ONTD Political

Great article on Libertarians in, of all places, Forbes magazine. I'll hide most behind the cut in case you are not as fascinated by this topic as me.

Libertarians' views on social policy and national defense make them sympathetic to the Democrats, while their views on economic policy tend to align them with the Republicans.

If one views social, defense and economic policy as having roughly equal weight, it would seem, therefore, that most libertarians should be Democrats. In fact, almost none are. Those that don't belong to the dysfunctional Libertarian Party are, by and large, Republicans.

The reason for this is that most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don't like paying taxes.

They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn't extend much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.



Bruce Bartlett, 05.29.09, 12:00 AM ET

I recently attended a dinner with a group of prominent liberal and libertarian bloggers to see if there is a community of interest that might lead to closer cooperation on some issues.

On the surface, there would appear to be potential for an alliance. Libertarians tend to be liberal on social issues, favoring such things as gay marriage and drug legalization; and also liberal on defense and foreign policy, opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and opposing torture and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of national security.

But libertarians are conservative on economic policy--favoring a free market with virtually no government intervention except the enforcement of contracts, and no government spending or taxes except those to pay for a very minimal police force and military.

Libertarians' views on social policy and national defense make them sympathetic to the Democrats, while their views on economic policy tend to align them with the Republicans.

If one views social, defense and economic policy as having roughly equal weight, it would seem, therefore, that most libertarians should be Democrats. In fact, almost none are. Those that don't belong to the dysfunctional Libertarian Party are, by and large, Republicans.

The reason for this is that most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don't like paying taxes.

They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn't extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.

An example of this type of libertarian thinking can be found on the Web site of a group called the Campaign for Liberty. It pays lip service to the libertarian philosophy on foreign and social policy, but says little about them.

The discussion of economic policy, however, is much greater. But its only major proposal is abolition of the income tax. No ideas on how government spending would be cut to make this possible are put forward except to eliminate the congressional pay raise. Perhaps this group really believes that will be enough to abolish the income tax, but I suspect not. Whoever wrote these talking points is simply pandering to the stupid, the ignorant and the unsophisticated.

One is not likely to run into that type of libertarian at a Washington dinner party. These libertarians tend to be well-educated, arriving at his or her philosophy through reading obscure books or random contact with some libertarian in graduate school. They don't own guns--probably never even fired one, don't mind paying taxes too much, have no particular nostalgia for the gold standard and certainly would not choose to live in isolation on a mountaintop. They are cosmopolitan, urbane, articulate and interested in ideas more than just about anything else. They are not especially career-oriented--they are happy to be paid less than they probably could make as long as they don't have to compromise their principles and can do work that advances the cause. For the most part, they aren't family-oriented or religious, and they mostly fit the stereotype of a nerd.

But even these metro-libertarians tend to be more concerned about economics than social or foreign policy. The Cato Institute publishes an annual survey of economic freedom throughout the world, but produces no surveys of what countries have the most political or social freedom or those that have the most libertarian foreign policy.

Furthermore, economic freedom tends to be determined primarily by those measures for which quantifiable data are available. Since it is very easy to look up the top marginal income tax rate or taxes as a share of GDP, these measures tend to have overwhelming influence on the ratings. As a result, countries like Denmark, which are very free every way except in terms of taxes, end up being penalized. Conversely, authoritarian states like Singapore don't suffer for it because they have low taxes.

An unstated implication of these rankings is that freedom is the highest good--the thing that brings the greatest happiness to the most people. Since low taxes are taken as the sine qua non of a free society, one would therefore expect the happiest countries to be the lowest-taxed countries. In fact, this is not the case. Based on a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, most of the world's happiest countries are high-tax countries.

Taxes and Happiness, 2006

Country Happiness Index Taxes/GDP

Denmark 8.0 / 49.1

Finland 7.6 / 43.0

Netherlands 7.6 / 39.3

Norway 7.5 / 43.9

Switzerland 7.5 / 29.6

New Zealand 7.4 / 36.7

Australia 7.4 / 30.6

Canada 7.4 / 33.3

Belgium 7.4 / 44.5

Sweden 7.4 / 49.1

United States 7.3 / 28.0

Source: OECD

At the liberaltarian dinner, many of the liberals persuasively argued that the pool of freedom isn't fixed such that if government takes more, then there is necessarily less for the people. Many government interventions expand freedom. A good example would be the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was opposed by libertarians like Barry Goldwater as an unconstitutional infringement on states' rights. Yet it was obvious that African Americans were suffering tremendously at the hands of state and local governments. If the federal government didn't step in to redress these crimes, who else would?

