• The Paleo-Libertarian Connection

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    As a libertarian who discovered the paleo
    approach to health
    a couple of years ago, I’ve been pleasantly
    surprised to find a solid contingent of libertarians in the paleo
    community. I’ve come to call such people paleo-libertarians (the
    hyphen distinguishes us from the paleolibertarians). Some of the
    big names in the paleo movement are principled anti-statists, including
    Kurt Harris, Richard
    , and Don Matesz.
    Paleo is rapidly gaining popularity, and there are a growing
    number of paleo-libertarians

    Paleos Against the State

    In fact, the paleo health community is astonishingly libertarian,
    if only unconsciously so. Of course, there are many statists, but
    the libertarian presence is disproportionately large. Paleos generally
    reserve a special hatred for the state. After all, the state and
    its allies in academia and industry are spreading deadly health
    advice that is responsible for the bulk of disease and obesity,
    and it continues to do so in the face of a growing mountain of evidence
    contradicting it. It should have been obvious from the start that
    the conventional wisdom was bogus – it totally contradicts
    evolutionary biology. The conventional recommendation to avoid red
    meat and animal fat, for example, flies in the face of over 2 million
    years of evolutionary adaptation to eating animals (the whole animal,
    including all of the fat). The recommendations to eat grains and
    vegetable oils are also suspect – grains were only introduced
    into the human diet about 10,000 years ago, and vegetable oils haven’t
    even existed for more than a century. The state’s health
    advice is not only wrong, but directly harmful to health. That makes
    the state responsible for an unfathomable amount of misery and death.
    For paleos, this elicits a deep mistrust in the state – how
    can they trust that the state doesn’t screw up this badly in anything
    else it does?

    Government As Usual

    In his paradigm-shifting book, Good
    Calories, Bad Calories
    , Gary Taubes explains how government
    involvement in the field of public health distorted the science
    to the point that it can hardly be called science anymore. In the
    1970s, government agencies driven by political motives began promoting
    low-fat diets on the basis of very weak evidence. Researchers soon
    found it difficult to receive government funding if they challenged
    the official position. This spawned the low-fat dogma that is still
    with us today, despite being an utter dead-end. Taubes shows that
    the low-fat diet was a complete failure, providing zero benefit
    and causing substantial harm. He stresses that the diseases of civilization
    – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, hypertension, and
    many more – are practically non-existent in primitive populations
    until they adopt western foods. They are completely optional
    diseases which develop due to chronic bad nutrition. The state has
    been a major force in shifting the diet away from that paleolithic
    staple – animal flesh – and towards such health hazards
    as grains and vegetable oils. Thus, the state deserves a large portion
    of the blame for the high incidence of the diseases of civilization.

    This is precisely what libertarian theory would predict –
    government activity having unintended negative consequences. Libertarians
    are well aware that scientists are fallible and that science can
    be distorted by politics – economics and climatology being
    the paradigm examples. William Butos has developed
    an economic analysis
    of government interventions in science.
    He concludes that government activity disrupts the spontaneous order
    of the academic community to the detriment of scientific progress.
    So there is every reason to expect that the sciences of nutrition
    and disease, deeply infested with government involvement, will be
    riddled with errors. Chris
    Masterjohn’s article
    about the government’s war on cholesterol
    is a good example of this. Taubes, an acclaimed science writer,
    is not exaggerating one bit when he concludes that "the study
    of nutrition, chronic disease, and obesity" has become "an
    enterprise…that purports to be a science and yet functions like
    a religion."

    Ideological Parallels

    There are several interesting connections between paleo health
    and libertarianism. What I call the "Austrian connection"
    was uncovered by Gary Taubes in his research on the study of obesity.
    He found that the Austrian-German researchers had worked out the
    basics of fat metabolism prior to WW2. But the war broke up their
    research community, and the negative associations with Austria and
    Germany after the war swept their research out of sight in the international
    community. From there, the American researchers started from scratch
    but were led astray by the simplistic caloric balance hypothesis.
    To this day, the long forgotten pre-war Austrian-German theories
    on fat metabolism remain superior to the mainstream theories. The
    parallel with Austrian economics is striking: it too was driven
    underground by the war, and it too remains superior to mainstream
    neoclassical economics.

    Paleo and libertarianism also share similarities on the theoretical
    level. Both are based on the logic of spontaneous or unplanned order.
    Paleos recognize that humans are products of evolution and are adapted
    to the conditions of the evolutionary environment. Libertarians
    recognize that markets are far superior to government for bringing
    about social cooperation and coordination. Both emphasize that we
    deviate from these complex orders at our peril. As a result, both
    hold simple principles as solutions to entire categories of problems.
    Paleos hold the Paleolithic
    as the solution to virtually all health problems and
    as the key to optimal health. Libertarians hold the Non-Aggression
    Principle as the solution to virtually all social problems and as
    the key to prosperity.

    Finally, paleo and libertarianism share a common bond in individualism.
    Both value personal responsibility and oppose government paternalism,
    wanting nothing from the government except to be left alone. Both
    recognize that nothing good can come from using the political means
    to further their cause.

    Why Paleo Matters

    The paleo health movement is growing at a spectacular pace, mainly
    because it is soundly rooted in the evolutionary logic and simply
    because it works so well. People with all sorts of ailments are
    "going paleo" to effortlessly
    what the entire medical establishment has failed to prevent
    or treat. As the state invades and destroys the healthcare market,
    it is becoming ever more important to stay healthy and avoid dependence
    on the medical apparatus. And for those libertarians who want to
    live to see a free society, paleo health offers the surest way to
    achieve Misesian longevity. It saddens paleo-libertarians that Murray
    Rothbard was struck down by a disease of civilization at the young
    age of 68. It is important that libertarians do their best to avoid
    such a fate – the libertarian cause is too important.


    Given the many connections between the two, I think there is much
    to gain from paleo-libertarian integration. Paleos gain a theoretical
    understanding of how the "experts" can all get it wrong
    when science becomes politicized. More importantly, they gain an
    understanding of the root cause of the problem – government
    – and the ultimate solution – liberty. Paleos would greatly
    from free markets: insurance companies would offer incentives
    for staying healthy, and there would be no subsidies propping up
    harmful foods nor regulations hindering healthy foods. Libertarians
    gain personally in terms of health and longevity. They also add
    another potent argument to the already formidable case against the
    state. And of course, both benefit by expanding their sphere of
    influence. Here’s to paleo-libertarianism: no grains, no government!

    9, 2010

    Wiebe [send him mail] is
    an economics major at the University of Manitoba and founder of
    the Paleo-libertarian
    Google group
    . Check out his website.

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