Why I am not a Libertarian

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay First-time Visitors: Please visit Site Map and Disclaimer. Use "Back" to return here.

Libertarians tend to be regarded in the popular media as a sort of conservative movement. In fact, they espouse a mix of "conservative" and "liberal" ideas. Many of their ideas appeal to liberals:

Other libertarian ideas sound more conservative:

Overall, their stance on personal freedoms is "liberal," their stance on government spending and regulation is "conservative." In short, they combine the personal irresponsibility of liberals with the social, economic and environmental irresponsibility of conservatives. In fact they are rather reminiscent of old-time anarchists.

Some Libertarian Positions

The following quotes are taken directly from the libertarian party platform.

I.9.Government and Mental Health 

We oppose the involuntary commitment of any person to or involuntary treatment in a mental institution. We strongly condemn Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC), where the patient is ordered to accept treatment, or else be committed to a mental institution and forcibly treated. We also oppose forced treatment for the elderly, the head-injured, or those with diminished capacity.

If there is any area where the libertarian platform has been achieved, here it is. Beginning in the 1970's a coalition of liberals and conservatives virtually eliminated involuntary mental treatment. Liberals felt that involuntary treatment was a violation of the patients' civil rights, that patients were being warehoused in institutions, and that society needed to be "confronted" with mental illness by having the mentally ill in the midst of society. Conservatives had much purer motives: they simply wanted to save money. Most of the homeless persons we see sleeping in doorways, and every mentally ill person we see ranting on a street corner, is a product of de-institutionalization.

You have to wonder why libertarians aren't touting their greatest success more.

I.10.Freedom of Communication 

We favor the abolition of the Federal Communications Commission as we would provide for free market ownership of airwave frequencies, deserving of full First Amendment protection.

Okay, now how are we going to keep track of who owns what frequency? Especially since radio waves reach across state lines? 

Suppose a large broadcaster simply starts blasting a smaller one off the air? And suppose the big guy has much greater resources for fighting a court battle than the little guy? Or is this maybe what libertarians want?

I.13.Protection of Privacy

If a private employer screens prospective or current employees via questionnaires, polygraph tests, urine tests for drugs, blood tests for AIDS, or other means, this is a condition of that employer's labor contracts. Such screening does not violate the rights of employees, who have the right to boycott such employers if they choose.

And if a large number of employers all adopt the same practices, you can boycott food and shelter, too.


We hold that human rights should not be denied or abridged on the basis of nationality. We condemn massive roundups of Hispanic Americans and others by the federal government in its hunt for individuals not possessing required government documents. We strongly oppose all measures that punish employers who hire undocumented workers. Such measures repress free enterprise, harass workers, and systematically discourage employers from hiring Hispanics.

Aww, isn't that nice? Why do you suppose the Libertarian platform specifically mentions Hispanics but not Haitians? Is the concern here for human rights? Or is it, just maybe, a plan for creating a huge pool of low-paid workers?

I.19.Freedom of Association and Government Discrimination

Individual rights should not be denied, abridged, or enhanced at the expense of other people's rights by laws at any level of government based on sex, wealth, race, color, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference, or sexual orientation. We support repealing any such laws rather than extending them to all individuals. Discrimination imposed by government has caused a multitude of problems. Anti-discrimination laws create the same problems. While we do not advocate private discrimination, we do not support any laws which attempt to limit or ban it. The right to trade includes the right not to trade -- for any reasons whatsoever; the right of association includes the right not to associate, for exercise of this right depends upon mutual consent.

Okay, just ask any black who couldn't find a decent place to stay, or a decent job back in pre-Civil Rights days, just how well "mutual consent" worked. Mutual consent means consent of both sides.

I don't like anti-discrimination laws. They are invasive, burdensome to enforce and a fertile breeding ground for meddlesome busybodies. We have them for one simple reason: when we didn't, American society arbitrarily denied equal treatment to entire classes of people. There was a national brouhaha during the Korean War when the Red Cross decided to stop segregating blood by race. When blacks outscored whites on aptitude tests for the Philadelphia Fire Department before World War I, the department said "We don't care what the tests show. We're not hiring blacks - period."

So where are black travelers going to stay if white-owned motels decide not to take them in? Why should we expect the free market to solve this problem? It didn't prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act. Things have changed, and probably if we did away with civil rights laws we would find most people still being less biased than they once were. But can we really be so sure? And what's the libertarian plan if widespread discrimination, so extensive that it shuts some groups out nearly everywhere, returns?

