Tag: Libertarian Party

Election 2016: VI. Gary Johnson

This is the sixth part of a seven part series I will do this week making the case for and against each of the major candidates, with a wrap-up on the weekend. I did this in 2012 and I will observe the same ground rule I did then: making the case for a candidate means making the case for a candidate, not a case against the opponent. That’s the subject of later posts. So “he’s not Hillary” is not a reason I will list for voting for Trump and “she’s not Trump” is not a reason I will list for voting for Clinton. Each one of them will get their own special post all to themselves about they don’t deserve our votes.

Today, I’ll look at the case for and against the man I voted for in 2012 and will most likely vote for this year: Gary Johnson.

For the first time ever, the Libertarian Party has a chance to make some real noise. The extreme unpopularity of the two major candidates has Gary Johnson polling at about 10% and threatening to have a Perot-sized impact on the race. Young people, in particular, are taken with Johnson, who is currently outpolling Trump and could possibly overtake Clinton. Numerous analyses have indicated that this is the biggest reason for Clinton’s tumble at the polls: young voters moving to Johnson and Stein.

The reason to not for Gary Johnson is pretty straight forward.

A vote for Johnson may spill the election to Clinton or Trump (although it’s not clear which). This is the biggest reason I’ve heard for not voting for Johnson. I’ve heard it from the Right and from the Left (Krugman had a particularly silly column today on the subject). If you honestly think that one of these candidates is going to bring about the apocalypse and the other won’t, this is a big reason not to vote for Johnson.

Johnson is a small-government conservative who favors marijuana legalization and a United States that is less involved with foreign countries. I know it sounds weird, in this election, to make the case against a candidate based on, you know, issues but those are the biggest reasons one might vote against him: if you fear isolationism, support the War on Drugs and want a bigger government, Johnson is not your guy.

There are some other things you could say against him: he doesn’t have foreign policy experience; he’s an admitted marijuana user (who has given it up for the campaign); he has been out of government for more than a decade; he hasn’t got much of a personality (although I find that to be a blessed relief). But for me, the main reasons one might vote against him arex his potential as a spoiler and his stance on the issues.

The reasons to vote for him?

Johnson-Weld is easily the best of the four tickets. Donald Trump has no experience in government. His running mate is one-term governor who had a very good chance of being unelected this fall. Clinton’s experience, as I noted, is less impressive the more you look at it. Her running mate was a moderately successful governor of Virginia.

By contrast, Johnson and Weld were both twice-elected Republican governors of blue states with strong records of fiscal restraint. Johnson, in particular, vetoed the hell out of spending in New Mexico (although he was often overridden). Both are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Neither has been tainted by scandal. And they are running a clean issues-oriented campaign. They have now received more endorsements than Trump, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, which broke a century-long streak of endorsing Republicans. And every endorsement says what I said above: they are experienced governors who can get things done but have shown no compunction about facing down their legislatures when they think it’s important. They do have a few positions I don’t like, such as the Fair Tax. But overall, this is best ticket I’ve seen on a ballot since Reagan-Bush. No, that’s not a joke.

If they had a shot at winning, this would be no contest. But they are polling at around 10% and likely to perform a bit under that. They have not been invited to the debates (despite polling around where Perot was in 1992), which puts a crimp in any plan to upset the leaders. So it is very likely, barring a spectacular meltdown by one of the front-runners, that they will win. So, ultimately, this may end up a protest vote.

But in this case, a protest vote might be more important than ever because:

A strong libertarian vote would scare the parties. Ross Perot’s 1992 success was a big reason we had a balanced budget in the 1990’s. That was his signature issue and garnering 19% of the vote scared the crap out of both parties and let them know what the American people wanted.

Johnson doesn’t have as much of a signature issue, however, so it’s not clear what message would be sent other than, “We hate you both.” But a strong libertarian movement would, while not necessarily empowering the Libertarian Party itself, create a formidable voting block that has to be reckoned with.

The popularity of Johnson among young people is one of the most positive political trends in the last decade. I really hope he can sustain it because young liberty-oriented people would grow up to a motivated liberty-oriented voting block. And God knows we need that right now.

A strong libertarian showing would deny either candidate a mandate. If Gary Johnson polls well, the winner of this election will have less than half the vote. If he polls extremely well, they could even poll under 40. Such a low showing would deny either candidate a mandate for their agenda (although both would claim it anyway). They would find themselves in the same position Bill Clinton once did: weak, opposed and without a mandate. Bill was a slick enough politician to get what he wanted done anyway (while he still had Congress, at least). Neither Clinton nor Trump are the equal of Slick Willie. And they will face a determined Republican Congress.

This “lack of mandate” stuff is not just inside the beltway politician talk. It’s real. It’s the biggest reason why the parties agreed to lock third parties out of the debates after 1996. They realized that if Perot-scale showings became routine, we would have a series of weakened Presidents governing without a mandate, if you can imagine such a thing.

