I don’t, currently, identify myself as a Libertarian. I like some of Gary Johnson’s platform, but not all, and some of it is downright distasteful. Right now, I’m leaning towards a Johnson vote in November, but could be swayed.
There are a few things that would definitely solidify my support for the Libertarians, though, both now and in the future. As an older Millenial, I imagine many of my generation would agree that the list below both falls inside what can be considered Libertarian political philosophy as well as what appeals to me.
First, why am I so attracted to the Libertarian party right now? Because it’s not about drinking unpasteurized milk.
Where are Libertarians Right?
The Libs were right on this issue for a lot longer than the Dems were, and for the right reasons. They drew from their principles on this one, and never really could get criticized for simply caving to a powerful lobby.
To me, that they can be right on a divisive issue like this for years longer than the current ‘liberal’ party means that there’s probably a few decades we could get out of this political philosophy before we’d need to reform it, like what’s currently needed of the Democratic and (especially) Republican platforms.
This isn’t just because we millennials want to get high. This is much more about such a silly expression of government power and bureaucracy. We know, for a fact, that weed isn’t as dangerous as alcohol, that it’s not as dangerous as cigarettes. We know that the only reason its enforcement is so strict has been primarily power plays at the federal level.
The focus on marijuana in federal government policy has been a huge waste, and a huge attack on individual freedom. This is the next rights issue after gay marriage in terms of what seems to be on millennials’ minds, and the Libs are at the forefront of pushing for it.
End the Drug War
To continue the argument from above, the drug war has been an immense waste of resources and has probably lead to the greatest violation of civil rights since the 1960’s. We know, for a fact, that more black men are in prison – substantially more than their proportion in wider society permits. The drug war has become little more than an excuse to break black families and perpetuate poverty in black communities.
Prison as drug policy has been immensely expensive too and doesn’t work. Drug courts and interventions prove to be far cheaper and more effective, but the continued worry from both Reps and Dems to be “tough on crime” (read: tough on black communities) means that this angle is wide open for Libs to appeal to minorities.
While getting to the right answer about as quickly as the Dems did, the Libertarians are right on immigration – it’s an astonishingly racist and silly issue to be wasting our time on, and for the most part, making immigration easier would reduce illegal immigrants far more than any other measure.
They’d pay taxes, too, and be producers and consumers in our economy.
Again, this opens up the Libertarians for appeals to latinos, meaning that the party has room to grow quite a bit.
A Focus on Compromise and Pragmatism
This is a weird one. For most of their history, Libs tend to be very uncompromising and very idealistic. What gives? Johnson, a former republican in a blue state, and Weld, a former republican in a blue state, both can take personal credit for this one.
If future candidates follow Johnson and Weld’s precedent to represent the ‘excluded, reasonable middle’ in American politics, there’s a huge opening there, especially as the Republicans either die or dive for the far right.
People are more irritated by gridlock from the right on Obamacare, or from the left on gun control than ever. A party who styles itself as the great compromisers is very promising.
What should be better?
These are all good things, but ultimately many people are turned off by things in the Libertarian party more than they’re turned on by the good things. Some of this is simply bad marketing on the Libertarians part, others are opportunities that I think a younger, more pragmatic Libertarian party might want to exploit.
Foreign Policy Should be Collaborative
Libs get a reputation for being isolationist, and if you look at the party’s history you can see how they earned that reputation. But not interacting on the world stage doesn’t actually jive with anything in Libertarian philosophy.
The isolationist streak comes from attempting to stay out of foreign wars. I think a path exists between the bumbling of Bush and the dithering of Obama of proper use of military force in alliances or through the UN to save a lot of lives when combined with diplomacy.
We need to be active and diplomatic on the world stage. Diplomacy is the “market solution” at the international level. Plus, real Libertarians would see the huge influence that markets and trade have at that level, and would recognize that peaceful coexistence via diplomatic means makes great marketplaces.
So drop the isolationism for good, and the fear of the UN taking over – and be the party of diplomacy and collaboration with our allies and even our enemies.
Military Needs Restructuring and a Modern Pivot
Libertarians rightfully want to gut a lot of the budget, and given how huge military spending is in this country – and how ineffective it is – they rightfully want to trim down the armed forces.
