Third Party & Independents Archives

Libertarianism: If Not Now, Then When?

With the meltdown of the American economy, what better time to ask: Can libertarianism come to the rescue? Perhaps the most interesting statement in the Wikipedia discussion of libertarianism is that “There is no single theory that can be reliably identified as the libertarian theory, and no single principle or set of principles on which all libertarians would agree.”

Nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that libertarianism includes the belief in economic freedom that emphasizes removing corporate subsidies and other favoritism to special interests and provides maximum freedom to individuals to pursue financial success and security.

It also seems to me that authentic libertarians would be agonizing over the current historic growth in governmental ownership of what we thought were private, corporate enterprises. We seem to be seeing more authoritarian government being justified by the current economic recession and the public demand for rescue of the economy and alleviation of the considerable pain inflicting so many millions of Americans.

What I find myself intrigued by is this central question: In these terrible economic times, is it not reasonable to think that if libertarianism was ever to have a chance of attracting very broad public support as an alternative to what the US has had for many, many decades, would this be the time? That is, if American capitalism that has prevailed for so long with the support of the two-party plutocracy-run government has clearly failed, then why not demand a fundamentally different paradigm? After all, what we are witnessing right now is the demise of “free enterprise” and the growth of more authoritarian government. Government, through the Federal Reserve, is eager to print and borrow more money, with no limits in sight. Not exactly what libertarians would prefer.

So I have been examining websites with a libertarian orientation to see whether there is a serious effort to offer an alternative to what President Obama and Congress seem totally committed to do with the aim of stimulating the collapsing US economy,

I found a very thoughtful article by Sheldon Richman in The American Conservative critiquing the New Deal that current politicians seem intent on replicating. Here is an excerpt from it: “Yet with all this government activism, the U.S. economy, despite halting attempts at recovery, could not shake the Depression. In 1937 and 1938, the financial system went into an unprecedented secondary depression, with a new stock-market crash and unemployment climbing back to over 20 percent. Jim Powell notes in FDR’s Folly that the New Deal further eroded the banking system; raised taxes; made hiring workers, particularly unskilled blacks, prohibitively expensive; increased the price of most goods, including food; and discouraged investment. This is hardly the New Deal we’re taught in school. As historian David Kennedy put it, ‘Whatever it was, [the New Deal] was not a recovery program, or at any rate not an effective one.’ …The New Deal did not, therefore, end the Depression. …What can we learn from all this? That money is too important to be left to the state. One way or another, government mismanagement of the monetary system wrecked the U.S. economy. It’s happening again now. The only permanent way to avoid a repetition is to place the system where it belongs: in the free market. … individual liberty is the first casualty when bureaucracy expands to manage the economy.”

If minimizing the role of government in our lives and economy is an essential feature of libertarianism, then it does not that appear to be much public or political interest in it.

If greed and irresponsible economic behavior by both government and private entities in past years has brought us to the current awful recession, then is anyone interested in selling a libertarian alternative based on sound money and free markets?

Who better to look to than Ron Paul. He recently addressed the House Financial Services Committee’s hearing on the Madoff Ponzi scandal. He noted out that Bernard Madoff was operating under the supervision of the SEC, that more regulation will only make the fraudulent operations easier because they can claim to be approved by the government, and that two of the biggest government-run Ponzi schemes are the Social Security system and even the monetary system itself. Paul supports abolishing the Federal Reserve and the SEC, and returning to an honest monetary system based on gold and/or free competition in currencies. He says outright that “we need to get rid of the bad policies, the monetary system, and these mountains of debt. …we’re gonna hire more bureaucrats and we’re gonna appropriate more money we don’t have. …We’ve been doing this for 78 years, and we’ll do it again, but believe me, this will not solve our problems.”

I did not notice any significant media coverage of Paul’s views and certainly no rush of politicians with far more power to him or his views. In other words, if Paul is probably the best spokesperson for libertarianism in the country, and if he is right, then there clearly is no significant public or political interest in libertarianism in these historic and terrible economic days.