Since passage of the civil rights act, African Americans have achieved a level of freedom equal to that of most whites. Yet I have never heard a single libertarian hold up the civil rights act as an example of a libertarian success.

One could also argue that the women's movement led to a tremendous increase in freedom. Libertarians may concede the point, but conservatives almost universally view the women's movement with deep hostility. They think women are freest when fulfilling their roles as wife and mother. Anything that conflicts with those responsibilities is bad as far as most conservatives are concerned.

In short, there is a theoretical case to be made for liberals and libertarians at least continuing a dialogue. But for it to go anywhere, libertarians must scale back their almost single-minded focus on economic freedom as the sole determinant of liberty. They must work harder to defend civil liberties and resist expansion of the police state whether it involves suspected terrorists, illegal aliens or those who enjoy smoking marijuana.

Libertarians should also be more outspoken about America's disastrous foreign policy, which Obama seems to be doing very little to fix. This would seem like an obvious area for cooperation. The main problem seems that neither liberals nor libertarians are up to challenging the loudmouthed bullies on talk radio and Fox News who equate anything less than a 100% commitment to the "war on terror" as treasonous.

I believe there should be more balance in the libertarian strategy, with civil liberties and non-interventionism having closer to equal weight with economic freedom.

In return, liberals can learn something important about economics from libertarians. Liberals often turn to government to solve social problems simply because that is their default position. But often, there are private-sector alternatives that may in fact be superior. The rich diversity of America's states and localities shows there are many different ways of dealing with social problems that don't necessarily require more government.

I hope the dialogue continues.

Bruce Bartlett is a former Treasury Department economist and the author of Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action and Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.com


Note: I did a Google image search on "Libertarians" and this is the first image that came up. Seemed appropriate.

@ Forbes
quixotic_otaku 29th-May-2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
I should be offended at the pic.. but his wife is cute in a Elizabeth Montgomery kind of way... so I just kinda giggled.

It's an interesting article though :-)
squidb0i 30th-May-2009 12:07 am (UTC)
What's offensive about a hot wife with a nice shotgun?
mindrtist 30th-May-2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
the rugburns and the awful shoes!
and her crazy flipper hand behind her
squidb0i 31st-May-2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
More of a turn off than an offense, methinks.. ;]
squid_ink 29th-May-2009 10:40 pm (UTC)

I though that's what Republicans are calling themselves nowadays
crystaldawn 30th-May-2009 08:34 am (UTC)
That's what I thought.

Then again, I'd want to call myself something - ANYTHING - else if I was a Republican these days.
olivetree 29th-May-2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
♥ the stripper heels
goes_kaboom 29th-May-2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
I have a really good friend who's a Libertarian. We get along great, have the same sense of humor, like 99% of the same things... except he is a HUGE, flaming, unrepentant Libertarian, and I'm on the purpley side (both red and blue), but mostly Liberal.

Even though I understand -- and support! -- some very Republican things, the key point I always get stuck on is this notion that the Government is simply there to be some sort of publicly-appointed checkbook, and shouldn't, even temporarily, help its people at all (read: welfare, food stamps, etc.).

But mostly the problem I have with it is the condescending "well, I'm smarter than you, that's why I don't belong to x party" take on it they have.

It's funny to hear some of them try to explain away their reasoning for not allowing gay marriage or abortion, though, considering that goes against their "logical" principles.
leitao 31st-May-2009 08:44 am (UTC)
Oh, God, your friend sounds like my "independent" (though she's totally a Libertarian) friend. We get along great and have a lot in common . . . except on certain political views/issues and, as you said, gay marriage, etc. =/
gmth 29th-May-2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
Every single Libertarian I've run across has been a little weird. Some of them have been a LOT weird.

Of course, they probably think the same thing about me, so.
surrenderface 30th-May-2009 12:02 am (UTC)
what drives me insane is like i am totally in agreement with the social side of libertarianism...but as someone into economics, the economic side of it just...boggles my mind.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 12:33 am (UTC)
What's so mind-boggling about pure free-market economics? I'm legit wondering. I'm an econ minor, and all my classes have EMPHASIZED the benefits of the free market.
surrenderface 30th-May-2009 12:35 am (UTC)
no, not that, stuff like the idea that dressing up as founding fathers makes a good point as to why gold should be money.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 12:39 am (UTC)
Oh yeah. I conveniently ignore those folk. :)
syndicalist 30th-May-2009 12:46 am (UTC)
I'm sure they have. That is why economics as taught is school is largely an ideological indoctrination in why "free markets" (a tricky term, actually) are king, inevitable, and/or most desirable. In the really-existing economy, free market fanaticism would do away with minimum wage laws, workplace safety laws, family medical leave act, over time laws, consumer product safety commission, federal trade commission, and other horribly intrusive non-market things that are nonetheless popular with people.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 12:50 am (UTC)
Actually, I go to a fairly liberal school (College of Charleston). The basic idea of my econ classes are: free market is the best, but is often unethical. Therefore, aim for balance.
syndicalist 30th-May-2009 12:54 am (UTC)
What is the free market solution to environmental pollution?