I.20.Women's Rights and Abortion 

Recognizing that abortion is a very sensitive issue and that people, including libertarians, can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe the government should be kept out of the question.

It's nice to see the Libertarians have mastered one tactic of the major parties - the fine art of weasel words. If all government is kept out of the question, that's tantamount to supporting abortion on demand. Or, if by government, they mean Federal government, it's tantamount to permitting local control, which amounts to repealing Roe vs. Wade. So which of the two is their position? And why don't these people who claim to be gutsy enough to take on both major parties have the guts to spell out exactly what they mean?

I.21.Families and Children 

A child is a human being and, as such, deserves to be treated justly. We oppose laws infringing on children's rights to work or learn, such as child labor laws and compulsory education laws.

Just imagine how many kids would quit school and flock to 16-hour a day jobs paying $2 an hour in sweatshops if we did this. American kids could have all the rights of kids in Honduras or Bangladesh. Gee, another plan to create a huge pool of unskilled labor.

II.3.Inflation and Depression

All restrictions upon the private minting of coins should be abolished so that minting will be open to the competition of the free market.

Private coins and bills were common in the 19th century when travel was rare and official currency was often in short supply. A token or bill issued by a well-known local bank would be accepted as trustworthy. Just imagine going to Seattle and trying to spend money minted by Bernie's Mint of Tampa. 

Presumably the coins would be precious metal, because any other privately minted coins would be worthless, but you can see how easy it would be to adulterate the metal with innumerable private coins floating around.

Actually, it is perfectly legal to mint private coins. There are dozens of private mints doing it every day. And it's perfectly legal to trade them for other things of value, if you can convince somebody to take them. And they can even serve as money - just go to Chuck E. Cheese or take a ride on the New York subway.

The fixation that some extreme right-wingers have with precious metal is interesting. The stock of precious metal hasn't expanded nearly as fast as the total GNP in recent decades. So basically these people want to hold onto inert metal they themselves did not mine, and see its value skyrocket as other people work to advance technology and build infrastructure. All the while, presumably, complaining righteously about freeloaders who want money without working.

II.4. Finance and Capital Investment 

We call for the abolition of all regulation of financial and capital markets -- specifically, the abolition of the Securities and Exchange Commission, We call for repeal of all laws based on the muddled concept of insider trading.

II.6. Monopolies 

We condemn all coercive monopolies. "Anti-trust" laws do not prevent monopoly, but foster it by limiting competition. We therefore call for the repeal of all "anti-trust" laws, including the Robinson-Patman Act which restricts price discounts, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and the Clayton Anti-Trust Act. We further call for the abolition of the Federal Trade Commission and the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice.

Given the current state of the stock market, it really takes guts to go public with these proposals. Not even Enron in all its glory had the nerve to propose legalizing insider trading.

Now what exactly is a "coercive" monopoly? No monopolist was ever forced at gunpoint to shut out competition. The Postal Service is coercive: by law, nobody else can deliver first class mail. But for a large company to use its economic muscle to drive competitors out of business and then set whatever prices it likes? That's not coercive - those people are acting of their own free will. Their competitors are perfectly free to compete by operating at a loss.

II.5. Government Debt 

Governments facing fiscal crises should always default in preference to raising taxes.

The Libertarian Party is opposed to all taxation, feeling that the government has no right to take money away from people. Instead, the government has the right to borrow money and not pay it back.

II.10. Unions and Collective Bargaining 

We support the right of free persons to voluntarily establish, associate in, or not associate in, labor unions. An employer should have the right to recognize, or refuse or refuse to recognize, a union as the collective bargaining agent of some, or all, of its employees. We oppose government interference in bargaining, such as compulsory arbitration or the imposition of an obligation to bargain. Therefore, we urge repeal of the National Labor Relations Act, and all state Right-to-Work Laws which prohibit employers from making voluntary contracts with unions.

We haven't had a good bloody clash between strikers and strike breakers in a long time.

III.1. Energy 

We oppose all government conservation schemes through the use of taxes, subsidies, and regulation.

Actually, if there's one arena where the free market might play a constructive role, it's in energy. Let the price of gas go up until SUV's become worthless. Let areas with energy shortages pass laws to shut down the NIMBY's (Not in My Back Yard) and build power plants close by. If airports are crowded, let fares go up until people start using less crowded airports. (Fly out of Minneapolis versus O'Hare? No contest.)