Personally, when Paul said: “We could return to sound money. We could balance our budget. There’s a lot of things that we can do. But the worst thing that we can do is perpetuate the bad policies that gave us this trouble in the first place. And that is that we no longer, over the last quite a few decades, believed in free-market capitalism.” I think he got it right. But I am forced to conclude that libertarianism is dead as a door nail and doomed to remain a marginalized and insignificant movement offering a home for the relatively few that seek intellectual shelter in a true alternative to the current dominant economic system. Paul’s revolution is going nowhere, yet another marginalized effort that does not threaten the status quo plutocracy. After all, when the US economy splinters, as it already has, and the nation does not turn to the one true alternative to it, what else can we conclude?

If libertarianism offers the better solution, then the path that President Obama and Congress are on, with the support of the mainstream media, corporate America, and most of the public will prove painful and fruitless. This means a lot more pain and suffering for most Americans. Maybe, come 2012, Ron Paul can run again for president and say “I told you so.”

Posted by Joel S. Hirschhorn at January 11, 2009 7:14 PM
Comment #273461

Joel, good question/post.

Why is it easier to pursue libertarianism as opposed to trying to promote your agenda through an existing party? Would it not be easier to promote this agenda through one of our two party system?

Does Israel benefit from their three party system? I don’t know the answer, just asking if they do. Seems to be chaotic at times having three divergent groups sometimes working against each other at all costs.

Posted by: Edge at January 11, 2009 8:13 PM
Comment #273464

What the New Deal did was prevent a revolution. That it faltered around 1937 was because political pressure had gathered enough momentum to cut it short. In other words the we did not stimulate long enough.
There are dangers with the BHO plan. Not stimulating for a long enough period of time is one of them. Another is that the proposal falls short in amount and scope with much of the money going to tax breaks that will do little to increase hiring. If we fall into a deflationary cycle, a likely occurance, more stimulus will be needed. After 8 years of profigate Republic spending continued deficits are hard to accept. That was not the plan,however the downturn has thrown out the rulebokk. Major stimulus is the only option and government is the only institution capable of providing it. At this particular junction in history attacking or attempting to limit the stimulus proposals will do nothing but hurt the recovery.

Posted by: bills at January 11, 2009 8:49 PM
Comment #273466

Joel good question. I would say not now, not ever, never. Corporate America has ran our elected representatives and therefore our government since the 80’s. We have tried deregulation and it has lead us to where we are today. More of the same is not the cure. Have you ever meant a Libertarian that didn’t believe a corporation had the same rights as a person. Most of them running for higher office, back in the ’80s were corporate lawyers it seemed to me.

Where is the free market now? Laying off the very people that could save the economy. Why because business has slowed. While prudent for their shareholders it does nothing to start the economy. Or buying up other banks with government money because they were to big to fail. Free market as it has been defined by practice just means off shoring jobs and bringing in low wage aliens to perform work in this country. It has replaced innovation with cheap labor yet it hasn’t helped the country just the elite, much like the days prior to the great depression. It has been free market policies that has caused wealth to be concentrated into the hands of the few in this country. Which in turn has lead us to where we are at today. It is the problem not the solution. This “hair of the dog that bite you” thinking doesn’t work. I will concede it sounds good in theory but as practiced it has failed us.

While libertarians and conservatives are quick to revise history, especially the great depression, they seem to forget that FDR had to deal with Socialist, Conservatives, Fascist and others of that ilk and wasn’t able to follow through with enough spending to keep the climb out of the depression going. Hence the ‘37 recession. The problem was a lack of political unity and the unpatriotic wealthy hoarding cash because they could. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.

I will agree that government ownership of private business as we are seeing is distressing and these bailouts that are causing the problem are not the solution to the problem, but until we can get corporate America out of politics I don’t see much happening that will benefit the American people.
Should we go the CCC route at least many more Americans will be able to put bread on the table while we ride this depression out. Seems to me we need to give trickle up economics a chance as trickle on economics of the past 30 years has failed us.

Posted by: j2t2 at January 11, 2009 9:25 PM
Comment #273467


I’m pretty sure FDR felt the winds of war, and decided he’d need his political capital in order to become champion-of-the-world, riding in on the white horse. It worked…we slowed again when all those millions came home, and war manufacturing faltered, but I’m with you about his rescue programs…they were absolutely necessary and effective at the time. There is no telling how many would have died, in the good ol’ USA, without those programs.

