Lady Liberty, Photo from Wikipedia
For many years, we libertarians studied, wrote and theorized in the shadows. We believed with a religious zeal in the benefits of liberty and a laissez-faire economy. The Libertarian Party’s motto says it best: “Working for freedom because freedom works.” Though we continued to be marginalized as a movement, our efforts began to pay off. Starting in the Reagan era, many of those in power began to take our ideas seriously, or so it seemed. Four libertarian principles – deregulation, privatization, free trade, and open borders – have become economic and political orthodoxy.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” In other words, we should have been suspicious of our rulers’ good intentions. Politicians and bureaucrats are not inclined to surrender money and authority without a personal benefit. In this case, it was the monetary support of billionaires and multi-national corporations. As their elite-centric policies have borne their rotten fruit, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of defending our ideas on multiple fronts, from progressives, populists and even the Alt-Right.
Though we still believe in freedom, the issues are more complicated than they once appeared. The recent relaxations and abolitions of laws and regulations happened to apply mainly to the rich and powerful. Yes, freedom is an end in itself, but it is not always beneficial when enacted unevenly or unfairly.
Take for example deregulation. The Enron scandal occurred partly as a result of the government’s deregulation of energy distributors but not energy producers, allowing the company to reap massive profits. Even more disastrous was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act during the Clinton administration. This allowed banks to move into risky derivative markets, while still insured by the taxpayer, creating a moral hazard that caused the financial crash of 2008.
Privatization, too, has had its share of disasters. Privately owned prisons are another source of perverse incentives. Rather than simply providing a cost-effective alternative for the incarceration of dangerous criminals, these corporations made contracts with governments specifying minimum “occupancy” levels, which indirectly led to a vast expansion in the US prison population. The “Affordable” Care Act, too, was conceived as a “free market” alternative to a single-payer health care system like the one in Canada. Markets do not work well with compulsion, and the Obamacare “mandate” allowed insurers to raise rates and deductibles dramatically for their captive consumers.
Perhaps the worst example of privatization gone awry occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. Led astray by Western “experts,” Russian officials privatized their nation’s industries, granting shares to every citizen. This happened simultaneously with massive unemployment and the gutting of Russia’s social safety net. In order to avoid starvation, citizens were forced to sell their shares to foreign investors who proceeded to strip-mine Russian industries. This is why the Russian people love Putin because his government put a stop to this madness.
As for “free trade,” when the elitists use the term, it means more than eliminating tariff barriers. Trace organizations like the European Union create a huge unelected supranational bureaucracy, which is accountable only to large corporations and the wealthy. Newer trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would create special courts in which corporations could sue to have national laws and regulations changed for their benefit. If this wasn’t insidious, why were the terms of the TPP kept secret even from Congress?
Despite its benefits of efficiency and closer international relations, free trade has the downside of promoting the outsourcing of jobs and industries from high-wage to low-wage countries. Instead of using tax policy to mitigate these problems, the US government actually incentivized the practice, ravaging the American middle class and bankrupting the heartland. It was this problem, not the rise of minorities, that made the so-called “deplorables” so furious.
At the moment, the biggest issue in both America and Europe is immigration, with illegals and refugees causing anger in the native population. Though libertarians have traditionally favored immigration as a component of individual freedom, we find the double standard infuriating. Why does one group get to flout Federal law, when a citizen doing something comparably illegal would end up in a private prison? Even worse is the uncontrolled Islamic invasion of Europe. These so-called refugees receive taxpayer support and special legal privileges. Rather than expecting the newcomers to assimilate, European governments demand that their citizens accommodate the newcomers’ primitive, misogynist culture. This insanity is what turned me away from my life-long “open borders” advocacy.
Can the philosophy of freedom survive? Some of us libertarians have turned to populism and the Alt Right and supported President Trump as a lesser evil, even though many of his policies are authoritarian in nature. Yet the fact that the entire Establishment opposes him is a mark in his favor. As for the Libertarian Party, if it is to continue, it needs to pick a standard-bearer who isn’t a single-issue (legal weed) know-nothing like Gary Johnson. Speaking of weed, could there be something behind the marijuana movement besides the desire for increased tax revenues? Perhaps the Elite once again have something sinister up their sleeves.