For example, two firms contract with one another to make widgets. In the process, runoff/chemicals, etc. are put into the air or the water that affects people who were not party to the contract between the two firms.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 12:59 am (UTC)
The runoff/chemicals would be a "negative externality," or a negative unintended consequence. Ideally, a corporation would "internalize the externality," or absorb the costs of cleanup into their budget. The same goes with other externalities like noise pollution, smells, etc.

But they don't always do that, so therefore the government has to step in, imo. (This is an issue where I'm a terrible libertarian...)
syndicalist 30th-May-2009 01:02 am (UTC)
Yes, externalities. There are a lot of them, besides pollution. Me and ou make a deal, ideally it would only have repercussions betwixt me and you. In the real world, it doesn't. There are social and economic ripple effects that go outward and affect people not involved.

It's naive to think business men will always act in everyone's best interest. Even Adam Smith said that.

The proposal of any new law or regulation which comes from [businessmen], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

–Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations, vol. 1, pt. xi, p.10 (at the conclusion of the chapter)(1776)

ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 01:04 am (UTC)
Exactly. As I said, I make a horrible Libertarian because I totally believe in government intervention in such cases.

Sorry if that makes me not fun to debate with. :)
prismatism disclaimer: i may be full of shit.30th-May-2009 12:25 am (UTC)
I like Libertarians much more than most Republicans... but so much of it just seems to be teen-angsty-rebellion, overly-non-conformist shock-value crap. Like "I bet you think I'm a Liberal, huh? WELL I'M ACTUALLY A REPUBLICAN, DEAL WITH THAT!" They tend to be skeptical to the point of naturally responding to everything with cynicism.

brassbikini Re: disclaimer: i may be full of shit.30th-May-2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 12:31 am (UTC)
I'm sad at the libertarian hate here. :(

To defend the Libertarian-Republican lovefest, I have to say that I think a lot of Libertarians feel that the Republican view on taxes/economics outweighs the Democrat view on social equality. The idea is that taxes are an immediate issue, whereas laws about gay marriage/abortions are not likely to be changed any time soon.

In my defense, though, I voted for Bob Barr and any state-level official who WASN'T an incumbent.
syndicalist 30th-May-2009 12:50 am (UTC)
But like the writer points out, on issues of national security, torture, gay marriage, the drug war, and more, Libertarians, if they mean what they say, should actually side with Democrats, if all else is equal. Fact is, most are selective Libertarians. There are a lot of issues that it is hard to find Libertarians actively and aggressively speaking out on, but which they theoretically, on paper, support. How many Libertarians are agitating to get rid of "Right to Work" laws that make it illegal for a union to contract with an employer that the employer can not hire people who do not agre to join the union? If Libertarians really believed in freedom to contract, they would support this. But they actually side with employers, even if it means going against their own professed principles, which can conveniently be swept to the side if it means bosses could lose some power.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 12:56 am (UTC)
I agree, for the most part. But all else is oftentimes NOT equal. For instance, my parents, who are both pretty liberal libertarians, voted for Bush in 2004 because they felt that we shouldn't leave Iraq or Afghanistan, which Kerry advocated (from what I remember... I was only 15).

Which was my point. Yeah.
syndicalist 30th-May-2009 12:59 am (UTC)
Libertarianism along with the atheist philosophy of Ayn Rand that many Christ-loving Republicans believe in, mainly provides the intellectual ammunition the GOP uses to argue for dismantling public supports for the poor. That is where Libertarianism focuses laserlike, with relish, often breezing cheerfully by other issues that they profess they also have opinions on, but do not act as strongly on behalf of as anti-welfare state stuff.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 01:09 am (UTC)
I think there's a difference, though, between encouraging people to (cliche ahead) pull themselves up by their bootstraps and believing that the poor deserve to starve to death.

The truth is, the welfare system in the US is overburdened and being used by people who don't require it to survive. Some shock to the system HAS to be provided for the government to have money for any other projects and to prevent the US becoming a welfare state. Some say a tax increase is needed, I say that welfare should only be available for those who are actively looking for work and need it to survive in between jobs. It's a simple difference of opinion.
ididthatonce 30th-May-2009 01:15 am (UTC)
Just like any political party. :)
txvoodoo 30th-May-2009 04:49 am (UTC)
I've found a lot of people use the Liberatarian tent to hide some seriously unsavory beliefs, i.e racism, specifically. This may be because I never met a Liberatarian until I met moved to Texas, and here, I've met a lot of them - they hang in the same kind of scifi/geek groups I do w/ hubby, and then you get to know them.....

