A Nevadan Take on Institutional Libertarianism

By: Sean McClelland

The many unique social and cultural institutions of Nevada instill in its residents a pride and satisfaction, often inviting light-hearted ribbing from the more cultured regions of the nation. The Nevadan legislative takes on various political topics, spanning the gamut from prostitution to futuristic self-driving cars, which may be worthy of self-ridicule at times. Beyond the rough-and-tumble façade of Nevadan libertarian policies, however, lies a remarkably enlightened bureaucratic structure that curtails the pitfalls of the state’s ‘anything goes’ political culture.

Foremost in the mental impression of Nevada are two vices virtually synonymous with the state, namely prostitution and gambling. Prostitution, often perceived to be either a statewide-legalized activity or an industry thriving in the absence of effective police enforcement, was actually established on a county-by-county basis in statutes like NRS 244.345. The statutes ensure prostitution is largely ignored by the state legislature, leaving legalization up to county governments. Nevada statutes establish a bureaucratic structure in which the counties must establish certain regulatory (often health-related) guidelines before legalizing brothels. The Nevada state government enables the practice of prostitution, while ensuring its implementation is subject to common-sense regulations on the state and county levels.

Gambling provides a better case for the Nevadan legislative way. NRS 463.0129 sums up Nevada’s way of implementing libertarian gaming policies within an established institutional structure. The statute claims, “...the continued growth and success of gaming is dependent upon public confidence and trust that licensed gaming… [is] conducted honestly” and that “trust can only be maintained by strict regulation.”

Herein lies the kernel of the Nevadan libertarian thought process.  Nevada could legalize activities considered immoral vices, assuming there were adequate structural regulations that ensure the smooth operation of these industries. Gaming policy in Nevada is a product of both the libertarian leanings of the Nevada legislature and its governmental interests in the predictability of law. The Nevadan political climate does not want chaos, anarchy or lawlessness to emerge from its policies towards gambling or prostitution. On the contrary, Nevada clearly endures enough of the ‘Wild West’ mentality plaguing its tourism industry. If anything, the legality of these practices has emerged to serve the political and demographic goal of a structured libertarian environment. This environment is both predictable and permissive and may encourage outside investment or immigration. With gambling, an institutionally permissive structure enables Nevada residents to pay no state income tax; instead, tax revenue collected from the gambling industry replaces funding like income taxes.

There is a sense of reasoned enlightenment in the Nevadan bureaucratic structure. While most other states are content to legislate morality with a heavy, criminalizing hand, Nevada instead creates institutional structures, which thrive in the presence of certain libertarian social policies. While traditionally associated with the legalization of vice, Nevada has declared an interest in assorted tech fields. One product of this interest is qualified approval for self-driving cars, encouraged legislatively by companies like Google. As with gaming and prostitution, the Nevada institutional structure has correctly determined that liberalization and legalization of fringe activities ultimately will produce results such as an increased technological interest in the state. The bureaucratic structure effectively regulates activities to ensure their safety while reaping the economic rewards of innovative social policy.

It is not at all practical to export all quirky, Nevadan institutional practices to every other state. Many are particular to the cultural and geographic attributes of the state. Imagine, for instance, untested prototype self-driving cars zooming around the packed streets of New York or Chicago. However, other states should analyze the manner in which institutional ideologies are legislatively implemented in Nevada. Instituting libertarian social policies does not necessarily mean setting up a permissive bureaucratic structure. The most significant developments in Nevada’s gaming and prostitution regulating institutions, such as mandatory health check-ups in brothels and strict bans on children in gaming areas for example, encourage a structured regulatory approach in the industry. It would be nice to see the other states take a page out of the Nevadan structural playbook – liberalizing and legalizing human activity with smart regulations that ultimately benefit the state and the people.

Sean McClleland is a second year Law, Letters, and Society Major in the College.