The reason to vote for Gary Johnson, oddly enough, is the same reason many people voted for Bernie Sanders. It has the potential to shake up the system. And this system badly needs shaking. Donald Trump isn’t the one to bring real change. He’s the vomitus of a sick system; a political insider pretending to be an outsider. Hillary Clinton isn’t the one to bring real change, either. As my friend Maggie McNeill said, Hillary couldn’t be more establishment if she had a concrete foundation and were wired for electricity. Johnson, on the other hand … could be.

LP Goes with Johnson/Weld

Well … at least one party didn’t completely shit the bed:

Libertarians on Sunday selected a presidential ticket headed by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who lit into presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump on immigration and a range of other issues.

At the party convention in Orlando, Florida, Johnson got his preferred running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, in a weekend gathering that drew sharp contrasts with the major party candidates — Trump and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.

As a matter of politics, this is the strongest ticket the Libertarian Party has ever run. In fact, it’s a massively superior ticket to either of the two major parties. In the past, I’ve voted Libertarian knowing it was a protest vote; that it was probably good that the Libertarian candidate didn’t have a real chance. But Johnson-Weld would actually do a good job in the White House. If they were the GOP ticket, I’d vote for them without hesitation. They have way more experience, way more accomplishment and way less baggage than Trump and Clinton combined. After years of watching the Libertarian Party shoot itself in the face, I’m pleased they finally did something right.

Current polling shows Johnson at about 10% but I expect a more realistic goal is something like 1-5%. Johnson is benefiting both from disaffected Republicans and a media that wouldn’t mind seeing Johnson hurt Trump. In the end, however, the repulsive thought of President Clinton II will make most Republicans vote for Trump. And the repulsive thought of President Trump will make most Democrats vote for Clinton. I would say the ultimate limit would be taking New Mexico with a thin plurality, but that’s very unlikely. But a few percent is enough to potentially tip an election and certainly enough to put a scare into the two major parties. As a practical matter, it might unfold like the Virginia Governor’s race — the Libertarian pulls enough support so that the Republicans can blame them for a Democratic victory, rather than blame their awful nominee. The Virginia governor’s race has another eerie parallel — the Democrat winner, McAuliffe, is now under investigation by the FBI for being a corrupt clown.

Of course, I can already hear the clarion call that a vote for the Libertarian Party is a vote for Hillary Clinton. That’s only true if you assume Libertarians would vote for Trump and that the GOP is somehow entitled to Libertarian votes. I don’t agree with either assertion. Libertarians spent a lot of elections holding their noses and voting Republican because while they disagreed on cultural issues, they agreed on economic ones. But Trump is not an economic conservative in any sense of the word. He is one of the most anti-liberty candidates I’ve ever seen on a ballot. He has inveighed against every part of the Bill of Rights and advocated for a far bigger, far more powerful government. The GOP, I think, is hoping that he’ll get bored and just do whatever they want him to. That was the gambit behind his list of SCOTUS nominees, which was basically cut-and-pasted from prominent conservatives. It’s tempting but it’s also dangerous. Front-man or not, Donald Trump would still have the power of the Presidency at his command. And the last time we had a President who was disinterested in the nuts and bolts of policy, we wound up hip deep in two wars with an economy in flames and a $1 trillion deficit. And Bush surrounded himself with reasonably smart people; Trump is surrounding himself with crackpots.

A vote for Trump is not a vote against the establishment. Trump is the establishment, someone so embedded with politicians that the Clintons literally attended his wedding. He’s out there right now raising money from the typical monied interests, hobnobbing with the typical Washington insiders and advocating for typical expansions of government power. A vote for a third party would sting the establishment way more than a vote for Trump.

Still. It’s five months until the election. I am not absolutely committed to a candidate yet. There are positions Johnson holds that I don’t like. But from where I set at the edge of May, he’s the least bad option.

Update: I mainly wrote this from a perspective of Republicans vs. Libertarians, since that’s my background. But that’s only half the story here. If the Libertarians are smart (not guaranteed) they will try very hard to go for disaffected Democrats as well. In fact, they should push hardest to pull Democrats away from Clinton, including Sanders voters. Hillary Clinton is a crony capitalist, an anti-civil libertarian and a war hawk who will stomp on about 70% of what Democrats claim they stand for. If you’re any flavor of Democrat — liberal, moderate or conservative — the Libertarian ticket is massively superior to the Democratic one. And it’s time the Libertarians made that point as loudly as possible.

The Threat of Liberty

Via Reason, I found this article which digs into the spate of vehemently anti-Libertarians screeds which have been recently popping up on liberal websites and publications. Salon became a hard-core anti-libertarian site so gradually I hardly even noticed. Slate has been shifting against libertarians. The New Republic published a rancid little article trying to dig into the supposed libertarian ideals of Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. LGF and Balloon Juice have been screaming about us for years with a horde of liberals in their wake blaming libertarians for the financial crisis, the government shutdown, income inequality, global warming and the failure of the Cubs to win the World Series.