They've been gun-buying like crazy since Obama was elected, not only out of fear he'd take 'em all away, but because they think the black folks are going to have some kind of revolution.

When they start talking that way, that's when hubby & I leave the barbeque. Carefully.
lidane 30th-May-2009 12:45 am (UTC)
I went through a Libertarian/Objectivist phase in college, reading Ayn Rand and all sorts of books from guys at the CATO Institute. Hell, I still have all the books on my shelf. I just couldn't get past what I saw as the greed factor where the market was sacred over everything else, even people.

That cartoon's right. It's pretty much just anarchy for people with money. The most hardocre anarcho-capitalist guy I know has no problem with social freedom, but God help anyone who tries to sell him on anything the government does, even proven programs like rural electrification. As far as he's concerned, everything, including law enforcement, should be privatized just so he doesn't have to pay taxes on it. It's crazy.
_lilou 30th-May-2009 02:43 am (UTC)
As far as he's concerned, everything, including law enforcement, should be privatized

Holy nightmare! The PD around here care little enough as it is.
lidane 30th-May-2009 04:44 am (UTC)
If his ideas -- and really, if the hardest of the hardcore libertarian ideals were put in place -- we'd damn near be Somalia, since there'd be no central government in place, everything would be privatized, and we'd all be at the mercy of the almighty "free and unfettered" market for even the most basic things like sanitation, clean water, and police and fire services.

I'm hoping he eventually gets over it. He's a cool guy otherwise, but talking politics with him is akin to slamming your head into a brick wall repeatedly, and about as productive.
mindrtist 30th-May-2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Privatizing the cops. Oh, ok. You can see already how much money is in Beverly Hills' Police Department and how few cops there are in So.Central Los Angeles comparatively. It's like saying, "ok go destroy your towns. ready, set go!" Look at the schools dummy.

Does he think we missed the boat and should have privatized Social Security? Cuz that would have been awesome given the events of September 2008.

Oh, people...

iluvhistory 30th-May-2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Libertarianism for none, Socialism for all. :3
brassbikini 30th-May-2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
I like the way you think. ;3
volksjager 30th-May-2009 01:39 am (UTC)
In the end ALL extremists want the same thing.
haruhiko 30th-May-2009 03:23 am (UTC)
Lolbertarians are ridic: They say they care about social freedoms, but they support economic policies that would severely damage social freedoms.
biichan 30th-May-2009 05:56 am (UTC)
I was a libertarian for a few years in high school due to reading L Neil Smith at an impressionable age. I got over it when I realized that The Probability Broach is not actually realistic and that a libertarian society would not give us talking dolphins and apes and bouncy pastel sidewalks. Or blimps.

Edited at 2009-05-30 05:57 am (UTC)
___closetome 30th-May-2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I always think of lols_kite, and have that knee-jerk !@#$%^&* reaction. I hate Bob Barr though, he's a douche.
syndicalist 30th-May-2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
I do think welfare is out of control, and even most middle class people I know complain constantly because they're so irresponsible with money and think the government should help them.

Can you give an example of "welfare being out of control"? Since the massive welfare reform act of 1996, which eliminated AFDC, the US barely has a welfare system. It's already probably the most miserly one of industrialized countries.

Anecdotally, saying that you know a lot of people that bitch about welfare doesn't mean a lot. It's griped about out of all reasonable proportion, like a weird pastime or something that in many cases seems to me to be fueled by resentment along the lines of "My life is hell, why should anyone else's not be as shitty?" - like it is a vacation. Since there is no program called "welfare," I usually ask what program they mean when I hear someone using the term.
syndicalist 31st-May-2009 01:26 am (UTC)
TANF is a lot more strict than AFDC. AFDC was guarnateed when needed, as needed, to families with dependent children. TANF is likewise ony for someone who has a child (i.e childless men and/or women do not qualify, nor does anyone who has children that are over 18 - vere severe limuts), and also has a lifetime limit of something like 5 years. SO it is pretty strict.

There is no program the US govt offers called "welfare." There are Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, for poorer people who go to college. I have been in college classes with folks receiving Pell Grants and who are against "welfare." Or maybe it means food stamps, which you almost have to be living under a bridge to qualify for. There is nothing that just pays you from the federal government for not having a job.
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