Free market has failed us again. this time, I think, the failure may be total. Free market means the powerful are licensed to steal. Perhaps it was designed to fail…Adam, Maynard and Ayn be damned

Posted by: Marysdude at January 11, 2009 9:50 PM
Comment #273495

Joel, there is one central theme to libertarianism, every person is on their own to make or break their financial lives, and this includes businesses.

It is about as anti-social, anti-national a philosophy as it gets. It is not without merits when applied surgically toward those who would take advantage of the nation and society as a whole for personal and private gain. But, too often, libertarian philosophy, if applied whole hog to government policy would result in revolution or civil war.

The libertarian philosophy requires a private health insurance system in which those who cannot afford to participate suffer and die and get out of the way of those who can afford it. It is a very Darwinian philosophy which is diametrically opposed to the concept of democracy and interdependent social responsibility. It maximizes freedom and liberty for those who can enjoy it either through wealth or power, and leaves the rest to struggle against each other for competitive advantage in their struggle to become a tad bit wealthy or achieve some modicum of power.

As close to a perfect libertarian philosophy as can be found in the U.S. is found in the black market organizations of illegal drugs. They are bound by no observance of government laws, exercising total freedom of choice as to how to maximize profitability and power without paying any taxes and working entirely outside the purview of government.

The few wealthy and powerful in the blackmarket drug industry that get caught and prosecuted consider this simply part of the cost of doing business, if their very high priced lawyers can’t keep them from prison. They employ people along the lines of almost complete free market principles, no taxes, no unemployment benefits, no job security save one’s ability to circumvent the law or competing drug dealers. It is very libertarian. Very Darwinian. And maximizes freedom and liberty while operating out of reach of the nation’s laws and law enforcement.

It is a tad bit ironic that political Libertarians support decriminalization of illegal drug usage and sales, which would undermine the most libertarian sector of our marketplace, the underground economy.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 12, 2009 4:18 PM
Comment #273497

The people just voted in somebody who is the exact opposite of what freedom loving libertarians believe in. The time for libertarianism is “not now.”

“Then when?” When Americans start believing in personal responsibility again, are no longer happy being dependent on govt and are ready to fight for their rights and freedoms to be returned to them.
Then and only then will we be ready for a libertarian type business environment.

Posted by: kctim at January 12, 2009 4:27 PM
Comment #273509

kctim, I hope you are including corporations and businesses in that group you look forward to believing in personal responsibility. The incredible favorable treatment corporations and business received from Bush and the Republicans is in very large part how our economy got to where it is. And why the American people had no choice but to elect an economic rescuing president like Barack Obama, instead of another Republican like McCain who would have continued this favorable treatment toward the corporate friends of the Republican Party.

Democrats are big taxers and big spenders. But, that is vastly superior to Republicans who are big spenders and small taxers when debt and deficits are threatening the future of the nation. Obama intends to curtail spending on wasteful low priority items and raise taxes to offset at least some of absolutely necessary economic recovery stimulus spending that NOW must occur to prevent another Hoover/Bush like Depression.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 12, 2009 6:05 PM
Comment #273513

“Obama intends to curtail spending on wasteful low priority items and raise taxes to offset at least some of absolutely necessary economic recovery stimulus spending that Now must occur to prevent another Hoover/Bush like Depression.”

In what supporters announced as a major economic speech of Thursday, Obama promised a clean break from past govermnent policy then proposed a $800 billion stimulus package with $500 billion in spending and $300 billion in tax breaks, half to corporations, half to individuals.

“Then when?” “When Americans start believing in personel responsibility again,”

When we finally recognize that corporate advertising and TV programing has turned us into a nation of morons marching to the highly popular corporate/government tune, Don’t
Worry-Be Happy-Go Shopping.

This philosophy is very profitable until the people have no cash or credit to go shopping. When this occurs, because of way they have been trained, the people become worried and unhappy.

Posted by: jlw at January 12, 2009 7:39 PM
Comment #273587

“I hope you are including corporations and businesses in that group you look forward to believing in personal responsibility”

You know I do David. They either fail or succeed on their own, even during hard times.

We will just have to disagree on how bailing out everybody is not favorable treatment of corporations and business, and how adding trillions to the debt and deficits that are threatening the future of the nation, is now ok.

Posted by: kctim at January 14, 2009 3:00 PM
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