III.2. Pollution 

Strict liability, not government agencies and arbitrary government standards, should regulate pollution. We therefore demand the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Okay, so you have $10,000 in the bank, and you take a company to court whose annual legal budget is $10 million. Care to guess how well this system will work? And if we dismantle most government and eliminate most taxes, where exactly will the money and people to enforce "strict liability" come from? Details, details.

Many conservatives argue for a "loser pays" system of liability, a step in the right direction. But we can go further. How about a "lowest bidder" system? Both parties in a legal action submit bids of how much they are willing to pay in legal expenses. The lower of the two bids is the ceiling. Neither side can spend more.

III.3. Consumer Protection 

We support strong and effective laws against fraud and misrepresentation. However, we oppose paternalistic regulations which dictate to consumers, impose prices, define standards for products, or otherwise restrict risk-taking and free choice. We oppose all so-called "consumer protection" legislation which infringes upon voluntary trade, and call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Just the other day I was wondering where I could buy adulterated food and some appliances with dangerous wiring. 

We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has jeopardized safety by arrogating to itself a monopoly of safety regulation and enforcement. We call for privatizing the air traffic control system and transferring the FAA's other functions to private agencies.

Customers will surely boycott airlines with lots of crashes. If the air traffic control system in Chicago creates a hazard, you can just fly to Minneapolis or Cleveland instead. And if you're the owner of a private plane, what's to guarantee a private air traffic control system will let you use a certain airport? If your home town is served by airline X, and your destination is served by Y, and the two airlines refuse to cooperate, what guarantee do you have that you can get there at all?

We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration and particularly its policies of mandating specific nutritional requirements and denying the right of manufacturers to make non-fraudulent claims concerning their products.

That word "non-fraudulent" conceals a multitude of sins. We can presume consumers would avoid products that listed "cockroach parts" or "rat excrement" among its ingredients. (Having worked in some food processing plants, I can assure you that even the most conscientious manufacturer cannot keep an entire factory surgically clean. If you think that's appalling, invite the local health inspector in to check your kitchen, and see if you pass.)  The Food and Drug Administration exists specifically because, in its absence, food and drug processors lied blatantly about the contents and efficacy of their products. I mean outright, in-your-face deception, like adding grass seeds to jam to make it appear natural. Read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle if you have any lingering doubts. So who's going to detect consumer fraud in the absence of the FDA?

If you think tainted meat is a problem now, just wait. Do you doubt that there are food processors who'd toss dogs, cats and rats into the grinder, bones, fur and all, if they thought they could get away with it? If the free market didn't provide clean food before the FDA, what assurance do we have that we'll get it after we abolish the FDA?

III.6. Transportation 

We demand the return of America's railroad system to private ownership. 

Say what? First of all, much of it is private already. Second, Government run railroads like Amtrak and Conrail exist specifically because privately run railroads wanted to unload those lines.

We call for the privatization of airports, air traffic control systems, public roads, and the national highway system.

Public roads and the national highway system? Read up on the history of American roads to see how well the free market did in providing them well into the 20th century. And even if someone could build his own Interstate highway, how would he acquire right of way if everyone on the route knew they could hold out for an exorbitant price? And what if the owner of one highway refused to allow the owner of another to join or cross his?

III.7. Poverty and Unemployment 

We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and "aid to the poor" programs. All these government programs are invasive of privacy, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.

And if the need exceeds the resources of private groups, then what?

III.9. Resource Use 

We call for the homesteading or other just transfer to private ownership of federally held lands. We oppose any use of executive orders invoking the Antiquities Act to set aside public lands. We call for the abolition of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. We oppose creation of new government parks or wilderness and recreation areas. Such parks and areas that already exist should be transferred to non-government ownership. Pending such just transfer, their operating costs should be borne by their users rather than by taxpayers.

Do you think you'll get shoreline property in the Apostle Islands or a chunk of Grand Teton National Park under this plan? Call me a cynic, but why do I have the feeling that "just transfer" means "sale to the highest bidder?" and "homesteading" means "being snapped up by the nearest landowner?" Just look at how well the free market has preserved shoreline access in most areas. Where can an average citizen get to any shoreline, anywhere, except on public lands? Then ask yourself what assurance you have that whoever buys some national park won't turn it into an exclusive resort for the wealthy. If you enjoy outdoor recreation, you can kiss it goodbye if Libertarians have their way.

