The Big “L”

In 1994, disgusted by the GOP’s cave-in to the Clinton Administration on the 1994 Crime Bill, I ditched the GOP and went over to the Libertarian Party.

Michael Medved’s ridicule aside, it was a great experience.  I learned a lot about how politics does, and doesn’t, work.  Part of the learning was from being a Libertarian – I read a lot.  Part of it was from becoming active in the first place; when I noticed that, for whatever reason, people weren’t rushing to the Libertarian Party with me, I got to learning a little about how the mechanics of government actually worked.

Which led to me leaving the Libertarian Party in 1998.  I figured that I had a choice; be an absolute Libertarian purist, and think big Libertarian thoughts and never, ever have an actual direct effect on how government, taxation, spending and the machinery of how government affects us really works (other than by siphoning voters out of the two party system, which is a little like trying to stop a NASCAR race by stealing gasoline from SuperAmerica), or get back into the political party that was the least un-friendly to my beliefs.

Which was, and remains, the MNGOP which, imperfect as it is, at least puts liberty on its short list of things to pay serious lip service to (and that’s looking at it at my most cynical; there is a crop of freshman legislators who do, I think, get it).    I’m a proud member of the libertarian conservative wing of the Minnesota GOP.

Still, there’s a Big-L Libertarian Party out there.  And the state shutdown is hog heaven for them:

Less government is good government, as far as Tylor Slinger is concerned.

As a member of the executive board of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, the resident of St. Paul’s Highland Park sees benefits in the state government shutdown.

In Slinger’s eyes, this isn’t “tea party” radicalism or anarchist rhetoric.

And it’s there we see the reporter’s (Frederic Melo) bias or, maybe, just plain ignorance.  The Tea Party is inextricable from libertarianism; in a Venn diagram of conservative/libertarian political thought, the Tea Party tucked in where the “libertarian” and “conservative” rings overlap.  The “radical” bit is pure editorializing – although to many in the Minnesota establishment, the idea of cutting spending, “services” and taxes is distilled radicalism itself.

“We think that the shutdown clearly illustrates how centralizing political power to an elite group places the rest of us at their mercy,” said Slinger, 24, who works as a communications specialist at a bank. Slinger is also running for a St. Paul City Council seat.

“While people’s immediate reaction will likely be based on … their daily reliance on governmental services, the longer the shutdown lasts, the more opportunities each individual will have to find more reliable alternatives.”

Slinger has the big picture points exactly right, of course – hey, I did say I was a libertarian-conservative, right?   Government entitlements do exist to perpetuate themselves; bureaucrats have no less well-developed a sense of self-preservation than the rest of us.

With more than 20,000 state employees suddenly finding themselves out of work, such statements have made the Libertarian Party few friends in Minnesota and, at best, uneasy allies on the national stage.

Which is a tautology; state government workers are (hypothetically) angry at a party that opposes the idea of excessive state workers.  Notify the media…

…well, OK.  Melo is the media.

Melo does bother to note the same conflict many of us who navigate the border between Conservatism and Libertarianism run across:

Unlike Slinger, Amy Brugh, a public policy director with the Minnesota AIDS Project in Minneapolis, sees no benefit to a shutdown whatsoever. Her largely state- and federally funded programs are assets to taxpayers, she said, not hindrances.

As a result of the shutdown, “47 of our 57 employees are either laid off full time or reduced time without benefits,” Brugh said. “It means that three of our programs are completely closed down, so clients won’t have access to their case managers, or to transportation to get them to medical appointments or to the pharmacy, or for benefits counseling.”

Those include specialized services that an AIDS patient can’t just lean on friends and family for, Brugh said. And without the right care, each one of those clients could end up in an emergency room, with taxpayers footing the lion’s share of the bill.

“A Libertarian not wanting to pay tax dollars should actually be in favor of our programs,” Brugh said.

And again with the tautologies; in this case, “government runs Ms. Brugh’s program because government has always run Ms. Brugh’s program”.

