Common Sense

2004-11-03

In his reflections on the 2004 elections, Ari Armstrong writes as follows:

Until recently I participated with the Libertarian Party, and I sometimes fell into reactionary rhetoric about taxes. This is a pervasive flaw in the regular libertarian approach, and one that spills into the fiscally-conservative Republican camp. Voters, skeptical of the pseudo-moralism of the religious right, understandably see anti-government reactionism as another variant of the same pseudo-morality. Voters don't like the tax-and-spend alternatives of the left, which is why many Colorado Democrats are fiscal moderates, but neither are voters comfortable with those who seem to hate government for its own sake. Thus, most people end up as economic moderates, who want limits on spending but who support ad hoc proposals to fund specific, sympathetic causes.

What's missing, of course, is a spirited defense of economic liberty based on individual rights and a sound economic explanation of the benefits of free markets and economic voluntarism. Most people seem keen on the idea of individual liberty in the personal or social realm. They don't want political controls on abortion, speech, sex, and so forth. Yes, they run from the socialist left, but they also run from the reactionary right on economic matters. Both Republicans and Libertarians have obscured the deeply American case for economic liberty, or, to use the old term: liberalism. So the task of those who favor individual liberty across the board -- in both personal matters and economic matters -- is to dump the dogmatic baggage and make a moral and practical case that rings true with the public -- because it is true.

Herewith a confession: although I think that most or all functions of government could be better provided through markets or charities, I'm not particularly anti-government in the way that most hard-core libertarians are (i.e., I really don't get all that worked up about plenty of government programs, because life is too short to spend my energy on being anti-government). Sure, I want lower taxes and less government, but if government spending were (say) 5% or even 10% of GDP instead of its current 20%, I'd see that as a major victory (especially if we returned government functions to state and local governments -- we've built way too much functionality into the kernel, if you will, and that doesn't work well). I think plenty of Americans are moderate libertarians: in favor of both civil liberties and free markets. But they're not offered that choice most of the time, so they polarize along party lines. I doubt that the Libertarian Party could reform itself along more moderate lines, but (having worked in the LP) I know how hard it is to start a third party. Yet I think a moderately libertarian party -- we'll call it the Jeffersonian Party in honor of old TJ -- could have a salutary affect on American politics.

To be continued...


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