Is libertarianism or conservatism the better political philosophy?


Both conservatives and libertarians tout liberty and virtue as key components of their philosophies. While historically disagreements about what that actually means have taken a back seat (causing the distinct philosophies to often be lumped together), times have changed.

Elements of the old “fusionism” alliance have dissolved; new conflicts have emerged that impose a strain on the formerly functioning, though imperfect, ideological partnership.

Recent policy issues have highlighted disagreements in areas such as the War on Drugs, national defense, welfare, immigration, marriage, foreign policy, and more. These topics represent important reasons to discuss the similarities and the differences between the two worldviews.

Tomorrow night, interns from the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute will go head-to-head in debate. Matt Lewis, Senior Contributor at the Daily Caller and Contributing Editor at The Week, will moderate. 

 Is libertarianism or conservatism the better political philosophy?

Tune in live tomorrow, Thursday, July 23rd, at 6:30 p.m. EST and join the conversation on Twitter using #LvCdebate.

U.S. Court of Appeals Sides with Plaintiffs on Halbig

Today’s ruling shows that Obamacare, a cynical political bargain that lacked popular support from day one, simply doesn’t work as conceived. It’s time to repeal this Frankenstein’s monster and instead pass market-based health care reform that lowers costs, expands choice, and increases quality—all while respecting the rule of law.

Got questions? Join the “intellectual father” of Halbig, Michael Cannon, for a Twitter Q+A today at Cannon jointly filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs and is one of the top experts on Obamacare.

Tune in live today at 2 p.m. EST and tweet your questions using #HalbigCato.

This week’s special #CatoSummerReading sale….

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Plus, don’t forget: ALL Cato books are 25% off through Sunday. Don’t miss it: shop the Cato Bookstore today!

Unaccompanied Minors and Unintended Consequences

The recent surge in unaccompanied immigrant children (UAC) is portrayed by many immigration restrictionists as a failure of immigration enforcement. But according to Cato scholar Alex Nowrasteh, American policies crafted in the 1990s likely unintentionally had a role in incentivizing some of the migration and the smugglers that carry many of the migrants.

“The law of unintended consequences,” writes Nowrasteh, “combined with partisan politics has created a profoundly disturbing crisis at the border.”

Infrastructure Investment: A State, Local, and Private Responsibility

Despite huge and ongoing budget deficits, some policymakers are proposing to increase federal spending on infrastructure.

President Obama on Thursday unveiled a new federal infrastructure initiative, and has been campaigning for Congress to pass a long-term highway bill. The president and other leaders believe that more federal spending on roads, rail, and other assets will boost growth and create jobs.

However, according to Cato scholars,  devolving infrastructure activities to the states and the private sector is actually a more sound plan.

"Private firms can build and run roads, bridges, and transit better than the government," writes Chris Edwards. 

Randal O’Toole takes it one step further, firmly stating that the United States is absolutely not facing an infrastructure crisis, at least with regard to transportation.

"That’s just a story told by people who want to raise your taxes so they can get rich," explains O’Toole. 

GOP Foreign Policy and “Isolationism”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ongoing dust-up over the future of the GOP’s foreign policy has raised several important issues. Unfortunately, Perry has used the opportunity to raise the spectre of “isolationism” when discussing Paul’s policy outlook.

As we at Cato have discussed before, what interventionists like Perry call “isolationism” is really just a foreign policy of restraint.

Cato scholars Christopher A. Preble and Benjamin H. Friedman write, “A security strategy of restraint would keep us out of avoidable trouble and husband our resources, ultimately making us safer and richer.”

Polls consistently show that Americans believe we use our military too frequently, and they are tired of bearing the costs of policing the planet. Meanwhile, the minority who believe that we should be spending more on the military – 28 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll – might not feel that same way if they knew how much we spend as compared to the rest of the world, especially our wealthy allies.


Isn’t it time we look past harmful labels like “isolationism” and take an honest look at our military commitments both at home and abroad?