But there’s a huge opportunity here to not only shrink them but make them more fearsome.
War games predict we’d lose most of our carrier fleet in about 48 hours of a real conflict with China and Russia. Good Libertarian diplomats, as described above, would try to avoid this conflict through mutual trade deals, but if push came to shove it should disappoint anyone that we’d lose $20 Billion at least, as well as more than 50,000 sailors lives, in the opening volley of a large conflict and get next to nothing in return.
Our rivals are investing in attack subs – which make aircraft carriers more or less obsolete and have for years, it’s only we haven’t seen a major naval battle since WW2 and so don’t know it yet. Moreover, they’re putting more of their resources, proportionally, into drones rather than absurdly expensive manned aircraft like the F22 and F35.
We should do the same – shrinking our budgets dramatically and making our forces actually more dangerous.
Drop the Focus on Niche Issues
How many times is a Libertarian going to attract an audience talking about ending the drug war, and how social security is going to go bankrupt and then lose it all when they start talking about how important it is for people to be able to drink unpasteurized milk if they want to?
Or how many people are interested in the Libertarian answer to ‘too big to fail’? Libertarians are more than happy to let huge companies go bankrupt, and I think a lot of people don’t think its the government’s job to prop them up. But then we lose that interest when we switch gears and start talking about the Gold Standard or how we’re going to audit the fed?
Despite many Libertarians either being entrepreneurs or business owners themselves, they don’t seem to understand marketing at all. Unpasteurized milk is an insane niche issue, and it’s not going to get votes. Tearing apart the department of education is an insanely niche issue, in addition to just plain sounding bad.
Focus on where there’s agreement! The Libertarian party should have huge appeal to minorities – ending the drug war, reforming prisons and criminal law, reforming immigration, gay marriage, pro-choice… But they ruin it all by putting weird ass shit no one’s ever heard of in their platform.
The real chance here is that Johnson and Weld seem to have done this… to a degree. But you can even get Johnson on the air talking about abolishing the income tax, which – sure, I get what he’s saying – but no one else does. It sounds crazy.
Get a General Understanding of What Free Markets Are, and How Economics Works
The Libs, unfortunately, have inherited this problem from the Republicans. Lassez-Faire economics is a really bad idea, and while government’s power needs to be kept in check so do monopolies and oligopolies. It may, indeed, be government’s responsibility to “trust-bust”, one we haven’t done in a long time.
Free markets are a particular kind of market economy where it’s easy to become a new entrant (relatively), price competition is strong, and consumers have a lot of choices. This is what makes it so good!
Oligopolies and monopolies are not the same things! They suck, they squelch innovation by buying up competitors and keeping prices high. They end up lobbying government for government protected monopolies like liquor licenses or patents.
Moreover, Libertarians need to understand what an externality is. Pollution isn’t free, folks! Market-based solutions that ignore externalities are doomed to over produce dirty goods. This is why a carbon tax, or a cap and trade system, are entirely within the realm of possibility of good Libertarian policy.
Cap regulations, sure, but it is the government’s job to keep markets free and humming.
Focus at the State and Local Level
So does anyone ever question why Libs always go after the size of the Federal government, and how dangerous that is, yadda yadda yadda, but are nowhere to be seen during oppressive militarized police demonstrations, or police shootings?
Like, these guys are literally worried about “Jack Booted Thugs” and here we have some actual jack booted thugs tazing people, pepper spraying people, and shooting people… but Jesus, shouldn’t we be able to drink pasteurized milk first?
The ending of the drug war and reforming criminal justice are two legs of a trifecta of policy that could completely move Black Americans from the Democratic Column to the Libertarian Column. That last leg?
A real and outraged focus at the police brutality we see every day.
Why are Libs so mad at the federal government and Obamacare while not saying a word about New Mexico’s seizure policy? You know, the one where police can seize assets of yours like cash whether you’ve done something wrong or not? Or why aren’t they up in arms about abuses of eminent domain in various municipalities?