It’s odd that so much ire is now focused on libertarians. The Libertarian Party has precisely zero elected officials at the national level. The most libertarian member of Congress is probably Rand Paul, who is pro-Life and somewhat culturally conservative. And these “libertarians are destroying the country” articles alternate with “libertarians are a fringe movement and have no real power” articles. Apparently, we’re invisible but powerful. We’re silent guardians, watchful protecters.

Libertarians are Batman.

I don’t agree with everything that is in Borders’ article but I think he finds the real reason for the anti-Libertarian screeching:

Progressivism’s cracks have finally been exposed. Progressives will urge that Obama is not the change they hoped for. But the Affordable Care Act should have been progressivism’s shining moment. Of course, it was anything but. First the president lies to the population, then joins his party in forcing Americans to swallow the bitter pill of Obamacare. He then unleashes the technocrats and gives contracts to his crony buddies to create a $500 million non-functioning Web site (and that’s just the start of the crony bonanza). The president then assures everyone that the wasted resources, high premiums, and diminished options are for the greater good. People start to get wise to it. Progressivism’s cracks are exposed. Add the failure of Cash for Clunkers, the failure of Solyndra, all the bailouts of banking cartels, and the “rescue” of the auto manufacturers and unions. The list goes on and on. The more progressive technocrats try to do, the more they botch it. Of course, something similar can be said about all the faith-based initiatives of the Republican years: you know, like the creation of the TSA, the War in Iraq, “stimulus” packages, and all manner of pork barrel projects. Progressive purists will try to argue that all of this has been a series of pragmatic patches to a failing system. For America to truly be great, they say, Republicans must not be so “obstructionist.” But President Obama, with his pen and his phone, has seized dictatorial power. Apparently, the ends justify the means. This is the foundation of progressive ideology. And it’s failing.

For all the lip service progressives pay to the “problem” of income inequality, they consistently back the most illiberal and inegalitarian policies. Is there anything fair about showering taxpayer resources upon this energy company or that—and making their CEOs’ wealth more secure in the process? Is there anything equitable about shoring up the U.S. banking cartel with permanent legislation like Dodd-Frank? And what chosen “one-percenters” are benefitting from the crony-infested Obamacare legislation, which rains goodies down on drug-makers, healthcare providers, and insurance companies in equal measure? On the other hand, while libertarians don’t mind the sort of inequality that comes from people successfully creating happy customers, wealth, and jobs, we really—no really—don’t like collusion between business interests and government power.

Exactly. Barack Obama’s election was supposed to herald the final triumph of progressivism. We were supposed to get New Deal II (remember Time’s cover with Obama as FDR?). We would see single payer healthcare, the end of global warming, the end of income inequality, abortions for everyone, impoverishment of the wealthy. And it would be so awesome and amazing that the American people would never again turn aside from the One Truth Path. This was when the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet would begin to heal. We were the ones we had been waiting for.

Now, we’re five years in. Obamacare is a mess, at best. The economy is stagnant, at best. Income inequality is rising, cronyism is greater than ever, big money is more powerful than ever. The Democratic Congress got tossed out on their ear. Obama narrowly won re-election but his poll numbers are approaching Bush levels.

And so the progressives, faced with the failure of their last great push toward paradise, need to blame someone. Because it certainly can’t be their calcified ideas or their bumbling messiah.

The progressives would like to blame Republicans for their failure to create a progressive utopia but … that doesn’t really go very far. The Republicans are basically Democrat Lite these days with a little religion thrown in. And the Democrats’ biggest failures — Obamacare, the stimulus and Dodd-Frank — took place when the Republicans were still in their “clown car on fire” stage. They can complain about Fox News all they want, but in the end … it’s just Fox News.

Moreover, while the American people are turning away from the Democrats, they aren’t exactly turning toward the Republicans. More than ever, Americans are getting sick of both parties. Congressional control has been more volatile in the last 20 years than it was in the previous 80. The electorate has taken turns thwacking each party at the polls. And millions are abandoning both parties for independence.

So in the absence of the usual villains, they are turning toward libertarians. For a long time, I’ve been tweeting a response to the anti-libertarian idiocy: to many people, libertarianism is whatever it is they don’t like. The progressives really don’t like the way the political winds are blowing. It’s a rude shock in the Age of Obama. So whatever the nature of the opposition — the Tea Party, religious conservatives, moderates, Occupiers, Koch Brothers, constitutionalists, Green Party, rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists — at the bottom, it’s really got to be those evil libertarians and especially their Koch Brothers fifth column.

And maybe they’re a little bit right. I won’t say that Americans are becoming libertarian, per se. Medicare and Social Security enjoy massive support and our country is very socially conservative, in morals if not in law. But the country is moving in a liberty-ish direction: against the war on drugs, live-and-let-live on culture issues, deeply cynical of big grand government programs. Libertarians are still on the fringe, but the fringe has been growing very large in the last few elections.

