Interior West Needs Liberty Reinforcements
by Ari Armstrong, July 28, 2007
Demographically, the Interior West is more amenable to liberty, free markets, and personal choice. Nevertheless, advocates of liberty in Colorado have suffered defeat after defeat. One major reason for this disparity is that advocates of liberty are underfunded in the region, while advocates of more political controls are flush with money.
What's worse, young Colorado talent is moving to Washington, D.C. to join free-market policy organizations. However, the talent of these young professionals could be put to much more effective use in the Interior West. In Washington, D.C., a young intellectual is a speck of sand on the policy beaches. In Colorado, the same person could have enormous influence in state political discussions.
Unfortunately, many funders of the liberty movement seem intent on pouring their money down the dark and bottomless well of federal politics. One result is that federalism is working against advocates of liberty rather than for them. As Colorado suffers more political controls, the state becomes more hospitable to advocates of such controls and less hospitable to those whose philosophy is "live and let live." Too often states tend to equalize political controls rather than compete on the basis of liberty.
Significantly more resources should be spent in the Interior West to build on the demographic tendencies toward liberty. The result of such a strategy, I hope, would be to tip politics in the direction of liberty rather than of increasing controls. This would in turn make Colorado and the Interior West more welcoming to independent-minded entrepreneurs and advocates of liberty, fostering a virtuous circle. Ultimately, the Interior West could provide a needed check on runaway federal controls, and it could serve as a model to the rest of the United States, and to the rest of the world, of the benefits of liberty.
I'll offer some details to flesh out my case. Common experience suggests that people in the Interior West are more "Western:" more independent, more skeptical of federal controls, more interested in controlling their own lives and preserving individual responsibility. Again, the prevailing Western attitude is "live and let live."
In his book The Elephant in the Room, Ryan Sager presents statistical findings that confirm these demographic differences. In 2005, the Pew Research Center released polling data about the West. Realizing that Colorado is different than California, Sager asked for separate statistics for the Interior West and the Pacific Coast. Sager presents the findings on pages 213-216 of his book.
While most residents of the Interior West (55 percent) thought that the government should go "deeper into debt" to "help needy Americans," the figure is still less than the 65 percent in the Northeast. The Interior West leads the pack (with 73 percent) in thinking that people can get ahead "if they're willing to work hard."
Thirty-nine percent of people in the Interior West agreed, "Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy." Yet that is the highest figure of all regions. (The poll's question doesn't adequately distinguish between appropriate protections of property rights and unjust violations of property rights.)
Fifty-three percent of people in the Interior West agreed, "Homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society." This figure is lower than in the Northeast and Pacific Coast, but higher than in the Midwest and South.
Only 32 percent of people in the Interior West believe, "The government should do more to protect morality in society." This ties the Pacific Coast for the low figure, as contrasted with 45 percent in the South. Moreover, 59 percent of those in the Interior West think "government is getting too involved in the issue of morality," trailing only the Pacific Coast.
While these (limited) statistical findings do not suggest that the Interior West is filled to brimming with liberty-minded residents, they do confirm that, relative to other parts of the country, more people in the Interior West are interested in economic and personal liberty.
In Colorado, Democrats have taken control of the entire state government. Democrats crow about their tax spending and economic controls. However, Democrats have taken control in spite of, not because of, their economic policies. Republicans have been their own worst enemies with their attempts to restrict abortion, demonize homosexuals, and otherwise try to tell people how to live their personal lives.
To take myself as an example, I voted for Democrat Bill Ritter for governor, not because I agree with Ritter's policies, but because, as I wrote last year, "Republican Bob Beauprez has aggressively injected religion into the politics of abortion and welfare. More disturbingly, his running mate has rejected the separation of church and state."
Unfortunately, despite Colorado's relatively pro-liberty demographic tendencies, advocates of economic liberty have suffered several heart-breaking defeats in recent years. Following are some of the recent examples.