The smartest thing the U.S. Government ever did was to retain ownership of land in the West. Just travel through the West and observe the mean-spirited, petty attitude of Western landowners who bar access to totally unused land merely because they have the legal right to, then picture all open land in the hands of these people.

III.11. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 

We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This law denies the right to liberty and property to both employer and employee, and it interferes in their private contractual relations.

Just the other day I heard workers complaining about the Federal government interfering with their right to lose body parts in machinery.

III.14. Civil Service

We recognize that the Civil Service is inherently a system of concealed patronage. We therefore recommend return to the Jeffersonian principle of rotation in office.

This would replace concealed patronage with up front, wide open patronage.

III.15. Election Laws 

The Australian ballot system, introduced into the United States in the late nineteenth century, is an abridgement of freedom of expression and of voting rights. Under it, the names of all the officially approved candidates are printed in a single government sponsored format and the voter indicates his or her choice by marking it or by writing in an approved but unlisted candidate's name. We should return to the previous electoral system where there was no official ballot or candidate approval at all, and therefore no state or federal restriction of access to a "single ballot." Instead, voters submitted their own choices and had the option of using "tickets" or cards printed by candidates or political parties.

This one, at first glance, is just plain weird. How does the present system infringe on anyone's rights? You can write in any candidate you like. True, if you write in Mickey Mouse, you probably won't show up on the official tally, but you can do it.

In many cases, the Libertarian Party seems blissfully unaware that there was ever a problem with some of their proposed reforms. Wholly apart from the chaos this could entail in counting votes, there's a good reason we abandoned this system. With privately printed ballots, anyone could tell from across the room how anyone else voted. An employer who wanted to intimidate workers into voting his way needed only to station an observer in the polling place. Also, with privately-printed ballots, what was to stop someone from bringing in a pocketful of ballots and stuffing the ballot box? Do Libertarians really want free and honest elections? This plank sounds more like a plan for voter coercion and election rigging.

The 17th Amendment

Not in the Libertarian platform at the time I wrote this page, but emerging in some conservative and libertarian circles, is the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment, which called for direct election of senators. Prior to that time, Senators were chosen by State legislatures. Some people think that system better preserved the rights of the States, that Senators spoke for their States rather than voters.

Wow. If you want a recipe for rule by lobbyists, this is the one. Which costs more: bankrolling a Senate election or cozying up to a few State legislators? One of the reasons the 17th Amendment was passed in the first place (and 3/4 of the States agreed on it, for all you States Rights advocates) was the abuses of the Robber Baron era and the ease of buying Senators under the old system. Also, occasionally legislatures deadlocked, in which case nobody represented the state.

Who Dreamed This Up? And What Were They Smoking?

The Libertarian Party seems to be completely unaware that the robber baron era ever happened at all in American history. Although libertarians profess to want individual liberty, their platform is a blueprint for unrestrained rule by the rich and powerful. It's so gleefully over the top in its advocacy of unrestrained greed it's almost like the platform a committee made up of Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life, Uncle Duke from Doonesbury and Monty Burns from The Simpsons would write.

I find myself wondering who dreamed this document up. Despite its recipe for unbridled corporate greed, I can't picture anyone at any level of responsibility in corporate America being so detached from political reality as to think this platform has any chance of becoming policy or working if it did.

So who buys into this plan? The typical libertarian, I suspect, is someone like Ed Thompson, who ran for governor of Wisconsin in 2002 on the Libertarian ticket. His sole qualification was that he was the brother of former Republican governor Tommy Thompson. His only achievement was to divert enough votes from the Republican candidate to elect a Democrat (Hint: if you're the Republican Party, bankroll the Greens. If you're the Democratic Party, bankroll the libertarians.) I picture people who fantasize they could rise to greatness if only they weren't being taxed to death or tied down by endless regulations. The fact that other people, paying the same taxes and under the same regulations, do achieve greatness doesn't enter their thinking. Still less does it occur to them that they will end up suffering worse extortion and limitations on their freedom if all government functions and resources are in private, unregulated hands.

What the Free Market Can and Cannot Do

The free market is absolutely superb at creating abundance through technology. To the extent that technology can also improve quality at the same time, it provides quality. The tremendous growth in computers is a prime example. 

