The Happy Warrior
Why and how someone becomes a Libertarian varies from person to person. For Bryan Caplan, one of America’s leading economists, it all started with a little book called Atlas Shrugged.
Since its publication in 1957, that book has inspired countless intellectual conversions throughout the world. For Caplan, it was the beginning of a love affair with libertarian ideals.
From that first encounter, Caplan continued to digest book after book discussing the topic. He attended Mises University at Stanford University before going to college, and while an undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley continued his research.
Caplan served as a research assistant for an edition of Friedrich Hayek’s collected works, poring over footnotes. An internship at the Cato Institute followed, and then another summer as a research assistant. Caplan then went to Princeton University for his graduate studies before settling in at George Mason University, his current home.
“It’s the only place that offered me a job,” he joked, noting that fellow George Mason professor Tyler Cowen had pushed for him to join the faculty in the late 1990s. He praises Cowen for bringing younger professors to the university and revitalizing the economics department.
The younger professors are “plugged into blogging in a way that has raised the profile of the university enormously, [and] certainly the econ department. I think all [of] George Mason University is much more on the intellectual map because of GMU econ blogging.”
A slew of Mason economics professors currently blog, with EconLog, Caplan’s site, Café Hayek, and Cowen’s highly popular Marginal Revolution. George Mason has become a hotbed of economic thought, and he thinks other universities pale in comparison.
It was here that Caplan wrote The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Although not coming out for several years, Caplan has also begun work on his next book, The Case Against Education: A Professional Student Explains Why Our Education System is a Big Waste of Time and Money, and two more books are coming after that.
According to Caplan, it is a great time to be a libertarian. “Here’s the thing: Bad political conditions are often great for a movement that’s against them,” he said. “You’ve got young people interested and concerned and enthusiastic, and this interacts very closely with social networking.”
When Caplan grew up it was a much different world for aspiring libertarians. “Young libertarians just don’t have any idea about how lonely and isolating it was, even 10 years ago, 15 years ago. . . . Maybe 20 years ago you started to have things like internet mailing lists, but it just wasn’t the same,” he recalled. “You just didn’t have the same feeling of community and meeting new people all the time and being in contact with people. Things like Facebook and Twitter, it really has. . . . taken a lot of people who would have otherwise just [been] . . . the only person that they knew thought this way, and brought them into a community.”
Libertarian support systems have also grown in other ways, too. Over the years, Caplan has observed that more and more people are second- or even third-generation Libertarians. He noticed this after giving a talk on genes and how they affect political affiliation. According to Caplan, a person’s genes not only affect what they look like, but their political views as well: “A lot of Libertarians are skeptical of this just on the grounds that a generation ago people were generally the only Libertarian in their family. . . . they were just like the black sheep or the oddball in their family. But one generation later, half the kids in the room said they had at least one parent who was a libertarian.”
Caplan likened the situation to skateboarding: Someone may be genetically predisposed to be a skateboarder, but if their society lacks skateboards then that ability will never be realized. In other words there needs to be an “environmental catalyst.” One may be predisposed to be a libertarian but never exposed to it, particulalry between the ages of 15–25 when still open-minded to a fundamental change in worldview.
While Caplan is unsure if there are more Libertarians then a decade ago, he finds it interesting that more of them are finding their way to George Mason: “It is striking that more undergraduates are coming here specifically for [Mason’s libertarian studies]. But as to whether there are more of them in the world . . . it’s harder to say.”
Caplan, who teaches both undergraduate and graduate economics and public policy at the university, has become known for his lighthearted lecturing style. “I try to make learning fun, I think it should be fun. I always try to avoid being guarded.”
A resident of Oakton, VA, he has become famous for his annual Capla-Con, a day or two event where Caplan invites friends and students to his home to play board games, role playing games and discuss whatever topics come to mind. Capla-Con began in 2007 as a one-day event, and this past summer swelled to a 2-day affair with 50–60 people attending. “I always enjoy bringing together people I’ve met at different places and putting them together and just seeing what happens, I mean kind of like putting a bunch of fish in a tank,” said Caplan. Whether hosting gatherings in his backyard or on the blogosphere, his influence is sure to be felt for decades to come.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire