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November 2011

Liberty Movements in American History

Historian Stephen Davies describes how various nonprofit institutions have made the advocates of liberty more productive and effective. These institutions have also made the ideas of liberty more available and have created and facilitated networks that enable people to share and strengthen their ideas.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of advocates. There are those who advocate policies for their own self-interest and there are also those who advocate polices on principle. The second group tends to benefit society most effectively, but in order to enact change, must overpower the incentives of the first group. This is a difficult task, as the first group derives concentrated benefits to themselves by dispersing costs on everyone else through the political process.

Luckily, there are historical examples of the principled advocacy groups defeating the vested interests of the rent seekers. The most obvious example is the campaign against the slave trade in Britain and France in the late 18th and early 19th century. Despite the large interests of those employing slave labor, the principled advocates abolished slavery.

It is often claimed that the liberty movement is a self-interested right-wing conspiracy. However, this is logically invalid. If it were indeed a conspiracy, the wealthy individuals who invest in liberty advancing institutions would be acting against their own financial self-interest. Individuals who lead large corporations can most easily maximize profits by befriending politicians and encouraging them to grant their business special government privileges. Liberty advancing institutions fight relentlessly to abolish these government granted special privileges, and therefore, are advancing ideas that are not nearly as beneficial to the bottom line of big business.

For more, visit LearnLiberty.org.