And that’s the real problem for progressives. Progressives think of themselves of the future, but they are really the past. The future of politics is not some illusory progressive center. The American people have seen where that leads — crony capitalism, rising inequality and corruption. No, the future is the fringe. The two main parties will always dominate, but a growing chunk of America wants nothing to do with them. They would rather build broad coalitions around specific issues: NSA surveillance, taxation, government spending, school choice, SOPA/PIPA. On all of these issues, we see growing trans-partisan coalitions that are not terribly interested in the politics qua politics but interested in the right thing being done no matter who is in charge. If the party currently in power won’t do the right thing, then *thwack*. Out you go. Let’s give the other guys a chance to not be stupid.

So, yeah, libertarians deserve some blame. And we’re easy to kick since we’ve been around a while. But in the end, libertarians are just the leading edge of a growing political movement — a movement that ranges from hard-core conservative to hippy-dippy liberal – that is saying, “To hell with both of yous.”

Election Night 2013

No real surprises tonight. As predicted, corporate cronyist and all-around despicable Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor’s race, although it turned out to be much closer than expected. McAauliffe is up by one point with 98% counted. Polls a couple of weeks ago showed a double digit lead. There may be many reasons for the narrowing of the polls — receding anger over the shutdown, rising anger over Obamacare, the natural tendency of polls to narrow. But the biggest is probably that the voters of Virginia, at some point, realized they were about to elect Terry McAuliffe.

While I think Cuccinelli’s history and positions turned a lot of people away, it’s also likely that Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, who polled a solid-for-a-third-party-that-was-stupidly-excluded-from-debates 7%, cost him the election. So in many way, this is not a bad result. McAuliffe was barely elected and looks weak and will probably be hit by a scandal before I finish this post; the Virginia House stays in Republican hands and some 150,000 Virginians supported the libertarian candidate.

In New Jersey, Christ Christie is winning by over 20 points. For all the whining his RINOhood, Christie has enacted a conservative agenda and now twice done what no Republican Presidential candidate has done since 1988: win a blue state. His speech tonight (like his convention speech in 2012) sounded more like the precursor to a Presidential run. We’ll see what develops.

Also, as expected, New York elected Bill de Blasio as mayor. de Blasio wants to massively increase taxes and spending, create universal pre-K and after school care, charge rent to charter schools and has been endorsed by every liberal celebrity under the sun. It would appear that the 20-year reign of sanity that began with Giuliani has come to a close. New York, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Why Don’t You Move to … Nowhere! Hahahahaha!

Yesterday, Salon published what must be the dumbest critique of libertarianism I’ve read that doesn’t use the word “Somalia”.

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?

First of all, libertarians don’t claim we know best how to organize a modern society. We claim that modern societies are better at organizing themselves. The entire basis of libertarianism is one of restraining power, not acquiring it. Because politics is filled with people who desire power, this tends to crowd us out. It’s hard to get elected on a platform of “I will leave you the hell alone”.

Libertarians are at a particular disadvantage because we hate politics for politics’ sake. We have little interest in the petty political games that make up much of politics (and about 90% of Salon’s coverage of it) but empower greedy grasping power-hungry individuals.

Let’s just take a look at a few stories that are percolating right now. In the IRS scandal, we are seeing a large effort to target organizations based on their political views. To the libertarian, this would be simple: identify the people who abused power and fire them; overhaul the tax code to give the IRS less power; get the government out of the business of deciding which organization are and are not tax-exempt. But to the media, including Salon, this is about whether the Republicans can “get” Obama or whether they are “overplaying their hand”. Are they pushing too far? How will this affect the 2014 election?

Another purely political shitstorm is brewing over the appointment of judges. Obama, frustrated with the Senate not doing their job and bringing the courts to a standstill, has nominated three new judges for the DC circuit. For the libertarian, this is pretty simple. We have the same attitude we did when the Democrats refused to consider Bush appointees: the President has the duty to nominate judges and the Senate has the responsibility to vet them.

But to the political parties, this is yet another way to play political bullshit games. When Bush was President, the Democrats screamed about extreme appointees and the Republicans fulminated about judgeships going unfilled. Now the parties have completely reversed. And the media are happily playing along, speculating about whether Obama is “packing” the courts or not.

This is what politics is about, not creating a unifying vision for how to guide society or how to create an ideal state. And libertarians, because we don’t care for power or its adherents, tend to avoid this crap. It does mean we don’t tend to walk in the halls of power and hold high positions.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t have influence, as we will soon see. Let’s not mistake “not being in power” for “not having an influence”.

