Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

01.08.13

The Problem With Libertarian Women is Not Libertarian Men

They're great relationship material

A few days ago, Sarah Skwire and Steve Horwitz penned a thoughtful essay on why there are so few women libertarians. This has triggered some natural chaffing, most recently from my colleague, David Frum:

What are your thoughts? Submit an answer below and I’ll showcase the best this afternoon.

Mr Frum is treading well-worn ground here. Six months ago Ann Friedman somehow persuaded New York Magazine to publish a piece titled “Paul Ryan is Your Annoying Libertarian Ex-Boyfriend” which checked off every trope. Libertarian guys are totally selfish, because—Ayn Rand! And sexist! And they don’t use birth control!

… er, what? Friedman appears to have taken her notions about libertarians from a Very Special Episode of Sex in the City rather than, from, say, observing actual libertarians. And this particular stereotype doesn’t make any sense: if libertarian men really were as selfish as she suggests, wouldn’t they be maniacal about protecting themselves from unwanted, time-and-money-sucking children?

So perhaps it’s useful to offer the perspective of someone who’s observed the species in its native habitat. Unlike Friedman (and I presume, Frum), I have dated a bunch of libertarian guys… and a bunch of liberal guys… and a few social conservatives for good measure. And I’m here to report that libertarians make terrific relationship material.

To be sure, I am the first to admit that libertarians are… quirky. Asperger’s is definitely overrepresented in the community, and with it, various nerdy obsessions. Spend a bunch of time around libertarian guys and you’re apt to learn a lot about music, and comic books, and action movies, and computer programming… a lot. He could lend you a book, if you want. And he’d be really happy to sit down and spend four or five hours explaining college football statistics to you. Do you want that alphabetically, or north to south?

What libertarian guys are not, in my experience, is selfish cads. Full disclosure: I am biased. Some of my best friends are libertarian men, and I even married one. Nonetheless, I’d like to issue a memo to pundits: the personal is not political. Even if we accept the absurd notion that it is the blackest sort of selfishness to oppose taxing away someone else’s money in order to give it to a third party, that belief wouldn’t tell you anything about their personal behavior. Some of the greatest humanitarians in history have been some of the worst husbands, friends, and fathers.

My personal empirical research indicates that in fact, libertarians make great boyfriends and husbands (though my sample size on the latter is pretty small). The ones I’ve dated have actually been super considerate, and very concerned with pulling their own weight, though I couldn’t say whether this is random chance, or the natural outgrowth of a value system that emphasizes voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation. I will say that it is unusually easy to divide chores with someone who favors simple, rules-based systems for cooperation.

Libertarians are also surprisingly good at romantic surprises. They are usually what Adam Smith called a “Man of System”: they love sitting around by the hour, constructing elaborate systems for solving every problem. Which means that they do a smash-up job of planning that extra special, over-the-top anniversary or birthday extravaganza. Virtually all of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten have come from libertarian guys.

Of course, I have also dated lovely liberals and considerate conservatives. In fact, while I’ve had generally great experiences with libertarian men, I can’t say I detect much of a correlation between political views and personal qualities: the worst louse I ever dated was a bleeding-heart liberal, as were some of the nicest, most upstanding fellows. Choosing a mate by political label is like choosing food by the picture on the box.

So no, the lack of libertarian ladies is not due to the inadequacy of libertarian guys. I have some theories as to what might be behind it… but I’m afraid that at the moment, I have to go make a non-ideological dinner for myself and my husband.