When quantity or price collide with quality, it's no contest. In a clash between adequate quality and low price versus high quality and higher price, quality loses every time. If you want a car that will last forever, buy a Rolls Royce. If you want one good for ten years or so, any car dealer can help you. Could you build a car that lasts fifty years at current prices? Maybe, but once you saturate the market, then what? Your continuing sales will be a fraction of current car sales. You'll have to lay off workers and shut down idle plants. So why bother? You can earn a profit selling pretty good cars that last ten years. Just try to buy, say, a CD player with durable all-metal parts, or a VCR with every single function having its own, clearly labeled button. Even if you'd be willing to pay extra, you can't find them. The consumer demand for cheap products has driven many higher quality products out of the market. Sometimes it's merely a matter of taste, other times it really is an objective loss of quality. Many tech writers are convinced that the Betamax video tape format was technically superior to VHS, but VHS won and Betamax lost.

The free market provides abundance, but does a lousy job of upholding high standards. At every opportunity, voters elect politicians who water down standards. Any school that really imposed high standards would find its school board voted out of office. (Just check out Piper, Kansas, where a teacher who flunked students for plagiarism was overruled by the school board. Who is so lacking in a life that they would be afraid of being voted off a school board?) Any state that imposed an achievement test that required enough study time to seriously cut into students' leisure time, jobs, athletics, or family vacations would come under insuperable pressure to water down the tests. So we can assume that if we privatize all education and eliminate compulsory attendance laws, we will see a huge proliferation of schools that turn out mediocre, semi-literate students. We do that now, you say? Just wait to see how much worse it can get.

Why don't politicians tell the truth? Because the ones who do, lose. Fantasy drives reality out of the marketplace every election day. 

Another thing the free market fails at is providing services that don't yield a profit or cannot be sold. If you clean up your factory emissions, people downwind will get cleaner air whether they pay for it or not. Nobody has ever come up with a way to make money cleaning up slums. This isn't a criticism of industry. Industry exists to make a profit. But it is an indication that we need something besides market forces to patch the holes. Since society as a whole benefits, we bill society as a whole. That's called a tax. 

So What's Plan B?

Missing conspicuously from the platform of the Libertarian Party is any specific discussion of Plan B: what will happen if things don't go as planned, how we will avoid problems that historically occurred in the absence of regulation, and how we will deal with people who don't behave like rational libertarians. I'm sure a lot of libertarians will dismiss many of the scenarios I have sketched above by saying they won't happen. But they did happen, and libertarians don't seem to show the slightest awareness of it. How specifically will we deal with a return of widespread discrimination, for example?

The Libertarian plan calls for "strict liability" and "strong and effective laws against fraud and misrepresentation," but there is a conspicuous absence of any specific plans for making this system work. How specifically, do they plan to prevent the wealthy from using their resources to crush any legal challenge?

And what's the big deal about fraud? If we're going to assert that people should be responsible for their own health care and retirement funds and suffer the consequences if they don't have enough money, why not say that people should be responsible for detecting and avoiding fraud? Caveat emptor.

This is actually very reminiscent of the mind-set of radicals in the Sixties: let's totally break up the existing system, then worry about the details later. You'll love it. Trust us.

The Libertarian Safety Net

This is the place to start, because this is where people will end up if they cannot or will not assume full responsibility for their own well-being. 

We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and "aid to the poor" programs. All these government programs are invasive of privacy, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals (Emphasis mine).

If libertarians succeed in reducing taxation dramatically, it's hard to see why people would continue to give to charity at high levels. If Libertarians also succeed in doing away with government subsidized health care and Social Security, what assurance do we have that there will be anything left over to give to charity after people safeguard their own health care and retirement?

But the bottom line is this: people who get in trouble should look to private charities for help. So let's see what might happen.

Legalization of Drugs

Most of the comments I get on this page are from people who challenge this section. I suspect some people style themselves libertarians mostly as a pretext for advocating legalization of drugs. I wonder if they have any intention of supporting more "conservative" planks of the Libertarian platform?

Let's assume that we legalize drugs as called for by the libertarian platform (I.4), that most users manage to use their drug of choice responsibly, and that we don't see any dramatic increase in the number of users. This is, in itself, a not very realistic scenario. We can hardly expect to see the same results in a world of PCP, Ecstasy, heroin and crack that we saw a century ago when the most potent things around were opium and crude cocaine, especially if we also create a world of low paying jobs and a huge pool of unskilled workers. But let's assume the best here.

