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Volume 6, Issue 34: August 24, 2004

  1. "Deadbeat Dads" and the Child's Interests
  2. Genuine Foreign-Policy Patriotism
  3. The Limits of Democracy

1) "Deadbeat Dads" and the Child's Interests
Overcrowding in America's jails and prisons is causing some jurisdictions to release fathers incarcerated for non-payment of child support. Although some may question the wisdom of this trend, it is one that should "become official policy in every corner of North America," according to Wendy McElroy, research fellow at the Independent Institute and editor of LIBERTY FOR WOMEN: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-first Century.

"Fathers who have been imprisoned because of an inability to pay are perfect candidates for release," writes McElroy in a recent column for and "Indeed, their continued incarceration comes close to establishing a de facto debtors' prison -- an institution supposedly abolished more than 200 years ago by President Adams."

No data is available that would indicate precisely how many incarcerated "deadbeat dads" are locked up because they are unable, rather than unwilling, to pay full child support. However, the former group probably constitutes the majority.

"This scenario becomes more likely when you consider that employed 'deadbeat dads' have child support withheld from their wages; employers are required to do so by law. Therefore, those imprisoned are probably unemployed or have earnings that cannot cover their payments," writes McElroy.

Because "employment prospects sink with each imprisonment, even as their child support debt rises," the incarceration of a parent unable to pay full child support is a policy that acts against the interests of the child, McElroy argues.

According a federal study quoted by McElroy, last year "68 percent of child support cases were in arrears." If lawmakers wish to do actual good -- rather than simply appear to be doing good -- they should allow deadbeat dads the freedom to earn a living.

See "In Defense of 'Deadbeat' Dads," by Wendy McElroy (8/4/04)

For information on LIBERTY FOR WOMEN: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Wendy McElroy, see

For trends in incarceration, see CHANGING THE GUARD: Private Prisons and the Control of Crime, edited by Alexander Tabarrok


2) Genuine Foreign-Policy Patriotism
"For more than 170 years before the Cold War began, the United States followed, albeit imperfectly, a policy of military restraint overseas and eschewed permanent, entangling alliances that could drag the nation into unnecessary war," writes Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Since the end of World War II, however, an interventionist U.S. foreign policy has become "an aberration in American history that now seems like the rule."

Unfortunately, the costs of a meddlesome U.S. foreign policy are high. In addition to large government expenditures, the costs include "blowback" -- for example, the creation of new enemies such as the al Qaeda terrorists, Eland argues.

"In the short-run, the United States needs to neutralize al Qaeda, but in the longer term it needs to ask why the group attacked U.S. targets," writes Eland. "If the United States quietly abandoned its interventionist foreign policy, it would greatly reduce the worldwide anti-U.S. hatred and the resultant blowback terrorist attacks. General Anthony Zinni, the tough Marine who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East, perceptively advised that the United States should avoid making enemies but treat its intractable foes forcefully."

Far from being unpatriotic or anti-American, such realism about the desirability of avoiding "blowback" is part of America's original foreign-policy tradition, Eland argues.

"As the founders astutely realized, when the leaders of nations start wars of aggrandizement, the costs -- in lost lives, taxes, and reduced liberties -- often fall on the backs of the common people. Even General George Washington was suspicious of unnecessary foreign wars and a large military, leading to big government oppression at home. His form of patriotism is truer to the American spirit than its modern day militaristic counterpart, which treats war as a cool videogame and has more in common with German and Soviet-style patriotism of the 20th century," Eland concludes.

See "Being Pro-War Is Not Necessarily Patriotic," by Ivan Eland (8/23/04)

To hear Ivan Eland discuss the 9/11 Commission Report and foreign policy, tune in August 24th (7:45 a.m., Central Time) on KFYO 790 AM, Lubbock, Texas, "The Jane Prince-Jones Show."

For information on Ivan Eland's forthcoming book, THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, see

Center on Peace & Liberty

To order a copy of the video, UNDERSTANDING AMERICA'S TERRORIST CRISIS: What Should be Done?, see


3) The Limits of Democracy
Elected officials routinely claim that ballot-box victories demonstrate their "mandate" from "the people." But even when election outcomes are uncontroversial, politicians' claims of voter mandates often mean nothing more than that their post-election rhetoric is just as misleading as their campaign promises.

"It has been known for two centuries that majority voting can produce inconsistencies, depending on which alternatives are put before the voters," writes Pierre Lemieux, research fellow of the Independent Institute, in a recent op-ed.

"And a result of modern public choice analysis is that when inconsistent outcomes are ruled out and the issues are not too complex, the 'median-voter theorem' kicks in: to have a chance of getting elected, all political parties have an incentive to get closer and closer to the median (the most typical) voter and, thus, to become more and more similar."

These deficiencies mean that majority rule is a poor method for resolving deeper conflicts, Lemieux notes. "In practice, democracy presents two challenges. The first one is preventing the politicians and the bureaucrats from ruling in the name of an invisible people. The second challenge is to avoid the tyranny of the majority, or whatever is viewed or calculated as the majority."

Public choice economists are not the only scholars aware of the weaknesses of majoritarian electoral systems. In his recent book, THE CASE AGAINST THE DEMOCRATIC STATE, political philosopher Gordon Graham shows that the arguments typically thought to justify democracy as the best form of government in fact fail to justify this claim. Some of the central conceptual commitments often assumed to support democracy turn out to support far different types of government, according to Graham, such as the republicanism of America's founders.

"Especially useful is [Graham's] undermining of the idea that democracy is justified because it rests on the consent of the governed," writes James R. Otteson in the summer issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW. "Citizens of a democratic society cannot be said to have consented to their state and to what it does because, Graham argues, voting actually has no causal efficacy. His sobering claim is that no single person's vote ever determines or affects the outcome of an election, so if voting is to have any purpose at all for a person, that purpose cannot be to elect or remove any candidate."

The "consent of the government," in other words, can never justify the actions of a tyrant elected by a margin of 99 percent to one.

See "Elections Are a Lousy Way to Run a Country," by Pierre Lemieux

James R. Otteson's review of THE CASE AGAINST THE DEMOCRATIC STATE by Gordon Graham (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Summer 2004)

Transcript of "Can America's Electoral System Be Fixed?" -- an Independent Policy Forum featuring Robert D. Cooter, Randy T. Simmons, and Alexander Tabarrok (2/6/01) --

To purchase BEYOND POLITICS: Markets, Welfare and the Failure of Bureaucracy, by William C. Mitchell, Randy T. Simmons, see


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless