Libertarian Party Platform
by Benjamin Studebaker
Some of the reaction to yesterday’s post, “Intellectual Hipsters: Libertarians” made the argument that yes, libertarianism has many defects in its theoretical intellectual foundation, but that perhaps real world libertarians are not deriving their policies strictly from that foundation, or that the policies of the Libertarian Party in America remain useful for other, non-libertarian reasons. I agree that this is a proposition worth considering, and so this post exists as a companion piece to yesterday’s–examining libertarian policy in practise to go along with yesterdays’ examination of libertarian political theory.
This post is will follow a similar format to the old party platform series (and yes, I did the democrats as well). Fortunately, the Libertarian Party platform is shorter than its counterparts, and will consequently be doable in a single (albeit slightly longer than usual) post.
If we will recall from yesterday, I argued that the two core principles in the libertarian ethos were “taxation is theft” and “coercion is wrong beyond preventing theft/violence”. What I have found from reading the Libertarian Party platform is that these two principles are dominant throughout, that nearly all libertarian policies can be traced back to one or the other. However, there are still some libertarian policies that could possibly be justified on other, superior grounds, and I will aim to point these out as we go along.
I would like to open by directly quoting the preamble and the statement of principles:
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. We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships, and that only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized.
we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals. People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.
The first paragraph is a statement of the principle of “coercion is wrong beyond preventing theft/violence” and the second is a statement of the principle of “taxation is theft”. These paragraphs are unjust for the reasons described in yesterday’s post. It is also important to note that the libertarians expressly claim that they adhere to these beliefs and that they merely consider their policy proposals a means to these theoretical ends:
In the following pages we have set forth our basic principles and enumerated various policy stands derived from those principles. These specific policies are not our goal, however. Our goal is nothing more nor less than a world set free in our lifetime, and it is to this end that we take these stands.
By “a world set free in our lifetime”, libertarians mean a world without taxation or coercion, which is an immoral and unjust world for the reasons described in yesterday’s post.
All that said, let’s move to the specific policies the libertarians list in three categories:
- Personal Liberty
- Economic Liberty
- Securing Liberty
There is support for the basic first amendment freedoms, justifiable under liberalism independent of libertarianism. There is an interesting bit where they deny that drug abuse produces victims:
We favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.
While I agree that current drug policy is ineffective in reducing usage and ought to be dispensed with, it is completely untrue that drugs do not have victims outside of the users themselves (consider the family and friends, medical costs, lost productivity, and so on). This is an example in practise of libertarians refusing to recognise indirect harm as a form of harm, which I pointed out in yesterday’s post.
The libertarians correctly affirm gay rights and gay marriage, but do so once again on a bad philosophical basis:
Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships.
The reason gay rights are good is that it is beneficial to gays and to wider society for gay people to have rights. If somehow the right was correct that homosexuality had terrible, costly negative impacts on society, it would be well within government’s purview to be against it. It is the fact that homosexuality and gay rights are either benign or benevolent that make it good policy. Perhaps you cannot imagine a sexual relationship that has negative social impacts empirically, but if one did exist, this line commits the libertarians to endorsing it and treating it as morally equivalent to homosexuality, a benign practise.
The libertarians make no statement for or against abortion rights, claiming that because the matter is disputed no ruling should be given.
The rest of the section is comprised of affirming support for the various remaining constitutional rights, including the second amendment. None of the other political parties have affirmed anything different in their respective platforms.
There is a very telling quote to open this section:
A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner. Each person has the right to offer goods and services to others on the free market. 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. All efforts by government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.
This is an affirmation of “taxation is theft”, the assumption that free markets produce no injustices, and a rejection of redistribution, which is the primary mechanism by which states promote social justice. This entails a rejection of the welfare state, of Social Security, of Medicare and Medicaid, and so on down the line. It is a morally reprehensible paragraph. All of these ideas were discussed in yesterday’s post; we are now merely seeing them in the flesh in the platform itself.
This section also denies the government the right to eminent domain (the seizure of lands for public purposes), an immensely impractical policy–how else would we build airports, rail roads, highways, all the basic infrastructure that makes the economy tick? There is also an assertion that land and property that has been unjustly seized should be returned to its rightful owners. Sorry Floridians, that state has to go back to the Seminoles. It’s entirely impractical. There is also a rejection of state regulation of pollution and the environment on the grounds that the private sector is better at managing pollution and that private protest and speech is a more effective means of producing results. Tell that to anyone who was alive before environmental legislation was passed in the seventies. There is opposition to state investment in energy security, which merely serves to deprive society of a tool it can use to drive innovation.
Then there’s this:
All persons are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor. 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. We oppose any legal requirements forcing employers to serve as tax collectors. Government should not incur debt, which burdens future generations without their consent. We support the passage of a “Balanced Budget Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, provided that the budget is balanced exclusively by cutting expenditures, and not by raising taxes.
This is a suicidal economic policy that flies in the face of all the macroeconomics that have been done over the last two centuries. It is also an affirmation of “taxation is theft”. The repeal of the income tax and the denial of the ability of the government to borrow money would strangle the federal government’s ability to spend out of existence, which is precisely the intent of the passage. The “requirements forcing employers to serve as tax collectors” bit is an attack on payroll taxes, which finance Social Security. The “balanced budget amendment” would make Keynesian stimulus legally impossible. This is not a reasonable proposal. It is extremist and economically exceedingly ignorant.
There is so much more in this same category–completely suicidal, infeasible economic policy. Among other things there is:
- Advocacy of complete deregulation of banking and for the use of private currencies the value and supply of which would be outside the control of the state (killing the Federal Reserve and removing the state’s ability to conduct monetary policy–they also deny the state the ability to alter interest rates, which is an attack on the same tool).
- Advocacy of an end to anti-trust and anti-monopoly legislation introduced during the Progressive Era by Theodore Roosevelt and others to correct market imbalances.
- Advocacy of an end to union rights and the removal of the obligation for businesses to negotiate with unions.
- Advocacy of an end to the public education system in its entirety.
- Advocacy of an end to Medicare, Medicaid, and all other state-financed or state-supported healthcare, which would condemn millions of people to shorter, more miserable lives.
- Explicit advocacy of an end to Social Security.
The section on economic liberty is intensely backward, ignorant, and reprehensible.
The libertarians call for the United States to be able to defend itself against aggression, but also call for it to end all formal alliances with other states. The most ridiculous case that comes to mind is NATO, which is a tremendous US foreign policy asset.
They oppose the practise of classifying information, which would probably lead to some problems, if we assume that any of the information presently classified is classified for even semi-decent reasons.
They condemn foreign intervention–this is often a popular policy of the libertarians, until you realise that they do not merely mean “stay of Iraq and Afghanistan” but this (emphasis added):
We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid.
Sorry AIDS and malaria victims in Africa. With the libertarians, you’re out of luck.
There is support for full and complete free trade, in full ignorance of the economic reality that America’s economic dominance is founded on a long history of intensive protectionism, along with support for complete opening of borders, except to dangerous people. How you would manage to open the borders for everyone except for dangerous people is a practical complication that goes unanswered here.
They advocate more direct democracy (as if there were not enough of that–see my writings on sophiarchy for more on the subject), and finally, advocate for an end to all restriction on private financing of political campaigns. That is a complete and total embrace of plutocracy and all the problems that result from money in politics. You cannot have a society in which people receive free and equal treatment when the rich get more political speech and influence than everyone else.
I read and wrote about the other two platforms. The Libertarian Party platform is far and away the least attractive, most politically appalling platform I have encountered. A small number of social policies are desirable, but could easily be justified on socially liberal or utilitarian grounds freed from libertarianism. The rest of the platform ranges from impractical to immoral to both at once. The amount of ignorance about statecraft professed within it shocks and appals me as a political theorist on a visceral level, and leaves me all the more reconfirmed in my sophiarchist leanings–any person who professes any level of support for these views must have his or her political capacity for self-government called into question.