It’s one of those historical “what ifs” that people of libertarian bent run through their heads; what if, say, the AIDS epidemic had broken out in a society that had never undergone the New Deal, the immense socialization that accompanied World War II, the Great Society, Medicare Part D and Obamacare?  What if American society had developed through the 20th century without the underlying assumption that the federal government was there to do anything but defend the borders, sign treaties, adjudicate disputes and enforce contracts?  If society had developed without the “ideal” of having its social needs taken care of by government – and it had been able to turn the output of its stunning prosperity to private rather than public charity, the way it always had?

It’s an intellectual parlor game,of course –  because the Libertarians are right about one thing; government has made our society dependent on itself.

And as De Tocqueville warned, it may not be possible to unravel that dependence.

Mission accomplished, big government!

The question those of us on the Center-Right keep asking – is it possible to have government, but only just the right amount?

12 thoughts on “The Big “L”

  1. The reason that Libertarianism will never succeed in establishing a stable government is that any State large enough to preserve property rights is large enough to take them away. Democracy demands that the political franchise be distributed much more equally than nature distributes the ability to create and hold wealth. Ayn Rand’s Objectivist principles are not enough to deny people the right to vote themselves the property of others.

  2. This is a similiar point to what I say….this shutdown shows how large gov’t is and how it controls so much of our society. If society goes into Choas when we lost gov’t services, that tells us that we have too many gov’t services.

  3. AIDS project? You should look up what the gov’t (at all levels, but especially federal) spends per case (per infliction) of AIDS, vs heart disease, vs lung cancer (many many lung cancer victims are non-smokers).

    We spend wayyyyy too much on AIDS. It’s not a disease, it’s a politcal cause. Diseases that are far less preventable get underfunded because we overfund AIDS.

  4. The question those of us on the Center-Right keep asking – is it possible to have government, but only just the right amount?

    No. Even the Founders got it wrong: witness the War of 1812 with too little Federal government to fight a war. But at least they erred on the side of caution. These days we’ve ceded too much authority to the government and there’s relatively little chance we’ll get it back absent violent revolution.

  5. If you are a government bureaucrat it is rational for you to expand your power and wealth at the expense of the public. If you are a poor person with little chance of increasing your power and wealth in a free market system, it is rational for you to vote yourself the wealth of others.
    The flagship publication of the Libertarian movement is called Reason.

  6. But Mitch, it’s impossible for ordinary people working together to cure diseases; only the government can do it.

    What, do you expect some private, non-profit company to march around soliciting dimes to cure a horrible, life-threatening disease like polio? That’s just wild-eyed crazy talk. Couldn’t happen. Never.


  7. Well said, but the thing that keeps me away from the big L libertarian party is the reality that all too many people there are just trust fund kids who want to smoke dope and patronize hookers, and there are certain transactions that I simply don’t consider “voluntary.”

  8. I get your point Mitch, and it sort of describes me as well. I have to shut my eyes, hold my nose and throw up in my mouth a bit, but at the end of the day, I’ll check the box for the R, because, at the margin, they tend to be slightly less loathsome, slightly less hypocritical, quite a bit less mendacious and pusillanimous, and substantially less fascist and racist than the Ds.

  9. Well said, but the thing that keeps me away from the big L libertarian party is the reality that all too many people there are just trust fund kids who want to smoke dope and patronize hookers, and there are certain transactions that I simply don’t consider “voluntary.”

    Unless you’re talking under the age of consent, I don’t see how those transactions aren’t voluntary. That doesn’t mean with the welfare state we have in place today that the costs aren’t socialized (e.g. public assistance, antidiscrimination laws for employers and landlords, etc.) but that’s largely a beef with the welfare state. However even then some would argue that just as we found with alcohol the costs of prohibition were greater than the social costs of having it legal and regulated. While I tend to be sympathetic to some arguments for relegalization, I’m not entirely sure where the costs down and think it’s perfectly rationale to say that debates about legalizing drugs or prostitution for adults should wait until after we’ve rolled back the Nanny State.

  10. Government is a self-perpetuating monster. 99.9% of all who have suckled at taxpayer’s teat will only get fatter and want more. You will never wean them off the dole. About the only way to limit this behaviour is to impose term limits – no more carrier politicians.

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