do with fascism. So by supporting the Libertarian Party, I felt that we were adding another dimension, "freedom vs authoritarianism", to the political map.
  • Eventually I felt that the Libertarian Party was too simplistic for my tastes, and I wanted to vote in primaries that mattered, so I left and went to the other two parties, belonging to different ones at different times.

    After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the general public became much better informed about economics. I think a lot of liberals had been thinking of communists as "noble idealists" who just somehow needed to get the bugs out of their system, and who would eventually get the bugs out of their system, after which they would hopefully prevail. Once it became clear that the future was capitalist, everybody did more homework on understanding how it worked. However, the public remains profoundly ignorant of all the atrocities committed by the communists.

    Two Types of Poverty

    A lot of leftists get really self-righteous on the subject of poverty, and claim to be more altruistic than free-market types, because they take such good care of the poor.

    But there are two types of poverty. There is economic poverty, which leftists obsess about, and there is political poverty, where the rulers don't like you. What I experienced on the schoolyard in elementary school was political poverty. In a communist country, if the rulers have it in for you, you can easily get imprisoned for life, or even tortured to death, just for disagreeing with the party line. In non-fascist capitalist countries, political dissidents mostly get ignored.

    So Why All the White Males?

    So much for my personal journey. Let's get to personality traits that laid the groundwork for this.

    I am much more of a systems person than a people person, which is a male trait. The fact that I was too socially clueless to keep from getting routinely pounded on in the schoolyard is partly a reflection of my poor social skills. It is also partly a reflection of being male -- I didn't understand how the social scene among the girls worked at the time, and still don't, but I really don't think physical violence was part of the equation for the girls.

    The other part of being a systems person is that I figured out the law of supply and demand well enough, by 12 years old, to know that Richard Nixon's wage-price freeze at the time was crazy. At that point, I understood the law of supply and demand much better than most of my peers in college did 6 years later. Someone who's not a systems person isn't going to do that.

    People in the hard sciences, and economists, tend to be systems people. Systems people tend to be socially awkward. They also tend to be male, and white or Asian.

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