Monday, June 20, 2016

The Libertarian Creed

I have a friend who is going to vote the Libertarian line this election cycle, and I applaud him for it – over the wrong-headed protests of those who mindlessly chant “you're wasting your vote.”  He is right to vote third party, and I have argued the point over and over again in my book To My Countrymen, because we must break the stranglehold of our antiquated and mischievous two-party system.

The opening words of the 2016 Platform of the Libertarian Party of the USA are these: “As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others (shades of Ayn Rand).”  And “We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.  …  We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”  Damn, sign me up!

Well, maybe not so fast…

A more thoughtful and considerate look at the party’s 2016 platform reveals a fatal flaw (actually many deep flaws, but this one is enough for 1000 words).  And this flaw exists for the sake of an inviolate “principle” – “Economic Liberty.”  Section 2.4 Government Finance and Spending begins “All persons are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor.”  Sounds reasonable, right?  Then they descend into a fantasy world, as Section 2.4 continues with these ringing words: “We call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.”  In the abstract, this sounds good and no more than an attempt to concretize their cardinal principles of liberty and small government.  Until you begin to think about it.

On the one hand, there are taxes other than income taxes that might make up the shortfall produced by the elimination of the income tax.  But a tax is a tax is a tax, and all taxes compromise liberty, don’t they?  And all taxes re-distribute wealth (“All efforts by government to redistribute wealth … are improper in a free society”).

Would Libertarians have a government that does not have the right to tax?  Governments need to tax, else they are called anarchy, no government, no rules, no laws, chaos, the law of the jungle.  No philosopher of government has ever advocated that, and even the Crown Princes of Libertarianism don’t claim to want that.  So, if their government does tax, what will they call the agency in charge of assessing and collecting taxes, and disbursing tax receipts, and auditing tax payers?  Will they change the name of the IRS?  Is that all they mean?

What will Libertarians do about the National Debt?  Or even this year's interest on the Debt?  There won’t be any deficits because they BELIEVE IN a Balanced Budget Amendment.  But how will they fund our military?  Building and repairing roads and bridges throughout the land?  Public schools? Police and Fire Departments?  How will they fund the myriad programs and services that government has provided for decades if not a century or more?  Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, national parks, mass transit, the NIH, NASA, etc.  Of course, they have already said they want to scrap “all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.”  Every Republican office-holder in the last 50 years has called for the abolition of lots of unnecessary and “unconstitutional” programs and services that the government delivers, but not once have I ever seen a detailed LIST of exactly what programs and services they would eliminate, not once.  And this goes for the Libertarian Party too.  It is easy to blame the government for all our ills, but to actually take the scalpel to our modern body politic and cut out this program and that service and that agency is another thing entirely.  I am all for eliminating waste and duplication, but these guys sound like they want to return to the good old days, like 1790.  Or the Gilded Age and the time of the Robber Barons.  I understand that nobody likes paying taxes.  But how much less do you think that Americans would choose to live in a nation that no longer provides those programs and services that we all depend upon, that we for so long have taken for granted, and even forgotten that we have to pay for them?

Libertarians would have you believe that the USA is a nation of 320 million individuals acting independently, rather than a nation of 320 million individuals acting interdependently.  I like the notion of liberty as much as the next fellow, as much as any Libertarian.  But to claim as they do that government is the enemy of the people, or that government cannot help but interfere with people in their proper pursuit of happiness, strikes this thinking person as … thoughtless.

But, lest I be misunderstood, I still applaud anyone who votes Libertarian or any third party.  It is not like the Republicans or the Democrats are any better than the less than perfect Libertarians.