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Monday, September 14, 2009

Eric Sundwall Calls My Nolan Test Misleading

Eric Sundwall calls my Nolan test "misleading".

The fundamental premises of any such quiz are the same ones inherent in the Nolan's famous analysis itself:

- Freedom and security (or self-governance vs. being governed) are in fundamental tension
- Many (if not most) policy issues can be classified as either economic or personal/civil
- "Left/liberal" usually means valuing economic security but civil liberty
- "Right/conservative" usually means valuing economic liberty but civil security

Once you accept these premises, you've accepted the reality of the basic Nolan Chart analysis.  Premise 1 yields "lines", and premise 2 gathers the lines into a two-dimensional "box". To reject all "lines" and "boxes" outright is to deny the concepts of value tension and policy dimensions.

Yes, individual issue questions can be framed in a way to invite a choice for liberty and against security.  And yes, my questions are framed to positively phrase the libertarian position on each issue, and to induce securitarians to confront the tension between security and liberty.  An authoritarian could indeed rewrite my quiz along these lines:

How safe should you be:
- From foreign competition for your job?
- From poor financial planning for retirement?
- From providing inadequate education for your kids?
- From the temptations of drugs and sex?
- From exposure to too much political advertising?
- From godlessness in government?

Yes, the more naive a person is about public policy, the more their stated preferences can be nudged by issue framing.  However, that doesn't mean that any of the four premises above are false, or that a Nolan test can nudge liberals and conservatives right out of their quadrants while still leaving the donkey and elephant parties in place.

I suspect that Eric's real complaint here is that, as an anarchist, he does not want to admit that there can be degrees of one's commitment to liberty.  If you're not against "statism", and aren't "attacking the entire system" of it, then you must be offering "apologies" for it.  Eric's Nolan Chart would say you're either perched on the tippy-top northern ledge of anti-statism, or else you're sliding inexorably to the southernmost pit of authoritarianism.  It's pretty easy to see which whose analysis is more "simplistic".