Interested in learning more? Here are some places to start…

What Role Does Visual Persuasion Play in Global Politics?

What do we want in our political representatives? Could it be as simple as finding someone who looks a lot like us?

That’s the central question in this month’s Cato Unbound, Cato’s monthly debate magazine specializing in the exchange of big ideas.

Each month, Cato Unbound presents an essay on a big-picture topic by an important thinker. The ideas in that essay are then be tested by the comments and criticism of equally eminent thinkers, each of whom will respond to the month’s lead essay and then to one another. The idea is to create a hub for wide-ranging, open-ended conversation, where ideas will be advanced, challenged, and refined in public view.

This month, the debate surrounds the role of visuals and images in the political process. What do they affect, what should they affect, and what does this mean for the future of public policy? 


In the lead essayVirginia Postrel argues that it’s a mistake to excise visual appeals from politics. According to Postrel, persuasion takes more than facts and figures. To fight the undeniable glamour of bad public policies, she says, good public policies must respond with a glamour of their own.

Then, in the first response essayGrant McCracken compares the roles  of luxury and glamour in the realm of visual persuasion. Luxury, according to McCracken, is obedient to, and intimately connected with, the state. Glamour, however, can either come from opposition groups or the central government. Quite often, the state’s attempts at glamour backfire, particularly when it misjudges the public mood, or when its messages reach the wrong audience.

In Smile, You Are on CNN!Autumn Whitefield-Madrano looks at the attractiveness of political officeholders through the lens of scientific research. Just as the data predicts, politicians tend to be just kind of nice-looking — neither unattractive nor stunningly beautiful. What does this say about the way we choose our nation’s leaders?

Finally, Martin Gurri suggests that the world’s elites have lost control over the visuallargely because of the democratizing power of the Internet. Anyone can publish images today, and that play a powerful role in changing the world. According to Gurri, images legitimize, because they help to tell stories, and no social order can sustain itself without stories that justify its existence to the people. But when the people themselves can circulate competing images, they can also circulate some very effective competing stories. It’s not a coincidence, then, that trust in government is at a global low.

But the discussion only begins at Cato Unbound. Readers are encouraged to enter into the conversation on their own websites, blogs, social media, and even in good old-fashioned bound publications. Cato Unbound will scour the web for the best commentary, and, with permission, may publish it alongside our invited contributors. Follow Cato Unbound on Facebook and Twitter, or even email Cato Unbound editor Jason Kuznicki at

Welcome to the discussion. All you have to lose are your preconceptions!

On Libertarianism and Federalism…

Does federalism promote liberty? Or does having multiple levels of government rather than one merely create additional layers of oppression? These are vital questions for libertarians. In a new paper, law professor and Cato scholar Ilya Somin systematically evaluates federalism from a libertarian standpoint and finds that “Federalism is often a valuable tool for protecting freedom, but can also be a menace.”

This week’s special #CatoSummerReading sale….

Despite convincing evidence that observed climate changes do not portend a calamitous future, global warming alarmism is invading nearly every aspect of our society.

Edited by leading climatologist Patrick Michaelswidely acknowledged as today’s most effective advocate of the non-apocalyptic view of climate change—this book gathers a team of first-rate experts on health, education, religion, defense, development, law, and trade to produce a comprehensive documentation of the pervasive influence of global warming alarmism on almost every aspect of society.

Get your copy today…..

Plus, don’t forget: ALL Cato books are 25% off through the end of July. Shop the Cato Bookstore today!

Political Reform in China: Elections, Public Goods, and Income Distribution

The control of large bureaucracies is a difficult task. In autocratic countries, controlling local officials is further complicated by the weakness of established channels to receive feedback from citizens. To address this problem, several autocratic governments have introduced local elections in recent years. New research from Monica Martinez-Bravo, Gerard Padró i Miquel, Nancy Qian, and Yang Yao provides a rigorous empirical analysis of how village-level elections in China that were instituted in the 1980s and 1990s changed the incentives for local officials.