When you ask libertarians if they can point to a libertarian country, you are likely to get a baffled look, followed, in a few moments, by something like this reply: While there is no purely libertarian country, there are countries which have pursued policies of which libertarians would approve: Chile, with its experiment in privatized Social Security, for example, and Sweden, a big-government nation which, however, gives a role to vouchers in schooling.

Oh, it’s a lot more than that. Libertarian ideas helped Hong Kong get rich while the rest of China wallowed in poverty. Libertarian ideas made the West strong while the Communist Bloc fell into ruin. Lind will get into the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index in a moment in a very selective and idiotic way. I will pre-empt him by looking at it in a more objective and thorough way. Look at countries with the greatest economic freedom. You will find it is dominated by wealthy countries: Canada, Scandinavia, USA, Australia, Germany, the UK. And, in fact, most of those countries have moved dramatically toward more economic freedom, with the worldwide index increasing 2 points since 1996. And that was after the fall of communism. The simple fact is that the countries that have pursue libertarian ideals are wealthier, happier, healthier places than those that have pursued collectivist numbskullery.

Let’s just take one example almost at random. Lind uncorks this stupid statement:

Libertarian theorists have the luxury of mixing and matching policies to create an imaginary utopia. A real country must function simultaneously in different realms—defense and the economy, law enforcement and some kind of system of support for the poor. Being able to point to one truly libertarian country would provide at least some evidence that libertarianism can work in the real world.

Some political philosophies pass this test. For much of the global center-left, the ideal for several generations has been Nordic social democracy—what the late liberal economist Robert Heilbroner described as “a slightly idealized Sweden.”

Sweden, you say? Do you know that Sweden, over the last 17 years, has massively improved its economic freedom index from 61 to 72? That it may soon be more economically free than the United States? And that Sweden incorporates many of the socially liberal ideas that form the other pillar of libertarianism (one Lind completely ignores)? How about Canada? Canada has increased its economic freedom index from 69 to 79 over last 17 years. Canada is, in fact, the sixth most economically free country in the world right now.

I cite these two examples specifically because they get to another problem with his critique. “Libertarianism” covers a very broad range of ideas. I know libertarians who oppose abortion. I know libertarians who think we shouldn’t legalize drugs. I know libertarians who believe in universal healthcare and social safety nets. Most libertarians believe in sensible environmental regulation and making sure kids get an education.

What marks libertarianism out is not a platform, but a way of thinking. It is a philosophy of being suspicious of government and favoring liberty if it is practical. But it is, by no means, purist. Very few libertarians believe in anarchy. But this is apparently beyond the ken of perennially political bullshit obsessed Salon.

Lind claims that there is no country that is truly “libertarian”. But show me a country that is pure “Nordic social democracy”. There are various flavors that approach some Platonic Ideal of that, I guess. But I would posit that most of the Nordic countries would fail to be true “Nordic social democracies” the way Lind defines it. Sweden is the source of the “Swedish model” approach to prostitution that has been a fiasco. It is also currently enjoying rioting and disruption from unassimilated immigrants. Finland has restrictions on abortion but also practices a very different (and highly successful) education model than liberals prefer. And all five of the traditional Nordic countries have very high Economic Freedom Indices and all five have seen them increase over the last twenty years. That they have universal healthcare does not mean they are not embracing many libertarian ideas.

Oh, but the article gets even worse. I’ve been talking about the Economic Freedom Index to show how you use it properly in a political debate. I did that because Lind is about to cover himself in excrement using it incorrectly. He looks at some of the highest ranked countries, notes they are successful but then dismisses their success for completely arbitrary reasons. Just for fun, I will play this game with his “Nordic social democracy” ideal.

Even worse, the economic-freedom country rankings are biased toward city-states and small countries.

Because it’s not like liberals never compare us to Monaco.

For example, in the latest ranking of economic liberty by the Heritage Foundation, the top five nations are Hong Kong (a city, not a country), Singapore (a city-state), Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland (small-population countries).

With the exception of Switzerland, four out of the top five were small British overseas colonies which played interstitial roles in the larger British empire. Even though they are formally sovereign today, these places remain fragments of larger defense systems and larger markets. They are able to engage in free riding on the provision of public goods, like security and huge consumer populations, by other, bigger states.

Australia and New Zealand depended for protection first on the British empire and now on the United States. Its fabled militias to the contrary, Switzerland might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II.

Of the five Nordic social democracies, three are part of NATO and heavily dependent on NATO resources for the defense. Its fabled neutrality to the contrary, Sweden might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II (during which Sweden also the most economically free power in Europe, incidentally). There was a powerful pro-Nazi movement in Sweden during the war.

In fact, almost all of the massive social welfare states have been enabled by massive military spending by the United States. Very few of them maintain anything resembling a modern military and none maintain the kind of presence that would have staved off the Soviet Union, the kind of presence that currently keeps pirates at bay and that neutralizes any expansionary ambitions from China and Russia. It’s easy to have a Nordic Social Democracy when your defense duties are being paid for by someone else.