We can assume there will be a lot of people who drug themselves to incapacity, just as they do now. What are we going to do with them? Presumably private rehabilitation centers will spring up to help those who want to be helped. Why? What's the market incentive? But what about those who don't want to get off drugs, or whose brains are so scrambled they can't make an informed decision? Do we expect private shelters to spring up to house them? Suppose that doesn't happen - do we simply let them live in refrigerator cartons, camp out in parks or freeze in doorways? Where are the shelters going to be located? I can just see homeowners welcoming a drug shelter into the neighborhood. If the shelter is someplace safely removed from anyone who might object, how are the drug users going to get there? What if there aren't enough rehab centers and shelters to meet the needs because people are giving to other charities they consider more deserving, or simply not giving at all because they have to finance their own retirements and health care?

And how will they buy drugs? In the libertarian scenario, if they don't have the money, they have to go cold turkey for a while. But drug users don't do that now. Many resort to prostitution or drug dealing themselves, but a lot of them turn to crime. The libertarian platform (I.6) states: "We support restitution for the victim to the fullest degree possible at the expense of the criminal or wrongdoer." How is this going to happen? These people are unemployable already. Will we set up work centers where criminals will work off their debts? How will these differ from slave labor camps? Given the costs of feeding, sheltering and guarding criminals, could they ever work off the costs of their crimes?

Then there are the kids. What do we do with the children of drug abusers? 

Let's talk about the "responsible" drug users in this scenario (something I maintain is a contradiction in terms.) Surgeons and airline pilots are only a little stoned when they report to work. We can assume a lot of professions will exclude drug users. That means the "responsible" users will try to conceal their drug use, like many do now in the military, which has routine drug screening. We can, of course, invoke "strict liability," but that won't help you if your air traffic controller fails to avert a collision or your anesthesiologist miscalculates your dose.

By the way, if you're not a libertarian, but support legalization of drugs, tell me how you plan to deal with these problems. Don't tell me they won't happen. Tell me what you plan to do if they do happen. I won't even waste bandwidth replying to you if you don't.

Finally, while there is debate over whether drugs should be decriminalized or even legalized, there's another issue that's much simpler and established in law. Do you have the right to decide, unilaterally, that laws against drugs don't apply to you? The answer to that is absolutely settled. Until proponents of decriminalization elect legislators who see things their way, drugs remain illegal, and the issue of whether individuals have the right to violate those laws is non-negotiable. I happen to think most speed limits are set by a joint committee of the timid and the stupid, but until speed limits change, I have no right to complain if I speed and get a ticket.

Bottom Line

Another View

Bruce Bartlett, in the Washington Times, December 20, 2006:

The LP is worse than a waste of time. I believe it has done far more to hamper the advancement of libertarian ideas and policies than to advance them. In my view, it is essential for the LP to completely disappear before libertarian ideas will again have political currency.

Over the years, I have known a great many people who have flirted with the LP, but were ultimately turned off by its political impotence and immaturity. C-SPAN runs LP conventions and viewers can see for themselves how unserious and childish they are. They show the LP is essentially a high-school-level debating club where only one question is ever debated -- who is the purest libertarian and what is the purest libertarian position? At times, serious people have tried to get control of the LP and make it a viable organization. But in the end, the crazies who like the LP just as it is have always run them off.

Both major parties have fewer libertarians than they would without the LP, meaning the net result of the LP has been to make our government less libertarian than it would otherwise be.

In place of the LP, there should arise a new libertarian interest group organized like the National Rifle Association or the various pro- and anti-abortion groups. This new group, whatever it is called, would hire lobbyists, run advertisements and make political contributions to candidates supporting libertarian ideas. It will work with both major parties. It can magnify its influence by creating temporary coalitions on particular issues and being willing to work with elected officials who may hold libertarian positions on only one or a handful of issues. ... As long as the LP continues, unfortunately, it will an albatross around the necks of small-L libertarians, destroying any political effectiveness they might have. It must die for libertarian ideas to succeed.

Want to Make Yourself Useful?

Instead of pie in the sky platforms that don't have a snowball's chance of ever becoming law, how about this? The Constitution specifies in Article V:

on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, [Congress] shall call a convention for proposing amendments...

This has never been done in American history although it has been tried. Libertarians would advance their agendas much better if they began pushing for such a convention and then worked to have it dominated by people who supported some of their ideas. Once a convention is called, amendments still have to be ratified by three fourths of the states, so the bar is still set high. But a convention could make an end run around entrenched interests. I personally think the worst missed opportunity in recent American history was our failure to call a Constitutional Convention to mark the bicentennial of the Constitution. So what amendments might such a convention propose?

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Created 20 September 2002, Last Update 02 June 2010  

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