Many American voters are dissatisfied with the 2016 presidential candidates of the two major parties – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Some of these disaffected voters are saying they will refuse to vote for either one. But others are saying they might vote for a third party candidate.
The third and fourth largest political parties in the U.S., respectively, are the the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. The 2016 Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate Gary Johnson is gaining support from some unhappy Republicans because he formerly served as a Republican Governor of New Mexico.
Furthermore, many of the Libertarian Party’s policies are similar to Republican policies. The Libertarian Party platform, for example, opposes gun control, proposes phasing out Social Security, and demands an end to federal deficit spending. But it also supports LGBT rights, the decriminalization of marijuana, and a women’s right to choose an abortion.
The party’s focus on expanding personal liberty has created an odd array of political positions. But the biggest problem with Libertarian Party policies is their belief that free, unregulated markets are a panacea. Their economic liberty platform states, “A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner.” Any question about what they mean by free markets is answered with a subsequent explanation that, “The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected.”
History has repeatedly shown that this isn’t true. A study of the Progressive Era, the Great Depression, and the recent Great Recession provides plenty of evidence that markets must be regulated for the common good. The elimination of government regulations, for instance, would make it easier for companies to use unfair practices to eliminate competitors, emit pollution, or exploit natural resources in ways that damage the environment – to name just a few of the bad things that could happen.
So what’s the real reason that Libertarians, and many right-wing Republicans, are promoting this false narrative about free markets? One clue is that David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s 1980 vice-presidential candidate. David, along with his brother Charles, are the billionaire brothers that have been bankrolling Libertarian and similar thinking Republican local and national political candidates across the U.S. Their corporation, Koch Industries, is involved in the fossil fuels industry and other enterprises that are affected by government environmental regulations.
The conservative think tanks financially supported by the Kochs are also distributing talking points that go beyond complaints about regulations. Their imaginary utopia of a free market economy would also be free from government intervention in the form of planning. History has shown this is a ridiculous goal too. Programs initiated by the government have virtually eliminated several contagious diseases, smoking has been reduced, astronauts have gone to the moon and back, and the Internet has improved our lives. And, again, these are just to name a few.
The Libertarian condemnation of all government involvement in the economy becomes more irrational every day, as the U.S. population rose by 2.4 million during the last year and now exceeds 322 million. On top of that, the speed of technological innovation continues to increase. In other words, there are complicated new challenges constantly arising that cannot be solved with a laissez-faire market strategy.
Libertarians like to say they are against “big government.” They usually mean they don’t like taxes, but they also complain that government is inefficient. Big government, however, is a different thing than wasteful government, and a lot of government inefficiency these days is caused by the purposeful underfunding of government agencies by conservatives. It’s called “starving the beast” wherein they appropriate less money than an agency needs to properly function, and then point to the disfunction they created as justification for eliminating programs they don’t like. A good example of this the way Republicans have been starving public lands management agencies to try and justify the privatization of public lands.
Another contradiction in libertarian thinking is the assumption that a reduction in the size of the government will create more personal freedom. But neutering the government would mean that large corporations would, in effect, become our de facto rulers. Corporations aren’t democratic organizations, and are primarily concerned with generating profits – not promoting the common good.
The Libertarian Party’s myopic focus on personal liberty discounts the reality that people must work together in a civilized society and compromise in order to solve problems. Tackling the potentially catastrophic issue of manmade climate change, for example, cannot be accomplished by simply relying on the free market. The Libertarian Party will never be more than an obscure historical footnote unless they temper their ideological goals with some reality.