These countries play specialized roles in much larger regional and global markets, rather as cities or regions do in a large nation-state like the U.S. Hong Kong and Singapore remain essentially entrepots for international trade. Switzerland is an international banking and tax haven. What works for them would not work for a giant nation-state like the U.S. (number 10 on the Heritage list of economic freedom) or even medium-sized countries like Germany (number 19) or Japan (number 24).

None of the Nordic Social Democracies have a population of more than 10 million. They are all playing specialized roles in much larger regional and global markets. Norway has massive fossil fuel reserves; Iceland almost destroyed itself with banking and is no backing to fishing; Sweden’s economy seems dependent on exporting crappy IKEA furniture. What works for them would not work for a giant nation-state like the US.

And then there is Mauritius.

And then there’s Cuba.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. has less economic freedom than Mauritius, another small island country, this one off the southeast coast of Africa. At number 8, Mauritius is two rungs above the U.S., at number 10 in the global index of economic liberty.

Cuba has guaranteed universal healthcare and first-rate gun control.

According to the CIA World Fact book, the U.S. spends more than Mauritius—5.4 percent of GDP in 2009 compared to only 3.7 percent in Mauritius in 2010. For the price of that extra expenditure, which is chiefly public, the U.S. has a literacy rate of 99 percent, compared to only 88.5 percent in economically-freer Mauritius.

Infant mortality? In economically-more-free Mauritius there are about 11 deaths per 1,000 live births—compared to 5.9 in the economically-less-free U.S. Maternal mortality in Mauritius is at 60 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 21 in the U.S. Economic liberty comes at a price in human survival, it would seem. Oh, well—at least Mauritius is economically free!

Cuba has an (official) infant mortality rate of 4.8 compared to the 2.7 for Singapore and Hong Kong. Cuba suffers from massive civil liberties repression. Oh, well-at least Cuba has universal healthcare!

Look, I can play this game all day. The simple point is that there isn’t any country out there that practices idealized “Nordic Social Democracy” either. And those that are close have been moving away from that model toward greater economic and personal liberty. Or they’ve been moving toward bankruptcy.

Look, every libertarian knows there is no such thing as a perfect libertarian state. The very phrase is an oxymoron because libertarianism is a responsive political philosophy, not an active one. We don’t have grand plans for remaking the universe. What we do is identify things the government is screwing up and try to make it stop. We are not a bunch of silly self-important men sitting behind desks and telling people what to do. We are an unceasing crowd of people surrounding the capitals of the world with pitchforks and torches on standby.

Politics is a tug-of-war not between liberals and conservatives or Republicans and Democrats, but between Those Who Want to Tell You What to Do and Those Who Don’t. The vast majority of politicians and the vast majority of the boot-licking media at such as Salon are in the the former camp. Everyone else is in the latter to some degree or other. Sometimes they are in it only for an issue like abortion. Sometimes they are in it only for an issues like free trade. But just about everyone who is politically aware spends some time in the libertarian camp. Everyone is a least lib-curious. The one thing I have found, in eight years of blogging as libertarian, is that, with almost everyone, I can find something in the libertarian philosophy that they agree. Lind supports some libertarian ideas, even if he doesn’t realize it. Does he oppose crony capitalism? Does he believe in personal freedom? Does he think we’re jailing too many people? Well, my friend, welcome to Libertarian Land! Mind the barbed wire.

Libertarians don’t want power. We want to keep it in check. This is apparently a novel concept.

Even with those caveats however, libertarian ideas are and have been very influential in the real world. They are wound into the very fabric of this nation. Our Constitution is the only one that recognizes such idealized and universal personal liberty. No other country has as deep and thorough a belief in Freedom of Speech as ours. Combine that with the high economic liberty ranking we have — even after 12 years of Bush-Obama — and you’re doing pretty well. Certainly better than the NSD models that are quickly bankrupting the entirety of Europe.

The entire world has moving more libertarian in fits and starts. Wars and violence are at historic lows (libertarians generally oppose war). Personal freedom is at historic highs. Over the last decade, the expansion of economic freedom has lifted hundreds of millions of people — most of them of a different race than your typical libertarian — out of poverty. Countries like Australia and Canada have found ways to combine economic freedom with a more extensive social safety net — a flavor of libertarianism even if it isn’t the pure University of Chicago stuff.

In the end, Lind’s screed crosses me as yet another one of the “Aaah! Libertarians!” screeds I’ve gotten used to reading from ignorant lazy writers devoted to sad outdated political philosophies. The only lasting value it has is that maybe Mauritius will become the “libertarian ideal” instead of Somalia.

Wasting Your Vote

On “Ask a Libertarian Day”, Matt Welch and Nick Gillepsie addressed the issue of whether a vote for Gary Johnson is a wasted vote:

In 1992 and 1996, I voted Republican and was happy about it. In 2004 and 2008, I voted Libertarian was even happier about that (I lived in Texas, so it didn’t matter anyway). The only vote I’ve ever felt I wasted was in 2000 when I voted for George W. Bush. We don’t need to get into that again.