* In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37 by 54 to 46 percent. The measure mandated 10 percent renewable energy (as defined by the measure) by 2015. This year, the legislature expanded the mandate to 20 percent by 2020.
* In 2005, Colorado voters approved Referendum C by 52 to 48 percent. This measure will have increased state spending by more than $6 billion over five years, according to recent estimates.
* In 2006, the Colorado legislature passed a smoking ban in violation of property rights and free association.
* Later in 2006, Colorado voters approved a measure to increase the minimum wage; the vote was 53 to 47 percent. The effort against the measure was limited, and it began too late in the political season. (Business's response to the measure was completely ineffectual.)
* Again in 2006, the Colorado legislature passed Senate Bill 208, creating the 208 Commission to reform health policy. The bill was cosponsored by a Republican and signed by a Republican. The predictable result is that the Commission has rejected free markets in favor of more government controls on medicine. The Commission will submit its recommendations to the legislature next year.
In the case of the ballot measures, the pro-liberty side has been losing by thin margins of two to four percent. In the case of the 208 Commission, the legislature acted without any serious opposition. Fortunately, since the Commission's creation, a handful of individuals have been working to defend liberty in medicine; for example, Lin Zinser has founded Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM). So hopefully that story will end happily.
The problem is that the advocates of liberty in Colorado are spread too thin. There simply aren't enough public intellectuals to respond fully to all of the threats to our liberties. But it would not take vast resources to turn the tide: even the addition of a handful of bright, well-educated intellectuals sincerely devoted to personal and economic liberty and with the resources to work full time could make a tremendous difference.
Already groups such as the Independence Institute and FIRM are producing great work in defense of liberty. But there just isn't enough quality effort to go around. Advocates of liberty barely responded to the minimum-wage hike, smoking ban, and energy mandates. Opponents of Referendum C had to work against the entire media and political establishment (including various prominent Republicans).
I do not, unfortunately, have any specific proposal in mind. My purpose in this essay has been to let people around the country know about the importance of preserving liberty in the Interior West and the fact that liberty is threatened here. But if I were writing a "Dear Santa" letter, it would include at least the following two items:
* A new, pro-capitalism think tank to provide a constant source of well-researched, principled publications and presentations on the regional issues of the day. Such a group could operate effectively, I think, with a full-time staff of three or four people. Alternately, I would like to see the Independence Institute be able to hire more full-time people to conduct serious free-market work.
* A new, web-based news source (I like Colorado News as the banner). The "paper" would have a news side that ran AP releases and published its own news content. The news reporters would be held to strict standards of objective, unbiased reporting. The editorial side would be much larger than it is in Denver's dailies, and it would strongly favor free markets and individual rights. However, it would include plenty of real discussion with advocates of other perspectives. All writers would be equipped with cameras and audio recorders (and perhaps video recorders) to minimize expenses and maximize the potential of the internet.
Of course, I'd also like to see a lot more pro-liberty blogs, radio shows, and television shows in Colorado, along with more liberty-friendly college professors. As Colorado became a more liberty-friendly place, it would attract ever more liberty-loving people, many of whom would join the effort by writing letters, speaking, and so on.
Advocates of liberty have had some successes at the national level. And obviously I do not wish to detract from that work. However, in general, federal policy gets worse and worse. If even a tiny fraction of the resources that currently go toward national policy wonking were redirected to the Interior West -- or, better yet, new resources were added -- those resources would yield a much greater payoff in terms of achieving greater liberty.
Even if additional funding does not become available, I hope that people living in the Interior West as well as on the coasts will redouble their efforts to advance liberty within the Interior West. If the Interior West goes the way of European-style socialism-lite, the rest of the country will also be lost. If the Interior West can become a bright shining jewel of liberty, it will light a refuge for those who long to breath free, and it will inspire people elsewhere to seek liberty for themselves.
Ari Armstrong edits FreeColorado.com, writes for the Independence Institute, and blogs for Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. He grants permission to republish and distribute this article, so long as it is republished and distributed in full and unedited, along with this notice.