In defense of Johnson's brain freeze
By Scott Sumner
Gary Johnson has received lots of flack for being unable to name the world leader that he most admires. Here’s Matt Yglesias:
The closest thing you will find to a US-style libertarian abroad is what are called “liberal” parties in Europe. They are generally more moderate than US libertarians because they participate in practical governance, but they reflect a basic free market secularist worldview that Johnson should find congenial. There aren’t a ton of liberal heads of government, but Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark both fit the bill. Their governments have focused on fiscal austerity, trying to keep taxes low by European standards, and reducing labor market regulation while retaining a more or less socially liberal outlook.
I would have found either answer to be acceptable, but I disagree with Yglesias’s claim that Johnson’s failure reflects poorly on him:
1. My views of a good society are similar to Johnson’s, and I would have had difficulty answering the question too.
2. A person can be fairly intelligent, and yet horrible at remembering names. For instance, I had a very hard time remembering student names. There are many foreign leaders who I feel I know a fair bit about, and yet I cannot recall their names. I kind of like the new leader of Indonesia, for instance, but I don’t recall his name.
3. I consider myself reasonably well informed about the world (I’ve read the Economist for 40 years) and yet I would not have been able to name the leaders of Denmark and the Netherlands. Many presidential candidates would have had trouble providing their names. I was not even aware of their policies, although I was vaguely aware that both countries had moved in a more neoliberal direction in recent decades. There are some countries that I think have pretty good economic policy (Switzerland, Singapore, etc.), where I don’t even know the name of their leader.
4. It’s a no-win situation for a candidate. Since there are no libertarian countries, if you name a real world leader then you’ll get hammered for all his non-libertarian views. Even Gary Johnson (who seems pretty libertarian to me) gets criticized for his views on discrimination laws. Suppose he names Trudeau–for advocating pot legalization. He would then get criticized for picking a big government progressive. If he followed Matt’s advice and picked the Danish leader, people would wonder why a libertarian’s favorite leader presided over one of the biggest governments in the world (as a share of GDP.) I don’t think those attacks would be fair, but just imagine how easily a Paul Krugman could mock the libertarians for admiring a country where the government spends nearly 57.6% of GDP.
5. As the world takes a turn toward the nasty nationalistic right, there are fewer Vaclav Havels to admire. Thatcher is dead—Theresa May? I don’t think so.
6. The lady in charge of Burma might be my choice, but I can’t recall her name either.
PS. Johnson did deserve criticism over the Aleppo flub.