2012 is a little different. I’ll be voting in a swing state and there’s every chance the election will be close. So, in this case, voting for Gary Johnson could swing the election. And I’m sure a number of you also live in swing states like Missouri. So this election will be a real decision.

The question is not whether a protest vote is worth four more years of Obama. The question is whether four year of Romney will be that much better that it’s worth not voting Libertarian.

Obama’s New Best Friend?

Before I get into the meat of the post, a quick question, does anyone really think Iowa means dick? All this hand ringing going on about the cataclysmic effects if Paul wins Iowa, who cares? Santorum is surging in Iowa, who cares? Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll, who cares? Huckabee won in the last go around, now he has a show on Fox, hardly a springboard for success or a momentum builder. Iowans have the pulse of America about as much as Cambridge liberals, and offer equal insight (or lack there of) on where the country is at.

Now, on to Gary Johnson deciding to bolt the GOP and run as a third party candidate on the libertarian ticket:

Frankly, I have been deeply disappointed by the treatment I received in the Republican nomination process,” Johnson said in a statement released by his presidential campaign. He named GOP candidates Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, saying they have “no national name identification” yet are allowed to participate in debates.

He has a point in his obvious short shrifting in the debates, and counters all that nonsense I’ve been reading here of late on how Fox News is soooooooooo bias, considering that Fox was the only hosting network that included Johnson in their debate. You can’t gain traction without exposure and you can’t get exposure if you are not included in the debates, he was doomed at the outset, pity.

Personally, I am conflicted about the notion of a third party in general. I am as disaffected with out current two political parties as anyone, and taken as a whole they comport themselves pretty much birds of the same feather. Platforms aside, it is not what they say but what they do and both have been poor stewards of the people’s welfare, and which crys out even louder for term limits and the infusion of fresh blood on a regular basis. If more choices present more freedom then a third party, or even a fourth or fifth, should provide the folks a better megaphone for what they want. But reality tells us different. Yes, Ralph Nader does provide us with an example of how a third party can shape an election (I can still here the wailing and weeping from 2000) but has it ever happened before or since? Maybe Teddy with his second go around with his Bull Moose Party, costing Taft the election against Woodrow Wilson. Maybe Ross Perot, OK, maybe there are a few examples, but seriously, how bad can Johnson’s third party bid hurt the GOP?

On the flip side, if anyone here has followed elections in Israel or other nations that have multiple parties, do we really want a president who had the support of 38% of the nation? Multiple party national elections often end up this way, the guy with the highest percentage wins and most often it comes down to plurality over majority, yuck. Sometimes it can work if two or more minority parties lobby together to weld their power and influence over the plurality party, but that can’t happen here, Congress is still run by two parties.

Historically, Libertarian candidates haven’t made enough of a dent to spoil the chances of a major-party candidate, but they tend to “disproportionately hurt Republicans,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

True, but Green, Progressive and Communist Party candidates siphon from the left. The fact of the matter is that Gary Johnson’s bid will hurt the GOP candidate, no doubt about it, to what degree though? Even the most optimistic of GOP prognosticators admit, begrudgingly, that with their best man running his best race and bringing his A game, it will be a close election, with the headwinds pointing towards which ever way the economy is going. And even with their best man, that man will have to hoist an apathetic party on his back and carry them. Most Republicans, much like with McCain last year, will hold their nose and vote GOP, if only because 4 more years of Obama is too gruesome to even entertain, But if my sentiment is reflective of many, getting me on board and wildly enthusiastic is going to be an uphill battle. It is never a good sign when your constituents are rooting for a brokered convention and many are.

Let All the Poisons That Lurk in the Mud Hatch Out

In probably the most foreseeable political development of the last month, the Ron Paul newsletters have moved front and center in news coverage of the Republican primary. We discussed this issue extensively four years ago and I’ll just repeat what I said then: the content of the newsletters is deplorable; I believe Ron Paul when he says he didn’t write them; but he owes the voters a much more thorough response than he has provided if he wants to be a serious presidential candidate. Ultimately, you are responsible for what goes out under your name. This is an entirely legitimate issue.

Of course, now that this cat has come out of the bag, the entire litter of Ron Paul baggage is following: his association with and occasional indulgence in conspiracy theories; the contributions he’s gotten from a few neo-Nazis; his association with the Birchers, etc., etc. The consensus — at least among Lefties — is that Ron Paul is the kookiest of kooks, a radical racist fascist anti-semitic lunatic: a characterization that sounds ridiculous to anyone has actually listened to him. Only in the alternate reality of a political campaign could that description have credibility.