Why do they want to lower federal regulation, but don’t seem to be outraged at local regulation that does more to squelch markets than anything else? Liquor licensing, licensing to be a hairdresser, and all these other state and local overreaches destroy jobs, limit competition, and hurt markets without any foreseeable benefit.
But year, let’s get back on that Gold Standard, that’ll fix things.
Acknowledge that Markets are Hard, and State, Local and Federal Governments have a Role to Play
This goes along with understanding what markets are, and how economics works. But one of the best things Libertarians can bring to the marketplace of ideas is… marketplaces. Setting up artificial marketplaces to solve problems at the national and even international level can reap many of the rewards we see in the marketplaces we’ve inherited.
This goes along with the theme of this blog – economics and econocrats, that is, economically minded bureaucrats. There is every reason in the world to keep government as small as we can and get away with it with all the protections we expect of a government – however, there’s no reason in the world not to staff that government with experts in marketplaces, sociology, and political behavior.
As the Republicans seem to have inherited the “know nothing” party monicker, now’s the time for the Libs to steal some intellectual limelight and really own their tool of choice, marketplaces.
Focus on Reengineering Democracy
This isn’t necessarily in the Libertarian camp any more than the Greens or any other third party, but there’s a lot of things broken with American Democracy. You can see in my “How to Fix American Democracy” series I’m working on, there are a lot of smarter political policies we could put in place to make American Democracy more inclusive and more efficient, like ranked voting or algorithmic redistricting.
There’s an opportunity here to “own” these sorts of proposals as they’d help Libertarians get and stay in office, as well as make the government more compromise-driven and more efficient.
Drop the Ayn Rand Stuff
This goes along with the dropping of niche issues, but you’re not going to appeal to a lot of people if you keep talking about how Government implements “everything through force.”
Some people may pay their taxes because they fear the IRS knocking on their door, but for the most part, I think others pay their taxes because they’re okay with the government.
Moreover, no one’s giving me a Pell grant, or building roads, or sending me a social security check “through force”. The government does a lot more than the police and the army, and this anachronism borrowed from Randian days just makes Libertarians seem out of touch.
It also causes a bit of cognitive dissonance – why should we elect someone who makes it a point to talk about how much they hate government?
Rand herself didn’t seem to understand economics too much, and would have happily taken on a monopolist and said that however the dice landed was fair. Those of us who live in the real world and aren’t content to watch a democracy dissolve into an aristocracy because some crazy lady told them that’s how it was supposed to work are kind of busy electing people we think will make the world a better place.
Free markets aren’t about the individual – they aren’t about making all your money by the sweat of your brow. Criticize him all you want, but Obama had a point when he reminded us that “you didn’t build those roads, Government did”. Government R&D got us the internet, and can work towards making free markets work. It’s not about creating as much wealth as possible, but rather, keeping the system as efficient as possible for everyone who buys in.
Our success is only partly our own effort, a lot of it is also just sheer luck. Sheer luck of having a rich uncle, or stumbling into a good market, or buying the right stock. A lot of people work hard and aren’t wealthy – I claim the reason for this, or at least one, is that markets could be more efficient. Hard work ought to be rewarded – and government and its taxation are not the only entity out there that’s trying to take advantage of others hard work.
Rent collection (another economics term!) is everywhere and particularly hits the upper classes as they look to use what wealth they have to get an even bigger piece of the pie without trying too hard. The government has a role in ensuring equal opportunity and free markets. Rand wants markets because she wanted to be the richest person alive, or at least, though she deserved to be.
I want free markets because I believe, properly running, they are more just than any other system of distribution we’ve managed to come up with.
Will There Be a Pivot?
Will the Libs listen? Is 2020 going to be different than today? I have to say I’m super impressed by the amount of movement in the Libs I’ve seen since 2012 and the Ron Paul days. They have a real shot at getting congressional seats, senate seats, even Presidencies if they keep trying to modernize and move in the right direction.
The Republican and Democrat parties are dinosaurs. The system they’ve put in place to protect themselves is unjust. But we need something more than the unpasteurized milk party to believe in. I sincerely hope Libertarians will continue to step up their game as the Republicans step theirs down. We need a moderate, reasonable, center right party.