Getting to brass tacks, let me address the last part first: the association with racists and other loons and the support — political and monetary — from some members of Stormfront and other fringe groups. I despise guilt by association arguments and Ron Paul is a good illustration of why. His critics can not point to a single policy point that is fascist. They can not point to a policy that reflects white supremacy, anti-semitism or racism. Well, they’ll claim cutting off support for Israel — as part of ending all foreign aide — is anti-semitic. But most thinking people won’t buy that.

So what’s a slime merchant to do? Use guilt by association. Point out that some racists or affiliated scumbags support Paul and darkly intone, “what does that tell you?” What it tells me is that racial hate-mongers are such idiots they are supporting a candidate who, if he had his way, would make their dreams of a powerful leviathan state impossible.

In this country, people are free to support any candidate they choose. The candidates are not responsible for who supports them or votes for them (although I wouldn’t object if they returned their money). The same people blasting Paul because a few racists support him would not blast Obama if some communists or Black Panthers supported him. Politicians are responsible for their views, their votes and their policies. Getting support from the American Family Association means nothing; supporting their anti-gay agenda does. Getting support from PETA means nothing; supporting their animal rights kookery does. Does Paul support the agenda of the racial hate-mongers? I don’t think so.

It’s not like Paul has a dearth of controversial views. But to the Paul bashers, it’s not enough until they’ve tied him to something truly vile, no matter how many degrees of separation are needed.

Now, to address the more serious point about the newsletters and his buddying with conspiracy theorists and racially-amped paleo-conservatives like Lew Rockwell: this does bother me and is one of the reasons, as I explained here, why I can not support Paul for president.

But tar-brushing has simply gotten out of hand. To be sure, some of the views Paul has advocated and is advocating are extreme or even nutty.


Let’s pause for a moment remind ourselves of some of the things that “mainstream politicians” believe.

  • That Medicare, which wastes one in five dollars on fraud and has tens of trillions in unfunded future liabilities is a model for healthcare reform (most liberals) or should be preserved at all costs (both parties).
  • That the government can and should prevent people from getting high (both parties).
  • That government’s various regulatory, anti-terror and anti-crime efforts should be advanced with things like asset forfeiture, no-knock raids, gag orders on critics and shoving aside Constitutional liberties (both parties).
  • That there is no problem with a tax and regulatory structure so complex that the enforcement agencies don’t understand them. That’s it’s perfectly reasonable to jail or financially ruin people who violate these codes without a trace of mens rea (all Democrats; far too may Republicans)
  • That Iraq had WMD’s (both parties).
  • That we should start a war with Iran (the neocons, several GOP nominees).
  • That homosexuality can be cured (Bachman), that gay sex should be outlawed and kids taken away from gay families (Santorum).
  • That you can balance the budget without cutting Medicare and Social Security (most Democrats, many Republicans.)
  • That you can balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing defense spending (numerous Republicans and almost all Presidential nominees).
  • That the cap and trade disaster in Europe is a model for dealing with global warming (many liberals).
  • That we should mandate increased use of expensive and destructive corn ethanol (members of both parties).
  • I would submit that the above — all of which are considered respectable beliefs in the political establishment — are far more insidious and dangerous than anything Ron Paul believes. I don’t go to bed worrying that someone thinks the government participated in or provoked terrorist attacks. The danger of Stormfront or other racist groups does not keep me up at night (and as a Jewish astrophysicist married to a foreigner, I’d be near the top of their hit list). But the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the crippling of civil liberties, the expansion of the welfare state and our burgeoning debt do worry me. And from what I can tell, all the mainstream sensible non-conspiratorial candidates support all or most of the whack-job ideas that are ruining this country. Ron Paul may be in bed with kooks, but the mainstream candidates are in bed with entire industries.

    Some of Ron Paul’s ideas are dangerous. Ending the Federal Reserve or going back to the gold standard or whatever. But the President’s powers are limited. And they would be especially limited under someone who is already isolated within his own party and is running on a platform of decreasing his own power.

    Remember my view of checks and balances: our system is not intended to allow a majority to gang up on the individual; it is intended to allow any of our three branches to derail stupid, foolish, reckless, destructive or unconstitutional behavior. Paul is the only remaining candidate who is even dimly aware of this.

    If Ron Paul is a crazy candidate, it’s because we live in crazy times. It’s because he suddenly sounds a whole lot less crazy than many of our mainstream political figures and almost all of the ones running for the GOP nomination (Huntsman excepted).

    Personally, I wish the enthusiasm for Ron Paul were directed toward someone like Gary Johnson, who is just as libertarian but has an established and massively successful track record as governor of New Mexico and lacks Paul’s considerable baggage. However, for better or for worse — probably for worse — the libertarian wing of the GOP is rallying around Paul. And the focus on areas where he is a little batty has taken away the focus from where it should be — the issues on which he is the least insane man on the stage.

    I don’t think the GOP should nominate Ron Paul. But I do think they should listen to him. Because — dirty laundry or no — he’s talking sense on a number of critical issues.